Friday, April 27, 2007

Embarrassing Moments

I heard on the radio that Blender magazine's current issue features a rundown of the top 20 most embarrassing caught-on-tape pop star moments of all time. I am sure you can think of a few: the Milli-Vanilli lip sync debacle, Michael Jackson's Artist of the Millenium "award", and the creme de la creme, the Ashlee Simpson jig on SNL.

I am soooo glad there weren't video cameras around for some of my finer moments.

Blender's article reflects our fascination with each other's embarrassing moments. People ask each other in those ubiquitous "get to know your friends" emails all the time: What is your most embarrassing moment? This is a really hard question for me to answer because there isn't that one, huge moment where I really made an ass out of myself; I have smaller embarrassing moments on an almost daily basis. That's just kinda who I am. I am not, shall we say, graceful by nature, and though I consider myself intelligent, I lack common sense. Put those two together and you've just created the perfect recipe for a walking, talking embarrassing moment.

There are a few worth mentioning, and a blog is for nothing if not for confessions. So, my most embarrassing moments:

1. The time I ripped my taste buds off trying to lick the frost off the inside of a metal freezer. Yeah, yeah, but this was before I watched A Christmas Story and saw what happens when you stick your tongue to a metal flag pole. It was really hot outside, and we were out of popsicles. Here's the dumb thing: when my tongue stuck, I panicked and pulled my tongue off, making an awesome ripping sound I (and I'm sure my mother) can hear even now. I looked in the frost and saw my own taste buds and knew there was trouble. I had to tell everybody what I did. The worst part? When my much-older and wiser sister called the ER to see if I needed to come in, and the nurse there said, "And she's how old?" I was 11.

2. The fence-jumping incident. See, there was this older boy that lived in the house behind me, and my friend and I had a huge crush on him. My backyard and the alley that separated our houses were bordered by an old wooden fence. Well, my friend was wonderfully athletic (you may know her as Rollergirl and frequent commenter "Wanda Y") and could gracefully leap over this fence hurdle-style. One evening as our little crush was hanging out in his backyard playing yard darts with his almost-as-cute friends while we admired his, um, throwing style, "Y" hurdled over the fence so easily I thought, "Well, I run track, too, so I can jump over the fence and really make a good impression." I got both feet caught as I jumped and did a face plant in the grass. It went over well; both "Y" and our crush laughed for a while as I G.I.-Joe-crawled through the grass back to my house, trying not to be seen.

3. When I tipped over in my desk in 9th-grade biology class. I had dropped my pencil, you see, and was sitting in one of those old school desks where the desktop came around your right side. I leaned over, stretching my arm as far as I could; still couldn't reach the pencil. So I raised up a little, put all my weight to the right side of the desk, and leaned down to reach, tipping the desk ever so slightly. Got it! But I had leaned too much, and felt myself starting to go. Somehow, I managed to transfer my weight and tipped over backward instead of sideways, grabbing a classmate's shirt on my way down in a desperate attempt to stop myself. Next thing I know, I'm on my back, still in my desk, with my feet wiggling in the air. I know the sound must have been tremendous as the wood hit that hard floor. I could hear laughter, but couldn't see anyone--just my feet and my desk. The teacher came over to see if I was OK, and when he saw that I was, he turned around and laughed. The only good thing that came of this? I got asked out to the homecoming dance that very same afternoon by a boy who was in that class with me. I guess I got his attention.

4. Getting my hair caught in a product display in the middle of a grocery store. I was in graduate school at the time. It was Christmas, and I really wanted the bag of holiday-wrapped Rolos on the bottom shelf, and as I bent down a little too enthusiastically to get them, my long hair got stuck in a product display and I couldn't get free. My hair actually got wound around a clip used to display something or other. There I was, bent at the waist, rear in the air, wiggling and pulling to get myself free. A couple of bystanders offered to help but I would just as soon have left my scalp hanging there than look anybody in the eye at that point. I got free and immediately checked out, leaving some of my hair behind.

5. Unwittingly mooning many fellow Centre students while walking in costume to a dress rehearsal for our madrigal dinner. We had rented beautiful Renaissance-looking costumes for our big Centre Singers show and dinner that year, and my dress was a gorgeous-but-exceedingly-heavy suede gown with, unbeknownst to me, a broken zipper. The night of dress rehearsal, an eerily warm December night, I had thrown my gown on and raced to the student center, where part of our performance was, to stash away a tambourine. Then I rushed back to the fine arts building for our warm-up. I noticed I got some strange looks, but hey, I was in a Renaissance ball gown. When I arrived back at the dressing rooms to grab the hat for my costume I caught a glimpse of my backside in a full-length mirror. I had come completely unzipped in my travel but because the dress was so heavy, it had stayed up on my shoulders despite how it had gaped open widely from shoulder blades down. It was so freakishly warm outside I hadn't even felt a draft (well, I think I did once, but it was so refreshing through that hot costume I didn't think anything about it and thought it was a gift from the heavens.) The zipper extended all the way to the bottom of my bottom, so thank God I wasn't wearing a thong. But I still gave people an eyeful.

I am sure there are more, but that's a pretty good sampler. Chime in--what's your most embarrassing moment?

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Big Girl

Now that Ainsley has moved into her "big-girl" room and bed, I guess it's official: she's a big girl. And her mom is a big, blubbering mess because of it.

Ainsley is my first child, but because of my medical history and the possibility that she will be our only child, she's also my baby. I've been both thrilled to see her grow up and hit all those milestones that are supposed to make my parenting life easier--first steps, first words, adult food, potty training--and sad because each step takes her a little further away from me. You want your babies to be healthy and strong and to learn to take care of themselves, but learning to take care of themselves means they don't need their mommies as much.

We've all been guilty of babying her too much. She was the first grandchild for my parents in 14 years, and their only granddaughter. In the first two years of her life her mom faced a life-threatening disease and her grandfather died; in our worry and grief I think we all clung to her a little tighter and did things for her rather than teaching her to do for herself. But in the last school year, the first year that's she's attended her learning center full-time, she's gotten more independent and more sure of herself. She doesn't want to be our baby anymore; she is her own little strong-willed being and she asserts her independence at every turn. I've gotten a glimpse of the young lady she will become, and it's made for both some of my happiest moments as a parent and some of my most heart-breaking.

Earlier this month she balked at me calling her "Ains." When we named that child, we swore we would never shorten her name or call her any nickname, but early in the game my mom started calling her "The Ains" and it stuck. Now I get corrected when I call her "Ains"; she lets me know, in her child-like but assertive little voice, that she wants to be called "Ains-LEY!" I have a feeling that our "Mommy" and "Daddy" titles are about to get updated, too; last night in the shower during yet another discussion about Ains v. Ainsley, she asked if she could call me "Mom" and Jason "Dad." I've spent the last 4 years seeing myself as a "mommy"; I don't know if I am ready to be a "mom" with all its connotations of a more grown-up mother-daughter relationship.

There are times she has a teenager's attitude. Tell her to do something like put away a toy when she is already on her way to pick it up, and you get "But I am putting it away!" and a look that tells you you're just too clueless for words. Ask her to do something she doesn't want to do and she lowers her head and looks at you with angry eyes and clenched eyebrows in an early attempt at a dirty look. And her latest comeback when we get angry with her? "I don't want to live in this house anymore!" My mom tells me she's just testing boundaries and asserting her personality, but I fear her headstrong ways foreshadow major battles when she hits her teen years. It's enough to make me want to skip head to her college graduation.

Oh, but what I would miss if I did that. I would miss her surprise hugs, when she suddenly drops whatever she's doing to wrap her arms around my legs and say, "I love you" for no obvious reason. I would miss how sweet she smells after her bath at night and how soft she feels cuddled up next to me at storytime. I would miss watching her sleep flush-cheeked with her best friend Lumpy tucked under her arm. I would miss her telling me that she wants to be a mommy and a dancer when she grows up and her absolute faith that anything is possible. During those times, when she's doing those pure and innocent things that young children do, I can forget that she's growing up and will soon be too cool to want goodnight kisses and ask me to sing songs with her at the top of our lungs with no adult embarrassment or self-consciousness. A few minutes a day, she's still my baby, even if she is in a big bed in a big room that she helped to decorate.

In her mind, this move from her toddler bed and nursery has made her a big girl. In my mind, she will always be the little baby who watched the pastel animal mobile and counted on mommy and daddy for everything. Throughout our lives together I will have reminders that that baby is becoming her own person--the first day of school, the first lost tooth, the first heartbreak, graduation, her wedding, the births of her own children. I imagine many of our struggles will be because I see the baby when I should see the young lady.

Giving birth and staying up all night with a crying newborn is hard. Letting go and letting her grow up? So much harder. But more and more I see that that's what being a "mom" is really all about.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Whiskers on Kittens

I'm not in a "raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens" kind of mood today. The Cranky Librarian is definitely living up to her name. It's gray and rainy, we're in the middle of state testing, and I need a nap in a bad way. So in honor of my crankiness and sour disposition today, I am going to list a few of my not-favorite things. Put that in your pipe and smoke it, Julie Andrews.

The Cranky Librarian's Least Favorite Things:

1. Smashing a finger in a cabinet door or stubbing a toe, especially if either of those things happen in the morning, and most especially if both happen the same morning (as they did today.)

2. Dropping something, and then when you pick it up, dropping the damn thing again. (Ever seen the episode of Everybody Loves Raymond where Debra drops the raw Thanksgiving turkey on the floor and, since it's slippery, keeps dropping it until she finally gets ticked and just pitches the whole thing in the oven? Classic.)

3. Noisy neighbors who never fail to fire up their four-wheeler and joyride around their yard revving the engine on Sunday afternoons just as you've put your preschooler down for a nap.

4. When your DVR gets punked by gremlins and fails to record your favorite show or, worse, records all but the last 2 minutes when there's this really big revelation you know everyone will be talking about the next day and you'll just have to imagine that scene in your head.

5. Drivers who start to merge into your lane because they're too busy talking on their cell phones to actually watch the road and then, when you honk at them to get their attention and not get run into oncoming traffic, flip you off as if you're the a-hole.

6. Spiders.

7. People who ask questions in movie theaters loud enough to annoy everyone around them, especially if the questions they ask are about the plot and could be answered if they would just shut the @#%^ up and watch the movie.

8. Getting overcharged on a sale item, especially when you don't catch it until you're all the way home, and realize that the gas you would waste driving back would cancel out the buck the store owes you.

9. Streaks on my glasses.

10. Tangled hangers.

11. My baking pans cabinet, which barely holds everything I need it to, and only if everything in it is organized just so, and which makes enough noise to wake the dead when I try to pull out a cookie sheet because everything in it shifts position and spills out the back. And when that happens, I have to reorganize everything to make sure I can get all the contents back in the cabinet, which makes more noise, and causes more pans to spill out, which occasionally makes me throw muffin tins and cake pans around the kitchen...

I could go on and on 'cause it's just that kind of day. Use the comments section to add your own little grievances.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Oh, Yeah? Well, Google THIS!

I love Google. No, really. As a librarian I know I'm supposed to come out and say, "Books are better" and "You can't trust the internet as a reliable source of information" and all that. And I do say that. If I were assigned a research paper right now, I would try to not use a search engine and would try to avoid listing a single web page as a work cited. I would do what I tell my students to do: use reference books, nonfiction books, and electronic databases that search and retrieve peer-reviewed journal articles. But if there's something I gotta know, and I gotta know it fast, I must tell you: I use The Googles.

If someone stops in front of my desk and asks, "Who won the 1984 NCAA men's basketball tournament?" I am going to Google it and in a few seconds I am going to have an answer. (Try it and see for yourself--first person to respond in the comments section wins something from my house that I want to get rid of!) Could I also find that information in a helpful little reference book like the World Almanac and Book of Facts? Yes. Would it have been as quick? Probably not.

I discourage students from using Google sometimes because they aren't always good searchers . I try to help them be smarter internet researchers, but the "Ask Jeeves" set doesn't always grasp the concept of keywords and limiters. But I, you see, am a trained professional. I can Google with the best of 'em. And the more complicated the request, the more fun I have trying to track it down online. Need statistics on drunk driving fatalities in the state of Kentucky, and have looked in a couple of books but can't find it? Bring it on. Want to know the name of an obscure comedian who performed on a Rodney Dangerfield Young Comedians' Special in the 80s and did a sketch portraying a not-so-bright football player? Gotcha covered.

I love Googling so much and have gotten so many answers that way that I wish I could Google all the really tough questions in my life. Such as, where the hell did I leave my watch? How did I get that bruise on my leg? What was the third thing I needed from the store, now that I'm in here and standing in line with two things in my basket knowing as sure as the world that there were three things I came after?

I really wish there was a "magic" Google that I could use to get the answers to all my deeper life questions. Until then, I will continue to amuse myself Googling the everyday questions I get.

And if you happen to find my watch, do let me know.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Confessions of a TV Junkie

Hi, my name is Cranky and I am a television addict. Wow. I'm sorry if I get a little emotional this afternoon. It's just that this is my first meeting, and I am just so glad to get that off my chest. I thought I was alone, but looking around at all of you here today...I realize I am not alone. God bless all of you who share this affliction with me.

My addiction started when I was very young. Looking back, I can see that my parents were TV addicts, too, but it was a problem that was kept behind closed doors back then. My mom and dad were pretty progressive parents, and they believed in letting their daughters watch what they watched. And the TV was on in my house all the time; my dad worked second shift, so at a time of night when most people in the neighborhood were finally turning their sets off, ours stayed on so that my parents could watch Carson and Letterman and late-night Westerns. This is hard for me to admit, but they even let me stay up through Carson's opening monologue sometimes. On school nights. We were a family of night owls. I'm not making excuses for our bad habits. But that's just the way things were in my house, and I had no idea that it was wrong...

Because we just had the one TV and it was almost always tuned to what the adults wanted to watch, I had some very unchildlike tastes. I watched MASH in reruns every night and can remember camping out in the living room to watch the final episode when I was not even old enough to read the credits. Don't get me wrong, they let me watch lighter and more kid-friendly shows like Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood and 3-2-1 Contact. But the majority of what I liked to watch on TV were shows that could have done real harm.

You know, my mom used to wonder why I was afraid of the dark and couldn't sleep alone as a kid. I wonder if she realizes it's because she let me watch the edited-for-TV-but-still-scary-as-hell Halloween and even The Exorcist before my 6th birthday. Please don't judge her. I am sure she thought that because these movies were on prime time TV, they must be OK. And usually she watched them with me. But sometimes she left me alone in front of the TV to see all the T and A and pick up on all the sexual innuendos and double entendres in shows like The Newlywed Game, Three's Company, and Dallas. The only time I remember being censored was during an episode of All in the Family when Gloria wanted "Meathead" to get a vasectomy. I laughed at a joke that was probably inapproprite for a young child to think was funny, and the channel got changed. That was the only time I can remember that. The rest of the time, it hurts to confess, my parents enabled my addictive behavior by laughing with me through The Carol Burnett Show and popping popcorn for a family Saturday night consisting of The Love Boat and Fantasy Island.

I almost came clean in college. It's the closest I've ever come to TV sobriety. Centre kept me far too busy to spend time watching television, and even if I'd had time, I had no access to a clicker. No one I knew freshman year had a TV in his or her room, and we didn't have cable access in the dorms at that time. Then I moved to a dorm sophomore year that had a comfy common area with a nice TV with cable access. I lived there with some friends with their own bad television habits. It started small; I only watched TV for one hour on Wednesday night with my dorm-mates to get a little soapy buzz from Melrose Place. It was just a way to let off some steam.

Then some friends from another school told me about The Adventures of Brisco County Junior, and I watched that show every Friday night. Alone. I know; the true mark of a junkie. I used to sit in the common room by myself for that one hour on Friday nights, getting my Bruce Campbell fix before going to my boyfriend's fraternity's parties. If he wanted to see me earlier, that was too bad. I had my priorities so messed up.

We got TiVo a few years ago thinking it would help my addiction; instead of being a slave to a prime-time network schedule, I could record and watch my favorite shows at my leisure. It worked that way for a while; I didn't do much fruitless channel-flipping looking for something on TV to keep me entertained because I had a nice digitally-recorded stockpile of favorite shows. I didn't have to cancel all my plans and turn off the phone to watch Scrubs, Survivor, Everybody Loves Raymond, Paula's Home Cooking, and The Daily Show. I had a nice balance.

Things have gotten really bad in the last couple of years, though. I have gotten hooked on some new shows and am having a hard time balancing my TV addiction and the rest of my life. It's Lost's fault. No, wait: I have to accept the blame for my own actions. But until Lost, I was really only watching TV one night a week. On Thursdays I would catch what remained of "Must-See TV" and watch the very few shows from earlier in the week that I had TiVoed. I held off on Lost as long as I could. I didn't watch it during its first season. I didn't want to give up another hour a week of my already-full life.

I caught the pilot when it was repeated at the end of the first season's original run, and I immediately knew I was hooked. That one show started a downhill sprial. Every Wednesday night that summer I stopped what I was doing to get caught up. And when our old set died that same summer, I caved to the charms of a LCD flat-screen HDTV partly because I wanted to see how the island (and Matthew Fox) looked in high definition. When the 1st season DVD came out just days before the 2nd season premiere, I stayed up late into the night on many occasions trying to fill in the gaps the reruns left. We watched the 1st season finale on DVD the night before the 2nd season opener. I have a job that requires me to get up very early in the morning, and I came to work many mornings during that time tired and groggy from late-night Lost watching after the kid was in bed.

It was only going to get worse. The thing with Lost is that I cannot wait until the next day to watch an episode from TiVo. I have to catch it live! I wouldn't be able to function on Thursday without that fix. Believe me, I've tried.

It's on at 10pm now, and that's why I came here seeking help today. I've had two miserable Thursdays in a row where I have actually gotten migraines from trying to nap for a couple of hours at 8pm and watching Lost at 10pm the nights before. My sleep cycle is just all screwed up. I'm watching something obsessively every night of the week now. I gave up American Idol last year, but the whole Sanjaya drama sucked me back in this year. And Heroes is about to start back up. I'm not sleeping enough, I'm not reading enough. I'm a woman on the edge. One more show, and I just might snap. Episodes of 30 Rock are piling up on my DVR like broken promises. I want to add this show, but it's too much. I have to stop my addiction somewhere before it completely takes over my life.

Whew. I really feel better having told my story. I know this is the first day of the rest of my life and having admitted to my disease, I can start healing. Summer is coming, and my beloved shows will be on hiatus. I will take this opportunity to reconnect with my family, to read some books, to just turn the TV off. I will just say "no."

At least until next fall...

Friday, April 20, 2007


Whenever I remember my dad, I think of the color blue. Nearly every shirt my father ever owned was in some shade of blue. Blue stood for his beloved Kentucky Wildcats and represented his political affiliation. Blue was the color he always painted his bedroom, and the color of every car he drove until his last one. Blue was the color of the last hospital gown he wore; an impossibly beautiful robin's-egg hue that made him look like an angel the last day of his suffering. And it was the color I chose for his family to see him in for the very last time.

When he passed away, the task of choosing his burial clothes fell to me. I volunteered for it; I felt so helpless, so lost in the face of all we had been through, that I was desperate for any task that might bring meaning to an ending I had come to feel was senseless.

Just as there was no question what color I would choose, there was no question where I would go. If Dad needed anything, from a new lawnmower to a pair of boxers, he went to Sears. It rarely failed him, and it didn't fail me that day. I found a set of clothes I knew my dad would have approved of in life: a short-sleeved polo shirt in a shade that matched the clear April sky outside, and a pair of Dockers. I had never seen my father in a suit in my entire life. For that matter, I had never seen him wear a long-sleeved shirt that wasn't a sweatshirt. As I bought the clothes, I felt like things were right for the first time in months. His illness was marked by so many things that had gone wrong, but this...this was good. And it was blue.

He looked at peace in the funeral home wearing his new sky-colored shirt. When you see a loved one in a casket he so rarely looks like himself, especially after a battle with cancer. But we all agreed that my father, wearing his color and surrounded by pictures of his beloved grandchildren, looked like the Chuck that we remembered. Not the one ravaged by a cancer so aggressive that it kept him from healing from surgery and confined him to a hospital room for the last three months of his life. Not the one who fought so hard to beat cancer when it singled him out for a third time. But the one I knew: the one who loved to mow his lawn, coach college basketball from the couch, and bring stuffed animals to his toddling granddaughter. And I knew that he had finally found peace.

It was two years ago today that I lost my father. Sometimes I miss him so badly it gnaws a hole in my heart and leaves an ache I feel for days. Last month when Tubby Smith resigned as UK's basketball coach, I turned to my husband and started to say, "I need to call Dad and see what he thinks about all this," and had my mouth open before I realized that I couldn't ever call him again. I was surprised at myself; we think if we're strong we're going to be able to let go quickly. But it's easy to forget that a person who has been a part of our lives from the beginning, who has a starring role in our earliest memories, is gone. It's a jolt even now, two years later, and I suspect it will be twenty years later.

I tell my daughter about him and remind her how crazy Papaw was about her. We remember him every night in our bedtime prayer. It's a way to make him a part of our lives even though he's gone.

And on the bad days, the days when I feel his loss as acutely as if it had just happened, I close my eyes and picture a tranquil and soothing shade of blue. In the blue, I can find my dad.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Food Fight

If you ever come to dinner at my house, beware: one of us is a known food thief. There you'll be, minding your own business, when bam! A hand comes out of nowhere and steals your hot dog. While you stand in disbelief, waiting for your grilled delight to return to your plate, this person will eat the stolen item right before your very eyes. It's true, man. I've seen it happen with my own two eyes.

Those of you who know I have a 4-year-old are probably thinking that she is the food thief. After all, children are still learning boundaries and the rules of possession and take what they want until they are old enough to know better. You'd be thinking wrong. In my house, my husband is our food thief.

OK, I'll be fair. It's only happened once. But it was such a memorable event that our friends guard their food a little more carefully when Jason's in the room.

Back when we were starving college students living away from home, a cookout was a big deal. Every summer through college my high school friends and I would reunite at "grandma's" for a feast. My friend's grandmother was a surrogate grandma for us all, and good lord, can that lady cook. My friend would man the grill and "g-ma" would put together all the sweets and sides that hungry undergrads dream about when they're back on their cafeteria meal plans. Then we would all swarm around her kitchen like lions circling a kill, filling up our plates and growling if anyone got too close to our staked claims. We were preparing for the long fast ahead.

Once while we were circling the spread, my husband snatched a hot dog right off my librarian friend's plate. Jason does stuff like that; he lives for surprise attacks, for catching people off guard with an action or comment. It's part of what makes life with him so gosh-darn fun and unpredictable. But he usually stops before he goes too far with the joke. This time, though, while we were all laughing and waiting for his big "Just jokin'!" move to put the sandwich back on said friend's plate, he proceeded to stand there and take a big ol' bite. Then eat the whole thing. While we watched, shocked. And I don't think there were too many hot dogs left for my friend to replace hers with. It caught us all unawares and from then on, we knew to guard our kills a little more closely around Jason. Chances are he wouldn't do that again, but with him...well, you just never know.

So it cracked me up last night when I learned my daughter is on to him.

Ainsley is, in general, a good eater. I can't complain, really; any kid who will choose beans and rice from Chipotle over McNuggets from McDonald's 9 times out of 10 is a kid whose palate I can appreciate. But she's easily distractable and it's not unusual for her to take, like, an hour to eat a single meal. She talks some, she sings some, she eats some. So to get her to stay focused on her food, Jason will sometimes say, "I think I'm just going to eat it," and make a move for something on her plate.

Last night in the shower, out of the clear blue, Ainsley asked, "Why does Daddy always try to eat my food?"

I told her her daddy was just joking with her because we wanted her to eat her dinner instead of playing around sometimes. But I did tell her the tale of the swiped hot dog. Partly because I was laughing at her question and thought she might want to know what was so funny, but also because I wouldn't want her to be as shocked as we were should she fall victim to frankfurter theft.

When dealing with a food thief, you just can't be too careful.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Grits and Determination

Excuse me for just a moment while I open up a can of caffeine and let out a mighty yawn...much better. I was up late last night reading Paula Deen's memoirs, It Ain't All About the Cookin'. Paula is one of my favorite people on the face of this earth and my wonderfully thoughtful husband grabbed her book for me this weekend. He probably regrets it because I pretty much tuned him out after Ains(ley) got in bed last night. I couldn't help it; Paula and her cooking helped get me through a tough time a few years back, and I eat up (ha!) anything that woman publishes.

When I started chemo for my lymphoma 4 years ago, Fran, my angel of a nurse, told me to treat food as though it were medicine and to make myself eat even when I didn't feel like it so that I would stay strong. I never thought anyone would ever have to tell me to eat; I love food and until very recently was one of those lucky people who could indulge in whatever I wanted without worrying about my waistline. I had my chemotherapy treatments every other Wednesday, and immediately after that first infusion I wanted to eat. It was a good sign. On Thursday after my first treatment, I was hungry, too. Fabulous! But Friday...well, Friday was the beginning of some bad days. Zofran, that unbelievable medicine that actually goes to your brain to turn off your body's vomiting response, kept me from ever throwing up but didn't do much for the all-encompassing nausea I felt as my body reacted to the poisons that were, ironically, saving my life.

And then there was the taste. Words fail me in describing the bitter, metallic taste many cancer patients develop from the drugs. My lunch buddy and fellow survivor says it best: "It's as if you've just licked the hood of your car." Not that we really know what the hood of a car tastes like, but if you can imagine hot metal and road dirt on your tongue...well, that's pretty close. I first noticed that taste the Friday after my first chemo and nothing I ate or drank that day tasted close to right. The fatigue finally hit that day, too, and it took serious effort to go into the kitchen and put something on a plate. I decided to stick to Gatorade and Snickers bars for the remainder of my treatment regimen.

Saturday morning as I tried to dissolve into our recliner so that I would never have to eat again I caught my first episode of a Food Network show called, Paula's Home Cooking. I had heard of this Paula; my mom, a certifiable Food Network junkie, told me about the beautiful, bubbly lady from the deep south who fixed chicken and dumplins that looked just like my mamaw's. Now, my mom is a helluva southern cook herself, and we all agree that my mamaw was just about the best cook that ever was, so I had been on the lookout for this mythical person whose dumplins could impress my mom.

As I watched Paula fix her famous "The Lady's Mac and Cheese", a strange thing happened--my stomach growled. Despite the piquant flavor of hot car roof still lingering in my mouth, I could almost taste that dish of cheesy goodness. And it tasted good. The more she fried and baked and buttered that episode, the more my stomach told me it might just be ready for something more substantial than soda crackers. I pulled myself off the recliner and announced to my surprised husband, "Hey, let's go get a sandwich somewhere. I'm starving." And by God, that was the best reuben I've ever had in my life.

I wouldn't have had the guts (literally) to hit Schlotzky's Deli that day if it hadn't been for Paula Deen. I wouldn't have known that it is possible for a chemo patient to eat normally. Every Saturday saw me tuning in to Paula's show, figuring out what might taste good to me that week. I baked her mac and cheese, and when it turned out better that any attempt I had ever made at homemade comfort food, I was hooked on her recipes.

People we knew from Jason's work were wonderful about cooking for us while I was sick. One weekend, though, I decided to cook dinner for one of those couples when they came to visit. I made Paula's pot roast, and that one act, cooking dinner for friends, made me feel normal. It was as though I hadn't lost my hair, or wasn't fighting for my life. I was just me having fun on a Saturday night. Food, and southern food in particular, is comfort. Paula's food is a soft, warm blanket on a cold, rainy day.

Paula Deen recipes are a staple in my house even now that I'm well. About once a week I pull out one of her cookbooks (I have all of them) and feed our souls. If you're invited for dinner at my house, chances are you'll be having either her lasagna or baked spaghetti with one of her gooey butter cake variations for dessert. When Jason's mom found herself in the hospital on Easter Sunday with some health problems of her own, I sent Jason with a plate of leftovers from our dinner--ham, country green beans, and Paula's broccoli casserole. She called an hour later after devouring everything on her plate to thank us and to say in particular how much she liked the broccoli casserole. I already fancied myself a pretty good chicken fryer (at least of the boneless, skinless variety) but I've really mastered the art now that I follow her example. And the "Is It Really Better Than Sex?" cake? Yes. Yes, it is.

Reading her memoir and seeing the hard road she herself has travelled is very inspiring. Here is a woman who battled crippling agoraphobia to become one of the most successful and best-loved business women in America. I've never met her, but she's on my list of people I would most like to sit down and have a margarita with. Watching her shows, and now reading her memoir, I feel like I already know her. And though I really enjoy cooking her food myself, I can't help but wonder what a batch of chicken and dumplins from her own kitchen would taste like. Heaven in a bowl, I would imagine.

Food is medicine--it can help your body heal. Good food, prepared with love (and generous amounts of butter, pork fat, and cheese) can heal your soul.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Cinderella's Magic Table Update!

We have a spot for the big Disney World character breakfast--Cinderella's Magic Table! And I didn't even have to sync up my cell phone to call at precisely 7am or anything.

I learned that you can call to make reservations for character meals at Disney not 90 days out like I was told, but 180 days out. Since we are well past the 180-days-in-advance mark for our vacation, I lost hope but thought I would give it a random shot yesterday afternoon in the event that the wheel of fortune was tipping back up in my favor. The gods must have been smiling on me yesterday, for reserving a spot at this legendarily-hard-to-book event was a easy as picking up the phone on a random Wednesday afternoon.

Just goes to show you--don't believe the hype.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Panic! At the MapQuest

Last July, I took a huge step: I got on an airplane for the first time in my life, overcoming my fear of flying long enough to head out for a wonderful child-free weekend in Las Vegas. It was our first vacation since our honeymoon 9 years before, partly because I have always been so afraid to fly. It was high time I took the plunge.

As we were planning that trip, I found that just the thought of getting onto the airplane was enough to make my heart race and my chest feel tight. This went beyond the mental, I realized; I was actually starting to have panic attacks at the prospect of flying. I knew I would pull a William Shatner "There's something on the wing of the plane!" meltdown if I didn't ask for some help. I talked to my doctor, and with the help of some Xanax, I got through the flights to Vegas and back home just fine. I was still worried as the plane took off on the first leg that we were going to crash, but the little pill kept that worry from manifesting as physical symptoms. It was...almost fun. I even looked forward to the flight home a little bit and had the courage to switch to a window seat.

But when the Comair crash happened in Lexington just weeks later, the anxiety came back. We had been planning to fly to Orlando this summer with Ainsley for a family vacation, and I couldn't stand the thought. We decided to drive.

And things were going great. We booked the vacation, made plans to buy an in-car DVD player to placate Ainsley on the ride down, started thinking about all the things we are going to do...but panic has struck me again.

Apparently, the attacks I was having before our Vegas trip were not just airplane-related (though, don't get me wrong, I'm still convinced that airplanes are death traps.) I am afraid of travelling.

Last night at our 3-hour-long parent teacher conferences (which, since I only have 10 students working for me as aides, is a slow night for me) I went into MapQuest and Google maps and started looking at driving routes and possible stopping points and areas of interest along the way when all of a sudden, I started feeling woozy. I got light-headed and broke out into a cold sweat.I started having a funny taste in my mouth and my stomach began doing flip-flops. My heart was beating so hard and fast I could see it pounding under my sweater. There were a few seconds where I thought I was going to black out. I was having a little panic attack.

After I closed out of the roadmap of Florida I was looking at at the time, I started to feel a little better. Yet any time the rest of the evening that I thought about the 13-hour drive, or about that long expanse of interstate 75, my hands started to quiver.

It didn't used to be this way. I used to love long road trips. What happened? I've had no road traumas, no major accidents. Have I become that much of a home-body? Am I getting so introverted and stuck in my ways that I get physically ill when I'm outside of my comfort zone?

After some contemplation during a rather lackluster American Idol last night, I think I know why I'm flipping: because I am an overprotective mom. I am really worried about all the bad things that can happen to my child. As I've heard a million times when discussing my fear of flying, you are much more likely to die in a car crash than on a plane. We are going to one of the busiest, most crowded attractions on earth. In my paranoid, anxious, pessimistic mind, I see a million things that could go wrong. A million ways for this vacation to turn into our worst nightmare. My airplane anxiety centers around my fear for myself; this newest fear goes deeper than that to the core of maternal instinct and protection. And it's absolutely ridiculous.

So I will spend the next 3 months telling myself to look forward to the fun in the sun and not obsess over the danger lurking in every rest stop, lane-changing tractor trailer, and crowded photo op. I will try not to lie in bed every night and worry about losing sight of Ainsley in a crowd. I will plan for fun, not death.

Though Jason will be in charge of looking at all maps from here on out.

Out of the Mouth of Ains(ley)

A conversation between me and my little darling last night after bathtime:

"Come here, Ains, and let me put lotion on your back."
"It's Ains-ley!"
"Oh, I'm the mom and I can call my baby 'Ains' if I want to."
"Well, I'm the daughter and you can call me 'Ainsley'."

Okay, diva.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Goin' to the House of Mouse

The Moores are going to Disneyworld! It's official. We have been informally planning it for some time, but finally got our act together and booked the vacation last night.

Am I a bad person if I say I'm not really looking forward to it? I mean, on the surface, what's not to love? Our little girl is going to be surrounded by princesses and talking animals and loving every minute of what really is a rite of passage for American children. But here's the thing: I HATE amusement parks. I find them...not amusing. Throw the Big-Brotherness of Disney into that equation, and I could almost go into a panic attack. Top it off with a 13-hour drive with a 4-year-old, and you've just created a recipe for my insanity.

The amusement park thing comes from my pre-teen years when my mom and sister decided we needed season passes to King's Island. We went almost daily one summer. It was fun at first, but there's only so many times you can get your face rattled between the safety bars of the newfangled (at the time) King Cobra stand-up roller coaster before the rides and cutesy theme-ness of the park lose their charm. As I grew older, I found the ugly underbelly of humanity observable in any large crowd not worth the few thrills I got from the rides. And then there was the ill-fated King's Island trip that coincided with the remnants of Hurricane Opal trekking into the Ohio Valley, dropping over 5 inches of rain over our heads in one 12-hour period. That sealed the deal and I haven't been back.

If I could visit a theme park with just my family, a la the Griswolds in the first Vacation movie, I would love it. But seeing as how I'm just your average middle-class American mom, the best I can offer my child is the mandatory summer trip to the Magic Kingdom.

I only plan on doing this once, so we're doing it right. We're spending 6 nights there, with two days alloted for the Magic Kingdom; one day for the Animal Kingdom; one for MGM Studios (we weren't going to go here, but then we heard about the Playhouse Disney area, and we MUST go meet the Little Einsteins); and one day at one of the waterparks. The first day we're planning to chill out in our cabin in Fort Wilderness (tagline: Not Nearly As Rustic As It Sounds) and lounge at the pool. That will probably be my favorite day.

In the next couple of days, I will be synching up my cell phone to official atomic time so that I can call at precisely 7am exactly 90 days in advance to try to get Ainsley one of those coveted spots at a Cinderella's Castle's princess character breakfast. (Celia Rivenbark has a wonderful take on the whole character-breakfast craziness in one of her books.) Yeah, I can't believe I'm doing this, either. But if the stars don't align and I can't get us a spot, no biggie. I refuse to let The Mouse completely dictate our vacation. I will not drink the sparkly-pink Princess Kool-Aid the evil Disney empire serves up. I will not be one of those moms racing around the Magic Kingdom with a copy of The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World in one hand and a cheap plastic tiara in the other, knocking other moms out of my way to get a FastPass for the noriously long-lined The Many Adventures if Winnie the Pooh so that my daughter can ride it sometime before she reaches menopause.

No sir, I won't be one of those moms.

Now, out of my way so I can rush home and program my phone for the Cinderella Breakfast Hotline.

Saturday, April 7, 2007

Make the World Go Away

I remember naps. They're those leisurely afternoon lay-me-downs I used to indulge in before I became a mom. God, I miss them.

I still get weekend naps since Ainsley still naps. I am very grateful for this and will mourn her naps when she outgrows them. But I really miss the after-school nap. You know, the turn-the-world-off-and-pretend-this-day-didn't-happen nap. Those used to be my saving grace; when I had had a particularly rough day, or when I was coming down with something, they allowed me the peace and quiet I needed to reset myself. But, in mommy-dom, they don't exist.

Friday I REALLY needed one. I had fought a migraine all day, and though Excedrin was keeping it at bay, I can't ever really get rid of a migraine unless I close my eyes for a little bit (thank goodness I only get one a month.) It was also one of those cold, gray days that are best spent under a blanket. I picked Ainsley up from preschool and told her how tired mommy was.

"Why don't you show me a movie and I'll be quiet and you can sleep on the couch?" she offered.

Why, Ains, what a great idea! Oh, how tempting. What's a guilt-ridden working mom to do? Let the TV babysit while you indulge in a luxury, or do the right thing and entertain the preschooler, headache be darned?

Temptation won. Ainsley picked The Little Mermaid, and I dozed for an hour. At one point I felt like I was being watched and I opened my eyes to see Ainsley standing right over top of me, needing to ask me a question. But other than that, it was a good deal. And I have promised myself to only do this in times of migraine duress.

But it was a reminder of those days when I was free to crash on a regular basis, without having to clear it with anyone half my height or employ a Disney princess. If you are among the napping class, exercise that freedom now. Enjoy it. Savor each couch coma as if it were your last. Seize the day, friends. Take a nap.

Thursday, April 5, 2007

Lest I Forget

I can go days without thinking about it. But sometimes the fear and the anxiety come roaring back, and I find myself consumed by it.

I am a cancer survivor, and my treatment went so well and I've been so healthy that it's easy for me to forget, 4 years later, that I had a life-threatening disease. The closer I get to that 5-year mark, the benchmark that for many marks a division between "remission" and "cure", the easier it is to forget that a recurrence is a real possibility for anyone who has been treated for cancer, both days and decades after treatment ends. The well-publicized cancer recurrences of both Elizabeth Edwards and Tony Snow in recent weeks have shaken me because they have reminded me that, for survivors, remission is a fragile and precious thing.

I used to think about my cancer daily and obsessively. I am lucky, I suppose, in that if my cancer ever comes back I am probably going to see an unmistakable physical change in my body; my Hodgkin's lymphoma affected the lymph nodes under my arms and above my collarbone, and caused them to swell to golf balls. Part of my morning ritual the first year or so of remission was to check, and re-check, and triple-check for lumps and bumps. I darn near made myself crazy doing that; if you check your body long enough, you're going to discover unusual anatomy. Visiting the oncologist every 3 months initially was a great touchstone, though, and I eventually learned what was normal and not worth worrying about.

Oncology visits are only scheduled for twice a year now, and it gives me a little more time in between to wonder and worry. One of my cancerous areas was under my breastbone, and since I can't feel that lymph node, it's more troubling. Flickers of pain in my chest or a particularly bad chest cold are enough to raise my anxiety, but when things settle down, I can go back to living a pretty normal life. Sure, I have a few permanent side effects from chemo and radiation (many of us do), but I can get by. I am here. I am strong. I have had clean PET scans. I am closing in on 5 years.

But then there are times, like the past couple of weeks, where it seems as though I am absolutely surrounded by cancer. It's all I think about. It is on the cover of literally every news magazine that has come into my library this week, fueled I am sure by 2 prominent people recently announcing that their cancers have come back. It's on every episode of the nightly news. And it's a part of my work--I chair my county's Relay for Life and work on the planning and fundraising here at school since we are hosting the event. It makes it so hard to forget.

Truthfully, I don't want to forget. Cancer is part of who I am. No good can come from just wallowing in it and feeling sorry for myself, but good can come from my cancer if I accept it and embrace it. I know that my cancer could come back; my oncologist has told me that Hodgkin's can come back as long as 10 years out of treatment. (Though he also said such a recurrence 10 years out is as rare as a foot of snow on Easter Sunday.) (It's pretty darn wintry out there right now, less than a week before Easter--this isn't helping my cancer anxiety much.) I have been told that I will need annual cancer follow-ups and PET scans the rest of my life. The best I can do is to live each day as fully as I can and not let "what if" ruin the normalcy I am finally feeling. Sure, there will be bad days and health scares. But I am one of the lucky ones. Chances are, I am going to live long enough to watch my daughter graduate from high school. I am already very close to one goal I set for myself--to wave goodbye to Ainsley on her first day of school. A sobering number of young cancer survivors do not get those gifts. For their sake, I should take nothing for granted. For their sake, I should never forget.

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

I Love the 90s--Birthday Edition

Birthday before last, my friends threw me an 80s-themed birthday party. It was a blast. They put together an 80s trivia game (complete with quick-recall buzzers!), hours and hours of 80s tunes, and a basket full of fad items from the decade that brought us jelly bracelets and the Rubic's Cube. It was so much fun that I brought up the possibility of another 80s party sometime soon with that same group of friends. Not for a birthday, mind you; just for a night of nostalgia and fun music (we couldn't party long enough to get through all the music my librarian friend burned for us.)

But then my husband had to get snarky. See, I am a devoted fan of Entertainment Weekly's columnist and blogger Whitney Pastorek and her Chart Flashbacks (see the most recent entry here.) In one of her Chart Flashbacks, she discusses how hard it has been to find "good" songs in the charts she has picked from the 1990s. Her Flashback from 1984, however, contains so many gems that it's a little awe-inspiring. This got us talking one night--which decade had the best music? I am firmly on the side of the 80s, at least as far as music that cracked the Billboard charts and got airplay on the radio. Jason strongly disagrees. He doesn't have particularly nice things to say about 80s music.

So, in honor of his affection for 90s music (and perhaps, too, to remind him of all the Spice Girls/Macarena/Backstreet Boys/I'm Too Sexy crap that topped the charts in that decade and how inferior I feel that garbage is to my beloved 80s pop) I want to have a little birthday party for him with a 90s theme. But since I spent most of the 90s on college campuses living on student loan money and watching Army of Darkness and The Adventures of Brisco County Jr. in an obsessive thirst for all things Bruce Campbell (yep, I have issues), I can't think of very many distinctive things about the 90s. What did we wear? (Besides the flannel-shirt-unbuttoned-over-a-t-shirt thing.) What were the fads? What did people who weren't obsessed with Bruce Campbell do for fun?

Post your ideas below. Suggestions for music, clothing, games, and decorations are all welcome. Have fun!

Monday, April 2, 2007

Just Call Me "The Cooler"

First day back from spring break--I've needed a lot of caffeine to get through. It's actually good to be back, tired though I am, because this break goes down in career history for me as the Worst. Break. Ever.

I knew even before we went to the gambling boat on our one day of scheduled and child-free fun that my luck was on a downswing. I didn't need the Wheel of Fortune slot machine to confirm that (though it did.) My librarian friend? Now, she can put $6 into said slot machine and turn it into a small fortune, but me...not so much. My own Wheel of Fortune has turned, my friends, and things aren't pretty.

My spring break week was darn near a catastrophe. Some of it I brought on myself--why on earth did I decide spring break was the perfect time to try to cover our dark-teal third bedroom with pale yellow paint? But most was just out of my control. We found shingles on our deck during spring cleaning and spotted more trouble up on the roof itself, so it appears as though we're going to need a new roof. Ainsley and I got stranded at an IHOP. A family member had to be hospitalized after 2 trips to the emergency room (she's on the mend now). And then the last straw: our dishwasher and garbage disposal died last night in what is appearing to be a connected electrical problem that will probably see us paying out the wazoo to an electrician. Yes, kids, I have been a magnet of misfortune.

As if to show me an example of bad luck in action, casual channel-flipping Saturday night brought us to a movie called The Cooler with William H. Macy, Alec Baldwin, and Maria Bello. In this movie, Macy plays a man hired by a tired Vegas casino to be a "cooler"--to basically place himself at hot tables to cool the luck and tip the scales back in the house's favor. With one brush against the roulette wheel, with one quarter in a slot machine, or one ten-dollar bet at the craps table, he can ruin a gambler's night. He was hand-selected for this job by Baldwin's character, a casino owner who takes pity on Macy's character after he loses tens of thousands of dollars to his own gambling addiction. Baldwin sees that the man's horrible luck can profit him and allows Macy to work for him to pay off his gambling debts. In turn, Macy breaks his addiction and realizes that the odds will never be in his favor.

I am starting to think that I, too, am a cooler. Instead of looking at this as a bad thing, maybe I should begin to put my bad luck to good use. I've already got the anti-Duke chili that seems to make for bad fortune for the Blue Devils; no telling what else I have in my arsenal. I shall have to experiment and see if I can spread my misfortune around to those who need taken down a notch or two.

Just maybe stay clear of me for a little while while I get this all figured out. I wouldn't want to cause the Wheel of Fortune to catch you on the way down.