Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Suck it, Maxim

I am a vain woman. I color my hair, I spend the GNP of New Guinea a fair amount on skincare products, and I am unashamed to admit that I regularly whiten my teeth at home. Oh, and I have never been a fan of flats unless they are ballet flats and only if they are paired with a pair of dark capris. Because that's what Audrey Hepburn did.

But. But. I don't dress for men. With a brief and shameful exception in the early nineties (think oversized shoulder-padded blazer with a white lace bustier underneath. Gah, the shame), I never have. One of my favorite pieces is a long tapestry jacket with a velvet sash that my husband swears I ripped off of some window treatment display in a Scarlett O'Hara-like frenzy. Women compliment me every time I wear it. I love turtle necks and wide-legged trousers, and I rarely show much skin. I could care less if a man likes my outfit, but I'm thrilled when a girlfriend tells me how sharp I look.

I think that's why I've always loved Sarah Jessica Parker. Don't think of her crazy Sex and the City ensembles, think of her off-screen in her amazing couture, or simple t-shirts, jeans, and Christian LeBoutin pumps. She knows how to dress, that lady. She had me at Square Pegs, and watching her blossom over the years has been a real treat. She reminds us that you really can go from awkward to beautiful with the passage of time, and she panders not to the misogynistic whims of the testosterone club. Most women think she is fabulous. Dare I say, a lot of people think she is fabulous.

Unless you're some rat-fuck frat-boy writer at Maxim Magazine. That rag gives me the hives as it is. It is such a pathetic cliche of fast cars, fake-boobed bimbos and stereo system recommendations that I usually don't even give it a passing thought. Until today, when I read this article. What the hell is wrong with this world that we are now creating mean lists not unlike some junior high slam book? What the hell, people???

Clearly, smart women like Sandra Oh, Madonna, and Sarah Jessica are not going to be lumped in with the vapid, homogeneous starlets that provide masturbatory fodder for every pimple faced boy and neanderthal stock broker with a lock on the bathroom door and a bottle of Jergens. But to go and make a list of the world's most unsexy women? That is not just pathetic, cruel, and sad. It's an indictment on where we are headed as a culture.

Really, we better turn this train around or we are going to be the weakest, most materialistic, shallow country in the world. And it's going to cost us dearly.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Go Ahead. Make My Day

Bob and I were sitting on the couch the other night, musing as we usually do about the kids, life, and the future. At one point we realized that Maddie is a few short years away from college (okay, five years) and once at school, she will bring home boyfriends that may become her husband one day.

"You do realize," I said, "that we are going to have to be real clear with these men. They are going to have to know that we are that family who will be in their business as much as possible."

"Yeah. And we're going to have to also make it clear that if he hurts our daughter, we're going to kill him."

"Definitely. We'll have to explain that there is nothing we have to lose. After all these years raising kids, a stint in women's prison would be a haven."

I thought about it some more. 23 hours in lockdown, with nothing to do but read a book. Alone. Then an hour to go exercise outdoors.

I'm going to be a loose cannon in a few years.

Things We Didn't Anticipate We Would Hear When We Were Young and Without Children

"Moooom! Jacob stuck all of my wart medication on my bathroom heater and now my room reeks. Can't you just sell him or something?"

Monday, October 29, 2007

Mom My Ride

Big Red gave up the fight this weekend. We're about to change the way we crush goldfish crackers into cars. Stay tuned.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Lemonade Days

Truly, the secret to happiness must be the ability to take a negative and form it into a positive. Resilience in life is inarguably one of the most important personality traits we can own.

I think as a parent of preteens it isn't just an important life tool, it is crucial to surviving the mercurial years of adolescence. Life throws us a lot of lemons, and if we're to get through the labyrinth of parenthood with ourselves and our children intact, we need to know how to make a mean lemonade.

Recently, I thwarted a truckload of citrus with my usual weapon: laughter. Granted, my older children rarely appreciate my humor, especially when used as a coping tool, and it flies over the heads of my younger offspring. But for me? It saves my life.

This weekend we had family in town, and my girls had convinced their Nana to take them to the mall for an afternoon of shopping. I agreed, but told them they needed to eat lunch before heading out. When you are a young parent with only one or maybe two children to cook for, it is easy to morph into the short-order cook who caters to the various culinary whims of each family member. When you have four children, a spouse and house guests, people eat what's set in front of them or they go hungry. And when they're my kids, they eat what's set in front of them, period. I had set out plates of turkey sandwiches, grapes and chips for lunch, and when I placed lunch in front of my oldest, she sneered and pushed her plate away.

"Mom. I only eat turkey at Thanksgiving now. I don't eat it in October." She then rolled her eyes heavenward in a way reminiscent of grand mal seizure victims and other teens across the globe.

Interested in reading more? Head over to GNM Parents for the rest......**Edited to add: I'm not sure when today my post goes up over there. But I needed to get this up and out the door...**

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Philanthropy Thursday

Oy. I'm pissed.

I've said before that I love jewelry, and I do. I really love it. Most especially, I've always been a little overfond of that carbon deliciousness known as the diamond. The first time I saw the Hope Diamond at the Smithsonian? I left a puddle of drool. It also happened to coincide with a traveling DeBeers exhibit, so the bling factor left me feeling a little breathless. A lot of women I know feel similarly afflicted when confronted with a beautiful diamond. I have a girlfriend who wears, steady yourself ladies, FIVE perfect carats in her ears (yeah, they're real and they are beyond fabulous). I feel like a crow whenever I talk to her; my eyes are always following the glint of her enormous studs as she moves her head. She is constantly being stopped by women and asked about her jewelry.

I have a beautiful wedding ring, too. Seriously, this ring is a stunner. And if I were to be perfectly honest with you, I don't just love it because of the way it looks. The dirty secret most women don't cop to, but I will, is that I also like my ring because of the statement it imparts. It's pathetic, but true. My ring says that my man has spending power. It announces our socio-economic status. It implies things about my marriage, true or not. "Ooh! Your man must want to keep you around, sugar," is my favorite, told to me at the Atlanta Zoo years ago by a woman who looked at my left hand in admiration at the panda exhibit. I used to thrive off of this, epecially in my twenties. And if most women were honest, they would admit that they want a big diamond or like their own big ring for reasons other than the sparkle. I get really tired of people who say they want a three carat ring because they like shiny things. Many, many substances are shiny. But few have the status of the diamond. Isn't status what the diamond is really all about? I have a $40 green peridot ring set in silver that is unique and glints marvelously in the sunlight. Does it rate the same response as my diamonds? Hell, no. I used to love the response my diamonds would elicit. Now, it just kind of makes me sick. I often leave the house with just a simple band, or none at all. Carting four kids around is statement enough of my commitment and status of "taken."

Then, a few nights ago, I finally did something I have been avoiding for months. I saw Blood Diamond.

Game over, folks.

Have you seen it? Are you, like I was, afraid to see it because of the brutal reality it depicts about the diamond trade? Are you afraid it will change your mind about your own ring? You're right. It will. I was numb after this movie. I have lived in my own bubble of what I wanted to know about where my stones may have come from, and the horror millions of people have endured because of a shiny stone. I spent the rest of the night willing myself not to throw up. I got up and researched online, and was amazed at the discrepancy between how the diamond industry spins the issue of conflict stones, and the reality of the millions of deaths, tortures, imprisonments and wars raged over this jewel.

I called the 800 number of the major jeweler that supplied us my own diamond. They happen to have a policy stating their compliance with the Kimberly Process, a start in the right direction to keep conflict stones out of the market. It's not foolproof, and it has only been in effect since 2003. My ring was purchased well before then, and even if it wasn't, they do not offer a guarantee that their diamonds are conflict-free. Very few places do, and when you can find a guaranteed conflict-free certified stone, (often out of Canada) it is more expensive. Watchdog groups like Amnesty International and Global Witness estimate that roughly 20% of the diamonds out there are conflict. There is no way of knowing. Like laundered money, it's hard to track a smuggled commodity. And like any trade dealing in the billions of dollars, not everyone is going to do the right thing.

My moral dilemma has been this: what to do about my own diamond jewelry. Sell it? Give it away? Keep it but stop wearing it? Throw it out?

Sadly, and I really am sad about this, I feel clear in my heart that I cannot wear diamonds anymore. It's not worth the risk that maybe someone died because of my own ring. And even if my own jewelry came from a conflict free zone, diamonds represent one true thing: millions of them come from places stained with blood. I do not buy into the bullshit line that states the diamond industry in Africa helps fuel the economy and provide health care for its workers. At less than a dollar a day in wages, in dangerous and filthy conditions, it's an insult to anyone's intelligence to accept this weak attempt at justification. I do not want to be a part of anything that funds wars, that is responsible for so much tragedy, and that paints me as a sheep who wants to be like everyone else. I just can't. I believe it is possible to live a life, live it well, and not contribute to the downfall of this world. Do I drive a car? Yes. Am I aware of the wars fueled by oil? You bet. And we're working right now on changing how and what our family consumes for survival. Stay tuned.

My decision is easy, although I know that it may be different for others. I won't wear them, and I won't keep them. My husband and I have found a private jeweler willing to buy my rings and I have chosen a simple, but truly lovely replacement. In case you're looking for something unique, I found my ring at the Sundance catalogue online. I spent less than $100 and I felt something I didn't anticipate: pride. I'm proud that I am at a place in my life where I care less and less what others think of me. I am proud that I want my accomplishments and personality to scream louder than the glint of my wedding band.

Think about it.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Assistants Apply Here....

Not a lot to say today. I'm sick, which just bites, and I have to somehow get it together to play with Jack, keep him happy and make phone calls today for the Democrats.

Ever tried to make phone calls where you needed to sound professional with one or more kids in the background?

Me: Hello, this is Jen M with the [My State] Democrats. I'm calling about that box of supplies we needed sent out for the mock convention.

Important Hillary Staffer Who Lives With Her Cat: All right, let me check on this. I'm going to forward you to our, I'm sorry? Was that someone screaming?

Me: [furiously shoving marshmallows into mouth of offending child] Screaming? Heh. Nooo. That was probably a Republican who got in.

Important Hillary Staffer Who Has Also Never Accidentally Grabbed Her Daughter's Underwear Out of The Laundry Basket and Spent the Rest of the Day Pulling Stuff by Hilary Duff Panties Out of Her Butt: Um, okay. Anyway, before I transfer you, I wanted to make sure you're all up to speed on the fundraising...I'm sorry. It sounds like someone is in pain. Is everything all right?

Me: Of course. We just have this initiation with new volunteers in the office. It's crazy. We pretend they're kids for a day and we say things like, hold on and I'll show you: Jacob! Get the kazoo out of your pants and get your sister's makeup off your face. NOW. It really works. They vote Democrat for the rest of their lives after this.

I need an intern.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

How to Horrify Your Inlaws, Part I

Step One: Search for the missing orange soccer sock early on a Sunday morning. Tear house apart, intermittently hissing that the damned thing couldn't have walked out of the house.

Step Two: After pouring inlaws their second cup of coffee, loudly exclaim that you and your husband need to clean out the cars so that you can look for the sock. Mention that the cars are total shit heaps that haven't been cleaned in over a week. Say nothing as they agree to watch the baby as you "quickly" clean out the cars.

Step Three: Take over an hour excavating the massive amount of crap in the cars. Yell at the older children that you are going to burn their belongings if they don't come and fetch them from the growing pile in the kitchen. Loudly take an inventory of the items you have removed from the cars, to include cheese, musical instruments, underwear, and an eye patch.

Step Four: Scream at husband that he is going to electrocute himself as he begins to vacuum out your car. Remove third row seat and point out standing water in the leg wells from the forty-seven juice boxes your five year old likes to squeeze on the way to soccer. Remember that you still haven't found the fucking soccer sock and berate children for undressing in the car and for eating your good cheese.

Step Five: After more than an hour has passed, see triangle of orange peaking out from violin case in back of husband's car. Grab sock and parade through house in brazen imitation of Britney Spears at VMAs. Chortle to inlaws that they should love your bad self, your sock-finding boo-tay then tell husband to grab the Deep Woods Off for the mosquito larva growing in the big car.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Watch Out, Babs: An Interview

The delightful (and patient) Painted Maypole has been interviewing bloggers around the blogosphere. I'm posting her interview here today.

1) You spend a lot of time in your car. What one super feature do you wish it had?


I can only imagine how much more multi-tasking I would get done if I could just tell my car (like Kit in NightRider) “Get us to soccer practice” and then I could sit back and get the bills paid, or change the festering diaper, or supervise homework. Or drink heavily.

2) What prompted you to start blogging? Has it been everything you dreamed it would be?

I wanted to flex my writing muscle everyday. I had no idea about the community of blogging, the connections I would make, none of that. I honestly thought I would post chapter vignettes each day as I worked toward finishing a book or project. Now I’m really enjoying the community aspect, and I signed up for National Novel Writing Month in November to get me going with the other stuff. There’s no way I would post that stuff on a blog – hello! Copyrights!

3) You started Philanthropy Thursdays over a month ago. How has your doing this and the participation of other bloggers changed or inspired you?

Sometimes I wish every post was dedicated to Philanthropy Thursday. I love how it makes me feel to do something meaningful, and it fills a gap for me left by my not working as a social worker now that I’m a stay-at-home mom. I am both inspired and troubled by the blogger response. People just knock my socks off with the amazing things they do in this world and I love to read about it. On the other hand, I wonder when a post about Playboy gets me nearly 50 comments yet it seems people shy away from commenting on Philanthropy Thursdays. I hope it’s not because they think they HAVE to do something in order to comment. I just want to get the dialogue started about being aware that we can all do small things to change lives.

4) Your posts make me laugh out loud! (are you this funny in person, because I'm dying to have a drink with you!) What is, in your opinion, your funniest post? Also, is there something you've tried to write about humorously, and found you couldn't?

It amazes me that people think I’m funny, because it always seems like when I’m trying to be funny it falls flat, but when I’m venting from a dark place or angry I get a lot of positive feedback. I would love to have a drink with you, too! Although the jury’s out on whether you’d still find me funny. Dorky and wanting to dance to old Duran Duran songs, yes. I guess I have to go back to the Playboy post as one of my favorites. That came from a lot of self-loathing over the drastic changes that occur when allowing four children to eat from your body for nearly a year each. I would love to blog more about some of the husband/wife dynamics in my house but Bob feels like that is crossing a line. So I don't. For now (evil laugh).

5) You've won lots of blog awards. What award do you wish someone would give you for your real life, and what would you say in your acceptance speech?

This is a hard one. I guess I would love for all of my kids to someday win an award and do the “Thanks, mom” bit as they accept the Nobel Peace Prize. Which boils down to the biggest reward for me being the ultimate happiness and success of each of my kids. I’m really praying for no parole hearings in our future. I don’t want to be thanked for early furlough release.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Philanthropy Thursday

More than 6,000 children lose a parent to AIDS every day.

That's pretty astounding, isn't it. That means in less than two weeks, more children in Africa lose a parent to AIDS than there are people in my town.

I used to think that I would have to wait until my own children were grown or older, before we could do any significant work in Africa. Bob and I both dream of living there one day, having a farm, and traveling the region doing good works. Yeah, yeah, I've seen Out of Africa one too many times. But it's a dream that hasn't died for us in many years.

My sister in-law, a woman of amazing strength and faith, has shown me how I can make a difference right now in the life of a child in Africa. She and my brother in law have had an "adopted" child from Kenya for several years now. It goes far beyond sending in a check to a faceless charitable organization each month and leaving it at that.

Here is an excerpt from a letter sent to my sister in-law and her family from their "son," Ngilimo.

“Dear sponsor T. and T.,
Greeting from your beloved sponsored child. I am fine and hope some to you. I am very happy that you sent me 100 us $ that enable me to buy one padlock, metal box, 1 pair of uniform, one shirt and geometreax set. It also assisted my family with one sheet, 2 kgs of beans, 3 kgs’s sugar, 1 pkt tea leaves, 2 bars soap, 2 tins cooking fat, firestone shoes, 1 pair of tins, tw packets cooking darir (sp?) and one mattress. We thank you and keep praying for you. This year I am in grade 5. Wishing you the best,
Loter Ngilimo

He includes pictures he drew of an oxen, car & barn, and a photo of him and his mom with all of the items they bought.

My sister in law tells me they have received even more sentimental cards from him about how they have helped change his life by sending him to school and providing for extras that he wouldn't normally be able to have. She even sends gifts to him in the mail, and after all these years not one has failed to reach Kenya. On their 'fridge at home is a picture of Ngilimo, and her boys pray for him every night, and they dream of traveling to Kenya one day and seeing him in person.

Don't make me get all Sally Struthers on your ass and post a video of myself crying over these kids. Just go check out this website and see how easy it is to make a difference in the life of a child. We're doing it. My girls have begged me to adopt a 12 and 10 year old, and that is just what we're doing. I'll report back on that next week.

p.s. look what Philanthropy Thursday won ---------------------------------->

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

The Tenant, Part III

Fortunately for us, our tenant really wants to find a place in town. He is unable/unwilling to get his driver's license, and this prohibits him from living with us. We're country folk, and there is no feasible way for him to commute into town and back without a car; never mind the errands he would need to run now and again.

Of course, this didn't stop him from agreeing to live with us, as I presume he thought I would just cart him around with me and the rest of the kids and make sure he was where he needed to be. Because if you have four kids, what's one more person depending on you, right? Besides, I really needed to give up the bon bons, and in so doing would free up scads of time.

Yesterday, a place near the school opened up with a private room and bath. The principal let me know that a teacher would drive him out and help him transfer his stuff. He seemed apologetic that he had unknowingly saddled us with a man-child who couldn't drive, offering to make us dinner for our troubles. I have to admit, it is a win-win situation. We can act disappointed that he is unable to logistically arrange for living out of town, and we no longer have to deal with basically supporting an exchange student. Now the kids will just see him for dance class and that's just fine with me.

When the kids and I got home, I peeked in the guest house and noticed it was devoid of his stuff; the transfer had gone smoothly. Sigh of relief.

This morning I put Jack down for a nap and went into the guest house to clean up. We have family coming for a visit this week, and I needed to wash the linens and make the place presentable. Everything looked pretty clean, and just needed minimal work. I stripped the bed, then went into the closet for the rest of the linens to take into the house. That's when it struck me. I grabbed my cell phone and called Bob at the office.

"Bob? The cobalt blue sheets are missing."

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Two Butt Water Martinis on the Rocks, Please

Take a large, basin-sized martini glass.

Spray the interior with vermouth.

Fill to the rim with Bombay Sapphire gin.

Add three (or twelve, as is my preference) olives.

Now go to the bathroom.

Take a large, ahem, poop.

Wipe mostly clean with some baby wipes.

Sit in your martini glass.


Yeah. That's about how I feel when my child hungrily gulps bathwater after a gross diaper change.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Good Cop and Bad Cop Get Away for a Night

As of late, my husband has really stepped up and taken on the role of "bad cop" in our house. I was getting tired of being the parent who had to dish out 99.9% of the negative consequences due to my role as the parent who is with the kids all of the time. I was starting to get jealous of how he could just walk in the door and be so damn popular with all the kids. Each night, shrieks of "Daddddy!" fill the kitchen as he enters the home, and I half-expect to see a cape unfurling in the wind behind him, his fists planted firmly on his hips as he announces in a deep voice that Super Daddy is home and wouldn't these swell children like some candy? It always makes me feel like the shrew in the background, hands also on her hips as she readies herself to shake the wooden spoon at Super Daddy and scold him to not fill the kids up before dinner.

Kids are kids. They don't see that you are the one who gets them fed, takes them places, knows about what is going on in all facets of their lives, and cleans up after them, both literally and metaphorically. Never mind the other little detail involving the Biblical sacrifice of our bodies and minds; that is something they will only ever understand if and when they become parents themselves. Kids just don't think that way. All they see is that we are the ones who enforce homework, who turn the television off and make them clean out the rabbit cage, or who snort in disbelief when they ask if they can go cruise the mall, alone, with some other juvenile delinquents.

Recently I've reached my tipping point. Or as I like to call it, the point where I start seriously researching beach side property in the Bahamas so that I might run away and own my own shrimp shack. Don't look at me that way. I'd still send postcards. And once a year I'd let my family visit and there would be an all-you-can-eat buffet.

In theory, I believe that we shouldn't take our children's behavior personally. I can sometimes live up to my own words, but it's been getting harder and harder, and there have been some huge cracks in my armor. I needed my husband to help me.

He has. In a big way. He's not working such long hours, he's doing a lot more of the driving, and we are dividing and conquering on those days where there are dance lessons, soccer practice, and volleyball. All starting or ending at 5:00. The relief I feel is immeasurable.

This weekend we went on an overnight date. We arranged for some victims good friends to take the kids, and we drove to a resort in the desert. For a blissful time, we were just a couple, just two people who danced under the stars, lingered over an expensive dinner, and didn't worry that someone was going to barge into the bedroom. I had to be peeled away, my arms wrapped around a palm tree, as we readied ourselves to leave.

When we picked up the kids, they were surly over the fact that we hadn't taken them with us. "It's not fair! We are a family! You can't go play without us!" I just smirked. My ten year-old looked at us for a moment.

"Did you and daddy actually swim without us?"

I looked at Bob. He continued loading up the car with their bags, then he simply said, "Marco."

I got into the car.


Thursday, October 11, 2007

Ann Coulter: This is Your Mama Calling

Ann Coulter has recently been quoted as asserting that the Jewish people of this world "need perfecting."

Now, that's just silly.

Ann, you need a timeout. You have garnered so much attention from your tantrums that I don't think you remember you can catch more flies with honey than you can with vinegar, sweetheart. Annie, are you afraid that if you stop screaming and holding your breath and throwing your toys that people will stop listening to you? Are you afraid that you are only getting noticed for being bad? Do you crave the nation's attention, even when you know you're being naughty, because you think that is the only way anyone will listen to you?

You need a hug. You don't need to pander to the base neanderthal part of men to replace your daddy's love. You don't need to be mean to those women who lost their husbands on 9/11 to get back at your mommy.

Shhh. It's okay, Ann. No matter how bad you've been, no matter how sad and angry you are on the inside, you are still a lovable person. Shhhh, now there. It's okay.

Annie, everybody gets older. There is so much more to a person than looks. You can start to let go of that, just a tiny bit, now that you're nearing 50. Come on, let go. There you go, now go get a skirt that's a little longer. You don't need your hair to be bleached to within an inch of its life to be attractive. You can trim all that damage off, keep some of the length, and go for a softer color. It's okay. You're still pretty. Yes, you are. You are a pretty girl, but you need to remember that pretty is as pretty does. In which case, I think you might want to avoid mirrors for a while, until some golden words start coming out of you. There, now child. The universe wants all of its children to be the best they can. Are you trying your best? I know you love God, Ann. Is this what Jesus would do? I want you to pick up your mess and go write a nice letter. Right. Now.

And when tomorrow comes, I want you to open your heart, smile, and treat people the way you have wished to be treated your whole life.

Now scoot.

Philanthropy Thursday

I love jewelry. I love it almost as much as I love skin care products, which is saying quite a bit since I suffer from wrinkle-rexia and refuse to seek treatment. Unless that treatment is a firming/lifting/heat-activated/exfoliating/smoothing serum. That smells like my youth returned.

I live in a delicious part of the country for jewelry. There are all the Native American wares to be had, and you cannot walk through my downtown without throwing a rock and hitting a gallery with handmade jewelry (as opposed to when I lived in the South and you couldn't throw a rock without hitting a Baptist church or a Waffle House. But that is another story).

My good bloggy friend, Bette Jo, has an Etsy shop where she sells her exquisite jewelry. As I type this I am tossing my head around to feel the red coral earrings and turquoise necklace of hers that I am wearing. I wanted to take a picture so you could see what they look like on, but I looked at all the pictures I took and frankly, I do not remember my neck being crepey last week. It is apparently my time as a woman to have a wrinkled neck, and as I have no anti-crepe creams or potions, so you will have to make do with pictures of the jewelry that do not have my neck in them. Oh, wait, that white swan-like thing to the right is my neck. You only think it's a mannequin.

In honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Bette Jo has generously offered to make this Philanthropy Thursday really fun. If you buy any of her creations, she will donate 10% of the proceeds to the Susan G. Komen foundation. Just reference in your purchase "Philanthropy Thursday" and it's done. This generous offer is valid throughout the entire month of October, so any time you shop in her store all month, you're also helping fund research for a cure.

I was amazed at how reasonable her prices were, and you aren't really shopping, you're being philanthropic.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

The Tenant, Part II

As you probably know, we have a tenant. A visiting teacher who is teaching a nine week unit of dance to the children where our kids go to school. It's been interesting.

When we agreed to give up our guest house to this young man, we figured that would be it. We would see him around occasionally, and all that would be different is that the kids couldn't play in the guest house until December. We would be nice landlords with noisy kids and a lumbering dog. We would stay out of his way and give him his privacy. And he would give us ours.

The first night I asked Bob if we should invite him in for dinner. He had no food, other than the snacks I had supplied in the mini-fridge for him, and he seemed daunted by the prospect of driving to the grocery store. Bob agreed, but was clearly a little pained. However, his nice guy side won out.

"Would you like to join us for dinner tonight? You must be tired from traveling, and it will save you a trip to the store until the morning."

"Hmmmmm. Is it spicy?" There was a note of concern in his voice.

I was making arroz con pollo, but with a moderate amount of cumin, and it takes a lot of heat for us to call something spicy.

"Not really. Maybe a tiny bit."

He thought. "All right, yes."

Dinner was uneventful, and later that night, as we relaxed on the couch I looked at Bob. "This is going to go well, I just know it." He looked back at me.

"Jen, just remember, he's not our foreign exchange student, and we're not his host family. Okay? He's a grown-up, and he's renting our house. Period."

We both looked up as the kitchen door opened and the teacher walked in.

"What are you two watching?"

As Bob got up he turned to me. "Tenant. He is not going to Disneyland with us. He is not snuggling on the couch," he whispered.
In order to get to school, Bob has been leading him in each morning as Bob drives the kids into town. After the first day, when he was lurching along the highway at 42 mph in a 75, it became clear to my husband that he couldn't drive.

"Andrew. Do you know how to drive?"

"Mmmmm. No. I have always had friends take me places."

"Do you have a driver's license? From anywhere?"

"Ah, no."

He has been driving all around in a borrowed Subaru, one lent from the music teacher at my childrens' school. It explains the fact that he can't get the car out of third gear, and his fear of stoplights. At each stoplight they encountered on the way to school, Bob would look in the rear view mirror and see the teacher literally pounding on the steering wheel in frustration.

After speaking to the principal about this, we all decided he might be a lot happier if we could somehow find him a a place in town. He needs to be able to walk places, needs young people around him, and a family of six with a schedule that doesn't include playing Scrabble with the tenant doesn't help things.

Everyone is on the lookout for a place for him, and I was telling this to a girlfriend of mine who owns a gallery in town and knows the place like the back of her hand.

"Tell him he could stay at Charly's, he seems like he would like it there."

So yesterday, while picking up the kids, I went up to the principal. "Hey, I was talking to someone and she thought we should see if Charly's might have a place for him." I was proud of my intel, happy to contribute to the hunt for better lodging.

He looked at me with a funny expression and then said, yeah, maybe Charly's has rooms above it, he would look into it.

Okay, or not.

Come to find out, Charly's is a gay bar.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Carved in Wood and in Her Heart

In my oldest daughter's bedroom sits a wooden dresser. It has been painted countless times over the years, and it has seen me through childhood and adolescence and now houses the clothes of my own girls.

This weekend I was organizing the clothes for winter, storing the summer clothes and cleaning out the girls' drawers. When I emptied the top sock drawer, I smiled. Etched in ballpoint pen on the wooden base of the drawer is the careful I Love Brandon. I wrote that 25 years ago, and to this day, I can remember how strong my crush was on this boy. For two years I was his friend, and watched in agony as a girlfriend of mine "went" with him (do you remember? "Will you go with me? Circle yes, no, or maybe"). I remember being transfixed by the way his shoulder blades moved through his t-shirt when he would use his pencils as drumsticks on the top of his desk. On the last day of school, our junior high homeroom teacher awarded two leadership awards, one for a boy and one for a girl. Brandon and I were chosen, and I recall feeling the happiest I'd ever felt as an angst-ridden pre-teen.

I scooped the rest of the socks out of the drawer, and underneath my memory-rich scrawl was another message. In writing nearly the same as my own, I read I Love Jake. I smiled. My oldest, in seventh grade, is nearly the same age I was when I wrote my declaration of love. My smile faded, though, as I thought of how she must feel. The difference between my daughter and me at this age is vast. She is lovely. She is ethereal and flawless and has absolutely no idea how stunning she is, only that she hates that she doesn't look like her friends. If Bob and I were the type of parents to allow our daughters to "go" with a boy at this age, she would likely be with this boy. But we're not. Remember, she has good reason to believe that we're conspiring to "turn her Amish." Our hard and fast rule is no dating until junior year in high school, as long as NHS grades are maintained and at least one activity per semester. This may as well be a hundred years away for our daughter.

Then, last night, as I clacked away on my computer in my office, I felt a presence outside my door. I looked up to see tears running from crystal green eyes, her blond head shaking in the hall light. She is filled with anguish that this boy she "loves" is dating a friend of hers. Worse, this so-called friend is filled with glee that she has something my daughter doesn't, and makes efforts to point this out during school as often as she can.

I listened as she poured out her heart, both thrilled that she trusted me and miserable with my inability to fix things. I thought of how mediocre this friend of hers is, how she will likely become like her family, scratching away a life with little purpose, flat expressions on all their faces, apathy toward children that need to be supervised and guided. This little girl is "lucky" because she basically raises herself and her younger brother. The level of independence and lack of supervision is stunning. She is rough, with thick features, a mean streak, and always looks dirty to my mom-vision. She is one of the most popular girls in the class.

I want to tell my daughter this. I want to tell her this young girl will likely peak in a few years, and that she will forget her pain of the moment and go on to have a wonderful life (I hope, oh how I hope). I want to be mean-spirited myself and predict teen pregnancy for this girl, or STDs or a future of housecleaning. But I don't. I just look at my daughter and then hold her and murmur, "It will get better sweetie. I promise."

My heart hurts. But probably not as badly as hers.

Monday, October 08, 2007

The Tenant

"We tried to find the visiting teacher a place, but even the hostels are full. Can you help out? It's only nine weeks."

I thought about this. We have a small guest house that's detached from our home. When we bought the place, it was dark and dirty, but over the past three years we have changed it to an inviting space with wood floors, light paint, and cute furnishings. Currently, its primary use is for sleepovers my daughters host. Still. The idea of having someone we don't know living on the property is a little strange, and I know this won't go over well with Bob.

"Yes, sure! Of course we'll help!"

He arrived on Saturday, and when the principal introduced him, I couldn't place his accent. Vaguely European? He looks like a child, although I will find out later he is at least in his late twenties. He is very thin, with pale skin, dark hair, and dark eyes. He is also very, very gay. This puts my husband at ease with the concept of a male tenant, and also mildly irritates him. Like most straight men who are not homophobic, he is uncomfortable with the sashaying, hand gesturing and giggling that accompany this visiting dance teacher.

"Where are you from?" I ask.

He sighs. It is, clearly, a weighty question. Why have I asked such a question when he is so jet lagged?

"Ohhh. 'Tis a hard question." His voice is nasal, and he sounds strained, as if it is a mammoth effort to speak, so he comes across both bored and pained. And with a slight head cold.

"I was born in Lithuania, but I've lived in Austria, Germany, France..." he trails off. "I need water. It is so dry here."

Later that day, I knocked on his door with a bag of sheets and towels from Target. He opened the bag silently, then took out the package of sheets. He held them in his hand at arm's length, then brought them closer, squinting.

"Are these black?"

"No. I think they're navy blue. But they're flannel. So you'll be warm. It should be well below freezing tonight."

He thrusts the package back at me, and I fumble as I grab the sheets. With a tsking sound he tells me, "They are cobalt blue. I am, how do you say? Allergic to cobalt blue." His body suddenly shudders all over as he runs his hands up his thighs and brings them to his face.

"I get hives. All over. You have tea? I have the ulcers."

He shuts the door. Eight weeks and six days to go.

I need to start saying no.

Friday, October 05, 2007

A Meme Walks Into a Bar...

I've been tagged by Andi for a Four things meme. If you're not in the mood for a healthy dose of narcissism, please scroll to the bottom to see if you've been tagged.

Four Things...

Four Jobs I've Had
Trash picker at the Oregon State Fair. I was fourteen and got the job because my uncle was the fair director. I actually liked it. I can still remember the smell of the hay in the barns in the early morning, and the way the dust looked in the sunlight in the stalls. And the fair food for lunch. Who doesn't want some good fair food?

Victim Witness Coordinator. I was assigned to adult felony crimes at our DA's office. This was my very favorite job. I loved going to court, the police ride alongs, the feeling that I was helping people and working against the "bad guys." What I didn't like was how insensitive it made me. You have to develop a hard shell when you're dealing with constant tragedy, and I got to the point where I could eat my lunch and look at autopsy pictures, or get excited when a "good rape case" landed on my desk.

Case Worker. This was a little more my speed. I worked at a battered women's shelter and handled a case load of clients. I liked that my job was to help them get back on their feet, make a new life. I didn't have to deal with the abuse aspect, rather I was there as a healing "move forward" catalyst, and there is nothing like seeing a woman get an admission letter to a local state college and acting as if it were a Harvard acceptance letter. Because to these women, doing anything on their own without being controlled is an enormous victory.

Minion. I don't know what my actual job title was, but in college my husband (well, at the time boyfriend) started a company that ran political campaigns for local candidates. I worked on two campaigns - one for the mayor and one for a city council person. I licked envelopes, made calls, and helped canvas neighborhoods to register citizens to vote. And I was dating the boss.

Four Movies I'd Watch Over and Over
Finding Nemo
The Thomas Crown Affair (1999)
The Wizard of Oz
The Godfather series

Four TV Shows
The Girls Next Door (Can't. Look.Away.)
Big Love
Curb Your Enthusiasm
Sex and the City reruns

Four Places I've Gone on Vacation
Bahamas, Lost Lake, France, Jekyll Island

Four Fave Foods
Goat Cheese (on anything. A caramelized onion tart, my entire body - doesn't matter)
Pad Thai with tofu
Gin and Tonic (limes happen to be an excellent source of Vit. C)
The spicy bean burritos from the vendors in Peurto Penasco, Mexico

Four Websites I visit Daily
Several dozen or more from my favorites list (there are over a hundred on there)
Huffington Post
The Weather Channel (I know. I check every day. Nerd alert)
Uh, more blogs from my favorites

Four Places I'd Rather Be
In bed reading
In a hammock on an island, reading
Snorkeling through calm lagoon waters with my kids, with a good book waiting on the beach
Disney with the kids

Four Bloggers I Tag
Painted Maypole
Dorky Dad
Absolutely Bananas

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Philanthropy Thursday

Gah! What a day (and it's barely 7:00 AM as I write this). I need to do something good today to just get my mind off things. Despite my vows to simplify things this year, busy-ness has crept up behind me on soft padded feet. And she's a tiger. Add to that an increasingly deranged form of PMS that hits me each month (it gets worse as we get older, right? This is normal and my uterus isn't going to just plunk out on the floor on me one day in revolt?), extreme fatigue from dragging my sorry self to a PTA meeting last night, and then unwisely choosing to read a great book late in to the night and I'm ready for the weekend.

Today I am going to finish making calls for a PTA project I have. This feels really giving right now as I would rather do a face plant into some Thai food and finish my book. I am also going to jot down some ideas I have for a meeting this weekend. In a fit of mania (or perhaps I was just ovulating), I agreed to become the volunteer coordinator for the Democratic party for my county. It's going to be a bit of a challenge in this Red State I live in, and I have already begged a girlfriend of mine to do this with me. Of course, she's busier than I am, and smarter, too. So promptly after our meeting, I get to go help her paint her home office in return. I'm hoping the paint fumes ease cramps.

Lastly, I recently figured out that my family eats $170 worth of yogurt each month. Is that obscene? I thought so. It's not like we don't stock plenty of snack alternatives, so for the month of October I will not be adding yogurts to my cart at the store, and on November 1st the kids and I will go buy $170 worth of canned food and take it over to the food bank. They can nosh on cheese this month. I think they'll live.

By the way, I'm reading Prep. It's been hailed as Salinger-esque and I totally agree. But be warned: you will neglect people until you finish this book.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Are You Listening, Dave Barry?

Dave Barry and I have a lot in common. He writes columns that make millions of Americans laugh. He’s syndicated. He’s written books. People know who this guy is.

I write things that make my husband laugh (when sex is on the horizon). I leave comments on other people’s blogs. I have earned several dozen dollars in Amazon gift cards over the course of my writing. The similarities? They are eerie. I have a call in to John Edwards (the psychic) to investigate our parallel existence.

Other bloggers have voiced their appreciation for writers they admire. I am going to do the same. Except that I will not be making a video. I considered a rap, but Dave Barry is very old and may not appreciate anything outside of Neil Diamond’s genre.

So I wrote him a letter.

Dear Dave Barry:

I have a blog, too. So why don't I have a syndicated column? Aren't you heading into retirement soon? I've been reading you since roughly the third grade, and I'm not so young anymore, so that makes you, what? Ninety?

Because I understand how compelling these words must be, I am willing to spare you the shame of begging and say, yes. Yes, I will take over your column. Look at the Abbey women. You could follow in their footsteps! Plus, I have more kids than you.

Just be sure to tell the good people over in payroll that it's Jen, not Jenn. I want to make sure the check clears before buying that Volvo.

Jen M.

Friends, fellow bloggers, lurkers: if you are reading this, I am beseeching you to send Dave Barry the following form letter, asking him to let me write his column for a day. Just cut and paste the following…

Dear Dave Barry:

I am a crazed fan of Get In The Car! and I am telling you: you’re on your way out, Old Man. Why don’t you rest your bunions and let her write your column for a day? You could garden, maybe get to those coupons, or hell, babysit some of her kids. She has enough. If you messed up and lost one due to your senility, she might not even notice.

If you do this, she has promised to split your earnings for a week among us super fans. That is a very generous thing of you to offer, and we appreciate it. Obviously, without financial compensation, we wouldn’t be writing this letter so forward.

Very Truly Yours,
Crazed Fan Number ________(please start with 46,892 as this makes me look good)

Then send it to:

p.s. Would Secret Agent shoot me an email? You won the bracelet from last Thursday's Philanthropy Thursday! Thanks, and congrats!

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Would You Do A Favor For A Fellow Blogger?

Fellow blogger and fabulous writer, Jenn, over at I serve The Queens has lost a family member. She is creating a web card for Terry & Cheryl Blaskowski, parents of Sgt. Matthew Blaskowski.

Comments will be moderated; no anti-war messages will be posted.

Would you take a moment and send your kind thoughts? She would like to get this to them ASAP.

This Just In: Britney Spears Loses Physical Custody of her Children

In a shocking twist in the oft-discussed Britney/Kevin love spiral, Britney has just been ordered to relinquish custody of her babies to her ex, Kevin “my middle name is class – or is it ass” Federline (cuz ass is good, right?).

What went awry in the marriage to lead them both down this path of heartache and despair? I can tell you. In fact, it’s quite simple.

Britney should have married my husband, Bob, a.k.a. The B-Mag or Jam-Master Finance. It's all good, homies, and I’m going to lay it out for y’all.

Picture it, if you will:

May, 2000: Britney enrolls part-time at the University of Oregon. She lives in the dorms to get closer to the real people; although she is frequently gone promoting what will soon be her first album. Dorm mates spot a young man approaching and point in delight. Could this be Brit’s new boyfriend?

Indeed it is. The young ladies gasp collectively as the tall figure walks through the courtyard into the dorm entrance. The tails of his Polo button down sway in the warm breeze, his pulled up dress socks adding just the right dash of je ne sais quoi. Two girls literally swoon. Britney knows this is her man, as he’s carrying his signature briefcase by his side. After all, he is the star College Agent for a national life insurance company. Yes, it’s college: a time to experiment, to be free, and to delve into the fantasy world that is Fortune 500 companies. With a familiar “click click” Britney hears Bob snap open his briefcase as he approaches her door. Her entourage moves to the sides of the room to prepare for his entrance, and the doors open to Bob holding a whole life policy in Britney’s name. “This ain’t term, baby,” He croons, and two months later, Hit Me Baby, One More Time is born.

2004: Britney is impregnated with triplets. B-Mag doesn’t like to mess around with the average, and by God, his woman is gonna breed, dammit. Get that DNA out there! There are future Phi Kappa Psi Presidents to be made! Three months after the triplets are born, Britney succumbs to his virility and conceives yet again. Oops...I Did it Again goes double platinum in a re-release.

2007: Britney announces her retirement to train German Shepherd Dogs, and is elected to her children’s PTA for a record four year presidential term. Bob couldn’t be prouder, and promotes Britney to Chief Operating Officer of their household affairs.

2020: Britney celebrates twenty years with B-Mag, and in honor of their loving bond, releases her first album in 13 years: a Christian collaboration with Kathie Lee Gifford singing backup. For the piece de resistance, Britney and Bob adopt two of the Jolie-Pitt children that were left out in a previous divorce decree.

2053: In a tragic set of events, Britney’s plane crashes en route to charity work at the Oregon Alpha chapter of Phi Kappa Psi. Her dream of adding a wing to the crumbling frat house and becoming an honorary House Mother burn with the plane wreckage. Four days later she is buried next to Bob’s first briefcase. The nation mourns.

Do you see how differently things could have gone for Brit?