Monday, June 30, 2008

We're Baa--aack!


I so don't want to be home. But we are. We arrived back from my favorite vacation since, well, ever, on Saturday night. Usually I look forward to coming home on the last day of vacation. Heck, last year we drove straight through from Orlando to roll into our driveway at 1:30am just so we could sleep in our own beds. I thought sending Ainsley off to visit Jason's mom all afternoon yesterday while I fell into a coma on the couch would break the depression, but it's worse today. Here I sit, with the temperature a disturbing 70 degrees outside at 3pm (can you say "Global Climate Change"?), drizzle falling, and all I can think of is what the weather's like down on Hilton Head Island. I know for damn sure it ain't 70 degrees and rainy.

It was heaven on earth. It really was. We had a few evening thunderstorms, and the high temp reached the mid-90s every day, but it was perfect down on the beach. And in the pool. Not a cloud in the sky, a couple of days.

And the God, the food.

I love shrimp. Grilled shrimp, broiled shrimp, fried shrimp, shrimp kabob, shrimp stew, whatever else Bubba rattled off to Forest. And Hilton Head's seafood restaurants are all about the shrimp, which are hauled in by the boats every day. I don't know if I can go back to the frozen shrimp we are relegated to here in coastless Kentucky. I ate them every night for dinner, and Ainsley discovered that she, too, loves them. She had fried shrimp 3 nights in a row, one night begging for more after she had cleaned her plate, causing me to give her half of mine. Oh, the sacrifices we moms make.

We have decided that we're going to do the Hilton Head thing every other year, finances pending. It was by far my favorite beach I've ever been to; there wasn't a t-shirt shop on every corner. It was peaceful. It was clean. It felt natural and not over-developed. I felt at home there. I think I might want to live there someday. And this is heady talk for a profound homebody like me who's living in the same zip code I grew up in.

It wouldn't have been a Cranky family vacation without some bumps in the road, though. Here are the highlights of the more, um, interesting things that happened.

1. But First, An "Out of the Mouth of Ains."
This happened the night before we left. I was in a bad mood that Friday night, having run into a problem with the SUV we rented. When I should have been packing up and getting us all to bed, I was on the phone for an hour trying to reach a solution that didn't involve us driving all the frickin' way back to the airport. (Karen, this is why I didn't get back to you, and why we didn't try to arrange a trip to Atlanta--we weren't sure the car we rented was going to get us out of the state or not.) When I finally got some "closure", I wrestled Ains through a bath.

One thing you need to know about Ains (and this will so embarrass her to read in about 10 years) is that she suffers from occasional irregularity. Well, not really occasional. She has poo issues almost all the time. Chalk it up to us rushing the potty-training thing, I guess. She is very particular about when and where she does number 2, and on any trip out of town, she is liable to hold it all in rather than use a strange toilet and make us and herself pretty miserable. A pretty common occurrence in our house for any road trip that takes us away from home for longer than, say, 2 hours, is a conversation that goes like this (usually sparked by me picking up on her signs that she really needs to go but just doesn't know it yet):

Me: "Are you passing gas? Do you need to go poop?"
Ains, turning red in the face, clearly withholding information: "No." And then hopefully 5 minutes later she disappears and we hear from the bathroom, "I poo-ooped!" And then we act surprised.

So it occurred to me on Friday after the rental debacle that Ainsley hadn't pooped in 2 days. And we were about to drive 10 1/2 hours away.

Crap, indeed.

While I got her into her pajamas, I began to smell something that confirmed her need to go before we all got cooped up in a car on a long trip with not that many rest areas.

I looked at her and had just opened my mouth when she rolled her eyes at me and said,

"I know what you're going to say, and yes, I did, but no, I don't."

Damn kid's got me figured out.

But for the record, she did poop a few minutes later.

2. Tears In My Hoecakes
If you know me very well, you know that I worship at the altar of all things Paula Deen. I credit her food with saving me when I had chemo-stomach. I love this woman, and for five years now I have dreamed of going to Savannah and eating in her restaurant.

Sunday night, after looking at Hilton Head's forecast for the week, we decided that Monday might be our best day to get away from the beach and do a day trip in Savannah; HHI had its highest chance for rain on Monday. I had heard from the condo owners that you have to get to The Lady and Sons early in the morning to get a spot to eat there that day, and that the best thing to do was to roll in in the morning, wait in the line at the front of the restaurant, and then go sightseeing. So that's what we did.

Being us, and having a not-morning-person child, we got out the door a few minutes later than I wanted to. It's a 45-minute drive from the island to Savannah, and the last five minutes take you over a bridge that makes height-fearing people wet themselves. The bridge made me nervous, but I knew my best chances for fried chicken lay at the other end, so as soon as we rolled down Congress I threw open the car door, sprinted for the long line in front of The Lady, and let Jason and Ainsley go park and meet back up with me.

The foodie gods were on my side...I got THE LAST SPOT FOR LUNCH THAT DAY! This meant we were eating at 2:30, which left us over 4 hours to kill, but I knew there was no way we were going to be able to brave the heat with a five-year-old until dinner.

We did a trolley tour of Savannah (having just finished Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil I appreciated all the book-related places we saw) and geeked out in our Catholicism by walking through the gorgeous St. John the Baptist cathedral and made it back to The Lady and Sons by a little after 2 .We were early, but they seated us.

We all chose the buffet (I am not usually a big fan of all-you-can-eat, but in the case of Paula Deen, I am more than willing to make a pig of myself) and I let Jason and Ains hit the line first because I wanted to soak up the atmosphere and sip my sweet tea with the mint sprig in it just like I've seen pictured on the cover of her cookbooks. I was already emotionally overwhelmed by the beauty of the city and the feeling of "I can't believe I'm here" when the server came around with hoecakes and cheese biscuits.

I didn't wait for my family. I tried a hoecake. And then, like the loon that I am, I started crying a little bit. Over a hoecake.

It wasn't just that it was one of the most simply awesome things I've ever eaten.

I tasted that hoecake, and looked at the ivy pattern on her walls, and I went back in time five years to a Saturday morning when I was trying to get my chemically-twisted stomach over itself long enough to pretend life was normal and go out to lunch with my family. I remember watching Paula make her famous The Lady's Mac and Cheese on that first episode I saw, and the next night for dinner I cooked that as part of the first meal I dragged my butt into the kitchen to make after I started chemo. I dreamed then that I would get well, and that I would someday get to Savannah and meet this wonderful woman who was starving me to death in spite of myself with her southern food. And there I was, not meeting the woman, but eating in the house her hoecakes built. It was really emotional for me, y'all.

And then I had some of her collard greens, and my eyes rolled back in my head with delight, and it was nothin' but giggles from me the rest of that meal.

3. Transporting The Local Wildlife
Not only did we eat at Paula's, we also shopped at her store. When we went to our car, I went to put our bags in the back so that we could make our last Savannah stop, Bonaventure Cemetery.

I opened the back hatch door and saw a little sticker of a small, green frog on the inside of the door, the part around the seal. That's a weird place for a Peace Frog sticker, I thought.

Then the sticker moved. And I screamed. I'm not afraid of frogs per se, but when something you thought was not a living thing moves and it's in a place you don't expect, it's not cool, bro.

Jason came around the back to check out the situation. He wanted me to close the door to seal the frog in, but in its current position that would mean that I would crush him, so I resisted. I mean, I knew that the frog is a goner anyway, 'cause a hot parking garage in the middle of Savannah was clearly not his natural habitat. But seeing as how he survived the space between the door seal for no telling how long, I figured he was a hardy specimen, and far be it from me to willingly kill it.

So we chased, trying to get him to hop out.

No luck. The dumbass leaped and crawled into a pocket on the back of Ainsley's seat.


I got the giggles at that point, because it was just so absurd. How in the world did we end up transporting a frog from Hilton Head Island to Savannah, Georgia, without it jumping into one of our laps, causing instant death and much screaming?

Jason was not amused.

"I hope it jumps out of there and right on you," he said. He really wanted me to close it up. He can be such a killjoy sometimes. Why in the world would he not want the fun and excitement that comes with driving 45 minutes with a real live, frightened frog hiding in the back of your car?

Ainsley was surpisingly cool about having a frog in the pocket behind her seat. Oh, to be five.

We journeyed on to Bonaventure Cemetery, which we didn't tour so much as drive by, and then we headed back to to condo.

Our plan was to leave windows cracked, hoping he would figure a way out since he figured a way in (and the how of that still baffles us, as we had left everything shut tight.) But then the storms rolled in, and we had to leave all windows up. We just knew the sucker was going to die in the car. And Jason was not happy that he would probably crawl somewhere unreachable to die and we'd be smelling rotting frog corpse the rest of our vacation.

The next morning we stopped down at the car on the way to the pool. Through the windows, we could not see him anywhere. When he was hiding in the pocket, we could see his wee little head poking out.

On a whim, I asked Jason to open the hatch door. That's where we found him in Savannah, no doubt trapped trying to get in or out, so instinct told me that's maybe where he had gone again.

And when we opened the back door, his tiny lifeless body tumbled out. He had been so close to freedom, but instead died a miserable death.

I felt terrible. I should have shut the door on him in Savannah and squished him quick. My own soft spot for non-spider animals caused him to suffer.

But of course every other time we rode in that car, we looked out for attacking tree frogs.

That's all I have to report about Vacation, 2008. We came, we saw, we swam, we got a little bit sunburned (my poor little toes aren't going to be the same after missing them with my sunscreen one fateful morning at the beach.) Someday we'll get back. Someday I will eat fresh shrimp and Paula's collard greens again.

Someday soon, I'd like to think.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Hell-Bent and Savannah Bound

Look out, Hilton Head. Here come the Cranks.

My little family and I have thrown together a vacation. Until two weeks ago, if you'd asked us out summer plans, we would have told you we were just staying home and working on Jason's "Honey Do" list. We also had a close family member seriously ill and in the hospital from the first week in February until Mother's Day weekend, and until we felt like her health had improved, we didn't feel like leaving home for any reason (there are a couple of you I really need to get around to seeing now that things have settled.) But I got an itching to roam a few weeks ago, and I found a condo 3 minutes from the beach in Hilton Head that happens to be owned by a family from our church and happens to be available next week for $100 off the weekly rate, and there you have it. Ainsley is going to see the ocean for the first time ever, and I am going to see it for the first time since 1997. I am kinda Hobbit-like; I like to stay home, drink pints, eat cakes, and generally not go away for adventures. But we've had a pretty rough winter, and we have decided that we're getting the hell out of Dodge, high gas prices be damned.

I am excited about the beach, but I think what really has me fighting that little bit of agoraphobia I have (I started crying when we crossed the Kentucky/Tennessee line on our way to Disney World last year and had to stop at a rest stop and take deep breaths for no other reason than I was having a mini panic attack at leaving my home state) is the thought of a day trip to Savannah 40 minutes away.

I have been wanting to visit Savannah since Jason and I rented Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil years ago. I am fascinated by that true Southern city that isn't afraid to get its freak on. Throw to that mix my adoration for all things Paula Deen, and my wish to eat hoecakes in her restaurant, and I am actually looking forward to loading up the car. Mostly.

Hilton Head is "only" 10 1/2 hours away from us, so we're tackling the trip in one day. I am thinking compared to the drive to Orlanda last year (16 hours straight through on the way home!) this will seem like a piece of cake. But in the event of another Kentucky/Tennessee panic attack, I will be packing a 6-pack of cold ones to pop open when we switch drivers. Cokes, of course. To swallow the Xanax. (Just kidding! Mostly!)

So I will be taking a week off of the blog. But here's what I am going to do: I usually have the feature turned on where I have to approve all comments before they appear (since I do some blogging at work and use my work email to moderate, I have to make sure everything I post is somewhat appropriate.) But while I am gone, I am going to turn that feature off on this post and let y'all talk to each other.

Some things to discuss:

1. The X-Files movie: Awesomeness, or a huge disappointment waiting to happen?

2. Favorite ice cream flavor? And where in your town is THE place to go for ice cream? (Betcha it can't beat Cincinnati's own--Graeters.)

3. Which of the summer reality shows are actually worth watching? Can you help yourself from watching the one about Corey Haim and Corey Feldman?

4. What are you reading? (It wouldn't be a librarian's blog if we didn't talk books every so often.)

5. What was the best summer of your life, and why?


See you in a little over a week. I am guessing, us being, well, us, that interesting and weird things will happen and I will have some good stories when we get back. I will at the very least tell you if Paula Deen's food is as good as she makes it look on the show, and if my dream of seeing The Lady Chablis and hollering out, "Hey, Bitch!" gets realized.


Thursday, June 19, 2008

Out of the Mouth of My Mom: Cat vs.Spider Edition

Oh, my mother.

Long-time readers of this blog have heard some good stories about her and the nutball things she comes up with sometimes: Mexican cats that don't understand English, tires that are only flat on the bottom, and mice that only eat white bread. She came up with a new gem this week.

Once every two weeks, I have to change Scout's litterbox. The cat hasn't lived with me for a year and a half, but somehow I am still the designated litterbox changer.

In warm months, I clean the box outside. I was doing this on Monday afternoon beside Mom's back patio, using the garden hose. When the water hit a certain spot in the grass, a large-and-ugly-but-not-quite-ginormous grass spider rustled up and gave chase across the patio.

I, of course, screamed a little. Spiders ain't my thing.

Mom has never minded them, so she began doing the spider stomp dance to try to help me kill it. Within minutes, three more (oh, yes, three) grass spiders skittered out of the same basic area, each a little bigger than the first one we rustled. The thought that I disturbed a nest (do ground spiders in the wolf spider family nest?) gave me a sincerely bad case of the heebie jeebies and I started getting the shivers.

My mom was a trooper. I sprayed them, she stomped them, and we thought we got them all.

But then one we hadn't seen before (a fourth large spider! Dear God!) crawled out of a little crack in mom's patio concrete where it had been huddling for safety while its brethren were being annihilated. This one was fast; mom had to practically do the Cotton Eye Joe to stomp him before he could hide again.

When she stomped him, she looked down to make sure he was dead (he had played dead a few times by rolling into a ball and then running for it when he thought we had forgotten about him) and then made a face.

"He was full of blood," she said. (Which I guess means it was a she.)

I threw up into my mouth a little bit. When I looked over, even from a safe distance, sure enough: he had a surprisingly large, fresh, bright-red blood splatter. The CSI characters would be in awe.

"You know what that means, don't you?" Mom asked.

Gee, mom, no. I have no idea wherefrom arachnids get their nutrition. It's not like Charlotte's Web was annual viewing in our house or anything.

"Yeah, mom. It means it had just sucked something's blood."

Cue the shivers.

"Yeah," Mom said, "I wonder what it was eating. Probably a cat."

Probably a cat.

She was serious.

I had a horrifying image of an itty bitty kitty wrapped up in a big ol' wolf spider's web, mewing piteously, getting all of its blood sucked out.

But I know (and I assured mom) that spiders don't eat cats, that they're not ticks, hanging out and sucking blood and then dropping off. It would have had to have been an insect, or perhaps an earthworm, that had gotten stuck in the ground-dwelling spider's web. Or nest.


Monday, June 16, 2008

Raging Soap Box Alert

If you don't like it when I rant, go read a quieter, gentler blog today. I've got something to say.


On our 5 o'clock news today, there was a story about how some folks just north of us in Cincinnati are getting their various underwear in a bunch and protesting the relocation of a Planned Parenthood.

Mind you, this PP isn't new to the west side; it's just being relocated.

The beef for the residents is that the new location is very close to one area high school and closer to 3 others than it used to be.

Despite this Planned Parenthood's many public statements that the site does not perform abortions, the good folks of the community are picketing and protesting and getting their faces on TV by wearing pro-life shirts and carrying posters that say, "Abortion is Murder", and so on.

Did I mention that this site does NOT perform abortions, just basic gynecological services to women who do not have health insurance and/or have low incomes?

One guy that they interviewed said he was aware that the site didn't perform abortions, but that he was protesting because he doesn't believe in the message the center relays.

The message that on ounce of prevention equals about 8 pounds of cure 9 months later, or that all women should get examined by a doctor once a year to get screenings?

No, he says Planned Parenthood promotes premarital sex. which he as a father wants to discourage in his kids. He says that the location will make Planned Parenthood's services more readily accessible to the kids of Western Hills High School.

Heaven forbid! We wouldn't want already sexually active teenage girls being able to easily access free birth control and STD screenings!

And you know what, buddy? As far as your own daughters and premarital sex go, discourage away! I plan to do the same.

But here's the thing (and prepare to be shocked, sheltered west-siders): most people have sex before they're married.

I know, I know. Human sexuality is horrible, isn't it?

You can, and should, teach your kids to wait. Sex at too early an age and with the wrong type of guy or girl is neither physically or emotionally healthy. But you should also be realistic. Our kids aren't going to do everything we or their church says. They are going to explore their sexuality. They will fall in love or lust. And in this day and age when many young people aren't getting married until they're well into their 20s and 30s, is it realistic to believe that no premarital sex is the ultimate goal?

In a word, no.

Here's what really gets my goat: 90% of Planned Parenthood patrons are adults. Adults who can't afford to get the same services many of these upright women of the community get quietly in the privacy of their gynecologist's office.

So for this guy who thinks their "message" of premarital sex to our children is so evil...are you just an ignorant tool, or do you hate women?

As a responsible adult in a committed, monogamous relationship, I visited clinics like Planned Parenthood both as a single undergrad and a happily married graduate student. I was over 18 and struggling to pay for college. These clinics allowed me and many of my friends (a couple of whom were not even having sex) to get our yearly checkups and birth control pills for free. One of my friends wanted the pill not for contraception but to ease the pain from her periods. Some women do that, you know; seek the pill for medical rather than contraceptive purposes. The ease of these clinics did not encourage me to have sex (when I made that decision, I was over 18 and mature enough to deal with the potential consequences) but they made me a healthier woman by providing the annual exam and screenings all women should get. And they also gave me the tools and education I needed to not get pregnant until I was ready for a child.

If you think there is something wrong with that, with providing the means for fewer unplanned, unwanted pregnancies...then you need to get your head out of the effing sand and look around.

I work in education. I see children who were (and are) not wanted. Whose parents shouldn't be allowed to take care a of goldfish, let alone a human being.

I see teenage girls fighting an uphill battle to graduate from high school while being a mom at the tender age of 16.

It's not pretty.

I also know women who didn't have health insurance who put off their yearly pap smears for one year too many and died of cervical cancer.

The Planned Parenthood protesters talk about their values and their community's values and how PP doesn't represent these values.

If you don't value health and education...what kind of person are you?

I, for one, value the health of women and girls. I value this more than I value the close-minded belief that all women will practice abstinence until their patient and saintly Prince Charming puts a ring on their finger. Some women do wait; I think that's beautiful and noble.

It's also rarer than some people in my community like to think.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Farewell, Tim

When Jason came home from work and told me what he'd heard on the radio, I felt like we'd lost a member of the family.

Yesterday Tim Russert, he of Meet the Press and 2000-election-whiteboard fame, passed away suddenly from a heart attack.

My parents were never church-goers; their Sunday-morning ritual for years was to sip coffee while watching Meet the Press. Of course, that was pre-Russert. When I was a kid, I knew to go play by myself for that hour every week and to be seen and not heard. I was usually rewarded with a big country breakfast of biscuits and gravy and political conversation when it was over, which I liked even as a kid. Especially when my dad got fired up.

The last few years, on Sundays when I talk myself out of going to church and decide to be lazy instead, Jason and I adopt my parents' ritual. He makes coffee, I throw together something unhealthy for breakfast, and we tune in to Tim Russert. Just like my dad, I start my own lively political commentary during commercials, but unlike him, I leave out the expletives in front of little ears, so Ains is not quite as amused as I used to be.

With this unprecedented primary, I found myself (sorry, God) skipping church much more often just to hear what Tim had to say or who he was going to have on. As he politely but unrelentingly grilled various candidates and campaign leaders, I found myself forming a lot of the opinions I will and have exercised with my vote. People I previously respected showed themselves to be massive tools under his questioning, and people from the other side of the aisle I thought I would never agree with actually had me shaking my head in agreement. Tim Russert had a way of not letting people off the hook; under his fire, they either made intelligent arguments about the contradictions and media misfires, or they hanged themselves with the ample rope he gave. Either way, he looked like he was having a ball, and he was never cruel or opinionated himself, and that made it fun.

The first years of our marriage, Jason and I weren't terribly interested in politics. It was also a scary subject for me; Jason is not a registered member of the party of my own choosing (though I must say that I think I have brought him to to dark side.) But then came the 2000 election, and while I was struggling to make sense of the fact that when I had gone to bed that Tuesday night I thought Al Gore was our next President, only to have Jason wake me up a few hours later to say it was Bush, and then hear on the radio the next morning that it was kind of a tie involving hanging chads and recounts, I flipped through the 24-hour news channels to stumble across Tim Russert and his whiteboard and child-like glee. A $5 whiteboard made more sense to us than the fancy graphics and maps of blue and red. From then on, I chose MSNBC and Tim Russert anytime something interesting happened in the world of politics that I needed to know more about.

And now he's gone.
I didn't know him personally, but we welcomed him into our homes every Sunday morning (and many a Tuesday night during this primary season.) There's a hole there that will never be filled. He was a special man. Class, intelligence, sincerity, humor, a thirst for truth, and genuine enthusiasm: who else in broadcast journalism matches up?
My condolences go out to his family and his wide circle of friends.
If tomorrow morning is going to be hard for us, as strangers who merely watched his show, I can't imagine what the coming years will be like for his friends, family, and colleagues.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Just Say No To Retro


That was the scream I made when I rounded the corner at the entrance of our Target the other day and saw, in the $1, bins...


Loads of Jellies. In flourescent colors! Those little plastic shoes looked the same they did the last time they stunk up my feet back in 1985.

Oh, please, God, tell me they're not coming back.

Last spring I wrote about the pegged-leg jeans I saw in the J. Crew catalog. Guess what? They're still there, and they frighten me. I knew that 80s fashion was coming back, but does it have to come back so unchanged from 20+ years ago? Didn't we all ditch that crap in the 90s because shoulder pads, high waistlines, smelly Jellies, and unfortunate perms did us NO favors?

When several of the gals on American Idol graced the stage in skinny Mom Jeans with waistbands right under their nipples, I knew we were in trouble. But then the Jelly shoes, and I see now we're on a highway to hell.

Now, I hear a lot about Crocs being the Jelly of the 2000s. They are both arguably ugly shoes with fad followings. But here's the difference, kids: Crocs are actually comfortable. Comfy shoes can be ugly as sin and still be redeeming. Add to that that they are great for wearing in sand and mud and germy hospitals because you can spray them off, or disinfect them with a mild bleach solution, and they're none the worse for wear. What did our Jellies have going for them, really? They made your feet sweat, and the cheap ones were so hard that they left permanent indentions in your feet that bore a triking resemblance to a chain link fence. You couldn't break those things in; you just band-aided your blisters and kept going. Because they were cool, and everybody wore them. Why, I have no idea.

The very day after I was shocked by the return of the shoes, I saw these glasses in the J. Crew catalog. (That link takes you to a picture of the model wearing them, but J. Crew also lists those frames in their catalog and online and actually sells them and seems to be proud of them.)

We just never learn, do we?

Those big, clear frames bear a striking rememblance to my first prescription glasses, bought in 1986. Mine did have a tiny bit of blue tint in them, but that just made them cooler. Or so I though. But here's the thing with huge, clear plastic frames: if you put lenses in them for even the mildest nearsightedness, they shrink your face and make it look like your eyes are being transmitted from another dimension. I thought we all learned our lesson: no to large frames, yes to small. I saw an entire Oprah show once where they grabbed people on the street and put them into more flattering glasses by getting rid of the big and bringing in the small.

Tacky is making a comeback. Good taste is going out the window.

When I was in high school, there was this one teacher (let's call her Mrs. B) who wore the same polyester shirts and pants in 1990 that we spied her wearing in the 1970 yearbook. I used to feel bad for her, as I sat in her class in my bi-color layered mock turtleneck with shoulderpads, my acid washed jeans, Eastlands, and carefully teased bangs. She just wasn't with it. Why couldn't she dress cooler? Our Spanish teacher wore what we wore, so why couldn't Mrs. B?

Now I think Mrs. B had the right idea.

She always looked tasteful, and despite the polyester, downright elegant. Those simple shirts and pants could weather every ugly trend.

I may have loved these retreads I'm seeing in stores in the 80s, but I am not wearing them now.

You would not catch me dead in a pair of Jelly shoes.

Now, hand me my Crocs. I'm going shopping.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

My Never-Ending Quest For Perfection

Did I mention that I'm a perfectionist?

It's an illness, really. It doesn't do me or anyone around me any favors. Though it does mean that more often than not the throws in my living room are centered neatly and precisely over the couch cushions (and I spend way too much time going behind my family and re-straightening them this way).

I am outgrowing it some as I get older. And as I realize that we live in an increasingly imperfect world. Lately, my quest has been not so much for perfection, but simply...competence. And I am finding that even that is much harder to attain than it should be.

I used to say that my family was simply unlucky when it comes to things like home repairs, cars, any major purchase, really. No one ever does anything right for us the first time. We (I; Jason is an eternal optimist) just prepare for that now. But I hear of the same crap happening to everybody; as it says in a song I heard in the Mary Poppins parody The Simpsons did, a half-ass job is the American way.

Here are some examples:

1. The saga of the garbage disposal. Our old one died (loudly at first; then, it just ceased to work, bless its heart) so we bought a new one and arranged for a contractor that works through the local big-box hardware store to install it. I knew the minute the guy started that we were going to have trouble; the genius shocked himself multiple times before he "remembered" to ask how to turn off the breaker. A job that was supposed to take 30 minutes turned into an hour, and he packed up and left. Two weeks later I opened the door under the sink to see a small lake had formed under the disposal, drowning my Mr. Clean Magic Erasers. Those damn things ain't cheap. The disposal also had a noticeable lean to it. I was pretty sure they are supposed to hang, you know, straight. A little investigative work revealed that the disposal was leaking in two places. The same guy came back out, scratched his head, and said the problem had to be with the disposal itself. So a new contractor had to bring an all new disposal out and install (for free; everything was still under warranty). He was talking to Jason and said, "Not to talk bad about our other installer, but I am pretty sure part of the problem was that the disposal wasn't straight and one of the pipes was left too long." Yee-haw.

2. Cars. the Impala Jason drives has been in the shop for the same problem twice in the past 2 years. And guess what? It's still not fixed! It's driveable for now, and we know that if we take it back it will have to go in to the shop at least two more times, because that's how EVERY SINGLE REPAIR ON THAT CAR HAS BEEN! It takes two, baby. They never find the right problem on the first try.

3. Eyewear. If my glasses aren't straight, it makes me nuts. And I must have a very crooked face, because opticians can never seem to get them straight. Other people's crooked glasses drive me up a wall, too, and I see it enough to know it can't just be me who picks up crooked glasses. When I pick up a new pair, I have to take them in for re-adjusting at least twice the first week. Inevitably, one technician will say, "They look fine to me," and I will drive home, endangering myself and others by checking the alignment in the rearview every 2.3 seconds, and I will realize only after I'm home that the left side is lower than the right. When Jason notices, I know it's bad. So back I'll go, feeling like a prissy, picky mess as I ask yet again for an adjustment. Occasionally I get validation; when I went back a third time with the glasses I am wearing right now, the lady said, "We let you walk out of the store like THAT?", and seemed like as much of a perfectionist as I am as she took 15 minutes to make tiny adjustments to make them look even to her even after they looked even to me.

Ainsley picked up her glasses Saturday, and all day I kept asking her to look at me, as I noticed that one side maybe was lower than the other (so hard to tell because one side magnifies her eye and the other has no power at all), one nose piece didn't fit flush against the side of the nose, they maybe weren't tight enough, etc., until Jason told me I was making both he and Ainsley insane. I grumbled about the pretty young thing who had given Ainsley her glasses and made a few adjustments, wondering how she could live with not doing such a great job making sure people's glasses fit. Jason, always the voice of reason, told me that good enough is good enough for most people, and that not everybody picks things apart and sees the tiny flaws and imperfections in everything.

I had an Oprah-esque "Ah-ha!" moment. They were good enough. They were comfortable, straight enough, and she claimed to see fine. I put my perfectionism on hold and saw that sometimes people do right by us and get things right the first time.

But then as I was cleaning them for her Monday morning, after she had been wearing them for less than two whole days, I saw something that looked like a hair stuck to the lens, but ended up being a deep crack in her supposedly uncrackable kid-proof polycarbonate lenses. Seeing as how she had done nothing more active in her glasses than standing in our neighbor's yard chatting with the neighborhood kids, Hank-Hill style, I got fired up. Incompetence strikes again!

So back we went, and it turns out there were some flaws in the lens, so they are remaking it and sending just the lens to be put it later by the provider (and Cranky, perfectionist pessimist that I am, am certain they'll do a crappy job and the lens will come popping out within days.)

The perfect day for me would be a day that the people who have to do things for me do a good job and strive as much for perfection as I do. But I would settle for a good-enough day, a day when people merely strive for competence and doing things right the first time.

Such a day apparently is too much to ask.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Health Update

Because I blogged about getting embarrassed at a cancer checkup this week by an unlocked bathroom door, a few of you have asked how everything went. No worries. Everything's cool.

Monday's checkup was technically my five-year-anniversary checkup. In July, I will officially be cancer-free for five years, which is a tremendous milestone. Not to say it couldn't come back after that because Hodgkin's sometimes lingers unseen up to ten years, but my chances for recurrence drop pretty dramatically at five years. So I guess I thought this appointment would be a big deal, with pats on the back, fireworks, balloons, maybe a cake. Not so much.

The radiation oncologist did all the usual checks of my lymph nodes, my liver, my spleen, my breathing. She said I would not need a CT scan this appointment and that I would only be getting one a year now--hoorah! But then she reached for her notes and started listing all the things I would need to get checked for starting at five years. From this point on, we don't worry so much about the Hodgkin's itself. Now we start to worry about all the bad things 16 weeks of chemo and 3 weeks of radiation can do to your body.

Now we start checking every year for the secondary cancers-- breast, lung, skin, and thyroid, primarily-- that I am more prone to because I had radiation to my lower neck and chest. Beginning next year we also start worrying about my heart. The adriamycin in my chemo cocktail can damage the heart muscle and cause congestive heart failure, and the radiation to the area around my heart can cause coronary artery disease. There are some scary statistics out there about people who beat Hodgkin's as young adults but die from complications of heart disease 20 years out.

So next week I have my annual mammogram with an extra screening in the form of a breast MRI because having chest radiation before age 30 puts me in the highest risk category for breast cancer (along with women who have tested positive for the BRCA gene and have a strong family history.) I am not looking forward to the breast MRI; I had a baseline one done last year, and it was so horrifying I blogged about it a few days later after I had mentally recovered. To recap, they put you face down inside the MRI tube with your girls dropped through two holes cut into the supporting table. Unlike a standard MRI, you can't look up to see the outside room through a mirror; your face is two inches away from the wall of the thing and you have to stay still for 40 minutes. For someone who is claustrophobic like me, it was one of the worst experiences of my life. Five more minutes and I would have clawed my way out. I asked for a happy pill to take before it this time, so hopefully I will be pleasantly sedated throughout.

Next year I will probably have to add a battery of yearly heart workups to the mix.

And I still have to get checked out twice a year: once by the medical oncologist, once by the radiation oncologist.

Not much has changed in my post-treatment care.

And yet everything has. I still have to worry, just about a different set of problems. I can honestly say that I am breathing easier today than I did last week. And once my mammogram and MRI come back (hopefully) clear, I will be even more relieved.

I may not have gotten that big pat on the back from the doctor, and I certainly didn't get those balloons or fireworks or applause, but I think I have gotten a little more peace of mind.

Come July, I will give myself my own balloons, damnit.


It's official: Ainsley only has one good eye.

At her eye doctor visit Tuesday (during which a very scary storm passed over and tornado sirens sounded; just one of many times this week northern Kentucky has seen a storm with ominous rotation) we learned that she is quite farsighted in her left eye but has almost perfect vision in her right. Because her brain has been coping with the bad eye by turning it off, it has gotten weak and she currently has no depth perception or stereoscopic vision. Which would explain a lot in the way of her coordination and her talent for falling down.

The good news is that it was caught early enough to be treated. We have some spiffy glasses on order (for now only the left lens has power; her right is close enough to 20/20 that the doc decided to not add a prescription to that one just yet) that will look really cool on her except that they may make the left eye a little larger-looking than the right. In a month we go back to see how she has adjusted to the glasses, and we will probably start patching the good eye at that point: two hours a day, for three to six months. While patched, she will need to do things that will exercise the weak eye; reading, coloring, computer games, video games. Yes, my daughter will actually be "prescribed" video games for two hours a day. Who would've thunk it? Thank goodness for the Wii. Apparently the one thing video games are good for is working your eyes and helping your visual acuity.

The scary part of the news is that even with the new glasses and the improvement we'll see with patching, her left eye may only improve to 20/40 corrected vision. Right now, even with the prescription they have determined gives her the best vision, she's only at 20/60. It's possible that she could get to 20/30, but it's very rare for kids with amblyopia to get perfect vision in the weak eye even with their glasses or contacts. She will always be right-eye dominant. But at 20/40, her eyes will be able to work together as a team and she will get back her depth perception.

She of course is excited about glasses. She wanted to leave with them Tuesday and was very disappointed that the little pinkish-silver titanium frames weren't hers to keep. I hope that lasts, but I know from my own experience that the charm of having new glasses when you're a kid only lasts so long. We were told that, especially if they continue to decide she doesn't need a prescription lens for the right eye, contacts would be an option for her as early as 8. I personally can't see a child that young wearing contacts (I struggled with getting them in my eye when I was 13), but they sometimes prescribe them at that age if the kid has just one eye that needs refraction. We shall see how that goes...

It's not great news, but I know it could have been much worse.

So if you happen to see us this summer, make a big fuss over Ainsley and her new glasses (and the patch, too, if you happen to catch us at patch time.)

Tuesday, June 3, 2008


If you have a weak stomach when it comes to bodily emissions, stop reading.

Anybody left?

I have to work extended days this week, during which time I wrap up all the odds and ends from the school year and clean and file and order and do all the things I can't do when people are coming in the door every 2 minutes (and start the day with an iced coffee, sausage muffin, and blogging.) But that's it. When records day ended for me at noon yesterday, I went home and decided that Ainsley and I were going to celebrate by visiting our family recreation center to workout and then swim for hours in the indoor pool, which is something we don't have much time to do on a weekday when school is in session.

It was going great. We had been swimming for just under an hour and were approaching the adult-only swim time they do for 10 minutes at the top of every hour. Ainsley was completely cool with it, and I was looking forward to doing a few solo laps, taking Ains to the bathroom, and then resuming our celebratory afternoon of fun under the fluourescnt light bulbs. All was right with the world.

But then I saw a piece of corn float by.

I was puzzled. No, that couldn't be a kernel of corn. How would corn get in the pool? But then I saw another piece. The only way corn could get in would be....

Oh, crap.


Another mom with her kids came to the realization the same time I did and we herded our kids out. As I helped Ainsley lift herself out, I saw a large brown blob on the bottom of the pool. It didn't look like a floating Baby Ruth bar the way they portray it in movies; it was a disgusting brown mass that mostly stayed on the bottom (with the less dense parts, like the corn, beginning to float to the top in an interesting but horrifying display of life science in action.) But as people realized what was going on and exited from the pool as though Jaws had been spotted, it was getting stirred up and I really felt sorry for the lifeguards and aquatic crew who were beginning to assemble with skimmers.

I told you not to read if you have a weak stomach.

I don't know if I have ever felt dirtier in my whole life. As I wrapped Ainsley up in her towel (which I am now either going to have to bleach beyond recognition or burn) I told her we were going to have to shower there at the gym. And then shower again when we got home. She did not complain.

Three showers later, I have mostly put it behind me. Mostly.

Looking around at the people that made their hasty exits from the pool, it was not obvious who the culprit was. It seems like it had just happened when Ainsley and I saw the floating nastiness. And Ainsley was one of the youngest swimmers yesterday afternoon; it was mostly school-age kids, with only one or two toddlers in swim diapers. I am no expert, but judging by the sheer mass I would say this was no toddler accident. I am not even sure that it's entirely accurate to say it was an accident.

Here's where I don't understand this situation, and where I get angry.

The pool mandates breaks for children every hour; we as adults and parents are supposed to take our kids to the bathroom at this time. Not that kids need to go every hour, but a young kid probably isn't going to take a bathroom break from a pool until the situation becomes urgent. They're afraid they're going to miss something. The adult-swim rule came about after several incidents of accidents in the pool last year. Yes, this isn't new for that facility; it's just new for us. We weren't witnesses the past times, we just saw signs indicating that the pool was closed for biological cleanup. The pool was also closed for two different time periods last summer and fall for shighella outbreaks. Shighella is a nasty intestinal bacteria that can't be completely killed by chlorine. On two different occasions, someone who had recently been swimming in our pool reported a case of shighella to the health department, and the pool water tested positive. Now, here's the thing: shighella is only transmitted through poo. So for the bacteria to have been in the pool, someone must have had at least a small diarrhea accident in the water. And this bug makes you really, really sick. It's not like you (or your parents) wouldn't have known you were sick already before the accident.

I don't get it.

There was very little adult supervision in that pool yesterday. I had been curious about that before I even spotted the crap. There were maybe 4 adults to be seen, and 20-30 kids. Now I know we live in a predominantly Catholic area, but I really don't think each of us had 5-6 kids with us. I think some parents dropped their kids off to let them swim without adult supervision.

There's something very frustrating about that.

I do my job as a parent. I watch Ainsley like a hawk at the pool. I make sure she doesn't swim sick (I can't even imagine letting her swim post stomach virus) and I make sure she goes to the bathroom regularly. In fact, one of our rules is that if she doesn't go potty right before we get in the pool, we go home. The amazing thing is that during those adult-swim times 99.9% of the kids just hover around the pool; I've seen kids be in there for hours and never take a potty break. You can't tell me the urge to pee doesn't come at some point for these kids.

I don't think the poo we saw leaked out of a swim diaper. Though still gross, that would be a little more excusable. What I think happened is that a school-age kid had needed to go for some time, but with no adult (or a lazy adult) present, and no supervision, the kid held it until it couldn't be held anymore. And then either a conscious decision was made to go ahead and dump in the pool, or nature decided for the child.

Either way, it's just not right.

I might not be so angry if this hadn't happened before. I might not be so angry if there had been some statement of responsibility or apology by the guilty party. But there was none.

It will be really hard to go back into that water having actually seen the startling mess. Judging by the past times I have heard of this happening, they will drain the pool, scrub it down, and then shock the water they put in. The pool will be out of service for at least a few days. But I will swim in fear now. And anger at parents and kids who know better but don't seem to care.

And not eat corn again for a really, really long time.

Monday, June 2, 2008

A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Cancer Checkup...

You know, I was really feeling that my twice-yearly cancer checkups had gotten boring. They needed a little spice. A little pizazz. Because five years in, I just don't find them as anxiety-inducing as I used to.

So today I "decided" to not hit the little door lock button on the bathroom door located right out in the lobby of the cancer center and in plain view of anyone coming through the door just to see what would happen. And of course someone walked in on me while I was on the toilet! Ha ha! Boy, must she feel embarrassed. But at least I made her trip to the radiation oncologist, and mine, and everyone's in the waiting area, more memorable.

(We're all getting the sarcasm, right? I need not explain that this wasn't really a master plan but instead a pretty massively dumb and humiliating oversight on my part, right? Good. Carry on. Eventually my blush will fade.)

Caught Reading

She tried to trick us. She thought we wouldn't find out. But she is not as sneaky as we are. Did she honestly think she could get away with it, that we wouldn't notice, that we wouldn't eventually catch her in the act?

Ainsley has been sneaking out of bed at night.... read "just one more chapter" of her Junie B. Jones books.

Our ritual during most of her kindergarten year has been for Jason to read her a chapter from a Junie B. Jones book each night before lights-out. Her kindergarten teacher introduced these little gems to the kids and Ainsley has fallen in love with them (for the unitiated, Junie is a kindergartner who stars in a very popular series of beginning-reader chapter books that have become the first chapter books most kids read on their own, and also favorite read-alouds for the primary set.) She almost always asks for one more chapter, but we stick to the routine so our little morning grouch can get enough sleep to act like something besides a cave creature when her alarm goes off. Ainsley has become a pretty good little reader this school year, but when Jason has asked her to read a chapter to him she always balks. She prefers her daddy's read-alouds. Or so she had us believe.

Thursday night, the night before her last day of school, we rushed more than usual to get her to bed. She had her class picnic the next day, and things were hectic as I tried to ready her cooler full of treats, pack her school bag with play clothes for after her "graduation" mass, and get my own act together for my own last day with students. Her dad read one chapter, we both kissed her goodnight, and I turned out the light.

Thirty seconds later, it occurred to me that I forgot to dry her hair. If you read my post about what that kid looks like in the morning even with careful night-time grooming, you know why going to bed with damp hair is not such a good idea.

I opened her door and in the dusky evening light saw right away that she wasn't in her bed. My mouth dropped open...what the hell? Where could she have gone?

Then I spotted her.

She was crouched so low beside the little bookcase in her room that I hadn't seen her. She had her latest Junie B. read-aloud in her hand, and a look on her face that said, "I am sooooo busted."

"What are you doing out of bed?"

"I was going to read just one more chapter."

"Do you do this a lot? Get out of bed to read after mommy and daddy turn out the light?"

Her mouth said, "No," but her guilty look said, "Just a few other times when daddy finishes a chapter with a cliff-hanger."

And then I was torn. She's not supposed to get out of bed and roam after lights-out, and I haven't caught her doing that since kindergarten started (the school day wears her out so much that usually, if I have to go into her room for something mere minutes after bedtime, she's already out cold.) But can I really punish a kid who is sneaking out of bed to read? Isn't that every parent's dream, really? (Well, maybe just every librarian parent's dream.)

I dried her hair, and told her that someday she would be reading all to herself and that when she's a little older it will be perfectly okay for her to read herself to sleep, but that for now she really needed to stay in bed and let her body and brain get some rest so that she's not so tired in the mornings. And then I reminded her that this was the last night she had to go to bed early for a loooong time and that there would be a lot of Junie B. Jones books this summer and that daddy could read more than one chapter sometimes.

She seemed to get it. And now that we know she can read and wants to read these books independently, she and Jason take turns during read-aloud time now, with them reading alternate pages to each other. Not surprisingly, she does really well and almost seems to have parts of the books memorized.

Since our discovery, I've smiled a little each night as I've left her room. I can't help but wonder if she is snatching books and running back to bed to snuggle under the covers and read before the last of the summer twilight glow fades from her window. If she does, that's one more trait that found its way into her DNA from my own covert reader genes. I myself am guilty of the "just one more chapter" pitfall; there have been a lot of mornings in my life that I have spent recovering from a book hangover.

And just think: she still has Harry Potter to look forward to.

Let the sleepless nights begin!