Tuesday, February 28, 2006

From my driveway

I stood on my driveway this evening as the last day of February faded and the first breath of Spring was warm and inviting.

Monday, February 27, 2006

So Much To Say

First of all...a big Spring Flower Celebratory Hallelujah because the Olympics are finally over. YAY-USS!!!! It's not that I think the Torino games weren't great or that I'm demonstrating a strong sense of ethnocentrism because my genetic forebears don't hail from cold European climes...because half of them do. It's all that snow and fog and the Thursday nights devoid of "The Office" and "ER". I'm thrilled that I don't have to ignore my NYTimes internet Olympic updates during the day so that I can watched the heavily cut-up 8-hours-old replays at night whilst pretending that they're live. Too much cranky-ass Dick Button's skating commentary. Too much speculation about Chad Hedrick's dead grandmother and his self-involved teammate Shani Davis. And too much Sasha Cohen. Sure's she's great and all...I mean...the girl leg-presses 400 lbs. She's a hoss! But the bottom line is that I'm not such a freaking NATIONALIST that I think Americans ought to win everything or that I can conveniently ignore the fact that the Japanese chick was better. She was...and I'm glad she won. So there.
Writer Ayelet Waldman was under fire from readers and Oprah viewers for stating in a Salon.com column that she loves her husband more than her children. She even went out on a limb to admit that, even after four children, their sex life is torrid. TORRID, people! Her word...not mine. And I'm not trying to be Captain Obvious or anything but WHY WOULDN'T SHE BE rocking the sack with this guy? Who can blame her? He's a brilliant Pulitzer-winning writer. He lays out words like polished stones on the page...pretty, textured, thoughtful words that you'd like to put in your mouth--*cough*--sorry...where was I? Waldman's husband: Michael Chabon. He's equal parts literary wunderkind and househusband. He's Jewish. He changes diapers and plays with the kids. He cooks dinner and takes the little ones to playgroup. He still thinks that his wife is hot after four pregnancies and he says so publicly. He doesn't feel that being a real presence in the lives of his children is emasculating and he doesn't blame feminism for the country's many ills or use it to excuse the violent and selfish actions of his gendermates. And I need not point out that he's so stunningly beautiful that it makes my eyes hurt. In female parlance, Chabon is referred to as ONE STOP SHOPPING. That said, I still have the following to offer:

Dear Ayelet: So sorry that our jealous, middle-aged peers can't stand the thought that you and Michael are still getting it on at this stage of the game. Sorry, too, that the success you both have as writers plus the fact that life with four beautiful children hasn't somehow sucked the sweet marrow of sexuality out of your coupledom makes all of these frustrated people feel sexless and irrelevant and eager to lash out at you.

The love you feel for your children should be different than what you feel for their father. Both should be powerful and powerfully intense. One is sexual and the other isn't. One represents the partner with whom you share your life and the others are the result of that life. Both equal and equally special. I get that, because life without Mr. Half wouldn't be worth living. Ditto life without one of our children which would cause a part of us to die, both individually and collectively, and we would never be the same again. But different doesn't mean unequal and it's important to make that distinction. I feel sure that's what you really meant to say in your column when you pissed off all those people whose barbed comments caused you to name your recently-cancelled blog, "Bad Mother". Now go hug your kids and give Michael a big, wet kiss for me.

Casanova. Fast Gun Fife. Eagle-eye Barney. Big Barn. The Adolphe Menjou of Mayberry.
Luther Heggs. The Incredible Mr. Limpet. Half of the Apple Dumpling Gang.
DON KNOTTS...You were peerless and you will be missed.

Hearing author/journalist Anna Quindlen on Friday was a huge buzz. She was intelligent and eloquent. When she called for a restructuring of the family dynamic which, despite the strides women have made in the outer world, still places 90% of the childcare and home responsibilities on their shoulders, the applause was automatic and thunderous. We're talking about the care of a home that more than one person lives in and the nurturing of children that it takes two people to bring into the world. It's called the Second Shift and only 50% of the population is expected to shoulder that enormous mantle. Guess which half that would be? Can I get an "Amen"?

Friday, February 24, 2006

Ende. Fin. Finito. Done

Thursday, February 23, 2006

What Time Is It?

1) I've been sidelined with an emerging sinus thing which came on the heels of the cold I thought I blew through rather swiftly last week. I feel as though I've been underwater for some time. I'm feverishly working on the table for the auction and should be able to spray the sealer on tomorrow night. The past couple of days I've alternated painting with lying on the sofa and breathing into a humidifier. I'm not feeling too sharp and the day-after-the-party scene from "Sixteen Candles" keeps playing through my head. I feel like Long Duck Dong lying flat out in the yard and Grandpa is clapping his hands in my face saying, "Dong...where is my automobile?" Yeah...that's exactly how a sinus infection feels.

2) Tomorrow I'm going downtown with a friend to hear Anna Quindlen speak. I'll either be feeling better by then, or I'll be counting the minutes until my 1:30 appointment for sinus drugs. I have to be upright by early Saturday, because I'm running the 5K portion of the Cowtown Marathon/Half/10K/5K with my youngest son. Meanwhile, my intimate relationship with the humidifier will continue.

3) Every day for a week it's been cloudy here. Cold (for Texas). Humid or just wet. Dark. I would never make it in Seattle. Or Norway (where in some places there is no sun from November to January). I don't have Seasonal Affective Disorder, but a week of no sunshine is really getting to me.

4) I'll watch the figure skating tonight, but I get the advance stats via my New York Times webpage, so I already know how everything plays out.

5) Apolo Ohno is rocking that little soul patch in a major way. That hair! Those eyes! That skin! Those teeth! Sure...at 5'8" he's practically a little troll doll, but he's one I wouldn't mind swearing off the high-heels for.

6) Skating commentator Dick Button is one cranky old curmudgeon! He rarely has anything nice to say about any skater. Maybe it's because he's 136 years old. Maybe it's because he sees skaters do things he couldn't even do WHEN HE WAS MR. THANG! Either way, he's making me tired.

7) You're never too old to wear a seatbelt. In our community a young man lost his life this week because he was in a hurry. He kissed his wife goodbye, jumped in his car and sped down an icy highway to church where he was to give the early sermon. He hit a slick patch and he was thrown through the windshield because he didn't have his seatbelt on. I didn't even know him, but from all accounts he was a great guy...intelligent and with a keen sense of humor. And now he's dead and it's no one's fault but his own. I catch myself "going without" if I'm just driving two blocks to the grocery store, but I'm not doing it anymore. Neither should you. Everyone's in a big, damn hurry, so strap yourself in good and tight. I'm serious, people. Second chances rarely happen. Now go and have a spectacular Friday.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

My Plea

Dear Neighbors In The Austin Stone House Down the Street,

There's no way to be tactful about this, so I'm going to be as straightforward as I can and hope that you take this in the constructive spirit that it is intended: Clean up the outside of your damn house!

I know you guys are really nice people. You've bought cookie dough from my kids when they were shilling for the Boy Scouts, and we've seen you having picnics on your lawn with other families who, like you, adopted gorgeous baby girls from China. You're also one of the handful of sign-posting Democrats who live in this neighborhood, and--trust me--that fact alone makes me think twice about telling you this. But I gotta say that the disastrous state of your home exterior forces me to tell you that "you're just not representin" us well in this neighborhood.

First of all I'd like to remind you that the "baby girl" is about four years old now and way too big to fit in the red plastic safety swing that's still hanging in the tree out front. Take it down before the rope rots of its own accord and falls into the yard. Put something else up, if that works for you. Build a treehouse or a fort. Hang some bird feeders. Whatever.

Second, pick a holiday theme and stick with it only for the duration of the holiday. You are not required to put up new decorations at any time, but it would help if you took one set down before putting the new ones up. Today as I drove past I saw a sunflower windsock in the front garden, a Spring Flower seasonal flag flying from the rain gutter and icicle Christmas lights that have been up for two years without a rest. At Halloween, you added some pumpkins to the mix, though those went away somehow.

Also, there's that hay bale/shrubbery yard display that's been up on the corner of the yard for several years. Back in the day at Halloween you'd put up fresh hay and a scarecrow with pumpkins. At Christmas there was a stuffed Santa. Two Fourth of July's ago you put up flags and a stuffed effigy of Uncle Sam on the hay. He was never removed. The flags went away but, for some reason, Uncle Sam has been gently composting in the sod for two seasons and though he no longer sits atop his slowly dissolving hay bale, I can still see his red and white striped pants peeking out from the pile of leaves behind the display. Put him--and us--out of the misery and remove him.

Third, there's the fence. The wooden stockade fence. Surely you've noticed that it's falling down...everywhere. You live on the corner of two major streets, so the fence wraps around your house and we--all of us--get to watch as planks lean tiredly in twos and threes before falling completely over and leaving gaps in the fence that look like the dental work of a professional hockey player. We couldn't care less what you did do the backyard or even if you left it as barren as the Gobi Desert...as long as we didn't have to witness the complete devastation through the disintegrating fence.

See...our neighborhood association isn't one of those that dictates what kind or color of flower you can plant in your garden. Hell, we don't even care if you have flowers. Still, this is a really nice part of town, but even if you neglect to mow your lawn for so long that neighborhood children get lost in it, the worst that will happen is some gentle hinting from your next door neighbor or some college kids will drive by with a flatbed of mowers and offer to do it for "$30. These old houses were mostly built in the early 1940s and each one is distinct, and while we're always looking for creativity and individuality (I have an old gravestone in my herb garden), we're not looking for something whose attempt at a departure from the traditional results in decrepitude. You know...something Dan and Roseanne Connor would call home.

Sincerely yours,

Mrs. Half
"Yard Police"

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Semantics 101

Let's get a few things straight.

I hate the show "Desperate Housewives". It's the worst kind of shallow, objectifying dreck. It's Prime Time Jello-O Wrestling. It's a collagen and silicone soap opera disguised as a pile of crap in a see-through bustier. The only thing desperate about it is the publicity-needy Teri Hatcher, but that's not what bugs me most about it. Can you guess? It's that ugly word. Say it with me: H-h-h-o-u-s-e-w-v-i-v-e-s. That's right. Houswives.

First things first. Housewives, like the dinosaurs and Beta Max, are extinct. There is no such creature. By definition, a housewife is a woman who is married and whose focus is the house and its contents. She cooks. She cleans. She does the laundry and goes to the grocery store. She does not have a paying job (not a judgement...it's just a fact) and has either never thought to want one or is discouraged from having one. For a housewife to want or need a career was considered to be an emasculating blow to her husband...even if he couldn't or didn't make enough money to pay the bills. Whether she produced children or not is/ was beside the point. This is called the "setting aside reality to accommodate the fantasies of others" mindset. The home and its environs are the fate of the housewife. She gets married and she immediately becomes the unpaid help. Her job in life is to make life nice for others, while not necessarily living one of her own.

Here is a picture of a well-known housewife.

Her name was June Cleaver.

Here's another one.
Her name was Lucy Ricardo.

Okay, these women were merely tv characters, and no woman--not even June Cleaver--really vacuumed wearing high heels and pearls. The rest of it, though, was pretty true. 40 years ago a woman might jump from her father's house to her husband's house without her feet ever touching freedom's ground for a moment to breathe the free air of self-sufficiency. Lacking an education, a means to put a roof over her own head or years of experience in a career, she became totally dependent on her husband for money. Even if she was lucky enough to have once had a career, it was expected that she would stop working and "take care of her husband" the moment she lost both her first and last name (Mrs. Ward Cleaver) in the marriage ceremony where, in my mother's day, she promised to "love, honor and obey". No children were required to set all of these limitations into motion.

So, about Desperate Housewhores--er--Housewives. Other than Bree VanDeKamp, who is really more of a anal-retentive cyborg, there are no housewives on DH. Eva Longoria's character, Gabrielle, has a maid to do all the menial chores. Gabrielle is just a trophy wife who only returned to her former modeling career when her husband's assets were frozen in a criminal investigation. They have no children, so why in the world was she at home? Loathesome Teri Hatcher's character is a book illustrator...and she's divorced...but employed. Also not a housewife. Skanky Nicolette Sheridan isn't anyone's wife either. Felicity Huffman's character used to be a high-powered lawyer. She gave it up--temporarily--to stay home with kids, but recently she's back at work. Either way, she's no housewife.

If anything, Huffman's character is the only thing that resembles what many real women do these days. It's not marriage that keeps them home and it's not the house with its infinite and never ending list of mind-numbing chores needed to keep it from folding like a filthy house of cards. Screw that! It's the kids. Those wonderful, aggravating, life-changing kids that you and your husband brought into this world.

We are not our mothers. Women who temporarily leave the workforce to be primary caregivers for their children are stay at-home-mothers. Or SAHM in blog/i.m-speak. They are not housewives. This is more than a matter of semantics. We're not talking HOMEMAKER or even DOMESTIC ENGINEER (which...I'm sorry...is a name that is just a cry for help) Unlike being a housewife, a SAHM is not a life sentence...it's just what some women (and men) do when they have kids. Thank God some men are starting to get the message and be more than the 1960s 15-minute-father with their kids, and though there's the tendency to refer to those particular dads as "heroes" when they forego a career (that's another post entirely), there's no reason to muck up the definition with a lot of useless references to floorwax and laundry detergent.

The focus is and always has been the welfare and early childhood education of small children. Though one might end up taking on all the aforementioned onerous tasks that can't or won't be done by those who "escaped" by leaving for the outside world of employment, it's the kids' naptime, and the reading aloud, and trips to the zoo and the park that define the life of a stay-at-home-mom. Take those kids out of the equation and I'm betting that most or all of us would be out there being doctors and lawyers and Indian chiefs (Hey, it can happen...look up Wilma Mankiller)

All I'm saying is that the term housewife is based on concept that rarely--if ever--exists anymore, because (Thank you Betty Friedan!) women have found that they can--if they choose--pursue more in life than just the removal of tough perspiration stains. Staying at home is a choice...not a requirement. It's not glamorous and it's not easy. If it was...you'd see a line of anxious men waiting for it that would definitely exceed the number assembled to purchase the swimsuit edition of Sports Illustrated.

I know women who've quit their jobs totally and forever to stay at home with their kids. They're not housewives. I know some who quit but who count the days until the last little one starts pre-school before resuming life on the outside. NOT A HOUSEWIFE. Out of the almost-17 years I've been a SAHM, I've held some kind of free-lance job for most of that time. Still, I'm not a houswife either. The house? It's going to be here a long time, and those baseboards or the mounting laundry aren't what made me pull out of the school parking lot one last time after locking my classroom door. It was the baby who was beside me in the infant seat who now drives himself to school and who still needs help editing his essays. And it was his two brothers after him. It's not the dishes that keep me here...it's the kids.

I can't really see Gabrielle doing that. Can you?

Friday, February 17, 2006

Let Them Eat Cake!

February heralds the beginning of Birthday Hell here at the Half House. And when I say Birthday Hell, I mean three straight months of birthday cakes. There's the buying of the ingredients. The baking and cleaning. And the eating of the cake. Plus there's barely enough time to consume one cake before it's time for another. Consider this: Mr. Half's birthday is tomorrow. The oldest son's is March 17th and mine is exactly one week later. Son #2's birthday is April 15th and Son #3's is April 19. I never thought I'd hear myself say this but...really...that's just TOO MUCH CAKE. Is there such a thing, you ask? The answer is a resounding "Yay-uss!"

What complicates the process is this slightly elitist-sounding admission: We don't do mixes. That's right. You heard it here first. Wordgirl thinks she's too good for Betty Crocker and she sneezes in the general direction of Duncan Hines...whoever HE is. Somehow in my formative years it was suggested to me that all cakes must be made from scratch. Look it up. It's probably a rule...maybe even a law. It might even be in the Bible someplace. My mother, who could barely make toast when she got married, murdered many a young, innocent cake in her early years because she chose the long, hard road and made everything using something called a recipe. It was touch and go there for awhile, but by the time I was old enough to be conscious of what I was eating, my mother could turn out baked goods like something out of a Martha Stewart acid trip.

I, myself, can make a killer bread and I don't use a machine, but cakes that have layers and get stacked using other creamy ingredients that have to be stirred and tested and stirred again. Cakes that require the use of words like ganache and piping... not so much. But I've always been afraid that if I used a mix, someone from the Food Network would stage a driveby shooting. Or my mother would come by and ground me for a month.

So...I don't really do mixes....until today. Last week, Son #2 ate lunch at the home of a friend and the mother served something called Bowl Cake which sent the boy and seven of his fellow teenaged friends into paroxysms of bliss and I was given to understand that the world would not ever spin correctly on its axis until I made this cake posthaste. And the ingredients? There are only four things required to make this cake. This wonderful and totally bad for you cake. Ready?


Bake in two circular pans. Let cool. (Cooling is essential here. Trust me on this one)
Put one layer in the bottom of a big bowl.
Now spread a layer of chocolate pudding (instant)
Now a layer of whipped cream. ( Cool Whip)
Now the second cake layer
Another layer of pudding.
Another layer of whipped cream.
Top with fragments of Heath Bar.
Refrigerate and serve cold.

I made this today and the cake cooling its heels in the garage fridge right now.
I feel so....cheap. But I could definitely get used to how fast and easy it was. Yeah, that was definitely good.

Speaking of cakes, you must read this post by ljc . The woman had a craving for chocolate cake at 10 p.m and roused herself long enough to bake one right there and then. Plus--she made a cream cheese icing to go with it. I ask you....is this the behavior of a sane woman? Now I'm not against eating cake at 10 p.m....and homemade is the best, if you can get it. But I'm not going to MAKE the thing once I've already parked my butt on the sofa and I'm settled in with a glass of
Red Bicyclette. I mean, c'mon! At that point in the evening, gravity has started to take effect and who am I to argue with The Laws of Physics?

I don't know why I'm surprised about the cake thing, though. Ljc makes everything. Paints her entire house. Knits. Sews. Bakes. Designs stuff and then makes it. Plus, she has a real job. I'm not kidding. You should check it out, but not unless you have a lot of self confidence that can withstand the full body blow impact of her creative genius. Otherwise, stay away. You have been warned. Have a great weekend.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Thanks, Mrs. Brumhall

As long as I can remember, I've loved books. I like to read them aloud to others and silently to myself. I even enjoy having them read aloud to me, but only if the person does it well. Childhood trips to the library were heaven for me and later, when I was old enough to work up a healthy disdain for all manner of shopping with my mother, I routinely convinced her to drop me off at the mall bookstore and come back for me when she was done.

I loved checking out my limit of books from the public library or filling out the Scholastic or Arrow Book Club order that we would get at school and then wait impatiently until my loot was delivered. Some of my most vivid memories of elementary school involve books. Sure, I remember spelling tests (I was really good at those) and handwriting (having to use a yellow crayon to color a solid line between each line of writing) and math (always confusing). I loved lunch and I liked recess (I was a good runner and one of the first to reach the swingset once we burst through the double doors. The first swing was prime real estate and it was a big deal to be fast enough to get there before anyone else).

But frequently, two very wonderful things happened after recess: Either the teacher read aloud to us or we entered the classroom to discover that our book club orders had arrived and were stacked in orderly fashion on our desks. If the books arrived, we were allowed some time to pore over our orders and decide which book we would be reading first. Trust me, a big stack of money could scarcely have made me as happy as the arrival of those books did.

However, if it was just a day for the teacher to read aloud, that was good, too. In sixth grade (back when it was still elementary school), Mrs. Lotven introduced us to The Good Earth,
The Hobbit, and A Wrinkle in Time. She had an engaging voice and I developed an affection for those books that has lasted my entire life. She read to the entire sixth grade--all at once, and that meant three classes of squirmy kids--not all of whom were as crazy about the written word as I was. But Mrs. Lotven didn't tolerate fools or their foolishness and everyone generally fell into line. Some even fell asleep, but I stayed awake like a junkie awaiting the next fix.

But even Mrs. Lotven doesn't rank as highly as my third grade teacher. This wasn't just because Mrs. Lotven was also my math teacher and possessed an alarming amount of proof as to what a numbskull I was when it came to fractions. It was because third grade was the year that I fell hopelessly in love with a pig named Wilbur and his spider friend, Charlotte.

Young Mrs. Brumhall wore her hair swept up in a lovely bun, though she later cut it into a disturbing teased/rat-combed bubble-do that required about three cans of Aqua Net and a flotilla of bobby pins to construct. She wore dresses every day and low-heeled pumps. Truthfully, I remember nothing else about that year. NOTHING...except Spring afternoons where Mrs. Brumhall would sit at her desk and read E.B. White's Charlotte's Web aloud to us.

After tearing around the playground for 30 minutes and then getting a cold drink of water at the fountain, we would file into the classroom and plop exhaustedly into our seats. The lights in the classroom would be off and Mrs. Brumhall would have already used the big wooden pole to open the tops of the windows and let in the gentle breeze, if there was one. On days that it rained, the room was a little darker, but it was so cozy and inviting that no one seemed to mind. Many of us just put out heads down on our desks. Listening seemed easier that way. Regardless, the opening words of that timeless classic about the search for friendship were forever burned into my head and the honeyed voice of Mrs. Brumhall became the voice of Charlotte.

"Where's Papa going with that ax?" said Fern to her mother as they were setting the table for breakfast.

I've wanted to find Mrs. Brumhall and tell her about how her reading to me changed my life, but I don't think she stayed in the area. Her accent indicated that she was not one of us, someone E.B.White (a native of Brooklin, Maine) would have described as being "from away". I knew nothing else about her, though for years I was convinced that her first name was Charlotte, so closely did I identify her with the voice of the spider.

If I could, I would tell her that I've worn out several copies of the book and to this day I can't read about Charlotte's death without crying. I've shared this book with each of our children. I wanted to give our daughter (the one we never had) the middle name Charlotte and I did name one of our best cats after EB (Elwyn Brooks) White. I own a copy of the audio book and EB White is the person reading it aloud. When he died on October 1, 1985, I tied a little black ribbon around my arm and talked to my classes about White's contributions to the literary world. I remain an avid reader of the New Yorker, a magazine where White's name is still invoked to this day and where his influence is still evident in the writings of his stepson, Roger Angell.

Sometimes I think the book means more to me now than it did when I was a kid. Maybe it's the fact that Wilbur's search for real friendship is something that translates well into the daily grind of the child-centered life that we live as today's parents. Or maybe it's just because it's something from a long time ago that I remember with a feeling of complete and utter happiness. No embellishments. No nostalgia to filter out the bad stuff. But a starting point in my life that I can recall with real clarity that involves something I love and the person who gave it to me.

What was the first book you ever loved?

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Oh no, they didn't!!

Mr. Half's birthday is Saturday and his parents dropped off his gift early before they flew out of town for the next week. I was intrigued by my MIL's cryptic message that accompanied the mysterious gift wherein she said to me, "You have my sympathies". I had no clue as to what this gift was and why she was sorry they had given it to him, though before she hung up she informed me that it had to to with something he was interested in.

Okay...that was no kind of clue at all. Mr. Half is interested in MANY things. I'm married to the man of a thousand interests. Natural studies like bugs and birds and snakes. Guitar playing. Hiking/camping. Yoga. Scuba. Archery. Books. Hunting. Architecture. Biology. Bonsai trees. Organic gardening. Regular gardening. Anthropology. The writings of Epictitus. Woody Allen movies. Paintings by Peter Brughel. Boy Scouting. Pottery. Golf. Music. And that's just a partial list.

I should also say that his geneological heritage is a strong mix of Scandanavian and Scottish, though there's little evidence as to how long ago the latter got to this country, while the former bloodlines are far more recently "undiluted" (and well exemplified by his massive head of hair that rivals anything I could ever grow). Still, it was a charming moment when we met for the first time in the college dining hall all those years ago and he informed me that his last name was Scottish for "the boogeyman" or "vampire" and could be found in the Robert Burn's poem, "Tam O' Shanter". He had me at "boo".

(Pics are from Archaeology Field School (long ago) and other one is from camp. I can't for the life of me get scanned pics to lie straight)

Anyway, for the last several years he's mentioned a certain item that he admires and would like to have, though he has no skill in operating said item. Lo-and-behold- this is exactly what he unwrapped last night when he tore the paper off of the box his parents brought. My ears will never be the same.

Next he plans on taking courses to play the bagpipes at the nearby university and my sister (the one who works miracles with a sewing machine) asked if she'd be needed to whip up a kilt for him. Given that our sons nearly die a thousand deaths when he shows up in any public place wearing his scoutmaster's uniform, I can only imagine the money we'll need for their therapy once he shows up for someone's baseball game in a plaid skirt. Even if he does have great legs.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Five Reasons I'm Not Sorry I'm Here

1. An almost 17-year old son who stops what he's doing and thanks me for buying him apples and retainer cleaner from the store and who is generous to a fault and unfailingly kind.

2. His almost 16-year old brother whose first question to me after I picked him up from a study session was: "Hey...how was your day?" A kid who lives to make us laugh and never gives us a moment's worry.

3. Their almost 12-year old brother who comes home to make me and his father our own Valentine's cards...complete with chocolate kisses taped to them. Mine had a handwritten message that said, "I love you so much, Mom. I can't really put it into words. Thank you for being one of the most important people ever." The same kid who still hugs me in front of his friends when he sees me at school

4. A husband who apparently already planned to get me my much-desired new yoga mats and who picked out and arranged himself the flowers he bought. He purposely included the same flowers that he and the male members of our wedding party wore in their lapels the day we married...20 years ago this June. I couldn't believe he remembered those flowers.

5. Many years with the same romantic man who, before he got rid of his old truck (the one we had our first date in while in college), cut a piece of the back bumper out with a blowtorch in the shape of a heart and gave it to me. The same guy who lined the driveway to his old house out in the country with sparklers one night and lit them to welcome me as I drove in the dark to meet him. The guy who thinks all pregnant women are unbelievably sexy and who cries with me when we think of our kids leaving for college. My years staying at home with our boys may be the reason they're still alive, but their father is the reason they are gentlemen and gentle men. The world could certainly use a few more of them.


Sunday, February 12, 2006

The Nuts and Bolts of Blogrolling

All pics are from the set that document the oldest son's accident in his brother's car. Reparations are underway as this goes to press.

As a person who started out as a commenter on the blogs of others way before I ever started my own, I think a lot about what it means to take part in a conversation between people who aren't even in the same country, much less the same room. I'm in awe of the power of words and the technology that allows such instant gratification. Someone posts a really interesting observation or asks a stimulating question...one that demands your input...and you find yourself putting your own two cents on the table. That's how it started for me, anyway.

Though I can't speak for all people who set up a blog, I think I can safely assume that most of us hope that what we write will elicit a response of some kind. I'm very lucky in that I have several wonderful blogger-readers who are not only good writers in their own right, but who pause during their busy day to say, "I was here". Some of them have even become friends with whom I hope to hoist a few beers this summer. Regardless, I don't comment on the blogs I like because I'm trying to display my "internet manners" acumin or because I feel I have to pay those bloggers back somehow. It's a conversation and I'm just keeping up my end of it. If I come by your site, it's because I want to be there.

But the blogroll...hmmm...that's a whole 'nother animal. I imagine that, if weblogs had existed during Medievel times, whole kingdoms would have been toppled over one king's refusal to blogroll another. For some bloggers, it's a very personal thing to be a regular commenter on someone's site, to have exchanged e-mails with that person and then not wind up on their blogroll...if they have one. It's like being in the 8th grade and checking a very public list to see who made the cheerleading squad and finding out your name isn't on it. For some, it's personal...not business.

It took me awhile to figure out how to list the people I read in my sidebar. Once I began to process of transferring websites from my Bookmarks to my blogroll, I found I had a list of Biblical proportions with regard to length. And that's okay, because I'm all about sharing the love. If you end up on my blogroll, you know I'm going to come by your site at least once in a 48 hour period...and very possibly.... more than once. I list people in my sidebar not just because I think you need to know who I'm reading. I list them because I think they're good enough that you should read them, too.

The list, she is a-changing all the time, though. I had a couple of food blogs down there, but I feel like such a poseur for endorsing something I have so little time to do (Plenty of time to eat, but no time to bake), that I switched most of them back to my Bookmarks. It's nothing personal. Same with a couple of the knitter blogs (although I still list a couple) because I also feel bad about not having knitted anything since I was about seven years old.

Some people I blogroll, even though I'm not doing them any favors. You know how when you read a really good post and you go to comment, only to find that you'll be commenter # 165? Tha's when you know they're doing fairly well without your help. And Dooce? Well, she gets enough hits in one day that the sheer volume alone could cause a computer meltdown, should she ever decide to allow comments again. Plus her blog ads pay for her house/car/dog food for Chuck and maybe even this trip to Amsterdam she's taking right now. Nice work if you can get it. I list her because...well...she was the first blog I ever read and you always remember your first time. Right?

New ones will show up and others will go away. Those that go away will do so because we've failed to establish a mutual admiration society between the two of us. Another blogger aptly refers to this as the "circle jerk". Yeah...that, too.

Bottom line: I read what I like and I like what I read. My question for you is not WHY DO YOU BLOG (because I asked that a long time ago), but WHY DO YOU BLOGROLL? What does the blogroll mean to you?

Friday, February 10, 2006

Friday Grab Bag

1) Random pics of a table I'm working on. At some point the entire top (as well as other parts) will be covered with detail work.

2) I found out this week that I had unintentionally let two years go by without getting my boobs "ironed" by the mammographer. I'm using this as an opportunity to remind all the gals out there to schedule an appointment. Mine's next week.

3) Today's question for all of you who work in insurance: Is it true that insurance will pay for Viagra, but it won't pay for birth-control pills?
I've heard that this is true, and I know that my insurance never used to cover pills. If so, am I the only person out there who is outraged? And for all of those loser pharmacists I keep reading about out there who take it upon themselves to deny access to birth control pills by not filling prescriptions brought in by women...well...someone just needs to take you out behind the shed and beat the living crap out of you. I wonder if they get all moral and highhanded about men getting a scrip for for erectile dysfunction meds. I'm going to take a stab at it and say...uh...NO. Three guesses as to who made those rules.

3) ER last night. Anyone see that? Carter's coming back. Abby's pregnant. Leguizamo's character is being questioned for a murder he didn't commit, but I think he's pretty much history anyway. Plus...that surgical resident(woman) whose name I can't remember but who keeps duking it out with the redheaded (guy) doc. I HATE HER!! I'm not overly fond of the redheaded guy, either, but she is just a vile human and, like the pharamacists, needs a beating.

4) Shrinking Violet is on her way back to Texas. And not a moment too soon. I need a dose of vitriol and I need it STAT! It'll be obvious when she's back in the area because her car is going to smell like gumbo and crawfish.

5) There's still talk of a B-List Blogger get-together. Perhaps during the first week of June. Interested? See Arabella.

6) I've noticed that certain issues of magazines to which I subscribe have a habit of showing up late or not at all...depending on the contents. The big cartoon issue of the New Yorker or some particularly good issues of Home Companion come to mind. That's because the people on the next street ,whose house number is the same as ours, get them by mistake and keep them. Personally, I'm a little surprised that the woman who lives in that house reads much beyond the average romance novel, but I could be wrong about that. Still, I'm wondering about the upcoming issue of Vanity Fair with all the naked people in it. I'm pretty sure that will never make it to my house. If it does, I'm dusting it for her fingerprints.

It's time to actually go out and live the life I intend to blog about later. Have a good weekend!

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Neither Concise nor Cohesive

I'm just going to offer up some random observations today. As the title of this post indicates, I'm not in any frame of mind to write anything of any real worth today. Herewith:

1) Sweet Lord, what in the wide world of sports is WRONG with Sly Stone? I saw him last night near the end of the Grammy's tribute to Sly and the Family Stone, a group I really liked, and when he shambled onto the stage looking like a giant gold lame' rooster, I did a spit take with my glass of chardonnay. Even George Clinton with his fake dreads and the stray bits of Christmas ribbon tied to his weave that he enjoys wearing never looks as pathetic as Sly did last night. Pretending to play the keyboards and struggling to remember the words to his own songs...and then wandering offstage like an Alzsheimer's patient before the song was even over. I honestly thought he could have maintained more dignity if he'd wheeled onto the stage in a Rascal mobility scooter. Either that or by owning the fact of his own baldness (look at Isaac Hayes!!) instead of supergluing that faux platinum mohawk onto his head. And don't EVEN try to tell me it's because he's old. He's about a biscuit over 60, but so is Paul McCartney and he's still ALL THAT. Hell, jazz pianist Eubie Blake was 100 when he died and he rocked his corner of the music world until right before he kicked. It's just such a letdown. That's all I'm saying.

2) Miss Harridan has a thread going about something interesting. She wants to know if there's anyone famous you look like. I reported that several strangers had commented that I looked like Daryl Hannah. Personally, I don't think it's true AT ALL and especially not now that she's had some major plastic surgery. I really think I look like the photographer, Annie Liebowitz. And the older I get, the more true it becomes...espcially when I've got my glasses on, which is ALL THE TIME unless someone points a camera in my direction. I really think it could be a lot worse. Who do you think you look like?

3) More objectification of women from Kanye West at the Grammy's, whose ego is so big, he's only days away from declaring himself to be the Messiah. True, he didn't write "Golddigger" and it is, with the addition of Jamie Foxx, an infectious song with a dance beat that gets me moving like a Soul Train dancer, even though my genetics condemn me to a life of arhytmic movement unless I'm totally plowed. West loses street cred in my book for singing about skanky women who use men for their money...while he's costumed as a PIMP. He shoulda stuck with the band uniform he was wearing at the beginning of the song.

4) I will be watching the Olympics for the next couple of weeks, and I'm not ashamed. Personally, I enjoy the summer edition better, but I'll take what I can get. The sculpted beauty of the toned and fit human form (male or female) is a sight to behold and nothing can inspire me to do my crunches or wind sprints faster than the sight of a dedicated athlete in the midst of competition.
I hate the Ice Capades, but I'm fascinated by ice skating. It's harder than it looks. Winter or Summer...what's your favorite event?

5) My oldest son is entreating his friends to wear black on Valentine's Day. No he's not a goth...check out the pics on Flickr. Can't say that I blame him, given that a sophomore wench who pursued him (first!) ditched him unceremoniously a week later after asking him to lunch twice and then letting him pay both times. I hate Valentine's day!

Okay, I'm married and have a built-in boyfriend (and in my case...an excellent one) and have little reason to be bitter, but since when does marriage encourage or promote romance? I know less than a handful of married couples whom I could define as happy. Why does everyone have to bow to one day when they should be fanning the flames of passion on all the other 364 days of the year? Why now? And why, in the name of all that is holy, must EVERYTHING be pink? I hate pink. And those little candy hearts that look and taste like colored sheetrock? HATE THEM!

Okay...I feel better now.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Little Coincidences

I'm hard at work painting a table that will later be auctioned off to raise money for my sons' high school and watching an old movie just to prove that the female-powered ability to multitask doesn't lose its punch. However I've been asked---nay---ordered to post something today by Debbie so, I put a little Mary J. Blige in the cd player and waited for the muse to pay a call...and then I thought about this.

So many of my new friends out there in the blogosphere are gestating. Or they've just given birth. Or they're enduring draconian medical tests in order to become mothers. All of this brought to mind the three times I waddled into the hospital resembling nothing smaller than a Buick...or a parade float...and came back out with a little baby boy. All three boys were born in the Spring. All three incrementally tardy in making their appearance on Earth (2 days late, 4 days late, 8 days late). The thing that always makes the best stories are the tiny hints we received days or moments before each boy was born about when he/she might finally show up and whether it was a boy or a girl.

The year I was pregnant with the first one, I was a teacher. I had seven students named Jennifer and my husband and I, both voracious readers, were intent upon baby names that were distinctive but--at the same time--wouldn't scar the kid unduly or get the crap beat out of him on the playground.

Our girl name was always the same...India...after a great-grandmother. The middle name was Charlotte...after my favorite children's book, "Charlotte's Web". We knew that the first kid, if a boy, would have the first name of Greyson and the middle name "Atticus" after Atticus Finch in TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD. Up to the hour he was born, we had no idea of his gender, but the day before this first baby was born, my husband started working on a house located on Mockingbird Avenue. We thought it just an interesting little detail at the time.

We were certain that the second baby was a girl. Greyson was five months old when we found out that I was pregnant again. (surprise!!). I was certain this one was a girl...mainly because I thought that coming from a family of girls would eventually bring one into my own house. I was even bigger and carrying low. This baby slept ALOT and wasn't nearly as active as the first one. The only one not named for books, we selected the first name of Tucker and the family name of Adams for his middle. During the last few moments of pushing what wound up being a 9 pound baby out of my body, the doctor asked the delivery nurse if she thought they should use the "Tucker 14's". I said, "Hey...that's what we're naming this kid if he's a boy." The doctor looked momentarily puzzled and asked, "You're naming your baby after a pair of forceps?" We didn't need the forceps...but we kept the name.

The last one was the only kid whose gender we decided to figure out prior to birth. We knew it would be the last one and I thought knowing ahead of time would make it easier. I had given up on the idea of having a girl, for the most part, and really liked boys so it wasn't a disappointment at all to find out I would be performing a gestational "hat trick" by producing a third one. This one we named after Holden Caulfield in "Catcher in the Rye" and the writer of the Little House books. The kid we would call Wilder was significantly tardy in making his debut. Eight days doesn't sound like a long time unless you have gained 65 pounds in 9 months and spend the day eating french fries with two pre-schoolers and enduring five showings of "Dumbo" every 24 hours. For us, it wasn't a matter of "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner" but more like trying to figure out just when in hell he was showing up. In a moment of desperation, I confess to calling "Psychic Friends Network" and begging them for a due date. Interestingly enough, they were right on the money. It would take exactly one week from the night I called. I should have just consulted my tv guide. The week that son #3 was born, two movies were scheduled to be broadcast. " Dear Wife" (Starring William Holden and Joan Caulfield) and "Stalag 17" (Starring William Holden and directed by Billy Wilder). The answers were there all the time.

Any life coincidences out there you'd like to share? They don't even have to be about babies. All of life's intersections are interesting.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Sunset on a Texas Sunday

Friday, February 03, 2006

Self Portrait Friday

"Before I Got Happy" (construction paper collage)

Thursday, February 02, 2006

One of these things is not like the other...

(Pictured: PTA crap/chair information for the two schools I currently serve)

The Parent Torture Assoc---I mean--the Parent TEACHER'S Association is driving me to drink, people. I am marinating in a dangerous combination of cheap chardonnay and my own misery and it's all because I send my kids to public school.

It's not about the learning, because my kids do very well. They're all on the Honor's track and I've got no complaints about grades. They inherited their dad's academic brilliance, and I made my peace with the fact my genetics have little to do with it. No one's setting fires or taking drugs...yet. Okay, the oldest one has started dating, but I'm trying not to think too much about that right now.

No...it's just the PTA. Today's public schools are in terrible trouble. I know that's not news to you, internet. Problem is, the only solution people can come up with is to turn the PTA into a business that makes money and funnels it back into the school, given that our government doesn't give a rat's ass about taking a hard stand on funding them (and the teachers) adequately. Oh yes...that....and creating a veritable armada of parent volunteers who do everything except teach the classes. And sometimes...they do that, too.

So where do they get the money? From you, silly! First you join the PTA (write a check)and then you get a position on the board (whether you have a real job or not...no excuses...unless you're a man, of course.) whereupon you're assigned or elected to a post that you keep all year (more checks). Not only are you in charge of your department, but you must also volunteer to keep everyone else's department running, too (even more checks to write).

The summary for how your year will go can be boiled down the following scenario: Purchase and donate an item to the school auction and then write a check to buy raffle tickets to win the item back while you're volunteering two hours out of your day to work the table that sells those raffle tickets. Multiply this about 50 times. See how it works?

So, do you want a Book Fair at your school? You'll need a parent to organize it and staff it. UIL competition? Same answer. School auction, carnival, a volunteer to assemble the volunteers, playground monitors, school t-shirts? Hospitality, science lab volunteers, Field Day, accelerated reader program, yearbook, talent show? School directory, someone to type, copy and mail the school newsletter, Computer Lab volunteers and techs, RIF (Reading is Fundamental)? What about someone to decide what greenery will grow in the new planters or who will make sure that kids don't get run down by aggravated parents driving their Hummers in the carpool line? Parents helping answer phones in the office. Parents shelving books in the library (no paid aides anymore) and working the cafeteria helping kindergarten kids open their milk cartons and wiping down the tables after every class leaves. WIPING. THE TABLES!!! Oh...and there's also someone who works making copies for the teachers. No, I'm not drunk....this is how it really is. Someone helps the teachers by doing all their xeroxing for them.

Here's an eye-opener: In our pyramid of schools you're not really wanted as the Treasurer of the PTA unless you have a degree in accounting or banking. I AM NOT KIDDING. It's a big, big business. At our elementary school the PTA Board consisted of 10 executive positions (President, etc) and 36 department chairs. It's nothing like the PTA my mother belonged to where meetings consisted of housewives with teased hair balancing plates of cookies and a cups of coffee on thier laps while politely voting on how high the new flagpole should be.

I've worked on Habitat for Humanity crews where the prospective homeowner didn't have to put in that much sweat equity into the construction before being allowed to live in the house.

Okay you can say it now, because I know you're thinking it. "Bitter--Party of one? Your table is ready!"

Don't bother offering up private school. And if you suggest homeschooling I'll have you keelhauled. In our state you don't even have to have a 2nd grade education to declare your home a private school and call yourself a homeschool teacher for the eleventy-five kids you cranked out of your tired uterus and now have to dress them in matching outfits by using people's castoff living room drapes. I have no desire to share a political bed with these folks. So. Just. Don't. Even....

I just don't think it's too much to ask that the public schools get funded properly. I think it's wrong for a politician to call himself/herself an education advocate and then cut every program that helps schools limp along even as well as they do. Teachers are just about the only degreed professionals out there who, unless they marry someone with a better job, will struggle just to send their own kids to college or buy a decent house. My son's former middle school football coach retired last year. He's gotta be about 55 years old. I saw him the other day. He sacked my groceries. SACKED MY GROCERIES!!!. Does anyone see how wrong that is? Think you'd see a retired architect doing that?

I see the future and it's ugly. Pretty soon, even the PTA won't be able to salvage what's left. The government will continue to rape and pillage the grand tradition of public schools and we'll be left with only one way to fund our kids' education . We'll have to cater to the people with the most money and get them to adopt our schools. Anyone for Smirnoff Elementary School? How about Phillip Morris Middle School? Cingular High? It could happen.