Thursday, May 29, 2008

Word of the Day: Amblyopia

Ainsley failed her first test.

It was a vision screening done at her school, and while the vision in her right eye is seemingly perfect, she has blurred vision in her left eye and the optometrist doing the screening suspects a little something called amblyopia; in layman's terms, lazy eye.

Well, color me shocked.

She's had vision screenings done before at her doctor's office, but she had always passed just fine in both eyes. And her left eye doesn't look any different from the right; it isn't crossed, and it doesn't wander. Turns out most of us don't really know what lazy eye is and assume it always means that an eye crosses, or drifts in a different direction. Strabismus, or misaligned eyes, are responsible for some cases of amblyopia but not all. Sometimes the lazy eye is triggered by one eye that has a refractive error and one that doesn't.

According to my frantic research last night, this new problem with my kid really doesn't have so much to do with her left eye as with her brain; her eye has probably either started to become a little farsighted, or a little nearsighted (we'll find out for sure which at an appointment with an eye doctor on Tuesday) and her brain adapted by stopping processing the signals from that eye. It's an adaptive thing very young brains do. It's interesting, really; it's considered more of a neurological problem than an eye problem because, even with corrective lenses, her brain will not want to "see" from that eye until it has been re-trained to do so.

And that's also the scary thing; with amblyopia, your vision is impaired even with correction, and that impairment can be permanent. Especially when it's not caught early.

I feel really bad about it. Even though her previous screenings have been fine, she was supposed to have had her first real eye exam sometime this school year per her doctor's five-year-physical instructions. But then she went through hell this winter with her asthma and with two strep infections, and then her teeth started coming in all wonky, and with all that she was already spending a couple of mornings a month at a medical professional's office, and I decided to put it off until summer. After all, she's reading fine, and she can sit far back from the TV and read words off it, and she can solve jigsaw puzzles on Jason's laptop without squinting or straining, and I just assumed her eyes were fine. But we all know what happens when we assume. It makes an ass out of moms.

At first, I was in denial. No way, I thought. She could see which way the E's were turned in the screening in her pediatrician's office with either eye. So here at my school, after she handed me the note saying she had failed the screening, I asked her to cover her "good" eye and read a few posters I have in the library. When the letters were large, she could read them from a good distance away. When the letters were smaller, she couldn't. She says it's blurry through her left eye.

Oh, no. I screwed up, dudes. I should have taken her to the eye doctor months, maybe even years, ago. It's not like perfect vision runs in our families; in fact, she's got severe farsightedness is her dad's family tree and severe nearsightedness in mine. I guess we thought, when she didn't show signs of noticeable vision impairment by her toddler years like some in Jason's family have, that somehow our genes had cancelled each other out and she'd have perfect vision. For smart people, we are terribly dumb sometimes.

So now we wait to see what we'll have to do. I have prepared her for the possibility that she'll need glasses, or a patch, or both. And I've prepared myself for the fact that she has inherited bad eyes from both sides of the family and the beginning of the glasses starts here (though I do have hope, since she's sees 20/20 with the right eye, that once the other eye gets strong she'll only need glasses for distances like I used to.) For once, online discussion boards on this medical subject have been comforting instead of scary; most kids whose parents posted comments seemed to have much more severe problems than Ainsley has and could not even see the biggest letter on an eye chart at the time of diagnosis. As Jason and I asked her to make out things with her bad eye last night, it doesn't seem quite to that point. Yet. And yet those kids were able to make huge improvements with glasses and patching (though most will never have 20/20 vision from the ambylopic eye even with corrective lenses.)

As I looked into her gorgeous eyes this morning, the part of me that's more than a little vain felt bad that those big brown orbs would be hidden behind glasses and a patch for perhaps a long time. I wear glasses most days myself (now that spring allergy season has lulled, I am back to contacts a few days per week--hoorah!), and while they don't make me feel ugly, I do hate the way they feel, they way they make my eyes look a little small and a little beady,vthe way they just flat out seem to get in my way when I run, or exercise, or clean house, or cook, or go out into bright May sunlight. But I know, as far as childhood medical issues go, this is a minor point and she won't mind wearing glasses (until puberty.) And if she needs a patch, hopefully kids won't be too cruel.

I will try to look on the bright side: they make Disney Princess frames.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Food, Glorious Food

I love food.

If I weren't a naturally thinnish person, I would be miserable, because I would have to be a lot more restrained in my food choices. As I approach middle age I am finding that it's getting harder to justify, say, eating an entire large pizza all by myself or eating an entire box of Girl Scout peanut butter sandwich cookies, feats I accomplished when I was a young pup. But I don't really have to deny myself much as long as I exercise to make up for it, and for that I am ever so grateful. Except that I fear I might be becoming a "foodie."

Here lately, I feel a wee little bit obsessed with food. I have been visiting Food Network's site daily trolling for new recipes, I choose to watch Rachel Ray or Paula Deen or Ina Garten on the TV attached to my favorite elliptical trainer at my gym, and I plan days in advance what restaurant I want to go to for our one evening a week we go out to eat as a family. I am obsessed of late with food.

Saturday I ran the River Run 5K (and posted my second-best 5K finish ever--HOORAY!) and ever since, I have been battling food cravings. It's only 3.1 miles, not like I ran a marathon or anything. But I pushed myself really hard, darnit, and I didn't have much of an appetite while my vertigo was at its height, so I have been using those things as an excuse to gorge myself over the long holiday weekend.

Monday afternoon while I was cleaning up from lunch (grilled hotdogs from our own grill; does it get much better than that?) I noshed on a bag of Archway circus animal cookies. You know the ones from your childhood; they are completely frosted in brightly-colored hard, sugary icing and then dipped in rainbow sprinkles. Sunday at mass the priest talked about how God provided for his people with manna; in my mind, those biblical sweet cakes either look and taste like those frosted animal crackers, or Frosted Flakes. I hadn't had those manna-like cookies since I was a kid, and saw them on sale at Kroger. Before I knew it, I had put a large dent in the volume of the bag. I had to hide them from myself.

So, given my recent obsessiveness, I want to blog about some of my favorite foods. Try not to drool on your keyboard, and make sure you chime in with some of your faves.

Cranky's First Annual Food Favorite Awards

The restaurant I could visit every day until I die and be happy:
Easy. Chipotle. I would eat there every weekend now if the hubby didn't occasionally grow tired of it. My current favorite there is a vegetarian "bol", with black beans and rice, mild and hot salsa, cheese, lettuce, and guacamole. But for years I ate steak or chicken soft tacos with the medium green salsa and some lettuce and cheese. So, there's enough variety there to feed me for life.

My favorite home-cooked meal:
If I am cooking, that would be white chicken chili (D.R.'s recipe; I can't take credit for that one.) It cures what ails you.

If my mom is cooking...sauerkraut and weiners (go ahead, indulge your inner middle-schooler and laugh) and mashed potatoes.

If Jason is grilling...rib eye and a baked potato.

My favorite "fancy" food from a restaurant you have to get dressed up to visit:
We have a restaurant in downtown Cincy called Palomino. We can only afford it on special occasions, but we both love it, so it has become THE anniversary spot three years running. Every time I go I get some variation of pan-seared sea scallops. Every time, they're ten kinds of awesomeness. One of these days I will learn how to pan-sear a scallop...but since the morons on Hell's Kitchen are on a frakkin' cooking reality show contest and can't do it, I am guessing it must be hard.

My favorite food to have with a beer:
Buffalo-style chicken wings. Or warm, gooey beer cheese and soft pretzels. Don't make me choose.

The only food item I could stomach the first 12 weeks of my pregnancy:
Potatoes. I ate them baked, fried, or mashed daily. They're the only things that tasted good. And boy, did they taste gooooood. Every Saturday we would go to Penn Station and I would nibble on my greasy sandwich but inhale the hand-cut and flash-fried fries with the skins still on them. The funny thing is that potatoes are just about the only food Ainsley doesn't like now. She only eats french fries, no mashed or baked potatoes and they cannot have the skin on. I guess I burned her out in utero.

If I were on death row, my last meal would be...
Filet mignon, steamed snow crab legs, and coffee ice cream.

Best comfort food:
Chicken and dumplins, fried okra, and turnip greens cooked in ham hocks until they have no redeeming nutritional value, from Cracker Barrel. When I need to feed my soul as much as my body, this is where I want to go. Thirty-six hours after my first chemo, when I learned that to my surprise I would be able to keep food down while undergoing cancer treatment (even though most foods tasted like they had been baked on the hood of my car), I decided I wanted my favorite southern comfort. It tasted incredible that night. Cracker Barrel is also where I have to stop when I'm making any road trip longer than 6 hours. I don't know why. But I do know the location of any Cracker Barrel off of I-75 between here and Florida.

Best food find of 2008, so far:
The Neely's chicken tenders and homemade honey mustard sauce. Here's a homework assignment from Cranky: make this for your special someone(s) this week. It's sooo easy, and it's like nothing else I've ever cooked. They look and taste like something you'd get in a restaurant. And I mean that in the best possible way. The recipe says to deep fry them, but I pan-fried them in about a half inch of peanut oil and they were awesome.

When American fare just won't do:
I never thought I would like Indian food, but this fall I was introduced to Guru, a great little Indian place in northern Ky. that you can always get into with no wait, even on a weekend. Ainsley loves the rice, so it's a good choice for us as a family. And in the same little strip, there's a wonderful Thai restaurant where Ainsley will actually eat a California roll. (!) I crave one or the other on a regular basis.

Favorite fast food:
As I get older, McDonalds is losing its charm. If I have to go through a drive-thru window for lunch or dinner, more often than not I will show my Cincy pride and hit a Skyline chili. Sometimes you just gotta have a 3-way (not that kind) or a cheese coney, no onions. Not from this area, you say? Never had a chance to grow addicted to that unusually sweet chili that Cincinnatians devour over noodles, topped with a mound a of artery-clogging cheddar? Your loss, but also your gain; there's a reason Cincy is one of the "fattest" cities in the midwest.

Favorite junk food:
Grippo's barbecue potato chips. Another Cincinnati-made thing, though my family first became addicted to them when we all lived in southeastern Ky. I don't know why they migrated there before other parts of the state, but my mom, sister, and I favored them and took them for granted; when I went away to college in Danville, they were nowhere to be found. A hallmate from Williamsburg and I used to talk lovingly about them when we would walk together at night, and when she went down home she'd bring me a bag back. Eventually the Super America right off campus carried them, and one night while I was face-down in a bag watching a UK game one of Jason's fraternity brothers stopped by to hang out and yelled, "Grippo's! I didn't know white folks ate Grippo's!" Turns out this non-Cincinnatian had enjoyed them in his hometown, too, only to not find them in central Kentucky, and assume it was a brand unique to his community.

Best dinner I ever had:
When we went to Las Vegas a couple of years ago, we ate at one of Emeril's restaurants in the MGM Grand. My entree there, while great, was no better than something I would get at a Cincy fine-dining establishment. No, what made this so memorable was the experience. We were treated like kings and queens. We had a host, a wine server, and a food server who seemed to be waiting only on us. I ordered my first full bottle of wine at a restaurant and had to go through that whole process. Then there were the desserts, which were the best I've ever had. I wanted something "simple", so I chose a house-made lime sorbet served in a small physics-defying cylinder frozen with a shot of Cuervo Gold in the center. Who would have thought something that plain could be so awesome? Jason and our friends shared a flourless chocolate cake, a banana cream pie, and an apple cobbler a la mode. They still talk about it.

Which brings me to...

My favorite sweets:
I have a sweet tooth, so I can't pick just one. Krispy Kreme donuts, still warm (and our area's lone KK went out of business, darnit!) Snickers bars. Lindt truffles. Chocolate cheesecake. Graeter's ice cream. Blackberry cobbler. The complimentary creme brulee Palomino treats us to on our anniversary. Peanut butter chocolate chip cookies. Peanut butter milkshakes made with chocolate milk. The coconut gelato I had at the Bellagio in Vegas. The cream cheese danish I had at the Bellagio in Vegas (I want to go back there so badly, as much for the food as for the gambling.) Jason's grandmother's pecan pull-aparts. A fruity smoothie made by a good friend. The occasional bag of Skittles. And tequila creme liqueur.

Are we starving yet?

Talk back below. And then go have a snack.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Friday Funnies: School Humor

Yesterday the state school librarians' listserv was buzzing with a fun topic; librarians were asked to share funny things that had happened in their schools and libraries this year. A school can sometimes be a prison, but any time you get that many young inmates together in one place, funny things happen. Kids are funny creatures (I mine Ainsley for funny blog topics almost daily.)

This story was my favorite:

We are all sharing the daily funnies at our school and one primary teacher shared this one.

She was working on a paper and asked a student to bring her some white-out from her desk. The student said he didn't know what white-out was so she explained it was white and in a tube. He went to her desk across the room, then held up an item and yelled across the room, "Is this it?" It was not.
It was a tampon.

I haven't had very many funny things happen in the library in recent years. The atmosphere of my current workplace in rather serious. Oh, I do get the occasional gem in the spring when I have to read student portfolios and a student will either misuse a word for humorous effect or have something so off-the-wall in their writing that I get launched into giggles (this year, I read a short story where the main character had a pet tiger named "Chinga." If you know any spanish, think about what "chinga" means in spanish. Here's a clue: we used it a lot in our R-rated spanish skits. After about the third time I read, "Chinga the tiger said...", I lost it a little bit.)

But I do have some tales I've heard from others over the years.

Sit back and enjoy. I apologize if you've heard any of these from me before, but these are worth sharing with the "newbies." Almost all have their humor derived from teachers themselves, who are supposed to be superhuman but occasionally slip and have moments of human absurdity.

1. The Apple
One guy who graduated a year or so after me from college, a short but burly fellow with a quick tember, surprised us all by announcing he was pursuing teacher certification. While subbing at a central Kentucky high school, he one day had his back to the class to write on the board and was interrupted when a cafeteria apple was hurled in his direction, splattering against the board. He turned on the class, red-faced and ready to explode, and said in an angry Kentucky drawl:
"Who's the bitch that threw the apple?"
He didn't stay in education long.

2. The Wiper
I've had a lot of interesting administrators in my teaching career.
In my current job, I have respect and admiration for them all. At one school where I taught English and Jason taught music...well, not so much.
Jason was in the faculty restroom one day washing his hands. He heard a voice behind him calling his name.
When he turned around, one of our assistant principals was in the stall behind him. With the door open. Even though each stall had doors which closed and locked. This guy had dropped trou and was finishing his business, doing what a guy usually goes into a stall as opposed to the urinal to do. As he got Jason's attention, he reached back and wiped.
When Jason and I met up later that day to go home, he said, "You won't believe what happened to me today." A decade later, I still don't. At least, I don't want to.

3. Somebody call Chris Hansen...stat!
My husband in the late 90s went through what I now like to call a Michael Scott phase. You know how on The Office Michael takes every opportunity to take a remotely sexual-sounding comment and make it icky by adding, "That's what she said!"? Jason for a while did something similar, but his catchphrase was, "Oh, you can..." and then whatever you said. For example, if I said, "I just spilled your milk," he would say, "Oh, you can spill my milk" in a tone best described as lascivious.
One December afternoon he and his choir kids were decorating the stage in preparation for their holiday concert. The kids got the idea of wrapping pretty much everything on stage in Christmas lights, including the piano.
One of his very sweet sopranos stood perplexed with a handful of white lights.
"Do you think I should go down here?" she asked Jason, looking at the legs of the piano.
Jason forgot where he was and who he was talking to.
"Oh, you can go down!"
We held our breath the rest of the year and waited for the lawyers to call.

4. Elbow Grease
This is from when I was still in school. Now that I am in education, it's even funnier.
A particularly ditzy girl in my class was trying to clean up some instrument from a science experiment. She began to get frustrated.
"You need to put some elbow grease into it," said our science teacher.
"Elbow grease? What's that? Do you have any?"
"No, I don't," the teacher said coolly. "I'm all out. But I'll tell you who might have some..."
And thus he sent her all over school to look for elbow grease, sending notes ahead of her so that each teacher he sent her to got a heads-up and knew what was going on. She was gone all period, and almost the entire school was playing along.
"I got some!" she came in to the lab yelling. In her hands she held a plastic jug filled with something (probably water...I hope) and labelled with a handwritten sticker that said, "Elbow Grease."
I don't know if he ever did let her in on the joke.

There's one more I can think of but my husband would have to tell it. It involves him, an early-morning arrival at the school building to meet choir kids for a field trip, a building key that didn't work, and the fact that coffee is a laxative.

Those of you who work with teachers and kids daily...chime in with your favorites. We're in the last days of school, and we can all use a laugh.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Holy Carp!

This just in--Simon Cowell apologized to David Cook for being harsh and rude! OMG! Methinks he read my blog. Even if he didn't...sigh. I think I just fell in love with him a little bit.

And...David Cook won!

And...they did a skit where Gladys's Pips included Robert Downey Junior! And they did the, "Whoo! Whoo!" I've got to go....I've got to go...on that midnight train to Georgia!

And...I just told Jason I want tickets to the Idol tour stop in Cincinnati for our July wedding anniversary! Because I'm that geeked out over these kids! Who's with me???

Cranky out. This...was American Idol.

An Open Letter to Simon Cowell

I tried to post this at lunch time, but something weird happened, and it didn't show. I am trying not to blame blogger, because I can't see straight, and who knows what button I hit. Enjoy.

Dear Mr. Cowell,

How are you, o black-t-shirt-wearing, kitten lovin', winking, British-accented keeper of a little part of my heart? See, I like you. I really like you. I think under that bristly exterior lies a cuddle bear. And I even like the bristly exterior. You dose out brutal honesty to a generation spoon fed school-wide self-esteem programs under the banner of "Everybody's Special", when in fact very few of us are truly special. Some people should sing on American Idol, some should only sing on the video game version in the privacy of their own homes. Except for when you criticized my girl Carly for her outfit, I have agreed with you this season. You often say what I'm thinking about a contestant. Scary.

But then...well, last night...

When I saw you on Ellen yesterday, you said the winner of AI 2008 would come down to song choice. And that that gave the edge to David Cook.

And then guest mentor Andrew Lloyd Weber said the winner would be whoever was the most courageous, whoever took a risk.

David Cook was both brave, smart, and on-target with his songs last night. Little D'Archie was predictable and boring. So what gives? Why did you say the Arch enemy scored a knockout?

I just don't get you, Simon. You can't have it both ways. You can't tell contestants to be relevant, to make songs their own, and then get all uptight when one of them doesn't simply rehash a performance from an earlier week for his last song, the only one he was really free to choose. That was brave of my man DC. He learned three new songs this week! And he avoided doing a saccharine "This Is My Moment Like This, Now, And Do I Make You Proud?" Idol song provided from the songwriting challenge, which isn't known for producing winning tunes. He rocked! And my husband, who usually watches Idol while doing other things, actually stopped working to watch DC do his last song. His comment?

"Wow. That sucked me in. And I haven't gotten sucked in by an Idol performance in a long time. That was good."

You hear that?

So why the hell didn't YOU say that?

Why do you think Archie's continuation of choosing treacly ballads is a knockout?

Why did you think his "Imagine", revisited, was that great? For me, it completely lacked the magic of the first performance, when I was so moved I blogged a little entry called "I Heart David Archuleta"? It was, to borrow your fellow judge's overused critique, just a-ight for me.

In a few hours, we're gonna know who's the new Idol champ. Will it even matter? Probably not. David Cook has "star" written all over him, and you know it. He doesn't need to win. He's gonna sell a trillion records no matter wha...


Was that your plan all along, evil genius? To push for Archie, knowing that the contraints of an Idol record contract might hold back DC and keep stardom at bay until the sophomore album, ala Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood?

You dawg.

If you really think Archie was the be completely honest with you, I am quite disappointed. I was expecting a hamburger and just got a bun. But if you do think Cookie is the best, and want him to be more of a Daughtry than a Taylor Hicks...well then, you are, in a word, brilliant.

Off you go, then.



Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Stand By Me

Election day! Election day! Oh, what a joyous day. Not just for democracy, but for the fact that, being a public school employee, we usually get this day off in May and November.

Not having to get up at the butt crack of dawn today, I relaxed a little longer in front of the tube last night. And lo and behold, I caught one of my favorite movies while channel surfing: Stand By Me.

I forget about that little movie when people ask me to list my favorites. It's not got the cultural relevance of a Pulp Fiction, or the thrills and intelligence of a Silence of the Lambs, or the wow factor of a Lord of the Rings. But it's got heart, and it's one of those movies that moves me every time I see it.

It's a great story. Before I ever saw the movie, I read the Stephen King novella. I remember seeing the ads for the film and knowing I didn't really have the money and means to get to the theater, but I could talk my mom into buying me the paperback version of Different Seasons I saw in a grocery store (you need to read this book of four novellas; not only did "The Body" inspire Stand By Me, but there's another little story called "Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption" that was made into another fantastic movie you may have heard of.) I devoured "The Body" over the course of a few summer nights. I passed it on to best friend DD. And then I waited for the movie to come out on video.

If memory serves, DD either saw it in the theater or got it on video before I did, because she quoted it. A lot. Especially Cory Feldman's lines. I finally did get to see it, and just like I had at the end of "The Body", I cried. What a beautiful ending:

I never had any friends later on like the ones I had when I was twelve. Jesus, does anyone?

Being close to that age at the time, and hanging out in a group of four myself, I completely got it. That's something the four of us would have done. We talked like that (when the parents weren't around). We had moments of juvenile delinquency like that. We tried to fake-drown each other in deep water like that (we just didn't have to deal with leeches.) We gave each other hell, but I think we would have stared down the barrel of a gun for each other, too. Deep down, we cared about the other three. That was us.

We each identified with one of the characters and we called each other by those names for a while. I was the Gordie. I bore an uncanny resemblance to Wil Wheaton at that age. Last night when I saw his Gordon LaChance again, skinny and narrow, arms and legs akimbo as he ran across the dump to escape Chopper, I had to laugh. I could have been his sister. Except that I grew to have a crush on him that lasted through the whole Star Trek: Next Generation thing.

It wasn't just the physical resemblance; at that age, I talked about wanting to be a writer, and I was probably the most serious and nerdy and cautious of our little gang. I haven't changed much.

I loved the movie so much that I bought the soundtrack with some saved birthday money (on cassette tape, of course) and I wore that thing out. When my mom bought a car that had a tape player in it, I brought that tape and listened to it on road trips. She was surprised that I liked "her" music so much. I still do. There's just something about "Lollipop."

When I saw Stand By Me as a kid, the death of the adult Chris Chambers (played by River Phoenix, whose own untimely death as a young adult seems more tragic when you watch the movie now) broke my heart. As a young teen, I could barely think about something bad happening to anyone in my little group of friends who I just knew I would be close to and friends with for life. Last night, I was more saddened by the idea that friends drift apart. That grown-up Gordie hadn't talked to Chris in ten years before he died, and that Vern and Teddy had just become another face in the halls. I'm a grown-up "Gordie" now, and I miss some of the wonderful friends who have made their way into and out of my life over the years. You think some of these people are going to be your best friends forever, but then adult life has this way of taking you down different paths. We get busy, we get wrapped up in our own children, we lose touch. And then sometimes you hear about something horrible happening to one of these people who once were the lead players in the dramas of our childhood, and you wonder what happened. It's heart-breaking, really, that someone who was the center of your world as a child, someone you used to see everyday, who shared your darkest secrets, could permanently move out of your life and the only blip on your radar would be an obituary in the newspaper.

As a mom, I also found myself last night looking forward to the kind of friends Ainsley will have. I hope they are as good as my 12-year-old friends were. I hope they make her laugh, and accompany her on her own arduous journeys, and watch out for her, and pack a comb ("What the hell do you need a comb for? You don't have any hair!") I hope at least one of them will stick by her into her adulthood and not just fade into the faces in the hall. I hope they stand beside her as she stands up to the "cheap dime-store hood[s]" she undoubtedly will battle in adolescence.

I never had any friends later on like the ones I had when I was twelve. I hope Ainsley will be so lucky.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Take Me Out to the Ball Game

We took Ainsley to her very first Reds game Saturday. It was a gorgeous afternoon (except for the 10 minutes we got spit on by a small rain cloud), our home team won with an exciting come-from-behind 9th-inning homer, and the tickets were free. I won them in a drawing here at work. I never win anything, and to have won these tickets for the "Ohio Cup" series, on a perfect day, with a win by the Reds...I must have finally done something to make karma happy.

The one downside is that our seats were in an upper section (not quite the nosebleeds, but you pass this section on your way to the nosebleends) where the seats and steps are spectacularly steep. For someone suffering from vertigo, it was not ideal. When I first stood at the top of the steps in our section, needing to go down a few rows to our seats, I kept seeing myself losing my balance and pitching forward and tumbling all the way down my section to fall to my death in the rich people's section below. I looked at Jason and said, "I don't think I can do it."

With the handrail in a death grip, I made it to my seats. The very non-symmetrical layout of Great American kept throwing me; my eyes and my inner ears kept fighting each other as to where exactly my body fit into the weird shape. Which way was up? Which was down? The fluid in my ear kept telling lies.

But you know what helps vertigo at a ball park? Draft beer. Not so much helps, as masks the condition. After two Miller Lites (which only tastes good served ice cold at a baseball game, IMHO) it seemed natural and normal that I should feel a little dizzy. I didn't feel so much like I had vertigo, just like I had a beer buzz. Which I did. So it was all good for a while.

Dear hubby indulged me and served as my designated driver, and he and Ainsley enjoyed some peanuts and soft-serve (dished up in a plastic mini baseball cap, natch.) As the ninth inning neared, and I faced the prospect of having to get up and exit in a mass of people, I began to worry which was going to be worse: the way the whole ballpark felt like it was spinning around home plate, or the claustrophobia from being asses to elbows with 40,000 of my closest friends? Just then, they blasted U2's "Vertigo" throughout the park. I took it as a sign.

Thankfully, Adam Dunn hit the game-winning run and after a minute of cheering and screaming and showing Ainsley the little burst of celebratory fireworks, we got out of Dodge just before the rest of the crowd started to move.

So, thank you, Cincinnati Enquirer, for donating my tickets. And thank you, Reds, for helping to give me and my little family a nearly perfect day.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

On A May Night, Outside of Carrollton

Yesterday I saw many news stories remembering one of the worst tragedies to happen in our state.

Twenty years ago, a bus crashed on Interstate 71 outside of Carrollton, Kentucky. If you're from this area, you know the details; a drunk driver was driving north in the southbound lanes and hit a school bus carrying children and chaperones from a day at Kings Island back to Radcliff, south of Louisville. The gas tank ruptured, and few escaped uninjured from the inferno that followed. It was one of the deadliest bus accidents in our nation's history, and the deadliest drunk-driving accident.

Though the victims were from a different part of the state, the crash happened barely a half hour south of my hometown, and it was covered extensively by the Cincinnati news. I was 14 at the time; the same age as many of the victims. In the years following the disaster, I would occasionally meet someone from Hardin County at an academic event or competition; in getting-to-know-you icebreakers, another student would sometimes pick up on that person's hometown and ask if they knew anyone on that bus. The answer was usually, "Yes," and then it wouldn't be discussed further. The community's wounds would take a long time to heal.

If you know me, you know that from the time I was a small child until today I have a terrible fear of fire. I couldn't light my own Bunsen burner in chemistry class, and I have to look away or leave the room when someone starts a fire in a fireplace. My biggest fear is being in a fiery plane or car crash. The closeness of this accident, the ages of the victims, and the horrible circumstances surrounding their deaths hit me hard. To this day, when I chaperone a trip and find myself on a bus, I position myself as close as I can to an emergency exit and plan in my head how I would get out in the event of a crash or fire. I very nearly have panic attacks that I have to walk myself through. When I close my eyes and try to count to ten to calm down, I see the black and white picture from the paper the day after the Carrollton accident: a burnt-out bus that trapped its young victims inside.

When the driver of the truck that hit the bus was being sentenced, one of our stations somehow got a camera into the courtroom as the sentence was being read. It must have been summer, because I remember being alone in the house as the regularly scheduled programming was interrupted. The camera panned the courtroom to capture the reaction shots, and several of the survivors were in attendance. I remember one girl in particular, her entire face and one arm hidden by a beige compression bandage, with a tuft of hair showing beneath the burn garments. At one point she broke into sobs and her parents comforted her the best they could. I started crying, too, even though she was a stranger to me. I could only imagine her physical pain, her mental anguish, and the lifelong scars she would bear. And she was no older than I was. She had lost friends and nearly had the life burned out of her by a senseless mistake.

As a result of this crash, it is a lot safer to ride a bus. Gas tanks are protested by cages, more emergency exits have been installed, and the rubber and foam that make the seats must be flame-retardant and release less toxins when burned. In Kentucky, all buses must also run on diesel, which is less flammable. And yet just a couple of weeks ago, a Pendleton County (just to the south of us) teenager died when a dump truck struck his school bus one morning on a winding, dangerously narrow stretch of rural road. The bus did not catch fire, but the news of a young person's death in a school bus tragedy forced everyone to start thinking about Carrollton and the 20th anniversary and the many things we still need to do to make sure our children are safe when they ride the bus.

Every morning, I put the most precious thing I have on the bus and pray that the driver is alert, that the other cars they navigate past are driven by sober, careful men and women, and that, should the worst happen, someone will guide my daughter out and to safety. I calm myself with statistics that show she's safer on the bus than she would be riding with me. I know that someday, she will want to join a church or school group on a trip to Kings Island on a school bus, and I know that I will let her go. But it won't be easy.

When I go to Louisville for work or to visit friends, I pass the sign on I71 that marks the spot of the crash. I always say a little prayer.

For the parents, some of whom lost their only children, I pray that they have found the courage to keep living.

For the surviving victims, I pray that their wounds have healed and that they have found peace after the terror of that night.

For those that died, I pray that their suffering was short and that an angel guided them on their way.

For the driver, who served shockingly little time behind bars, I pray for forgiveness. If I were a parent of a victim or a survivors, I know I couldn't ever forget. But I hope that I would someday be able to forgive.


Here's an update on the vertigo thing. Let me see if I can focus on the screen long enough to tap it out (things are still swimming and I still feel like I've had a bad night of Goldschlager.)

I did get in with the doctor, but not until late yesterday afternoon. The nurse I spoke with over the phone told me if I felt any worse by appointment time I was to go to the ER. That's always a troubling thing to hear. Because just hearing that makes you feel, you know, panicky, which in turn makes everything seem worse, which in turn makes you feel like you should go to the ER.

She saw fluid behind my right ear drum, probably a remnant from the bad cold I had, and that could be responsible for the vertigo. It makes sense, really.

So I have two different medicines to try to control the symptoms and dry up the fluid, and if the world starts turning by tomorrow morning, we're good.

If I am still having these symptoms tomorrow morning, I am supposed to call her and she will try to get me a CT scan immediately. As in, go to the hospital, go directly to the hospital. Do not pass go, do not pass out on the way.

To quote Grandpa Simpson:

I'm feeling feelings I've never felt before...I think I'm in love! No,'s a stroke.

I jest. It's no lauging matter, really. But until things quit spinning, and until I feel "sober", I laugh to keep from going nuts.

I will keep you updated, kids.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

I'm In A Place Called Vertigo

Well, this is a new one.

I have gotten migraines on a fairly regular basis since I was in my mid-20s. Luckily, they follow a predictable pattern. They usually hit around what Liz Lemon's crew on 30 Rock call "the woman times" and I am one of those good people who sees an aura before the attack. If you've never been a victim of this wild neurological wonder, an aura is when a migraneur sees flashing lights or other visual freakiness for a half hour or so before the pain hits. My aura starts tiny, right in the middle of my field of vision, and over the course of about 15 minutes spreads out to my peripheral vision. Look at a bottle cap some time--see the little scallopy pattern of its edges? That's the pattern my aura takes. Now, imagine that as a bright white light that flashes a couple of times a second. That's my warning to take medicine or else.

The pain itself is mild to moderate and pulses behind my right eye. Usually Excedrin takes the edge off; sometimes I have to take a prescription medicine in the Imitrex family and go to bed for a few hours. In a couple of days, I am generally back to normal with nothing more than a little lingering nausea to remind me of my vascular abnomalities. No harm, no foul.

But this week I am battling something new, and though what I've read online leads me to believe it's normal with some migraines, it's scaring the daylights out of me.

I feel...well, tipsy. Like I've knocked back a few. Which, unfortunately, I haven't.

When I move my head, it takes a little while for the room to catch up with my eyes. If I bend down, or look up, I have a moment where I feel for the first time I know what it means to "swoon." The scariest was when I was driving home from my mom's yesterday after going for a run (sounds nuts, but sometimes getting a good cardio workout knocks the migraine out) and I felt myself losing focus on the road, almost as if I was going to lose consciousness.

I almost went to the ER, and I don't take going to the ER lightly. I am very much a "wait and see" person; if waiting sees the swelling of an injury go down, or the pain to lessen, or the heart rate to calm, I can talk myself out of it. It may kill me someday, but so far it's kept me out of the ER as a patient since I was 15 years old and wrecked my bike and broke the fall with my face.

My wonderful prescription medication brought the world back into focus, though I feel it creeping out a little as I write early this morning. My doctor's office doesn't open until 9, so until then, I am just riding the wave and trying to walk a straight line in front of our students (thankfully we have some testing going on in here now, and it's quiet and I can hide at my desk.)

If you've ever experienced anything like this and can put my whirling mind at ease until I can get professional help, I'm all ears. But not all eyes, 'cause I can't get them to focus on anything long enough.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Ya'll Come Back Now, Ya Hear?

On Mondays, Ainsley goes to a little sports readiness program after school. That allows me to stay a little later at school with no little one running around needing me to help with homework and entertainment. Now, I could use this distraction-free time to get real actual library work done. But mostly I read CNN's political ticker and get my feathers ruffled by some remark made in the comments section of an article.

Do not worry; I will not use this forum to tell you which horse I've got in this steeplechase to the White House. I was raised to not discuss politics in mixed company. However, if you ever find yourself up in the 859, come over one night and I'll tell you whatever you want to know about my views while we sit on my deck and have a drink and smoke a cigar. That really is the only way to get me to be unabashedly honest (as a certain lurker from Lexington can attest.)

With the West Virginia primary today and my own state's next Tuesday, and with the Democratic race kinda sorta not decided yet, all political eyes are on us. I never thought in my lifetime that a vote in the presidential primary in Kentucky would actually matter. But people are talking about us, politically, and what they're saying ain't too nice.

More than one commenter in the stories about West Virginia and Kentucky has made an astute and witty observation somewhere along the lines of,

"What do you expect? Those are the two most inbred, ignorant states states in the union. Who cares what they think?"

Hold it right there, bubba.

I've heard a lot of crap about my home state in my lifetime. We're inbred. We're ignorant. We can't keep our teeth. All us women are barefoot and pregnant and living in a trailer in Butcher Holler. And I'm tired of it, y'all. 'Cuz only some of it's true.

As a proud Kentuckian (I was recently quoted in the paper as saying so when a reporter stopped to ask me some questions as I was placing a bet on derby day) I want to step onto my trusty soapbox and dispel some stereotypes. We Kentuckians are a more diverse and complicated bunch than the rest of the country gives us credit for. (And look at that, I just ended a sentence in a preposition, because that's how we roll in the bluegrass.) Someone else will have to speak up for West Virginia, however.

The Mad Kentuckian's Manifesto

1. Kentuckians are NOT inbred.
I did not marry my cousin (at least that we know; neither Jason nor I have a real firm grasp on our geneology, but we think we're safe.) And I have never, ever heard of anyone on either side of my family going back three generations who married anyone even distantly related. Now, on my mom's side, there was a scandal when her brother's wife had an affair with, and eventually married, another of my mom's brothers. While that might be Jerry-Springer worthy, it ain't inbreeding. And, kids, my family comes from the heart of hillbilly country, where inbreeding would take place if inbreeding did. My gene pool is deep, and I do not know of a single Kentuckian swimming at the shallow end.

2. We may not have all our teeth, but we've got plenty of brains.
I do wish I could dispel the whole toothless stereotype, but I personally cannot. When Idol Gives Back came on last month and they showed a run-down house in eastern Kentucky populated by a family that probably had a dozen teeth among all of them, I started to get all defensive. But then I looked at my husband, who has actually had to have a tooth pulled, and thought of my dad, who had to have every tooth in his head yanked when he joined the Army, and of my mom who wears a partial, and my mother-in-law who wears a bridge, and all my grandparents and aunts and uncles who were fitted with dentures before they were the age I am right now. I think my mother is as proud of the fact that I have the correct number of natural teeth as she is that I am a college graduate. Some of you northern Kentuckians probably resent this stereotype, but look it up some time: Kentucky ranks in the bottom of the nation in dental care. It's hard enough to get doctors into the mountains of southeast Kentucky; it's all but impossible to get enough dentists. And for people who can barely afford to feed themselves, getting regular checkups and paying for fillings can be tough. Even with my dental insurance, I find myself out a couple hundred a year getting my weak teeth shored up.

But, while you may look at a person with dental issues and assume that person is dumb, it simply isn't true...

3. Uneducated does NOT equal ignorant.
I know so many Kentuckians, from both ends of the state, who are my age and are the first in their families to go to college or even to finish high school. We don't rank so high in terms of percentages who seek a post-secondary education. However, we have just as many "smart", socially aware people as any other state.

My dad, on his pre-military IQ test, scored a 130. He barely squeaked by with a high school diploma because he wasn't pushed very hard. Not only was he smart, but he was clever; in an elementary school spelling bee, afraid to stand up in front of the class, he gave the spelling for the word "pound" as "l-b, period." He thought a lot about world and national issues and watched Meet the Press every Sunday morning and Jon Stewart every night and had asked to borrow my "America" book just before he died.

My mom's oldest sister, who left school in the eighth grade, had a house full of a wide variety of books and magazines (she's the one who forced a first edition of To Kill a Mockingbird into my mother's hands shortly after it was published and told her she absolutely had to read that book) and memorized large sections of the bible that she could quote book, chapter, and verse.

My mom's brother, a decorated Air Force veteran and Honor Guard member, didn't finish high school either but was so gifted at mechanics that he was heavily recruited to lead a maintenance team at Disney World when it opened; after having fought in Korea and being stationed all over the world, he declined the offer and instead lived in obscurity in his home county.

I come from a long line of literate, knowledgeable Kentuckians. I wouldn't call a single one of them "ignorant" seeing as how most of them have some set of experiences, know-how and expertise that I don't have with my 5 years of post-secondary work. Just because some of them live in run-down trailers does not mean they couldn't go toe-to-toe with some of the judgemental folks who post their enlightened opinions anonymously on political blogs.

4. Just because you live in a trailer doesn't mean you're trash.
In the part of Kentucky I am originally from, homes are rare. Not just that a mortgage loan is hard to get on the average Appalachian salary, but that they are literally hard to find. Unless you want to own a house in town, or build a home, you could wait years for a house to be for sale. But land is rather plentiful. If you get a couple of hillside acres given to you by a family member, you could do much worse than to put a double-wide on it. And if you can't own a plot, there are plently of landowners who rent spaces with full utility hook-ups. People from all careers and socioeconomic groups in that part of the world own some kind of manufactured home, from coal miners to professors at Union College.

My husband also lived for a while in a trailer park right here in northern Kentucky, and he is far from trash. Though it amuses me to watch, I'm afraid the crew from My Name is Earl have given trailer-park living a bit of a stigma. It's not all Joys and Darnells.

I've heard that every stereotype reflects a tiny grain of truth. And if you look at certain parts of Kentucky, there are some superficial truths to the stereotypes that surround us. But those truths are only superficial, and are not representative of all of us. It's so easy to classify us based on our statistics, by what you see in news stories and on TV sitcom exaggerations. I laugh at Cletus the slack-jawed-yokel, but recognize that's not really who my "hillbilly" relatives are. He's a two-dimensional parody. The real "yokels" in my family tree might look a little like him and talk like him, but they are real people who have lived rich lives and have a more complicated back-story than incest and skunk-eating. And show me any state in our union who doesn't have a Cletus or two stuck away somewhere (there's a reason why we never really know where Springfield is) and I'll eat my hat.

So, back off, bloggers.

Don't make me come after you with a pitchfork and a jug of moonshine.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Make Me A Playlist

I am so tired of my music.

I feel like I've overplayed every CD I own. My iPod has nothing interesting on it. I've been just listening the the local Top 40 station in my car, but I swear to you, if I hear "No Air" and "Bleeding Love" back to back one more time like I have for three consecutive mornings now, I am going to puncture my ear drums with an ice pick.

So I turn to you, dear readers. Point me toward some good music and artists. Lead me toward the fountain of iTunes and tell me what to drink.

In case you're wondering what kind of music I like...I kinda like everything. Except newer country. I don't hate any music except for overplayed pop, Toby Keith, and Nickelback.

Currently on my iPod I have everything from Dixie Chicks and Garth Brooks to Nirvana and Disturbed. I have one playlist called "Sad Songs" that's nothing but weepy overwrought ballads one might hear on Delilah (if you're into that sort of thing.) I also have a playlist called "Alt" where I hide a lot of my favorite lesser-know artists like Regina Spektor. Then there's my "Running" playlist, which features a tune each by Kanye West and Eminem, because rap-lite gets my feet moving during a 5K. So you can see I'm pretty much open to anything.

If you can insert links to a You Tube video for said artist or song to better plea your case, awesome! Otherwise, just list some song titles or performers who are rocking your world and who might shake me out of my current musical rut.

Out of the Mouth Of Ains: The Gifts That Keep On Giving

My child cannot keep a secret.

Any time she's in on making or getting a gift for me for any occasion, she ends up spilling. She can't help herself. She's not a great self-editor.

Yesterday we stopped in the grocery store and picked out some cards for the grandmas for Mother's Day. I immediately saw the one Ainsley should give my mom; it featured butterflies, which are Ainsley's favorite things to chase at my mom's house.

"Ooh, Ainsley, here's a pretty one with butterflies on it. I think you should pick this one for Mamaw".

"But Mommy!" she said, hands on hips. "I already made YOU something with butterflies on it for Mother's Day! We did it at school today in art class."

"Oh, that's nice. But were you supposed to tell me that?"

She turned red. "No," she mumbled. "The teacher said it was supposed to be a surprise."

So, of course, I will act surprised when I see her little craft with the butterflies on it.

Later last night, Jason came out into the living room chuckling.

"Ainsley whispered in my ear tonight what she wants to get you for Mother's Day."

"Let me guess. Something with butterflies on it."

"No, actually, she said she wanted to get you a Webkin. Or a huge bag of candy. I don't think she gets that she's supposed to get you something you would like, not something she would like."

Who's to say I wouldn't like a Webkin or a huge bag of candy (or both?) I love stuffed animals as much as the next freakishly childish 34-year-old (until Ainsley was born, I occasionally slept with a baby Simba stuffed animal Jason bought me in college; what can I say, it gives me a huge case of the cutesies.)

Needless to say, I am waiting with baited breath to see what Ainsley ends up giving me Sunday morning. I know there will be something about butterflies, and the rest is just up for grabs.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Must-See TV, Indeed

Wow, time goes fast.

I hadn't realized until seeing related stories at EW and Newsweek that Seinfeld yada-yada-yadad its last a decade ago this week. In some ways it seems possible; my life is a lot different now than when I cozied up to Jason on the couch in our tiny Falmouth apartment to watch that finale 1o years ago. But then again...10 years! I never wanted to believe my mom when she used to tell me that time goes by faster the older you get, but like most other things, she was right. I am going to turn around one day and be an old woman and have no idea how or when it happened.


Until I started reading these articles about Seinfeld and how it has or has not stayed relevant, I hadn't really thought about how different TV is now. Thursday night is still my big TV-watching night, the only night of the week where I put Ainsley in bed and surrender completely to the entire prime-time block. I don't stay on NBC the whole night anymore; I switch over to Lost at 10. But even on NBC, that former Must-See TV monopoly has changed. Scrubs, The Office, and 30 Rock are three of my favorite shows, but they are worlds different from Friends, Seinfeld, and Frasier. And I am not even going to talk about ER, seeing as how most people agree it should have taken a bow around the same time they killed of Dr. Greene.

My three favorite current "sitcoms", Scrubs, The Office, and 30 Rock, look and sound nothing like the old Thursday night block. Not that there's anything wrong with that. I'm just saying it's different. These current shows follow Seinfeld's lead in many ways; all three get at least some of their humor from absurd situations that exaggerate, if not defy, reality. All three are smart and require some degree of intelligence and education to fully appreciate (two weeks ago 30 Rock did a spoof of the movie Amadeus in a storyline linking that high-brow Academy-Award nominee and porn.) But I don't know if these three shows are as "escapist" as Seinfeld.

When Seinfeld aired its last episode, I was in what would be my last year as a high-school English teacher. At that time in my life more than any other, Thursday-night TV was the relaxing, couch-coma-inducing goal for the week. If I could make it until 8pm on Thursday night without strangling a kid, or cussing out a parent, or calling my principal a mouth-breathing moron, I would get enough R and R during Must-See TV to make it through Friday and further decompress over the weekend. I even had an assistant principal tell me once, after she and I had had a pow-wow over a student of mine who we were both at the end of our ropes about, "At least it's Thursday. Go home and watch some good TV tonight and we'll feel better about this tomorrow." I didn't really have to think too much, or care about the characters, to appreciate the humor and get a few good belly laughs.

Each of my new favorite comedy TV-shows with the exception of 30 Rock have made me cry at some point or other. (Not to say Tina Fey and Co. won't have a serious moment down the road, though so far it's sticking to the Seinfeld formula of making the central characters self-centered enough that you don't get too emotionally attached to them.) In the middle of all the craziness of any episode of Scrubs or The Office, they sometimes throw a very real moment at you. Like when Dr. Cox had an emotional breakdown following the death of a patient due to an infected transplant organ he had authorized. Or when Jim tearfully told Pam, "Don't do that," after he had opened his heart to her only to have her call him her best friend in The Office. Sitcoms are much different than they were ten years ago when Seinfeld was king. There's a lot more heart, but I'm not sure there's more laughter.

Yes, all three of my new Thursday-night staples make me laugh out loud. But sometimes, on The Office in particular, the source of the humor is awkwardness that makes me laugh a little but then hide my eyes because I just can't watch people embarrass themselves. All three are serialized in the sense that there are storylines that continue for multiple episodes or seasons; if you haven't been with the show from the beginning, you might be lost or sit there wondering what all the fuss is about. The new breed of sitcom is very cathartic; on any given Thursday, I am going to experience a wide range of emotions. It's no longer just about making you laugh.

Time will tell if these new breeds translate well ten years past their runs. My guess is that they will still hold their charm for the same group of people who watch them now, because we will be the ones to run across a previously-aired episode on cable and know, "Oh, this is the one where Jim leaves Karen stranded in New York and finally gets Pam to go out with him--hooray!" We'll have the context to enjoy the re-run. It's probably not going to win new fans, though.

And that's probably the enduring genius of Seinfeld.

I didn't watch Seinfeld with any regularity until its 8th season. I was too busy being a student for most of its run. I caught a show here and a show there during breaks from school, but I didn't get hooked until my first year teaching when I so badly needed that escapism. The episode that really sealed the deal for me? Elaine's dancing. I will never forget watching TV with my mother (I lived at home that first year on the job) and both of us laughing until we cried as Elaine did her "full-body dry heave." You do not need to have seen other episodes to get your funny bone ticked by that one.

Just yesterday as I was flipping through channels up at the gym I caught the opening scene of that same episode. Just like when I first saw it, I got the giggles.

More days than not, either Jason or me will make a reference to some moment from Seinfeld. When Ainsley mumbles, I've told her to stop being a "low talker." When I can't open a jar, I wish out loud to have "man hands." If I smell something foul, I channel Kramer and blame it on "Rusty" and the Beef-a-rino. At least once in the 95-degree temperatures we suffered through on the Disney World trip I cried out, "The heat! My God, the heat!" just like Elaine did when Puddy told her she was going to hell. Just last week, when the Japanese restaurant I had made a reservation at to celebrate Jason's and my mom's birthday told us we would still have to wait for a table to open up, I turned to Jason and said in my best Jerry imitation, "You know how to take the reservation, you just don't know how to hold the reservation. And that's really the most important part of the reservation." And the list goes on.

Ten years later, how do you think the show about nothing holds up? Were you a fan back in the day? If so, chime in below with your favorite moments.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

True Confessions

Yesterday while I was being a hamster on a wheel on my gym's elliptical trainer, I caught some of Oprah's interview of Barbara Walters. Apparently, Babs has just published a memoir and she has not held back on some of the more surprising and less-flattering aspects of her life. She had an affair with a married black man. She chose to give a speech days after her beloved sister had surgery for ovarian cancer and wasn't there when a complication arose and her sister died. Her daughter abused drugs and ran away from home as a teenager. Her father tried to commit suicide and she told everyone (incuding family members) that he was hospitalized for a heart attack. And that was just in the last half hour!

Ms. Walters has done a lot more living than I have, but her candid admissions yesterday got me thinking about what sort of dirty deeds (done dirt cheap) I would have to confess to in my own tell-all.

Someday I do think I will sit down in a non-bloggy forum and write my memoirs. But I'm only 34 now, and I've got a lot more mistakes to make.

In the meantime, here are some true and startling confessions from my own white-bread life. Prepare to be shocked! And appalled!

1. I did not pass my written driver's test the first try.
I was so embarrassed when I came back to school after failing that I told everyone I hadn't been able to take the test because my mom forgot my social security card. Not even DD's in-school confession to having suffered the same fate just a few days before could make me admit this. Until now (bum-bum-BUM!)

2. I was an accomplice in the alleged theft of my high-school Spanish teacher's car.
Not so much theft as "moving and hiding as part of a practical joke." Strangely, she didn't find it funny when she came back from a basketball game unable to find her car. We had hidden it too well. And she drove away in someone else's car before we could catch her to tell her what we had done. In our defense, this woman had stood in front of a classroom of mischievous 16-year-olds and told us she leaves her keys inside her car and dared us to figure out the code to her keyless entry. Deep down, in places she doesn't talk about at dinner parties, she wanted us to steal that car. She needed us to steal that car. She just can't handle the truth.

3. I drank a wine cooler or two while under age.
Oooh, I know. I'm dangerous! Does it make it more scandalous if I tell you the "adult" person who gave me my first illicit beverage was the high-school Spanish teacher mentioned above, and even though she was not my teacher at the time, I was still technically in high school? If memory serves I was first offered one the summer after I graduated, but still. This is the same person who let us write, perform, and videotape Spanish skits for class that can best be described as R-rated. Methinks SHE's the one who needs to write a tell-all memoir.

4. I may or may not have been involved in a college prank on a dorm-mate that involved a lubricated prophylactic and a door knob.

5. I rarely return library books on time and regularly pay overdue fines in the $5 range.
Yes, I am well aware that I am a librarian who enforces fines among my own patrons. Do as I say, kiddies, not as I do.

6. In 7th grade, I forged my mom's signature on a failed Latin quiz.
My mother used to go ballistic over bad grades. Our Latin teacher required our parents to sign all of our weekly quizzes, and I had aced all but this one, which I had totally blown off. He let us drop our lowest grade, though, so I knew I was still going to get an A in the class if I kept my nose clean the rest of the quarter, so rather than freak her out I decided to practice her scrawl for hours and then ink her John Hancock myself. I ended up with an A+ in that class, thank you very much, though this little experiment of my middle school's, to offer Latin to the advanced 7th graders, went so swimmingly that they never tried it again. That teacher was a piece of work. What's the deal with foreign language teachers?

7. I may or may not have participated in a certain college's age-old tradition involving a certain statue called "The Flame." I may or may not have also done a practice run leading up to this event on the soccer field during senior week.

8. While my mom went on vacation, leaving me with the house to myself while still in high school, I took her car up to the convenience store up the road (within walking distance) to buy ingredients to cook fried chicken. I only had my temps at the time (and we all know I must have had great knowledge of the road because I, you know, failed the written test) and came a hair's breadth from hitting a parked car. It was warm outside, and why I didn't just walk I have no idea. You know what's sad? That this was the most forbidden thing I did as a 17-year-old with a house to myself for a week.

9. I occasionally pocketed a piece of Brach's Pick-a-Mix candy from the grocery store without paying for it.

10. I once hit a chipmunk with my car. Exept for spiders, I make it a general rule to not kill things, so even though this was an accident I still feel pretty terrible about it.

Now that your image of me is totally blown by these controverial blips in my character, talk back. Use the glorious option Google gives you of posting anonymously, if you have to. What is your most shocking confession to date?

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

You Know You Make Me Wanna...SHOUT!

Today's blog post is inspired by the good people at EW, who ask in a PopWatch item today, "What lyrics make you belt every time you hear them?"

I know that even in the most vocal-phobic among you, there is one line in one song that, if it comes on the radio or at a big, crowded wedding reception, will make you sing out as loud as your little lungs allow.

Here are mine (with the shouted lyrics, well, SHOUTED):

TIN ROOF...RUSTED! ("Love Shack")

For the Reverend Martin Luther King...SING! ("Pride")

Then, sweet little lady, I'll head back to the bar...AND YOU CAN KISS MY A..! ("Friends in Low Places", live version)

You're unbelievable...OH! (That one song. You know.)

LEONARD BERNSTEIN! and FIVE O'CLOCK TV HOUR! ("It's The End of the World As We Know It"; could it be we shout those parts because they're the only ones anybody knows?)

I know that's not all. What lyrics make you sing along in ALL CAPS?

Monday, May 5, 2008

A Derby Fan's Lament

I didn't realize I was such a horrible person.

See, I am a Kentucky Derby fan. I've never been to Churchill Downs, never sipped a julep in the grandstands while wearing an obnoxious hat and singing the edited lyrics to "My Old Kentucky Home." But for as long as I can remember, I've stopped what I was doing for 2 minutes every first Saturday of May to watch great athletes thunder to the finish. My parents knew nothing about horse racing, and even though I grew up close enough to Turfway Park to see its lights out my bedroom window as a kid, we never went to the track or placed money on a horse. But we would always watch the race together as a family, each of us cheering on a beautiful animal solely on the basis of its name, with nothing at stake but bragging rights.

I've started my own family tradition the last couple of years. On race day I take Ainsley to Turfway to place a bet on each of the horses the three of us have picked out, and come race time Jason and I sip on a homemade julep with some friends while Ainsley has some sparkling grape juice, and we all cheer for our horse to wear the roses.

And today, after reading various blog posts about Eight Belles and animal cruelty and the racing industry, I feel like a tremendous a-hole for doing so.

If you know me at all, you know I love most animals more than I love some people. If you really want to see me get choked up, take me to an animal shelter and show me an abandoned or abused animal that needs a home. Heck, I can't even watch pet food commercials without getting a lump in my throat. I would never, ever condone something that I felt put an animal in harm's way. In my mind, anyone who mistreats or murders an animal should fall under the same penalty he or she would suffer had the victim been a human.

I've never seen horse racing as abuse. I know there is a dark side to the sport and that some owners and trainers dope and whip and push too hard. I've known since I was a kid that sometimes a horse pays the ultimate price for glory. I just saw the Derby as different; these were the elite, the kings and queens of the stable, the best-kept, best-loved horses of the world. I never thought the few dollars I put down on this one race a year contributed toward any brand of cruelty.

But that is the opinion of so many out there who are outraged by the horrible accident that befell Eight Belles, coming just two years after Derby winner Barbaro suffered a fatal injury at the Preakness. For these people, the euthanizations of these two thoroughbreds from injuries sustained on the track point to a larger problem. For them, it proves that these animals are pushed too hard, too early by owners and trainers who care about nothing but their purses.

Not being an avid race watcher, there have been few times in my life that I've watched a horse suffer such an injury. When the cameras showed Eight Belles being held down on the track, my heart broke for her. I was a little shocked that, when the news coverage focused on the elated winners so soon after we had been told that Eight Belles had to be put down, there hadn't been a moment of silence or some kind of recognition from the winner's handlers that the 2nd-place horse, a filly who literally gave the race everything she had, had died. I wasn't at the track, and I don't know the mood there, but the mood in my house had gotten pretty somber at the news. It seemed like the presentation ceremony should have honored that fact.

Perhaps it was so shocking for me because I thought horse fatalities in racing were more rare and more in line with the statistics for "normal" horses. I come from a rural background; I know that people who own horses or cattle have to euthanize them following "routine" injuries or medical problems that would just land a person in a hospital for a few days or a cast for six weeks. But the news stories about Saturday's tragedy hit on a grim statistic: for every 1000 starts, 2 horses suffer fatal injuries.

When I talked to my mom Saturday after the race, she was almost in tears. Eight Belles had been her horse.

"I don't know why they have to run them like that," she said. "They run them so hard and then when they die no one cares." I disagreed with her; all of us who were watching certainly cared. And the few sounds bytes we had heard after the race indicated that her jockey, her trainer, and the field vets were distraught over her death. Plus, as I reminded her, we've all been watching the Derby for years; they are athletes displaying their amazing capabilities, doing what they were born to do. I've never seen a horse run that didn't look like it was fulfilling its natural destiny.

Now I'm not so sure. Maybe the surprise I felt Saturday when Eight Belles hadn't been honored more during the pomp and circumstance surrounding the winning horse (Big Brown, who earned Ainsley's bet) has turned into a bitter taste in my mouth. I just can't help but feel like I'm part of the problem with my race-watching, bet-placing annual festivities. Reading people's comments o the news sites today has left me feeling a little...well, villainized.

You tell me, readers. I know you represent a fairly wide spectrum of beliefs and not all of you are native Kentuckians who perhaps view the Derby with a little more romanticism than the rest of the world. Is the Derby an example of animal exploitation? Or is it a showcase for some of the finest athletes in the world? And if every horse's story could end like Seabiscuit's (the subject of one of my favorite nonfiction books), wouldn't it be easier to love this sport?

Riding Off Into The Sunset

Friday was family day at the kid's school, which meant we spent the day at her school participating in a wide array of fun activities designed to increase our awareness of the good things happening at the school. I might have had fun, but I was in the peak stage of a terrible cold, and it was hard to see through my watering eyes. Plus, I sneezed a lot, so all I can really remember is being stared at as I interrupted key points in the mass and the drama club program with tremendous nasal eruptions.

The day ended with a picnic on the lawn with all the other kiddos and parents. As everything wound down, one middle school girl dramatically left the premises on the back of her father's motorcycle. A pretty cool way to leave, and I am sure it won her some awesomeness points with the other middle-schoolers.

A few minutes after this, Teddy's mom walked over to us. (For infrequent readers, Teddy is the object of Ainsley's kindergarten affections.)

"Teddy just said that when he grows up, he's going to buy a 'Hurley' and he and Ainsley are going to ride on it."

Cute. He's thinking ahead to their future.

And as Teddy's mom walked away, I could just see future Ainsley on her wedding day, wearing a gorgeous princess-y gown, but with a pair of knee-high black leather boots hidden under the satin. As Jason and I wave goodbye and all the guests blow bubbles, she slips on a black leather jacket and a black helmet and rides away with Teddy on the back of his hog, sticking her tongue out and bobbing her head from side to side as she is wont to do when she thinks she's cool. Sigh.

I know, I know. I'm getting way ahead of myself. She's only five. And if a potential suitor ever shows up at our house with a real "Hurley" and proposes taking my little girl for a ride...yeah, I don't know if I'll think that's too cute. But for now, I apppreciate that the 6-year-old with the keys to my kid's heart is including her in his daydreams of future fuel-efficient and thrilling modes of transportation.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Out of The Mouth of Ains: Candygram Edition

Why must local news networks use sweeps months to scare the bejeezus out of us?

I guess since May sweeps begin this week, our local broadcasts have started heavily advertising their "special features". I like to have at least one half-hour of local news on in the background each evening as I get dinner on the table, and this week I've heard taglines like, "See the news story that no parent should miss! Tonight at 11!" and "What hidden danger lurks inside your local grocery store? Tonight at 11!" and "Why you should beware of the very air you breathe and water you drink and should immediately crawl into your closet and assume the fetal position! Tonight at 11!"

If it's so vital to my and my family's very lives and well-being that I watch your informative, terror-mongering story, why can't you just tell me now or run it as a ticker on the bottom while you handle the more important stories like Brit-Brit's custody battle?

Tuesday afternoon while I was rushing from dining room to kitchen, I caught Ainsley taking a break from her Ariel puzzle to stare at the news. This being unlike her, I stopped to watch. On the screen was a preview my favorite syndicate was running for an 11 o'clock feature story.

You tell your kids not to talk to strangers. (Cut to a black-and-white image of a scary-looking pedophile-if-I've-ever-seen-one guy ogling a group of giggling girls on the street.) Schools teach the concept of "stranger danger." But what happens when your child is approached by a stranger in the park, or at the front door? (Cut to grainy hidden-camera footage of a man knocking at a front door, asking to check out an appliance, and being let in by a child.) Watch as our hidden cameras show how easy it for predators to get to YOUR child. (Freeze frame on the "predator" in the hidden camera footage crossing the threshold while the color fades to black and white and scary music is cued.) Tonight at 11.

Ainsley turned around to give me a look that said, What I've just seen is confusing and scary. Could you please give me further comfort and clarification, oh wise mother? Blurg.

We've already talked to Ainsley about not talking to strangers, and not walking off with anyone if she gets lost, not getting in the car with a stranger no matter what excuse they might give or what kind of treat they might be offering, etc. At five, I know we're going to have to reinforce this for her. A lot.

So I sat next to her and went over some fine points and addressed the specific things that the heeby-jeeby preview had brought up. Like how if for some strange reason she's ever alone in the house or if mommy is here but back in the shower, she should never even answer the door. Or how she should look out and see if it's someone she knows, like her mamaw, before opening the door. And why she should never, ever, let a stranger in the house.

She thought for a minute.

"But mommy, what about if it's a strange animal?"

"An animal? You mean if a stray dog is hanging around by the door?"

"No, I mean, what if it's a strange animal from the zoo?"


I closed my eyes for a second; how do you answer that? And behind my lids I had an image of a child predator dressed in a convincing grizzly-bear suit knocking on our front door, holding a bouquet of flowers, asking to speak to the lady of the house.

So I had to tell her not to let strange animals in the house, either. Especially land sharks with candygrams.

And This Just In...

I didn't stay up to watch all of the results show last night (once I saw that David Cook was safe, I was satisfied and went to bed), and just saw from frequent flyer Robert K. that America has voted and sent Brooke home.

It probably was her time, though I had honestly been hoping for Jason or "Never Met A Camera I Didn't Like" Syesha. It occurred to me as I saw the recap of Miss Baby Cry's performance that I didn't comment on her in yesterday's post. I never have much to say about her. I don't get her, really. Sure, she has formidable pipes, but she neither really gets on my nerves nor knocks my socks off. I have zero emotional connection to her. In fact, the only comment I had about her Tuesday night while watching was, "When Fantasia sang 'Summertime' while sitting barefoot at the edge of the stage it worked because it fit her and the song. You, my friend, singing your Neil Diamond song, are no Fantasia." And then I think I got up and grabbed a handful of Cookie Crisp, because her performances always seem like a good time to get up and get a snack because I really won't be missing anything.

Even though Brooke had some flaws, I, like Robert, am a little bummed she's gone. When she was on target, she had that kind of Carly Simon thing going. Though I do hope she takes this opportunity to de-stress a little; girlfriend seemed as uncomfortable on stage the last two weeks as Jamie Lynn Spears at a teen abstinence convention.

That is all for now. Obviously, I have little going on in my life right now other than getting fired up over a reality show. Though I do have an all new "Out of the Mouth of Ains" coming soon; she's been rather insightful this week.

Stay classy, America.