Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Going Off the Rails

Gosh, I love live television. Especially on those rare occasions that you get to see a celebrity derail right there in front of millions of people.

Everyone else in the blogosphere is talking about Paulagate, so I feel I should hop on that crazy train, too. But even before that happened last night (and if you weren't watching and have no idea what I mean by "that", click here) I had decided to blog about Neil Diamond night. It exemplifies to me a lot of what is going wrong with AI.

So, some observations about the show in general:

1. What happened to you, dreadlocks man? I did so love your take on "Hallelujah", and "Travellin' Through", and could even forgive "Memory" because it at least sounded heartfelt. But last night it didn't even look like you cared. Or were trying. Dude, you made the final 5 in American Idol despite having one of the most technically weak voices. Put forth some effort, will ya? Or are you smarter than we give you credit for and actually want to be voted off to go make a little indie Jack-Johnson-esque album? If so, carry on, my good man.

2. Ah, Brooke. Every time you sing, I want to give you an Ativan. You make me nervous for you. Props, though, for singing the lines, "...but no one heard at all/Not even the chair" without laughing.

3. Speaking of the chair, I have a little more respect for Neil Diamond now after hearing some of his songs that didn't make it into Dave Barry's Book of Bad Songs.

4. David A. sang the two songs I so badly wanted to hear Carly sing. Picture if you will the Irish lass with the big ol' voice singing "America", a song about immigrants coming to our country to follow their dreams. Little David's interpretations, though pleasant, did not thrill me half so much as merely picturing Carly belting them. But as he stood under the American flag graphic with his puppy eyes, he just ensured himself a place in the finals. Damn.

5. Screw the mint juleps at my derby party. I'm gonna get the recipe for whatever was in Paula's cup.

6. David Cook...could you be the one to bring back the power ballads I blogged about earlier in the week? 'Cause I could totally see your second song being the prom makeout song of 2009. And by the way, David...I really hope you like having confetti dumped on your head.

Now a few thoughts on the Paula gaffe.

There have been a few moments in my life where I have been extraordinarily glad that I had the TV on at the right time and the right channel. It's rare these days, what with our DVR box, that we watch something in real time. You can go back and You Tube all you want, but nothing beats the electric thrill of watching something totally unexpected go down on live TV. My number one jaw-dropping live TV moment came just a few years ago when Kanye West riffed about the president during the Katrina telethon. Not so much for his comments but for Mike Myers's reaction and the quick impromptu cut to an improvising-while-getting-a-snack-from-the-green-room Chris Tucker. You could watch Mike Myers's brain ctrl-alt-delete as he struggled with what to say and finally decided to say nothing. I watched that moment live; Ains was in bed, and Jason was working on something downstairs in our family room. I gleefully called down to him, "Honey, you gotta come up here and watch something." And then we replayed it on the TiVo like, a dozen times. Only Janet Jackson's exposed breast got more replay on our DVR machine.

I had thought Brooke's restarting last week and Paula's subsequent commentary of dead air were the best live-TV-shockers I was going to see this TV season. But then Paula made a mistake that, as other bloggers have pointed out this morning, seems to confirm one of two things about the most popular TV show in America:

1. The judges, whose comments do have some influence over who gets speed-dialed for, don't really pay attention to the live performances and instead base their often biting comments on a dress-rehearsal performance that they view on monitors in their dressing rooms,
2. The judges aren't really making their own comments, and at least one of them is taking written cues before the performances from the man behind the curtain.

Number 1 is bad enough, but it's been suspected for some time. It would explain why some contestants (cough davidarchuleta cough) don't get called out for botching lyrics and getting lower notes drowned out by the band; the judges aren't really paying attention and are referring to a pratice run we haven't seen. It would explain why performances that blow the roof off ("Jesus Christ Superstar") get middling reviews. Some people screw up in dress rehearsal and pull it together when it counts. That's the whole point of the dress rehearsal. Look, I've been in a lot of amateur theater productions, and every dress rehearsal has been a train wreck. If we had been judged by someone on those, we wouldn't have earned passing grades. But a lot of artistic types are turned on by a screaming audience, and by video cameras, and by the knowledge that This is it, baby. This counts. By and large, people hold back a little until it really counts and when they get that little buzz from the real thing (which is different than the buzz Paula gets in her Real Thing brand cup.) It's unfair that these kids aren't judged by that performance.

Dare I even get into the implications of Number 2? It would also explain some of the judging inconsistencies, but in a more sinister way. Have at it, conspiracy theorists.

And even if there is a non-show-killing explanation for what Paula said and the mistake she made, what in the world happened when she talked about Brooke's performance in relation to the "Idol Gives Back" show, which was weeks ago? And when she called Syesha "Brooke"? Is it possible that what we saw last night was a minor celebrity becoming completely delusional and unhinged? Will the men in the white coats be waiting for her after tonight's results show? Will her last great live TV moment be when she channels Blanche DuBois and leaves us with, "I have always depended upon the kindness of strangers"?

Have at it. Is Idol as we know it over?

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

If It's Not One Thing, It's Your Mother

Today my mother is officially a senior citizen.

My mom will never really seem old to me, though she does turn 65 today. Sure, she desperately needs to go get her hearing checked, and she should wear her reading glasses instead of holding everthing she needs to see at arm's length, but anyone who goes to local honkeytonks to listen to live music and cut a rug every Saturday night can't be labelled as elderly.

In honor of mom's big day, I want to celebrate her. A while back I had a lot of fun posting about her awesome way with words. Today I want to honor her spirit and wisdom (but still pick on her a little, because she is, intentionally or un-, a great source of humor in my life.)

Mom has a survivor spirit. She is the youngest of eight kids born to a coal miner and raised in a mining camp in the impoverished mountains of southeastern Kentucky. She was born too early, and was the only one of her siblings to be born in a hospital. At four pounds, I don't think Mamaw and Papaw expected her to make it, but she grew into a feisty, though sickly, kid. Mamaw told me once that Mom was always cold, even as an infant, so she kept the newborn on a pillow and set her next to the coal-burning stove. How she made it to adulthood without being baked is beyond belief.

I used to ask Mamaw, "Was my mom your best kid?" To which I would get an instant, "No. She was mean as a snake." But she was also the baby, so her older siblings, especially her two oldest sisters, doted on her. And she apparently was her father's favorite. At her oldest sister's funeral years ago, a couple of my grandfather's nieces and nephews, who mom hadn't seen since she was in grade school, came up to mom and introduced themselves. They told mom that when my grandfather would visit their father, he couldn't stop talking about his baby, "the runt of the litter". She may have been little, and often unhealthy, and always ornery, but she was her dad's pride and joy.

She was only the second of her siblings to graduate high school. She married my dad, who was her elder by three years, the weekend after her graduation. I wish I knew more about how they got together; I know they were set up by friends, but they hadn't been in the same circle in high school. In fact, my father had left her high school for a couple of years and graduated from a high school in Oklahoma long before they were introduced. The only details I've heard about their courtship was that they double-dated a lot, and didn't get serious for a long time, and that Dad popped the question with an oh-so-romantic, "How about you and me get married?"

As an independent woman who wanted to work and to be more than a housewife, she registered for the best form of higher eduation available to women from her part of the world at that time: beauty school. Her beauty school class picture is very telling; she by far has the tallest, most symmetrical beehive and takes great pride that she did it herself. She really can work magic with a comb and some Aqua Net.

After finishing her training she got pregnant with my sister and lived on an army base in Virginia while my dad was stationed in Vietnam. This is the part of my parents' lives that is hazy for me. Mom doesn't talk about it much, and my sister doesn't remember it. Dad served for four years as a merchant marine in the very early days of our presence in Vietnam, and I know despite what else may have happened that they were young and in love and he wrote her often; the only artifacts of my dad's life I wasn't given access to when he died were the stacks of letters I found with some old photos. Mom snatched them away, told me they were love letters, and were personal. I know she missed him, and her home, and she was very happy when he was honorably discharged and they could leave the base.

She lived contently in her home county for years. She fixed hair, raised her daughter, and due to some chronic health problems, didn't think she could conceive again. Dad's return from overseas saw him a changed man, and their marriage was strained. My father was a, well, cranky man and very hard to please; my mom always has worn her heart on her sleeve and nurses a fairly violent temper. One time they had an argument at my Mamaw's trailer, and dad said something cruel and sarcastic that hurt Mom's feelings. Right there in front of her own mother, she called my dad a a pretty shocking name that rhymes with "rock shucker" and swung her purse in his general direction. Having no aim, she ended catching him in the face. When he was struck speechless and walked off, she gasped and opened her purse to find a full can of aerosol hairspray she had picked up at a supply store and stuck in her bag and forgot about. She felt awful; they laughed about it later. And when my Mamaw tried to shame her about it, she instead starting laughing so hard she cried.

"They law...." my mamaw said. "Where did you learn that word?" Mamaw knew her youngest had a bad temper and didn't mean to hurt Dad. But she was very concerned about the language she had heard. To this day, Mom says she has no idea where she learned that word but thinks she may have been the one to invent it.

Realizing there were no good jobs in the mountains at that time, Dad followed his childhood friend to the GM plant in Norwood, Ohio, where he lived during the week. Mom and Dad only saw each other on weekends. And given how independent Mom always was, this arrangement was just fine with her. She had many friends, worked full-time as a hair dresser, and maintained her little home and raised her daughter more or less by herself and without much interference from my dad and his strong opinions about everything.

When my sister was ten, I came into the picture. I was definitely a surprise. I didn't make her life easy; I was very sick, I was colicky, and she didn't have much help. Like her parents had with her, she worried that I wasn't going to make it, and my first year was a blur of doctor visits, sleepness nights spent walking the floors, and appeals to God. Around my first birthday my health turned around and, according to my mom, I became an easy kid to raise. Until my teen years, anyway.

The commute and never seeing his family wore on my dad, so he convinced my mother that they should move north. Some of her cousins, who were also her best friends, had already moved up here with their husbands. She tearfully left her home and her family for parts unknown. The first year we lived here, she rarely left the house. She was afraid to drive on northern Kentucky's busy roads (busier than those in Knox County, anyway) and didn't know where to go or what to do. She babysat the girl across the street to earn her own spending money and went "down home" at least one weekend a month and cried when it was time to come home. The independent woman vanished for a little while.

With the help of her cousins and some friends from high school who she kept literally bumping into every time we went somewhere (her current closest girlfriend and her stood next to each other in the Ponderosa salad bar for five minutes before realizing they had gone to high school together and caused a big scene) she began to get used to her new world. She started working part time at a salon and quickly became friends with the other women there; seriously, how do you not love being around my mom? She might be moody, she might be defensive, but she's never dull. And on a good day, she can get an entire room laughing.

When my sister married and left home, it was pretty much just the two of us. Dad worked second shift his entire career, and this arrangement afforded Mom some of the independence she loved. She eventually managed her own beauty shop inside a local "luxury" nursing home. When I was in high school and college, I would often stop by to see her at lunch time if I didn't have school or work. Only my mother could have done that job without losing her mind. Despite her quick temper, she has infinite patience with the small and helpless. I often think in another time and place she would have made one hell of a doctor or nurse. She was at her best as a mother when we were hurt, sick, or broken-hearted. She soothed the often confused and sorrowful patients, some of whom had no idea where or even who they were. She lifted and wheeled the patients from room to shampoo bowl mostly by herself, cleaned their messes (without gagging) when they leaked or got sick, listened to their stories, and held back when they were belligerent. I used to sit in my car and cry after visiting her; her "ladies", as she called them, made me so sad. And I was touched by the way she cared for them. All the stories I've heard about my Papaw have led me to believe he was a natural healer with a gift for caring for animals and babies in need; I think his favorite daughter, the runt of the litter, was close to his heart because she also had that gift.

She retired from her salon job after Ainsley was born to be her caregiver when I had to go back to work. Ainsley thrived in her mamaw's care. They still have a special relationship. If I ever get frustrated about something Ainsley's doing or not doing, I get, "Well, don't quarrel at it. It's the most precious thing in this world." If Mom calls you an "it", then you have found your way into her circle of small, helpless things she has sworn to protect.

She is her friends' first choice for advice and help when they get seriously ill or need surgery, for she is known to volunteer to take them in or stay with them during the worst of their convalescence and change bandages, administer medication, clean wounds, and dry tears. When Dad was dying, she carried the heaviest load of her life without complaining. She out-nursed his nurses and held his hand as he passed. We worried about how she would cope later. We need not have.

The past three years, Mom has bloomed. Though always her own woman, she had been dedicated to the needs of her husband and daughters her whole life; the last couple of years, she's been more in tune with making the best of her own life. She travels to Colorado and Florida and Vegas and is planning a trip to Ireland. She hits karaoke bars with her cousin and asks a certain daughter to be the designated driver so she can get silly on wine. She has expanded her circle of friends and has begun to date. She says she never wants to marry again, because even though she loved my dad dearly, she likes having no one to report to, having her house to herself, and being her own boss. Though they had a rocky marriage in spots, she says that Dad was the love of her life and she is not willing to settle for someone else.

My mom is a lot of things. She can cook a dinner so good it will just about make you weep. She's a god-fearing woman from an evangelical background, but she's no prude. One minute she can quote scripture and the next be unleashing a furious tirade of southern-accented curses that would make my dad, a former sailor, blush. She can speak to strangers and acquaintances in perfect, polite, nearly un-accented English and then turn around and tell me, "Nobody can't never tell you nothin'!" with a voice straight out of the bowels of the mountains she was born in. There are a couple of women out there who bear a resemblance to her; Paula Deen reminds me of my mother with her Southern manners, humor, and down-to-earth lack of pretention. Mom's a little like Dolly Parton with her love of big hair, high heels, and ample makeup and insistence that there is no such thing as "natural beauty." And if you've ever seen Steel Magnolias, then you've met my mom in the character of "Weezer." (Jason would also tell you that every time he's watched Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil the Lady Chablis has made him think of my mother, but I don't know how I feel about a black transvestite bearing a resemblance to my mom.)

But no one is exactly like her. She is an original. We don't always agree; at least once a month, we butt heads over my tendency to give her unsolicited advice. I have her quick temper and my father's sarcasm and sharp tongue, and we have battles so fierce that we have to give each other a few days to calm down before one of the other of us will pick up the phone. But she is one of my best friends, and I am proud to call her my mom.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Play That Monster Ballad, White Boy

I love me a good rock ballad.

I had my iPod set to shuffle all my songs yesterday to provide a good assortment of tunes while I went for a run. One of the first songs that popped up wasn't exactly one that got my feet pounding and my heart thumping, but it did take me back to middle school: "Never Say Goodbye." That song was the theme song for our spring dance in 8th grade, and when I hear it I can see all of us pairing up in the darkened cafeteria and holding our arms awkwardly around the neck or waist of some member of the opposite sex, because who wanted to be the wallflower for the last song of the dance, for the song whose title graced all the hand-drawn posters advertising the last big hoo-rah of middle school?

A few songs later, Cinderella's "Don't Know What You Got 'Til It's Gone" came on, followed by "More Than Words", and I was seriously starting to wonder if my 'Pod was going to hit me with every song I've ever slow-danced to at a school dance. If INXS's "Never Tear Us Apart" had made an appearance, I just might have melted into a puddle of nostalgic goo on the sidewalk.

The late '80s and early 90s were a pretty spectacular era for the power ballad. No matter the occasion, there was always a suitable top-40 hit to serve as the slow-dance theme song. 1992 is around the time I think this trend died, because our senior class chose "It's So Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday" by Boyz II Men as our class song, and I died inside a little, because I had really wanted to dig "Never Say Goodbye" out of the dustbin and have that be the song. I never got over Bon Jovi, and was so glad as an adult that he made a comeback, even though his live specials do a leeeetle too much of the acoustic-version thing. I never did get Boyz II Men; 1992 is around the time I abandoned pop music for country, which looking back was a pretty sad choice, too, but at least it got me away from the whole boy band thing.

I do so love my rockers, and there's just something about a "rock" band going all soft and doing a big power ballad that makes me melt. Maybe because we all, deep down, want to be the girl the song's about. Let's face it, ladies; most of us like bad boys. And in the 80s, could you get much "badder" than the lead singer of a hair band?

So, talk back to me, readers. What slow-dance classics take you back to your proms and homecomings? Do any of them still make you want to hold your sweetie around the waist, sway more or less in time to the music, and steal a kiss when your favorite chaperoning English teacher has wandered off to the concession stand?

Friday, April 25, 2008

And The Emmy Should Go To...

Someone should just drive to actor Michael Emerson's house and give him the Emmy for Best Supporting Actor in a Drama Series now.

You all know who that is, right? Ben? From Lost? On ABC? (Sound of crickets.) Oh, yeah, a lot of you who read this have told me you don't watch that show. Sigh.

I wish I knew something else that actor has been in. I know I could check him out on imdb, but it's Friday and I'm tired and lazy because I stayed up until 11 to watch Lost in its new time slot. I currently don't know where Mr. Emerson came from, or where's he's been all my life, or whether it's healthy that I fell a wee little bit in love with his character last night, but it was one of the most amazing performances I've ever seen in an hour of television.

In one short hour, he portrayed grief, rage, vengeful glee, dark humor, manipulation, and apprehension with such quiet ferocity that you never once saw him "acting." And he put on his action hero game face to boot! He conveys more with his face and (remarkable) eyes than any other television actor can do with their entire body.

He has created one of the most complex characters in TV drama; we learned quite a bit about Ben and his motives last night, and it's seemingly been confirmed that he is indeed, despite the chilling evilness he has shown throughout his run, one of the "good guys." But he's far from a saint, and I certainly wouldn't want Ben as an enemy. Or even to cut him off in traffic. He's the type of guy that would feed you to the wolves and smile faintly while you scream.

I can't wait to see what my favorite show is going to do with Ben as it winds down. So long as they keep Mr. Emerson til the end, I'll keep watching.

All's Well That Ends Well

I've been thinking a lot about endings.

Maybe it's because I have been really struggling lately with my writing, in particular my conclusions. I can usually come up with an effective intro, but I never know how to finish it. I tend to ramble on and on because I'm just not clever enough to come up with that one line that will pull it all together without boringly restating my main points. Dave Barry does a great job with this in his columns. I, sirs, am no Dave Barry.

Maybe my present preoccupation with endings is because Jason and I caught The Truman Show on cable last Friday night. Even though we have seen this movie a dozen times, we were too lazy to change channels. We caught it right around the time Truman talks to Sylvia in the library and asks about her "How's it going to end?" button.

When you think about it, "How's it going to end?" is a pretty interesting thing to ponder in any situation.

I am rather morbid, so I wonder all the time how it's all going to end for me. Will I be old, or tragically young? Will it happen quickly on an airplane or in a car? Or will it be a slow decline into ill health and unconsciousness? Will it be the cancer I've already fought and which seems to hit people in my family more than once, or will it be due to some hidden flaw in an artery or vessel that no one ever seems to see coming?

I am so intrigued by the question of "How's it going to end?" that if I am reading a novel, and due to work, family, or TV obsession am having a slow go of it, I will flip ahead to the end just so that my curiosity is satisfied. Like Harry in When Harry Met Sally, I read ahead to the last page so that, if I die before I get to the last chapter, I will know how it ends. That, my friends, is a dark side.

Recently, a co-worker stopped down in the library and started talking about her favorite book of all time with one of my students. It turns out this teacher's favorite novel is one of my own favorites, A Prayer for Owen Meany. I love this book so much that I've been tempted to use it as a barometer for friendship; if you have read and loved this book, you and I would probably go together like peas and carrots. If you read it and hated it...well, you and I are just not destined for BFF-dom.

We started talking about the ending of that novel, and how beautiful it is. I don't want to spoil it for anyone. I will say that it's Dickensian; all the pieces are wrapped up in a surprising and tear-inducing package, and the final lines rival the famous ending of A Tale of Two Cities (don't judge me for my love of the melodrama of Dickens.) If I could choose how I exit this world, I would choose a Dickens or John Irving-crafted ending where all of the loose ends of my life are tied up, all my questions get answered, and that minor character who popped up randomly in chapter 12 is explained as a long lost father or brother or as the dastardly villain who is finally going to come to justice.

A terrific ending can make a so-so story memorable and outstanding; a bad ending can cause mild-mannered librarians-to-be throw a book across a room in disgust and anger.

I have actually done that a few times in my life. As a high-schooler, I felt cheated by the endings to certain well-loved books that frequently get cited as some of the best novels of all time (cough grapesofwrath cough.) Sometimes these endings seem better on a second reading. I threw Catcher in the Rye against the dashboard of my friend's Escort after completing it during a college visit senior year; when I was forced to revisit it for 20th century American lit in college, I could so much better appreciate a bleak ending that I viewed as a cheat when I was younger and less world-weary. I've been told I would like the ending to another novel I hated in high school (see the above cough) if I re-read it as an adult. But to get to the ending I have to get through the rest of that novel, and I am just not sure I want to go spend a month back in that world.

The most recent blow-up over an ending happened just last week when I finally finished my months-long reading of Atonement. I admit, I had a hard time with that one. Someone at work recommended it with the tagline, "It's worth it for the ending." Well, how do you resist that? So after multiple starts and stops, I tackled the final two sections a couple of weekends ago when I had migraine-induced insomnia. I vowed not to let myself skip ahead to the ending on this one, since I had heard it was a hum-dinger of a twist. I rushed through, merely skimming some sections, placating my boredom with it in parts with the promise of a surprise ending and...KABLOOEY! It was one hell of a twist. So much so that I sat slack-jawed for a moment with the book in my hand at 3 am on a Sunday morning, thinking to myself, "Huh." The next night, I went back and reread one whole section to try to get a grip on it. If you've read it, you know why.

A week later, I was honest-to-God feeling mad about the twist. I felt like I was mislead. Lied to. Manipulated. I spent months (well, not really, because it was only a few minutes here and a few minutes there), MONTHS I tell you reading that book only to learn...(and I can't even tell you what I learned because it would be a spoiler.) When I came across the book still in our bedroom while cleaning yesterday, I gave it a little toss to the corner . That's right. I'm a professional keeper of books who also throws them around when angry.

All this brings me to the real point of this blog.

What are the best and worst endings of a show/series/movie/book that you've ever seen or read?

Here are some of my picks for best endings:

To Kill a Mockingbird (book and movie, natch; when Scout says, "Hey, Boo," I sob)

A Prayer for Owen Meany (book)

The Book Thief (I cannot recommend this novel enough)

The Road (book)

The Giver (book)

"Baggage" (episode of Everybody Loves Raymond where Ray and Debra fight over a suitcase; has possibly the best final scene in sitcom history)

"Casino Night" (episode of The Office where Jim professes his love for Pam)

Sixth Sense (movie)

Gone With the Wind (not so much the "Tomorrow is another day" part, but the "Rhett Butler's tired of your crap and is leaving your ass" part)

The Truman Show (movie)

The Usual Suspects (movie)

The episode of Scrubs where you learn in the last minutes that Jordan's brother died and most of what you've seen in the last 22 minutes has been in Dr. Cox's imagination

Pretty much every season finale of Lost

Just to name a few.

And the worst:

Series finale of Seinfeld

Most Nicholas Sparks novels, and the movies based on said novels

It by Stephen King (I love Stevie, but his conclusions sometimes leave me shaking my head)

Your turn.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

America Has Voted...And, Seriously, What Were You THINKING??

I am living up to my name today, kiddos. I am cranky as hell.

What's the reason? Is it something with my job? Did I get cut off in traffic? Did my kid keep me up all night, did my husband leave dirty clothes in the floor, did my mother just pack my bags and send me on a guilt trip? No. I am cranky because of a TV show.

You may remember that last year I let myself get attached to American Idol contestant Melinda Doolittle. When she got voted off before the finale, I got a little miffed. And swore I would never watch Idol again. And shamed other voting viewers who didn't see her tremendous vocal talent and instead voted for two contestants who couldn't hold a candle to her just because some people thought she bore a scary likeness to Shrek (oh, you shallow, shallow people; yet the comparison still made me laugh a little on the inside.) I did not watch the finale last year in protest, but I let myself get sucked in this year. There was so much talent! So much promise! And an Irish barmaid with a spectacular set of pipes who was shown one night putting a perfect little shamrock in the foam atop a draft Guiness! She had me at "Hello." (Actually, David Cook had me at his version of Lionel Ritchie's "Hello", so technically Carly had me at "Alone.")

And then, as Ryan Seacrest says, America voted...and totally got it wrong.

Jason reminded me, while I huffed and puffed around the living room like a spoiled child, that I wrote a blog entry not too long ago called, "I Heart David Archuleta." Oh, that I could take that back. Because while I did love little David's performance of "Imagine", he has lost a lot of his shine since then. I haven't liked his song choices, I haven't liked his penchant for botching lyrics on any song he hasn't been caught performing somewhere before his Idol selection (I do so love the You Tube; you can run, but you can't hide from the camera phones.) Seriously, if you're going to be a singer, learn how to memorize lyrics on new songs. I especially haven't liked how he can do no wrong in the judges' eyes. They don't call him out for things they call the other contestants out for, like flubbing lyrics and losing strength and pitch in his lower register. I am not much of a conspiracy theorist (as far as TV shows go, anyway) but I am kinda in agreement with those who think the producers have pegged David A. as the heir apparent and are twisting the bolts of the machine to work in his favor.

I had no delusions that my girl Carly was going to win. I have gone on fan sites and read that people do not like her because she seems "desperate" and "makes weird faces when she hits high notes" and "has too many tattoos." But good Lord, can that girl sing. She chose a couple of songs that didn't work for her through the competition, yet even on a bad song she could hit those notes. Beautifully. I thought she would probably make it to the top 4, if not the top 3 like Melinda. I did NOT think she would go at the number 6 spot.

Now, I also love Jason Castro. I will probably buy his first CD. He's got that relaxed, acoustic thing going that I do so love. And he's ten kinds of gorgeous. But I don't think he could (or should) win what's supposed to be a singing competition.

I also love Brooke White, in my own way. She's all rainbows and kittens and sunshine. I could see me listening to her on a rare Saturday afternoon to myself, with summer breezes coming in through the window, while I prepare a lovely meal while padding around the kitchen barefoot in a sundress. But she completely and totally screwed up Tuesday night. She broke a cardinal rule of performing: if you screw up, keep going, don't break the 4th wall, and whatever you do, DON'T START OVER. She created some of the most awkward moments of live TV I've seen since Kanye riffed on the President. She left Paula speechless, and silenced the crowd, so that there were about ten seconds of dead air during the judges' critiques. This wasn't her first screwup, either. It was time for her to go.

But that's not who America chose.

Jason reminds me that this, like so many things, is a popularity contest. It's not just about who can sing, but about who is adored enough to sell millions of records. He gave me a little speech about demographics, and about how just about everyone that's left fits into some niche in the music market. Carly doesn't. True, true. There unfortunately isn't much of a market in today's pop music for people who can sing really, really well. How sad.

I will still keep watching, because I do like Jason Castro, and love David Cook (he's been my pick to win for weeks, even over Carly, though I almost don't want it because I don't know what kind of record he would be forced to make if he won the whole shebang.)

I can't help but worry, folks. I've been thinking a lot about voting in general. When we have to pick one person over another, for anything, our decisions are influenced by so many things. There's the whole popularity and likeability thing. There's (hopefully) the issue of competency. Then there are all the smaller personal, subjective things. Maybe you don't like the way the person looks. Or talks. Maybe there are some personal prejudices you have (I had no idea how many people are repulsed by large tattoos until I read Carly's message boards.) Maybe you just got up that morning and thought, "You know, I think I will cast my vote for A because the sun is out and that person wears yellow a lot."

And then there are people who, deep down, have strong feelings but just don't vote at all. I know one of those people.


The worst part of this whole Carly thing? I didn't pick up the phone Tuesday night. I was tired. I had been at school for twelve hours that day working and grading porfolios. I figured she was safe; she had given her strongest performance in weeks, and the crowd had gone wild.

How many others like me were there? People who thought she deserved to stay, but just didn't pick up a phone? And then complained about it in a blog later, covering up the fact that the vote not going the way they thought it should by pointing a finger at others when that finger really should be pointed at themselves.

If you think I take Idol seriously, you should hear me get going on politics. Or maybe not. I have pretty strong feelings about the 2008 presidential elections, too. Don't worry, I won't talk about that here. I am tolerant of others' differing opinions, but pretty passionate about my own political views, and I take it personally and don't like to get in arguments about it. I have a candidate picked out, and like with Carly, I have gotten attached and inspired and think this person is immensely talented. And like with Carly, I am bracing myself for the very real possibility that my person won't come out on top. That America will, at least in my mind, get it wrong.

In that case, though, I will most certainly vote.

And if (when?) it doesn't go my way, I will keep my big mouth (figuratively speaking) shut and keep my moaning to myself.

Maybe. If my blood pressure gets high over a stupid reality show, what's it going to be like in November 08?

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Oh, How I Love Living In the (ACHOO!) Ohio Valley

I am miserable.

My eyes are red, swollen, and intensely itchy. I woke myself up last night rubbing them, tried to tell my half-asleep hands to stop it before they made everything worse, and fell back to sleep feeling like I had sandpaper for eyelids. I reaped the reward of excessing eye-rubbing this morning when I woke up with a full-blown case of allergic conjunctivitis (pink eye, my friends.) Blurg.

If you know me, you know that summer before last I had such a bad case of allergy eyes that I had pink eye all summer long. I would get treated for it, have about a week of normalcy, and then wake up one morning with my left eye glued shut. It peaked one morning when I woke up in a panic, unable to see out of my left eye; for 30 minutes, looking through that eye, the world had no more detail than if I were looking at it through a dirty shower curtain. For four months after that, I had to see an opthamologist regularly and be on a scary steroid drop that made my intra-eye pressure go up and caused me to need terrifying monthly glaucoma screenings (anybody else have an irrational fear that a rogue needle is coming at your eyeball during the puff-of-air test?) And I couldn't wear contacts for months. It was a joyous time to be me.

And now I am afraid it's back.

Knowing what it is early on and having some pretty awesome allergy eye drops at my disposal, I might not suffer the entire summer. And if all I have to do to keep it from escalating is stay away from my contacts for a month, I can deal. But it sucks while it lasts, and I blame it all on living in the heart of allergy country: the Ohio Valley.

My assistant just gave a double-sneeze to confirm.

Being in this over-pollenated, highly ozoned, and humid part of the world makes me bitter every spring. I'd love to be able to open windows on a day like today (cloudless sky, high in the lower 70s, calm breezes), or go for a walk, or open my sun roof, without looking like an extra from The Stand (remember that miniseries, kids? M-O-O-N! That spells "television event of the mid-90s!") With our unusually late spring, everything that would have started budding in February and March is starting now, and everything that's supposed to start now didn't get that memo and is joining in right on time, and many of our immune systems are overwhelmed.

It's just one of the many joys of living here.

You ever heard the saying, "Don't like the weather in Kentucky? Stick around a minute; it will change"? That's barely an exaggeration. Where else can you see random 70-degree temperatures in December and January and the occasional killing frost in mid-April? Where else can you have a day where you can walk around outside without a coat followed by a day with a possibility for snow? The only thing that's certain, at least in the winter and spring, is uncertainty.

And extremely high pollen and smog counts.

I tell Jason frequently that when we retire, we're moving out west. Somewhere dry. Somewhere where not much grows. Somewhere like...Las Vegas! Yes, I know it's hot out there. I went there in late July, and the high one day reached 117. But give me dry heat any day over the water-logged, pollen-filled soup I usually breathe here in the Cincy metro area from April through August.

For now, I'll just keep sneezing, just keep sneezing...

Friday, April 18, 2008


This time of year always gets me thinking about my dad. April 20 is the anniversary of his death; it's been three years now, and though I will never get over missing him, it gets a little easier to cope with each passing year.

Lately, I've been thinking a lot about what he left me. Our family is far from rich, so my inheritance from my father was not monetary. The material things I have of his are few. I have the small stereo he listened to in his bedroom; the soft, black sweat shirt I bought him for his last Christmas and which he only wore a handful of times before he was consigned to a hospital bed; his high-school class ring from Del City, Oklahoma, which as a kid always fascinated me because it was a time and place in his life he didn't talk about much but which seemed hopelessly dramatic and exotic; and his old, torn Army jacket with our last name emblazoned above the pocket. That jacket in particular is priceless to me; no matter how many times it's been through the wash, it still smells like cigarette smoke and Aqua Velva. Like my dad.

Beyond the material, my father left me a lot. It's just taken me a while to see it all.

One day this winter while puttering around our house in jeans and a pair of black socks, I caught sight of my own feet. My God, I thought. Those are my dad's feet. Something about the way they looked sticking out from my jeans was so familiar. I'd seen black-socked feet of that same shape my entire childhood, but had never noticed that mine look exactly the same.

As I've gotten older, I've realized that I also have his eyes. I looked nothing like my dad when I was a child; people either said I looked like a little version of my mom, or that I looked like the milkman's kid. Age has made me look less like Mom; I didn't get her long, thin, nose, or her olive complexion, or her narrow face and jaw and high, Cherokee cheekbones. My eyes are her color of coffee, but they're not shaped like hers. The last few years my upper eyelids have begun to grow a little heavier; I suspect that as an old woman they will form little hoods over my eyes. My dad's eyelids did the same thing, and some mornings, before I work magic with a little eye shadow, I see his reflection in the mirror. He looked out of his eyes at the world in much the same way I do; Dad was very observant, and not much got past him. He often looked as though he was waiting to be amused; on good days, his eyes always seemed to be just a hair away from breaking into a slight smile. He wasn't cruel, but he had a cynical, sarcastic sense of humor and the people in his world and their foibles and quirks often made him hide a sly, crooked smile. I find myself doing that all the time (and then writing about it here later, of course.)

It took years for me to see my own father in myself. We had some rocky times through my adolescence, and for many years I didn't want to see any of his features or traits. The first time I began to see that we were a lot a like was in the early years of my marriage when I stopped on my way out the door of our Lexington apartment to make a smartass, over-the-shoulder remark to my husband.

"Alright, Chuck," Jason said.

"What do you mean?"

"I've seen your dad make that same comment a dozen times to your mom, and every time he says it he's standing just like you are. The only thing missing is that you don't have a cigarette dangling out of your mouth. You're just like him sometimes."

And for good or for ill, I am.

It's not just me who picked up some of Dad's genetic inheritance. Less than a year before he passed away, on a sunny summer evening, he held Ainsley at his waist and walked with her around his backyard to show her the trees and his beloved tomato plants. When I reached out to take her from him, they both turned to me with the setting sun in their eyes. Their eyes were the exact same shade of hazel. I had thought Ainsley's eyes were a mutated mix between my dark-brown and her father's green; until that moment, I hadn't realized that she had picked up some of Dad's eye color, too. He had chameleon eyes; there were times they looked light and times they looked dark, and times they seemed olive-green and times they seemed as brown as my own. Ainsley's eyes trick me sometimes, too, and when she asks me what color her eyes are, there have been a few times I've had to say, "I don't really know."

Genetics dictate that we get a little here and a little there from our parents. If we're really lucky, we get the best from both. When people tell me that Ainsley is beautiful, I credit it to the weird mix she is of Jason me; her eyes are large and deep-set like his, but she has my heart-shaped face. She has his tall, thin frame and my dark hair. She is alternately outgoing and silly (Jason) and thoughtful and shy (me.) A free afternoon will find her either listening to music and singing along loudly and in-tune (Jason) or writing in her new journal (me.)

For years, I wondered where I got certain traits. As Dad and I grew closer in our last years together, I looked at him and began to see an awful lot of myself. He is gone, but some of him lives on in me and in my daughter. He lives on in Ainsley's changing hazel eyes; in my sarcastic sense of humor; in my love for (and frustration by) Kentucky Wildcat basketball; in the various physical traits and mannerisms I picked up from him. I don't have a legacy of financial wealth, no inherited land or properties, but having had him in my life, I feel rich just the same.

Oh, My God! It's the Big One!

Holy crap, y'all. We had an earthquake this morning.

We were many miles from the epicenter in Illinois, but the greater Cincinnati area was one of several distant cities that felt the rumble and the shake.

I am actually relieved to know that what I heard at 5:37am was a quake. I was getting ready to hop in the shower when I heard what sounded like someone walking around in the house. I had the dishwasher running, and had thrown some clothes in the dryer, but above the din of those modern machines I thought I heard the garage door raise and footsteps in the stairwell. Jason had already left for the gym, and I thought he had forgotten something and was coming back in.

"Hello?" I called, after opening the bathroom door. "Jason, is that you?"

When no one answered I freaked a little. I remembered that both of our cordless phones were still out in the kitchen, and for a second I was convinced a madman burglar had broken in and I was trapped with no way to call 911. I listened for a moment, but all I heard were the early morning birds chirping (and now that I think of it, the birdsong was much louder than usual this morning; the birdies must have been alarmed by the shaking, too.) I resumed my shower, and more or less forgot about it since I didn't get attacked Norman-Bates-style by my imaginary burglar. When I heard the news on the radio, I realized that the noises I had heard were just my slightly shaken house. I was quite relieved (after learning that no one was hurt, of course.)

It wasn't quite the shake rattle and roll I felt as a kid back in 1980. I was playing back in mom's bedroom when all of a sudden, all of her perfume and makeup bottles began jumping on her dresser; they all came towards me and started falling off the top. I was only six, and thought an unseen entity was animating those objects and attacking me. I ran and screamed to my mom that a ghost was in her room. She looked up in alarm just as a gallon of milk fell off the kitchen counter and onto the floor, creating a spectacular mess. Dad was in the living room watching a Reds game, and in the sudden quiet created by all of us wondering just what the hell was going on we heard the announcer say, "Whoa. We just felt a little tremor here at Riverfront Stadium."
It had been a rare 5.1 centered right here in my home state.

The quake this morning was much further away, so it wasn't quite as dramatic as the 1980 shakeup (for us, anyway.) But just like that earlier quake, I mistook the rattling for something more sinister.

If you felt the big one this morning, chime in. Did you sleep through it? Did it rock your world? Is this the beginning of the New Madrid fault's big move?

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Mother of the Year

I shall never be mother of the year. I am much more likely to be charged with negiligence, because apparently, I have no clue.

Ainsley has had a chronic cough going on since Easter weekend. She has asthma, so for her to cough all spring long is really not too unusual (or at least that's the story I'm telling myself today.) It's worse on days she's been outside, and it's gone from tight and croup-y to a little wet sounding, so I let it go; I sometimes do the same thing during allergy season. She hasn't had a fever, hasn't complained, has been more or less herself.

Sunday was a really bad day for her and she coughed any time she did any kind of physical activity, even walking up the stairs. After a particularly bad fit, Jason looked at me and said, "Are we going to do anything about that, or just let it go?" When the husband, who probably has visited a doctor less than ten times in his entire life, thinks her cough sounds bad, it's a sign that the time has come to get it checked out.

I didn't hurry to get her in immediately; I took a lunch time appointment yesterday with the doctor in her pediatricians' office who has seen her the most about her asthma and allergies. I expected that another ashtma medicine would probably get thrown into her combo just for use while everything is blooming, and that would be it.

But guess what? The doctor heard fluid in one lung; she described it as "crackles", and since the crackles were just coming from the bottom part of her right lung, it can best be described as "localized", and if you do a quick Google search for localized crackles, you will see that one of the possible diagnoses is...pneumonia! Awesome.

The doctor gave her a breathing treatment right there in the office because her peak flow was low, meaning her airways were pretty inflamed. Her official on-paper diagnosis is asthma and bronchitis, but because it could be a mild case of pneumonia ("walking pneumonia", the kind that doesn't necessarily make you feel bad), she's on a strong antibiotic and we're supposed to watch her really closely for signs of worsening infection.

So I feel like a terrible mom. I should have known that cough wasn't right. I let frickin' pneumonia fester in my asthmatic kid's lungs. Who does that?

She also has a new inhaler to use during hay fever season, and we have to start monitoring her peak flow regularly. What had always been a mild case of asthma easily kept under control has suddenly gotten a little more serious.

I am trying to not beat myself up about it, because I usually take Ainsley to the doctor any time her wheezing gets bad, or any time she gets a high fever, or any time she plain old doesn't seem like herself. I am usually uber vigilant. I read parenting magazines; I know the warning signs. But this one time, this one stupid time, I wrote a symptom off as common-place when I shouldn't have. And it scares me, because one time is all it takes.

I hate being human and fallible.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Get Your @#^&* Shopping Cart Out Of My Way

After my shopping experience Saturday, I have decided that there should be some laws governing behavior at grocery stores, and that the penalty for not following said laws should be that violators have to clean all the muck out of the salad bar station using nothing more than a squeegee and a sprayer (this was my end-of-night task the summer I worked as a salad-bar clerk, and believe you me, this is torture.)

At the risk of sounding like a 90-year-old, people today have no manners or sense of common courtesy. I've ranted once about a-holes in movie theaters; but who would've thunk that our society has deteriorated to the point that you can't even shop for food without some inconsiderate, self-centered morons ticking you off?

So, here is my manifesto. Just as Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses on the church door and sparked a revolution, I would like to nail the following commandments of grocery behavior to the cyber door of this blog. Perhaps it will start a revolution of awareness at the local food store. I doubt it, though; the people who really need to read this are probably too busy shouting into their cell phones while changing lanes on the interstate or talking back to the characters in the latest blockbuster movie playing down at the Cineplex.

To Shoppers, Everywhere: A Few Simple Requests to Make It More Pleasant For Everyone
1. Get off your phone.
I don't get this. Yes, we all carry cell phones. Yes, yours will probably ring while you're shopping. If it's an emergency, take care of it. But if it's your BFF Jill, or your significant other, and he/she just wants to chit chat about his/her day, or share the latest soccer-mom drama, or discuss custody arrangements (I swear to you I heard a woman work out the custody schedule for an entire school year with her ex one day at Kroger), tell the person you'll call them back when you get home. You might think that you can handle a conversation while performing this chore, but trust me, you can't. People drive like crap when they talk on the phone and they shop like crap when they talk on the phone. You're going to stop your cart right in the middle of the aisle at some point to laugh/listen/respond wittily and when you do that, you're going to be oblivious to the fact that there are others behind you who would like to get past you to get a can of cream of chicken soup. You're going to hover for 30 minutes in front of the macaroni and cheese and boxed dinners because you'll be so busy describing your darling son's stomach virus and how it kept you up all night long that you won't be able to decide on Velveeta or Kraft (and your colorful description are going to completely put me out of the mood to buy either. )But you'll be in your own little world, and while you're having a grand ole time, you're going to waste our time. In addition, you will pull your cart out of the aisles without looking and cause near-collisions without so much as an acknowledgement or apology (probably because you're so wrapped up in your conversational needs that you aren't even aware there could be other people in the store at 1pm on a Saturday.) There's a reason why many states pass laws against driving while talking. Think about that and keep your phone in your frickin' purse. Please.

2. Keep track of your children.
Before you freak out on me, know that I am a mom, too. I understand the perils of dragging young children to the store when they would rather be somewhere, anywhere, else. I know that no child is going to behave like an angel all the time. But you are the adult. It is your job to at least know where your kids are. And to keep them from getting underfoot. This one isn't just about annoyance; it's about basic safety. I saw a kid pull a huge can of vegetables off the shelf and onto his head once because his mom was (you guessed it) on her cell phone and not paying attention. And then she screamed at her kid for doing a very kid-like thing when she's the one who needed to step up and stop him. There are big carts, other distracted adults, and heavy items a-plenty at the store; be responsible for your kids.

3. Have some semblance of a clue about what you want BEFORE you walk in the doors.
Don't get me wrong; I like to browse a little and explore options and examine prices, too. But I've seen people spend as much time in front of the wall o'cereal as I spend putting my face on in the morning, and that's just waaaaaay too long. When you do this, you're in everyone's way who actually knows what kind of cereal they want and just needs to grab a box of frakkin' Honey Nut Cheerios, already. If you seriously can't decide whether you want Honey Bunches of Oats with or without almonds, or if the five new varieties of Shredded Mini Wheats are that overwhelming, take a breather, step out of the way, and let those of us who have eaten the same brands for 3 decades now get what they need and get on with their day.

4. Follow the same traffic rules you would (or should) in your car.
Stay to the right. Look both ways. Stop at intersections. And for the love of God keep moving whenever possible. You would not think this is hard. But you'd be amazed at the number of people who think they have right of way in every situation every single time because they're just that much more important than the rest of us. Or the number of people that are just absolutely clueless. Saturday a woman was in the baking aisle and stopped right in the middle of it. Her cart was not pulled over to either side; it was just smack dab in the middle keeping traffic blocked in both directions. To add to the fun, she was wandering back and forth and up and down all around the cart. After she eventually realized that people were standing to her right and her left who were not moving (and not because we were amazed by the boxed brownie selection, but because we needed to get through,) she said snippily, "You all can come on through. I'm trying to find cake flour." To which I wanted to scream, "No, actually, WE CAN'T!" She moved her cart just enough that I could get through, but the poor guy on the other side still had to wait for her to find her flour. We really needed a flagger, because at that point we were a one-lane highway.

5. If you have special requests at the checkout, such as needing only one item per bag, or wanting twenty cartons of the hardest-to-locate cigarettes, or if you need to pay for your groceries as five separate orders, don't get in front of me. I understand you have your needs, just please don't do it if you're in my checkout lane. How will you know who I am? I'll be the brunette with glasses sporting a mean glare.

Am I being too harsh? Or do we need rules?

Holler back, and let me know what rules YOU would like to see at the grocery.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Panic! At the Swimming Hole

Be careful what you wish for. There I was, thinking that not too much interesting or out-of-the-ordinary had happened lately, and how I was going to have to take a vacation from the blog, and then Ainsley went and almost drowned herself.

She is in level 5 swim lessons at our family recreation center, which means that she technically is able to swim 25 meters in a very loose freestyle. Levels 4 and 5 take place in the "big" pool in the shallow end, which is still over Ainsley's and almost every other kids' heads, but I've seen her paddle and kick and get to the side. So I am still a little in shock.

We showed up yesterday five minutes before lessons began, the same as usual. And as usual, she wanted to jump in. No biggie.

So she jumped in and for a minute held on to the side. Then she began practicing her burgeoning backstroke. She floated on her back away from the safety of the edge, and gave a few kicks and arm strokes. I was impressed with her. But then she suddenly lurched upright in the water and tried to touch the bottom. And couldn't. So I waited for her to start swimming forward; she has come to the side from that far out before when she couldn't touch bottom. But instead of swimming forward, she began to panic. I saw the look in her eyes; she wasn't thinking anymore. She bobbed under once. I thought she could get it. She bobbed under again. I knew she needed help.

And here's where Cranky herself began to panic. I was fully clothed, but I still should have had the impulse to jump in after her. Instead all I could think to do was to holler at the lifeguard (who was literally 2 feet away from us; I could have just pointed her out to him calmly), "She needs help! My daughter needs help!" And then I saw that look in her eyes again; a look of quiet terror I've never seen there before, not even during the Dinosaur ride. And I put my hands to my mouth and said a quiet prayer behind them.

The lifeguard seemed stunned. I don't think they often have to rescue people a few minutes before level 4 or 5 classes, and from 4 feet of water. He offered her his float; she was still close enough that that should have been enough. For some reason, the offered float freaked her out more and she backed away. Which made her further away from the side. The lifeguard had to jump in and pull her out. I don't know if you've ever been in a pool where the lifeguard has had to jump in, but it seemed like the world stopped spinning and everyone focused on the action. Had I not been in the center of it all, I am sure I would have stopped what I was doing and gaped open-mouthed in that general direction.

Once on land, she started wailing. With only one sputtered cough, so I knew she didn't have water in her lungs of anything. But the crying seemed to go on forever, even though no more than a minute passed between her dramatic rescue and the start of her lesson. Of course, I held her tightly and told her it was all okay before her teacher took her and eased her into the water and assured her that she would be just fine. I have to give that teacher big-time kudos; she used just the right mix of assurance and sternness and told Ainsley she really needed to get back in the water. Before I left to go work out, the teacher was walking behind Ains as she began to backstroke, and she looked at me and made a motion that let me know I should probably skedaddle.

During this whole ordeal, I hadn't really thought it was that big a deal. Sure, I panicked a little when I saw Ainsley panic, but since she was so close to the side, and just a couple of feet away from a lifeguard, and with adults all around, I had never really seriously worried. Yet as soon as I walked out of the pool area, my knees started feeling weak and my hands started to shake. I felt the tears start as I warmed up on the stationary bike. I hoped they blended in with my sweat enough so as not to draw attention to myself.

Then a weird thing happened. After that first wave of emotion passed, I got the giggles. There was nothing remotely funny about the situation. But I had to put my hands over my mouth on the way to my next piece of equipment. And then I got teary again. But then I got giggly again. And that went on for the remainder of my short little exercise routine. Seriously, I think I was losing my mind. Adrenaline and maternal fear are a heady mix.

By the time I went back to the pool area to pick her up, she was on the far side of the pool practicing diving (!) with the teacher. One of the aquatics supervisors came up behind me and said, "Well, I think she got over it, mom; what do you think?" At the same time I saw Ainsley flash me a big grin and wave and her teacher gave me two thumbs up. Yeah, she got over it.

When she talked about it later last night over a "Thank God you're alive, pick anything you want for dinner" pizza, she said that she forgot that she can't touch bottom and said, "My brain got scared and my body didn't know what to do." Fair enough.

We've talked to her about what to do if that ever happens again, about how that's why you always go swimming with a grown-up, etc., etc. By bedtime, she was laughing about it. And I felt a lot better about it myself after a beer and an episode of The Office.

I shall never ever again wish for excitement for a blog post. So if you don't hear from me for a while...things are calm and quiet. And let us hope they stay that way.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Daydream Believer

I hate mornings.

I don't hate them for my sake. It may shock those of you who knew me well in college to know that, despite my youthful slothiness, I have become a morning person. Not by choice, mind you, but by necessity. Our school start time has moved up earlier than it used to be, and I have learned that the only way I can stay on top of laundry is to start a load every day before work, so to accomodate all the things I need to do to get to work by a little after 7 I wake up at the unnatural hour of 5am. I'm not crazy about that, but I set the alarm and I only hit snooze once and I deal with it. Some mornings, when I am able to empty the dishwasher and get to the bottom of the laundry pile all before breakfast, I actually (gulp) enjoy being up that early. It makes me feel productive.

Ainsley, however, is not a morning person and is causing me to have small butt-crack-of-dawn nervous breakdowns on a regular basis.

The good thing about her catching the bus to get to her school from my school is that she gets to come to work with me. The bad thing is that she has to come to work with me.

Her school starts early, too, but if she wasn't a bus rider and if I wasn't tied down starting at 7:15 every day she could get a little more sleep each morning. I had always heard that these children creatures are supposed to love to get up early, that they get up bright-eyed and bushy-tailed every day way before we're ready for them, etc., etc. Ainsley sometimes wakes us up on weekends as soon as the cock crows, but mostly she's a late riser who lies in bed awake awhile before mustering the energy to face the day. To wake her up when it hasn't been her idea to do so...that's just about as easy (and safe) as arousing a hibernating bear in the middle of a January snow storm.

Her alarm goes off. And beeps. And beeps. While she pulls covers over her head, grabs for the pillow when I wrestle the covers away, moans, groans, pouts, says she doesn't want to go to school, and finally inches out of bed a millimeter at a time to emerge, ratty hair in eyes, head down, angry, looking very much like the creepy little girl in The Ring.

Side note: Whenever Ains creeps out of bed, her hair hangs straight down in front of her face and she walks with her head down and her feet shuffling. This does not sound terrifying in the comforting light of day. But one night, summer before last, after I had put her to bed in her old room with the door cracked a little to let the AC circulate, I walked out of our bedroom and down the hall to the kitchen and saw her standing silently just behind the small opening in the door, the pale lamp light coming from our room illuminating just a small form with its head down and a nest of hair sticking up. She had gotten woken up by something and was going to ask for a drink. We did eventually get my heart to start back up. But I will blame any future arrhythmias on the spooky ghost-child that showed itself to me that night.

If only getting her up were the whole battle. I swear she dozes back off sometimes while she's on the toilet. She then turtles her way through her cereal, sometimes stopping mid-chew and staring into space. In the middle of washing her hands she begins doing science experiments in the flowing water. Ainsley is a very dreamy little kid who, even at her most alert, can get lost in the details. At 6:30 in the morning, she gets lost in everything.

This morning started off great. After learning what she was having for lunch, she asked me to pack her something. I did, and we were still right on track. I handed her her lunch box, and her morning snack, and asked her to put them in her backpack and come back to the kitchen after to put away her juice. She ran off, and I dumped her cereal bowl, rinsed it out, ran the garbage disposal, put the bowl and spoon into the dishwasher, and was starting to wipe off the table when it occurred to me that it should NOT be taking that long to unzip a backpack and put a lunch box in it.

I found Ainsley sitting cross-legged in the floor, backpack across knees, not even unzipped, and lunch and snack still at her side. She was gazing intently into the little hand mirror clipped onto the zipper of her pack. Argh.

Somehow or other we still manage more days than not to get to my school on time. This is because, around 6:35, I become a drill sergeant. When I snapped into R. Lee Ermey mode this morning in an effort to put our little derailed train back on the tracks, I got a "You're mean" muttered at me through a little mouth full of toothpaste. That's the first one of those I've heard. I didn't know whether to be hurt or be proud that I've joined the ranks of many, many other "mean" mothers.

By the time we'd driven the 12 minutes it takes to get from my garage to the school parking lot, she was a different kid. There was a smile on the once grouchy face and she skipped down to the library. I got a little bit of a cold shoulder after I told her she needed to stay more focused at school than she had been at home this morning, but I still got a hearty hug before it was bus time. The morning monster thankfully only rears its head until the blood starts pumping.

But it's enough to make me a non-morning person again.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Rockin' Robin (Of Death)

In the words of The Office's Michael Scott, I'm not superstitious. Just a little stitious.

Just "stitious" enough that when a bird tries for three straight days to get in my house, I'm a little worried about the safety and well-being of those around me.

My mom, being of the Appalachian culture, firmly believes in signs and omens and "old wives' tales" and bad luck. I have heard her speak with great dread when a picture has fallen off the wall, or when a black cat darts out in the road ahead of her car, or when the woolly worms have broad black stripes, or heaven forbid, when a bird flies into a window. So Friday afternoon when a robin flew headlong against my patio door with a rain-soaked "Thwack", my heart dropped to my toes. In my mom's book of legend, that means there's going to be a death. And it isn't helping that said bird has pecked and knocked at the kitchen window for three straight mornings and afternoons now. It's Hitchcockian, really.

Say what you want, skeptics and practical-type, common-sensical people. Tell me that the folks who say a bird-in-the-window came before a death in their family only remember the bird in hindsight after the death in much the same way that we can all remember where we were on September 11 or the day the Challenger exploded; people can remember the specifics of the days of or just before a tragedy in great detail and gain clarity and try to make associations in the wake of the horrible event. Tell me that birds don't have great eyesight and see reflections in windows that make them think they're flying to a group of trees when they're really flying into double-paned glass. Tell me how it's spring and mating season and my possessed robin is just fighting with what it thinks is another male. Just don't tell me you wouldn't be a little freaked out if a bird pecked at your window all weekend.

I thought I had effectively run the darn thing off after the first hit (when it literally knocked the crap out of itself) Friday evening. But Saturday morning I was wakened at first light (on a morning when Ainsley was with my mom and I should have been able to sleep in--grrrr) by a gentle knocking sound. It turned out to be the sound of something gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door (sorry, wrong bird reference.) No, it was my robin, and this time he was parked on one of my patio chairs opposite the kitchen window, repeatedly flying to the window and tapping it with his beak, and then going back to the chair and crapping all over it. I opened the window and hollered. And fell back asleep for about 5 minutes. And heard the knocking again. And chased again. And got woken up again. And this went on for TWO HOURS before I gave up and hollered out the window, "What the @^#& do you WANT?" Which made the bird crap all over the patio table.

I cannot tolerate dirty windows or dirty glasses (I need clarity in life) so I spent a while outside Saturday on our deck cleaning the wet feather smudges from Friday evening and the dry feather smudges and copious droppings from Saturday morning. I had the patio table, chairs, and the kitchen window and patio door sparkling. I went downstairs to run the vacuum, and when I came up Ainsley called out, "The bird's back!" He was just on the other side of the crystal-clear glass of the patio door, looking at me. We stared each other down. I felt like crying.

I grabbed some black construction paper and made a crude (very crude) outline of something sorta resembling a bird of prey and taped it in the window, knowing I've seen those decals on office windows before. Allegedly a shadow like that is supposed to scare away birds and keep them from breaking their fool necks flying into windows. My bird is either smarter than that or it has a death wish; Ainsley crept into our bedroom at 8am Sunday to say that the bird had woken her up tapping on the glass and that she already had gone out there to see him. Fabulous.

A second "hawk" silhouette went into the kitchen window, but it's not doing much good. This thing is determined. Which adds to the freak-out factor. What is he trying to tell me? Should I start atoning for my sins? Calling loved ones to check on them and let them know I care? Okay, I should be doing this anyway.

Here's something else that cues the Twilight Zone music in my head. When I had my psychic encounter this fall, the spiritualist told me that birds are my "spirit animals." When my loved ones from the beyond want to be near me, she said, they use birds. Hooey, you may say. But when I was sick with Hodgkin's, there was a pair of mourning doves that used to coo from overhead every day that I stayed in bed post-chemo. For a long time, I didn't know what the noise was that I kept hearing; I would lay in bed and hear this odd but somehow comforting sound that made me think we perhaps had an owl around. It almost sounded like a hoot, but it was softer, and I only heard it on the days I was sickest. Sometimes I would also hear a faint rustle of wings. One late spring morning when I was finally seeing the light at the end of the cancer treatment tunnel and my chemo days were numbered, I was getting ready for work with our bedroom's walkout door open, enjoying the breeze and the rising sun. I heard the cooing I had heard so softly before, but this time it sounded closer. On the rails of the deck, right across from the bedroom door, were a pair of mourning doves. They stayed there even as I stood in plain view. Oh, so they are what I've been hearing, I thought. And for a moment the world felt so beautiful and peaceful. But then Scout caught their scent from a far corner of the house and she ran full-tilt-boogie into the screen. The birds departed, and I've only seen mourning doves on our deck a handful of times in the last five years. And the last time I heard them from overhead was the last afternoon I recovered in bed from a chemo treatment. It could have been coincidence, it could have been that chemo gave me bat ears and I heard things I ordinarily would have ignored. But it could also have been something more.

So, is my robin a harbinger of death, or just a really dumb specimen who will eventually realize he can't win a turf war with a reflection?

And, no matter whether or not you really have an opinion, please chime in with a little something to let me know that you're still on the planet. If Mr. Robin is a tolling bell, I'd like to know that he's not tolling for thee.


Friday I went to the happiest place on earth: the Bodies exhibit at the Cincinnati Museum Center.

No, not that. Though Jason and I did venture out to see that controversial little display Friday evening. (More on that later.) No, the happiest place on earth (or at least my little corner of it) is the new Ikea store.

I was skeptical. I'm not much of a shopper. When I go into a store, any store, be it clothing, grocery, or even (I know I'm not a typical female) a shoe store, I just want to get in, find the specific thing I want, and get out. I don't browse. Much.

When I heard the news reports about people camping out and lining up a day in advance of the opening last month of the West Chester Ikea, I laughed. It's a furniture store, people! Why would you get that excited over the opportunity to roam a space the size of six football fields and spend hundreds of dollars? On furniture that you have to come home and put together? But now...I get it.

Imagine a store so big that you need to be handed a map when you walk in the door, packed full of attractive, incredibly affordable, and downright clever things for your home. Things you don't even know you need until you see them and say, "Where have you been all my life, twenty-dollar solid-wood shoe organizer?"

They have showrooms for every room in your house. Displaying everything you might need for that room, from large items to knick-knacks. And storage is the emphasis. If you live in a smallish house like we do, with available closets already stuffed, this is nirvana.

I was well-behaved, I am proud to say. I went with one thing in mind, some sort of small wooden storage unit to go on the dining room wall spot vacated by the potato-and-onion-bin of death. And on a final walk-through of the self-serve warehouse part of the store, the part where you actually load up with all the swell things you saw in the showrooms, I saw the perfect piece at a perfect price. Of course, it had to be assembled by the hubby, but he completed the project in the time it took him to consume one beer, so it wasn't too bad. Other than that one item, I restricted my purchases to a desk lamp for the kid and some eco-friendly bulbs. Though I do see another trip in my future.

And next time I think I am taking the kid. The kiddy-room showrooms were like playgrounds. They had a kids' loft bed with a kiddy-size built-in couch underneath it. Yes, a couch! I know!

Shopping may have just become fun.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Classroom Helper, Part Deux

You may recall that back in November I visited Ainsley's classroom to get some family service hours. One of the kids said I was ugly, and my fragile self-esteem took a hit. Enough time has passed that I ventured back on my spring break to work two entire days in both the office and her classroom. And while no one said I'm ugly (at least, not that I know of; I did wear earrings this time) I have realized that there is no way that I could ever ever EVER work with a large number of small children on a daily basis.

My own kid loved having me there. On both days, I started my time by "eating lunch with Ainsley in the cafeteria." I put quotes around that because, even though that's the wording her teacher used, what she meant was, "Supervise a class of 14 kindergartners at lunch so that I can get the hell away from them for half an hour." And while I can't blame her, it would have been nice to know that I wasn't just there to eat pressed turkey and faux chicken fingers with my kid. The first day went fine, because there was a surplus of lunch monitors, plus I was still working with the element of surprise. The fear of the unknown is a powerful educational tool. But today, they had my number. See, I was all nice and crap yesterday. So today there were kids stealing food from the packers, and one kid tried to choke another (his defense was, "But he's my brother,") while the notorious Greg was mixing every sauce offered with the chicken "tenders" and taking dares from the other kids about eating it with his spoon and was about to pour his chocolate milk into the mix when I had to unleash the bitch and use my high-school teacher voice on them. The look on their faces told me they no longer see me as "nice." Good. Little punk-asses. Oh, snap.

Lucky for me (and for the kids) most of my time was spent helping the secretary. The school accountant, who mans the fort while Karen eats and goes to the potty and directs traffic outside during dismissal, was out this week to be home with her kids during their spring break. I got a rare inside look at the inner sanctum of an elementary school office, where Karen isn't just the secretary but also the school nurse, mailman, janitor, cheerleader, activities director, and, to put it mildly, resident saint. Over these two days, I've learned:

1. Security blankets come in all forms. There's this one girl who has to come in every day around 12:45 to get a throat drop; one boy who wants to play with the same red bouncy ball every day at recess and always asks that someone put more air in it for him; and a middle-school girl who comes in every afternoon for a kind word or a hug before going out to be picked up.

2. Never underestimate the power of a Tum or a drink of water to cure vague belly aches, sore throats, and boo-boos.

3. The telephone of a school office will ring most frequently during the only 15 minutes a day the secretary gets to pee and walk down to the cafeteria. Karen attempted this at two different times of day the last two days, and neither was anywhere close to a "standard" lunch hour where people should be getting breaks from their own jobs to call their kids' school.

4. Schools under tight budgets become very creative. My biggest job today was cutting some donated paper so that it would be the right size to fit the copier; as I cut, Karen immediately threw it into the machine so that she could make some copies that had to go out today. My biggest job yesterday was tagging used uniforms for the annual uniform sale; with the money, Karen is going to buy enough copy paper and basic supplies to keep the office and the teachers going the rest of the year. They are out of freakin' paperclips, for goodness' sake.

I didn't just work in the office; I did spend a hilarious half-hour yesterday filing for Ainsley's teacher and cracking up behind the cubby of student folders. The kids are participating in a school-wide project to make ABC books for our local hospital emergency room. The kindergartners' part of this is to come up with a list of words for every letter that have to do with the hospital or being sick; someone else will be charged with taking these words and creating the books that will somehow or other provide comfort to kids in the waiting room. The teacher went to the board and wrote "A" and asked for hospital words starting with that letter.

"Apple!" yelled one kid.
"That's a great A word, but it doesn't really have anything to do with the hospital. Raise your hand if you have a hospital A word."
Five hands went up.
"My dad broke his collarbone once!"
"My grandfather died in the hospital last summer because he had something in his lungs because he smoked cigarettes, my mommy said."
"Yeah, well my grandfather just got out of the hospital because he has a plaque on his neck."
"My little sister, um, she had this rash on her neck one time, and, um, guess what? It went away."
"My cat, yeah, my cat goed to the pet hospital once to get fixed because she was broken or something...."

And this was just for the letter A, people!

The teacher let them get off track, and get it out of their system, and gently brought them back to earth as only a patient kindergarten teacher can, while I was both amused and aggravated beyond belief at how easily these kids got off on tangents and how easily they spilled the details of their lives. Those kindergarten teachers are truly special, special people. Who probably go home every night and drink heavily.

My own little one sat quietly. I thought for sure when they got to C that she would pull from her own experience from this school year and wow the crowd with "concussion." Alas, she waited for E and threw up her little hand and said, "Eye problem!" and shot me her best, "Look, ma! No hands!" grin. Yeah, I don't know either. And with that my time with them was up.

I think my time there filled up my dance card as far as family serice hours go. I think I've caught us up for the 07/08 school year. And I am freakin' exhausted.

Go out and hug an elementary teacher or school secretary this week. Tell them they are heroes. Hell, buy one a drink. Lord knows they've probably earned it.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

A Back Rub from Christopher Walken

My neck muscles locked up on me again. Frick.

I don't know whether to blame it on Rock Band, or an overzealous upper body workout, or the big book order I worked on submitting right before we went on spring break. Whatever the cause, I've been in near-agony since Friday morning when I woke up unable (yet again) to turn my head or look down.

I've tried taking the muscle relaxers prescribed by my doctor during my last lock-down 3 weeks ago, but they make me groggy and grouchy. I've tried high doses of ibuprofen, again recommended by the doc, but it's done little. I'm not in the mood to go back and be ordered to weeks of physical therapy or scary chiropractic adjustments or expensive x-rays, so today I decided to try something different. I visited a massage therapist.

I didn't want to go to a frou-frou spa. I wanted a therapeutic , medical massage by someone who would dig in and loosen the knots. So there's this little massage place in my mom's neck (ha) of the woods, a little office in the building that used to house a pharmacist my mom and I visited on a monthly basis during my sickly childhood, with a simple sign out front advertising therapeutic massage. I had a feeling it was the kind of small, friendly operation that would fit me in the same day I called. And I was right.

So I scheduled an appointment this morning for lunch time. I took down the name of the male therapist who answered my call, and since I didn't know him or his establishment, I did my own quick Google background check. I saw that this guy was registered with a major massage union, and his establishment showed up on a couple of granola-crunchy alternative medicine and spiritualist websites (one list that had his name on it also had the name of a former doctor of mine who I loved.) I thought I was going to meet a hippie.

But then Chris Walken answered the door.

Well, at least a Walken look alike. The door of his little office was ajar when I crept nervously up the shag-carpeted staircase; he was watching a little TV in the corner, waiting for me. I had a flashback of the old "The Continental" sketches from Saturday Night Live. I kinda thought I was going to get offered some "champaaaaaa-gne".

I got a little nervous. I felt for certain I had made a grave mistake. I could see the headline in the paper:

Local librarian, 34, latest victim of the Walken Massage Killer.
Family says she just wanted a back rub.

Up close the resemblance wasn't nearly as striking; it was really just the hair and the physique that freaked me out. He was super-nice, charged me a very reasonable rate, and most importantly, he effectively put pressure on and stretched the muscles and loosened up the knots. He even sent me home with some mineral salts and an accupressure ball free-of-charge. I'll probably go to him again when I wake up and can't turn my head.

I've just got to make sure I hold back the impulse to ask him where he's been hiding his watch.