Tuesday, September 30, 2008

A 50,000 Mile Tuneup

Sometimes I wish we were more like cars. Because I desperately need a tuneup.

If I were a car, I would say I've hit 50,000 miles. The warranty's expired and I am halfway through my projected usable lifespan. Things are starting to get a little worn, a little rattly, a little rusty.

I'm lucky that I am pretty healthy. The only chronic health problems I have are minor and since they are cancer-treatment related, they are checked on twice a year by knowledgeable doctors who know me very well. But as I get older, other small things, the little aches and pains, are starting to pile up. By themselves, these small complaints are nothing; most can be driven away with a couple of Advil or a good night's sleep. When they all flare up at the same time, though, it makes life miserable and it's harder to justify putting off a visit to the doctor. Though I do try.

This week I've had some things pile up in just a big enough heap to turn on my "check engine" light. Among them is a return of the vertigo that plagued me for over two weeks this spring and which seems to be the result of inner-ear wackness; another is a tooth I've neglected for years and which now throbs after contact with any food or drink not at exactly room temperature. I have been scheduled for a root canal. I was actually ashamed to go to my dentist for this yesterday; when it's been 15 months since your last checkup, you pretty much feel like you have it coming and deserve a little scorn and "I told you this would happen if you didn't get that followed up."

I am so diligent about the health of my child; if Ains so much as coughs or gets a little warm after a day outside, I am all over it with thermometers and calls to the doctor. I am so much more "wait and see and then wait some more" with myself. Mostly this serves me well and these little minor irritations work themselves out; sometimes, like with my tooth, the mole hill darn near becomes a mountain before I feel I can take the time off work or time away from Ains to ask my doctor to fix me. With my medical history, I really and truly should know better. You all know what it's like, though; until a body part falls off, or a minor ache turns into the pain of the rack and forces you to take immediate action, it's all too easy to find more important things to do than to do routine maintenance on your own body. Truly, we take better care of our cars.

A couple of weeks ago my church had a holistic health fair for the women of the parish. For $15, we were treated to a light lunch and blood pressure screenings, cholesterol screenings, 10-minute chair massages, healing touch therapy, mini-facials and manicures, and information sessions about accupuncture, hypnotherapy, chiropractic medicine, and something called craniosacral therapy which boggled my mind with its new age-ness. Prior to that day, I had been having some muscle spasms in my neck, and some joint stiffness, and fatigue, and a general case of the blahs. But by the time the day was over, after having been massaged, touched by healing hands, having a chiropracter hold a heated magical massage pad over my lower back, been told that my blood pressure and cholesterol levels were good, and even volunteered to have a couple of accupuncture needles inserted to show the others at the demonstration that it didn't hurt (and it really didn't; I just felt a little full-body warmth after being pin-cushioned) I really did feel better. Some of those little aches and pains went away for a while. I was both more energetic and more relaxed at the same time. I slept like the proverbial baby that night. Whether alternative medicine works for the reasons the practitioners say it does (energy fields, meridians, and so on) I really don't know. Maybe it's just that little bit of time for ourselves, time for our minds to focus on our own bodies for a change, that heals our pain.

Whatever it is, I am willing to give some of this a try. Except that, like trips to the doctor, it requires time. And that's something I just don't have a lot of.

But if going to an accupuncturist, or a massage therapist, or a craniosacral whateverist, on a semi-regular basis would be the equivalent of an automotive 10-point safety inspection and oil change...well, that might make it worth it.

Have you ever tried "alternative" medicine? Would you ever consider getting turned into a human pincushion if it would make some of these holy-crap-I'm-in-my-mid-30s aches and pains go away?

The Only Good Spider is a Dead Spider

I am happy to report that the creature is dead. Jason is a most excellent spider slayer; when we ventured down to the laundry room together after work, spidey wasn't where I had last seen him. Spiders seldom stay put. Knowing that I may never have washed socks again if Shelob was still down there, Jason rustled around the area where the thing was last seen and sure enough he got it to come out.

"I don't think that was as big as the bathtub spider," he said after smacking, squishing, and flushing my nemesis. "Though he was awfully furry."

Sure you don't think it was that big. 'Cause it was all curled up in wolf-spider defense mode when you saw it. Don't belitte my fear, dude. The thing was enormous.

I had really been hoping he would get more freaked out and confirm my fear and loathing. You know the Sylvester and Tweety cartoon where Tweety somehow gets a hold of a potion that makes him blow up into a huge yellow monster, and Sylvester and his son are trying to get him, but every time Sylvester goes into the room alone he sees Monster Tweety and just walks back to his son, stuttering and gray and scared to death? That's kinda what I was hoping Jason would do. But alas, he is outwardly calm from years of pest control.

Which brings me to a question, you manly men who read the blog and kill the spiders in your own homes: Are you as afraid as we are and just try to act brave to fulfill your role as testosterone-y superheroes saving your damsels in distress? Or are your wives just a bunch of freaks?

Tell us the truth. We won't judge so long as you keep smushing.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Those Amazing Arachnids

Dear Jason,

I am writing to you to inform you that laundry operations in our home have ceased until further notice.

Should you wish for me, your loving wife, to resume washing our unmentionables, you need to don your Spider Killer weapons and search and destroy the ginormous creature (bordering on carcass!) that was stalking me this morning in the laundry room.

This thing, kid you not, far surpasses in size any of the individual specimens in the herd of spiders I rustled up in mom's yard that one day, and even dwarfs the infamous bathtub spider of 2007 which completely gave us the shivers some months ago. If the bathtub spider was, say, comparable to a Buick LeSabre, which is to say, large enough for all practical purposes, than the one in the laundry room is a Hummer. And not one of those wimpy H3s; this sucker is the real deal.

After you left to go work out this morning, I went to the laundry room to put a load in. I had this weird feeling while I was down there; I felt like I was being watched. I turned at one point, thinking maybe I would see Michael Meyers, but instead saw something even more horrifying: the largest spider I've ever seen inside but not in zoo just hanging out on a beam above my head.

It being a wolf spider, a ground dweller based on the research I have done (know thy enemies!), I have a feeling it is not long for its lofty perch and will venture downward where it will lurk behind or in a clothes basket and scurry across my foot the next time I do down there, which will surely cause my heart to stop.

So, if you love me, if those vows you took 11 years ago to honor and obey mean anything to you, you will smoke this spider out of its hole and kill it for me. It was out of reach of any weapon this morning, plus you and I both know I cannot kill a spider that big; the best I can do is scream like a little girl and curl up in a fetal position a safe distance away. If you can't find it when you come home today...make some calls. Call Orkin, call Terminex, call Colin Powell if you have to. But I am not going in that room until you have found this thing dead or alive. Preferably very, very dead.

And don't just think of me...think of the horrifying fact that we have clothes down there, clothes which a spider might find cozy.

And finally, think of containment. Do you really want to leave this thing down there where it could eventually wander out into the habitable areas of our home?

So, Jason, please be my Marlboro Man, my Bubba, my knight in shining armor, and slay this beast, or at the very least lasso it up and ride it off into the sunset.

In the meantime, I will be sleeping with a can of Raid.



Like cryptonite to Superman, like Newman to Jerry...this is what spiders are to me.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

The Great Debate

I do so love drinking games.

Now, now, don't go worrying about my liver or calling CompCare. I don't love them as a means of getting drunk (that's what this is for) but rather as an exercise in parody and wit. Making fun of things, if you will.

This has been going on since college. I can pinpoint my love of making "Drink when..." rules to the Army of Darkness game where we came up with the grand idea of taking a drink every time Bruce Campbell over-acted. This being a very subjective thing, someone called out, "Drink!" every 10 seconds and even though we were just drinking beer, we had to stop the movie halfway through to walk to Super America to buy Little Debbie Fudge Rounds to sober up a little and make it through the rest of the evening's activities.

Since then I've moved on to modifying the Rachel Ray drinking game (drink every time she says "yum-o," "delish," "EVOO," "I don't bake," "garbage bowl", or any of the other things she does that make you crazy) and wishing I had both the wit and the sports knowledge to update the UK basketball drinking game DD sent me a few years ago around tournament time when it was painfully obvious UK was on a downhill spiral (among the rules of that one that are still relevant: drink every time someone mentions Duke even though UK's not playing them; if Billy Packer is calling the game, just shotgun during the whole game so as to lessen the pain.)

Which bring me to tomorrow night.

Unless one of the guys doesn't, you know, show up, there's supposed to be a presidential debate tomorrow evening. Even though you know at this point which of the two candidates I favor, I am not so close-minded as to believe that he's perfect and off-limits in the poking fun department. So I am coming up with some bipartisan rules for a 2008 debate drinking game. Feel free to add your own.

Drink every time....

McCain starts an answer with, "My friends..." or Obama starts an answer with, "Look...":

McCain says "inexperience" or Obama says, "more of the same" or "Washington establishment."

Obama says, "Change" (with a capital C) or McCain says, "maverick."

Obama says, "Community organizer" or McCain says, "POW."

Either candidate says, "um..." or "uh..."

And then be on the lookout for tics. Everybody's got one; Bush blinked more than normal humans do, and Gore sighed and rolled his eyes. The first time you notice an interesting nervous habit from one of the candidates, shout it out and add it to your party's list.

Finally, if anyone, and I do mean ANYONE, says "lipstick on a pig," in any context, even if it's a moderator's question, even if Miss Piggy makes a cameo, then we are truly on a road to chaos and you should just walk yourself to the kitchen, get yourself a fresh drink, and chug it until you are able to pass out comfortably in your bed.

That's the beauty of the great American drinking game; it's a living, breathing, adaptable thing. Much like our constitution! See, it's perfect for a debate.

Chime in below with any new suggestions...

Drama Queen

Ainsley is now a proud member of her school's drama club.

I was a little surprised that they opened it up to 1st graders, and more surprised when the kid wanted to join. The day we got the signup in her folder, she said she wanted to think about it. When I told her that being in drama club meant participating in the little productions her school does and actually, you know, talking to people, she made the decision to not do it. Then came the day of the first meeting, which happened to be a day there was no bus service due to the big blackout so I had to pick her up after school.

"Mommy, the drama club meeting is in room 3 instead of the cafeteria," she said.

"Oh, that's nice." I was trying to navigate through the line of cars from other parents picking up their kids.

"No, it's not nice! I want to be in there! I want to do drama!"

"But you told me the other day you didn't...remember, you have to get up in front of people and talk and sing and dance?"

She rolled her eyes. "I know! I want to do it now! Can I can I please please please?"

So I turned around in the faculty lot, dropped her right back off, and wondered how this kid, who will talk your ear off if she knows you and hams it up in front of family but who will not even make eye contact with the Wal-Mart greeter and who hides behind me whenever a teacher here at my school asks her a question, would want to do drama.

As the child of two former high school musical supporting players (not High School Musical with caps, mind you) I figured she might have it in her do drama eventually, but I didn't want to push it since right now she seems much shyer than Jason and I ever were. Oh, sure, she'll go around the house trying to sing like Sharpay and has a "Look at me!" attitude around our closest friends, but when she had to sing and dance a number with her fellow kindergartners in a school-wide show last year, she was petrified and did little but stand on the risers with her hand in her mouth.

But the burgeoning drama queen is already suffering some of the side effects of rehearsing for a show. Last night after her bath she started humming a little tune that I didn't recognize from Hannah Montana or High School Musical, which is unusual.

"Ahhhh!" she suddenly sighed, exasperated. "I've had drama club songs stuck in my head and I don't know why! How do I get songs out of my head?"

Oh, Ains, if I knew the answer to that I wouldn't have had the Charles in Charge theme song running through my head for the better part of a month after a friend made that a ring tone on her cell phone.

She must be having a good time, songs stuck in her noggin notwithstanding, because this morning while we were waiting for her bus to get to my school I spied her sitting on the end of a library table, legs crossed elegantly, old and broken microphone in hand, looking like a piano-lounge chanteuse perched on the edge of a baby grand.

She was singing something or other rather loudly until she realized my assistant and I had formed an amused audience back by the office. She then put her hand in her mouth and retreated behind a book shelf for her encore.

Let's hope that's not going to be her M.O. at the fall musical.

As parents, we want our kids to do the same things we did in school and to share our interests. I think we kinda want our kids to live out our dreams. It would be easy for me to push Ains into music and drama and want her to excel there and to go further with it than I did; I didn't have the guts or talent to move to L.A. or New York to pursue it (though one of my mom's well-meaning friends has always told me I would have made a great "soap opera actress"--gee, thanks, I think.) I would be thrilled if this were her dream, but I know I can't push my dreams on her. I love that some little part of her is loving the drama club, but if she wanders off stage with a red face in the middle of a number during a show, well, I'll be okay with that too. If she's happy, I'm happy.

And besides, I don't quite have it in me to be a stage mom.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

The Most Shocking News I've Heard In At Least Two Hours

Prepare to be shocked! You totally didn't see this coming, or predict it.

I heard it on the radio this morning and almost lost control of the car because it was just sooooo unexpected. Clay Aiken has officially come out of the closet!

Here's my shocked face....and, scene.

I'm not why sure this was the top headline today, or why we care, or how anybody with half a brain or one-tenth of an ounce of gaydar could possibly be surprised by this, but there you go.

I remember when I was young and was just learning about the birds and the bees and the fact that some boy bees prefer the company of other boy bees and seeing news stories about the first two Hollywood personalities I first heard talked about as gay in the dawn of AIDS awarenes: Rock Hudson and Liberace. The former surprised me; the latter did not. I liken Clay Aiken's coming out much more on the scale of Liberace.

I am not sure why we all care, or why I even felt compelled to write about it today when there are much larger, more important issues to fret over (the current state of affairs on Wall Street; human rights violations in China; why Heroes just can't seem to get back the joy of its first season). I can't help but find celebrity lives and their dramas interesting, even at times like this when the shocking personal revelation isn't really all that shocking (I had a similar reaction of not-surprise when Brit-Brit drove away with her kid on her lap. She's just from a long line of po' white trash just like me, y'all.) Especially for good old Clay, who my husband calls "The Middle-Aged Housewife" for his striking resemblance to...well, a middle-aged housewife. Though I prefer to call him "Young Barry Manilow."

Are you one of those people who reads People, watches Entertainment Tonight, or goes online to read celebrity "news" and gossip? Have you ever been shocked by a celebrity revelation? Or are you normal and worry about real issues? And why does an entertainer's sexual orientation make news?

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The Mothman Cometh

Do you have plans for the third weekend in September next year? No? Well, you do now! Meet me at the Mothman Festival in Point Pleasant, West Virginia. Leave your skeptic's hat at home, but bring your sense of humor and that part of you that's more Fox Mulder and less Dana Scully.

We did not make it to the Mothman Festival this year, but we have friends who happened to be passing through that corner of the world on the way back to Cincy from a concert and who just missed the festival themselves. These are our friends who have this way of finding things for us we didn't even know we were looking for until they pop in the door bearing unusual and fun gifts.

Saturday night I squealed with delight when they unveiled some treasures found on their latest mini-vacation.

"These were just screaming your name," they said.

The gifts were additions to my shot glass collection. I love to get shot glasses from glamorous places I may never get to go and from unglamorous places I would never believe qualify for shot glass status. The first one I opened tickled my love of irony; it was a shot glass from Mount Airy, North Carolina, the inspiration for Mayberry (at least, according to the shot glass.) Yes, one can celebrate his or her love of small town USA and simpler, quieter, family-oriented days with Aunt Bee while doing shots of one's favorite hard liquor.

And then the second glass has the Mothman on it.

Our friends learned through their GPS device that their journey home would bring them close enough to Point Pleasant, West Virginia to make a stop there. If you've ever read The Mothman Prophecies or heard anything about the Mothman legend and the collapse of the Silver Bridge in the late 60s, that may ring a bell.

The summer I was finishing chemo and starting radiation my librarian friend, the female half of this couple, checked out the Prophecies for me from her library. She had read the "true story" and recommended it as a good way to get a scare. She doesn't scare easily, so I took that as a real endorsement; for reasons I can't remember, cancer treatment just wasn't meeting my thrill quota that summer and I wanted to read a scary book. We freaked each other out one weekend night when I went to call her to find her already on my line even though the phone hadn't rung on either end. I know, I know; it was a complete coincidence and we just happened to call each other at exactly the same time. But there is something very disconcerting about someone being on the other end of your phone when you pick it up, especially when you've been reading about aliens, flying men with red eyes, and the Men in Black.

So stopping in Mothman central was a big thrill for her, and had she passed through just one day later she and her husband would have seen the annual Mothman Festival which celebrates all things paranormal and which the town apparently is creepily and exceedingly proud of.

As it is, they had to settle for visiting the world's only Mothman museum, getting their pictures taken by the Mothman statue, buying me a Mothman shotglass (complete with red eyes!) and getting a newpaper flyer full of all things Mothman in honor of the festival. Every ad featured the Mothman: there he was hiding behind a propane tank in the ad for the city's one place for propane and propane accessories; there he was at the Mothman Diner eating a Mothman burger; there he was driving away in a brand new Chevrolet. This town has only one claim to fame and they work it, baby.

The flyer made this annual festival thing look to good to pass up, so I think we're in next year. Though it will never surpass our annual trip to the Wool Festival.

Until next September when I can try to spot the Mothman in his old haunting grounds, I guess I will just have to make do with this. I think Ainsley might enjoy snuggling with it at night; after all, it does feature glowing red eyes which would make an awesome night-light for a small child and is not in the least bit creepy.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Death and Shuck Beans

A Barbourville funeral is different from an Erlanger funeral.

For one thing, in Bar'ville, the pallbearers ride in their own limousine in the procession from the funeral home to the cemetery. (Seriously, this struck me as uber-weird; ever see this before? I mean, I've been to a lot of funerals, and Jason has served as pallbearer before, but never before have I seen them, um, honored this way.) For another thing, a Barbourville funeral is more of a social event. It's a small town, not much goes on, and everybody knows everybody, so people who maybe didn't know the deceased beyond a nodding acquaintance but who once loaned the deceased's granddaughter her bicycle which the grandaugher subsequently rode down the side of a mountain and crahsed into a ditch, damn near killing herself, will show up if for no other reason than to socialize a little during their lunch break.

I swear that's the truth. I returned from a potty break to the visitation room of the funeral home where my grandmother was "layed out" to see my older sister in lively conversation with a woman I'd never seen before.

"This is my little sister. You haven't seen her since she was a baby. Hey, Cranky, this is the girl whose bike I rode off the hill."

While it was great to meet this person who featured as a prominent bystander in my sister's first (but not last!) near-death experience, I couldn't help but wonder why she was at Granny's funeral. But then my sister told me that this woman's sister works with our cousin "Sissy", and it kinda almost made sense for her to want to show up and see who all was there that she could visit with.


No, I get it. I do. After all, I lived in Knox County for six memorable months in fourth grade. We went to a lot of visitations, and I would ask my mom, "How do we know this person?" And she would say something like, "The dead person's housekeeper is my cousin Emily's second cousin by marriage twice removed ," which I knew just meant Mom needed a social life.

A lot of businesses fail in Knox County, Ky., but the owners of the two rival funeral homes are the two wealthiest families in the county. Not everyone wants their car detailed on a regular basis during hard economic times, but everybody dies sooner or later. And these homes do death really, really well. They accept that it's a social event, and yet they somehow keep it classy for the family of the deceased. So classy that the pallbearers make a more dramatic getaway than the bridesmaids did at my wedding.

And one more thing...Barbourville funerals have shuck beans.

See, another Erlanger/Barbourville funeral difference is that, at least on my side of the family, we don't have wakes after the service. When Jason's grandmother died soon after we got married, and the whole fam damily and friends gathered at his mom's after the graveside service to eat food brought by a caterer friend and to drink impressive amounts of white zinfandel, I was stunned. I had heard of wakes, and seen them in movies and on TV, but thought they were a dramatic device, like the "TV grocery bag" which always has a loaf of french bread and something green and leafy sticking out the top, despite the fact the real life grocery bag is never so romantic.

Lo, in northern Kentucky, in Jason's family at least, people really do gather after a funeral to eat and to get a wee bit drunk. In my family, we all just say what we need to say at the funeral home, hug each other goodbye at the family plot, and go home. Maybe it's because it's a dry county, maybe we're just less of a party people. All I know is it just is.

But Cora Mae's shuck beans make up for it.

Mom's sister Cora Mae offered to feed our little branch of the family during a break between the visitation and funeral. Her house specialty is shuck beans (called "shucked beans" by the more educated, proper, and snooty), which are home-grown green beans hung on a line like laundry to dehydrate in the sun, allowing them to absorb even more pork fat during the southern cooking process. Bad for you? I reckon. But they taste like heaven even though they might clog your arteries and make you get there faster.

My sister, who does not generally show affection to anyone, walked up to Cora Mae after she lifted the lid on the beans and kissed her in a most European way on both cheeks.

"Cora Mae, I sure do love you."


Yes, a Barbourville funeral is a little different. My Knox County family does death and shuck beans better'n all you Yankees.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Rest In Peace, Granny Sugar

My last remaining grandparent passed away Monday at the age of 92.

She was my dad's mom, and she outlived her ex-husband, all but one sibling, and even one of her children. She went peacefully in her sleep after a recurrence of the abdominal infection that nearly killed her last year and left her in a nursing home. Until this time last year she was able to live independently, so I feel today that she should be celebrated rather than mourned. We should all be so fortunate as to have 91 healthy years.

Her name was Kitty Marie, but most of my cousins called her "Maw-rie" as a combination of "mamaw" and her middle name, which she preferred to go by. I had my own nickname for her; she was my Granny Sugar.

If you're not from the south, you may not be familiar with the use of the word "sugar" for kisses. When my granny and I parted ways when I was a small child, she always said, "Come and give granny some sugar." By the age of three I had started calling her Granny Sugar and for my little branch of her family, that was her given name from then on (though my mother, a true southern woman, called this proudly divorced and single woman "Miss Hyden" partly out of respect for her and partly because she didn't find her sweet enough to be called anything with the word "sugar" in it.)

Let's face it; everyone has a favorite grandparent. It's not that we dislike the others (usually), but we're usually closer to one. Favorite grandparent honors for me went to my mother's mother, my Mamaw, who I lost when I was twelve. Granny Sugar just wasn't as cuddly and open to affection as Mamaw. Like my dad, and like me, really, she measured her affection for her family with an equal part of, well, crankiness.

But she was a big kid herself in many ways. She was a tiny little woman, less than 5 feet tall, and she loved getting stuffed animals as presents from her grandkids (she kept a stuffed Snoopy and Woodstock on her bed until the day she died.) Because I loved wearing Band-Aids on imaginary scrapes as a kid, she enclosed two Band-Aids in every letter she ever wrote me between the ages of 3 and 12. Usually these Band-Aids had cartoon characters on them, and I am pretty sure these were the same bandages she kept around for her own use.

Her trademark, though, were her cards. She faithfully remembered the birthdays and anniversaries of every child, grandchild, daughter- or son-in-law, and great-grandchild. She bought the perfect card for each person and timed the sending so that it always arrived right on the birthday or anniversary. For her grandchildren's birthdays, she tucked a few dollars inside that added up to the age (up to 15; she had to stop somewhere.) I still have the card she sent when I turned 3 because it caused a sensation in my family. On the cover of the card was an illustration of a little brown-haired, pig-tailed girl wearing white tights and black patent-leathers. This fictional girl could have been my twin. This card looks more like the way I actually looked at 3 than any of the faded pictures we have from that time and mom says it almost spooked her when she opened it. Somehow Granny Sugar always found a card at the dollar store that fit her recipients' various personalities, collections, likes, and dislikes.

She was loving in her own distant kind of way to her kids and grandkids, but she could ruffle my mom's feathers like no other person on the planet. Her passive-aggresiveness was the stuff of legend. When I am at my most ornery, my mom accuses me of being just like her and my dad. I don't take that as a compliment, but I usually can't deny its accuracy.

I have never looked overly like my mom or sister and until I began to look a little aged didn't look much like my dad. I never really knew who I most looked like until the day a few years ago that mom put an old black-and-white picture into my hands that my dad's oldest brother had found and copied for each sibling. It was a picture of Granny and her ex-husband (with whom she had four kids, and who for reasons not discussed in my family, up and left her to raise them on her own) from shortly after their wedding day. Even in my earliest memories of my granny, she has short, fluffy gray hair, thick bifocals, and wrinkles earned through the harshness of her younger years that are so deep as to obscure her features. The woman in the black-and-white picture had shoulder-length black hair, a heart-shaped face, and a wry smile that turned one corner of her mouth up higher than the other.

"Alice sent this to your dad, but after seeing it, I think you should have it. Now we know who you look like," Mom said. I have that picture displayed on an end table, and people who see it comment on how much I look like the short little woman in the picture. Though I am quite a bit taller; I outgrew Granny before I made it out of elementary school.

I've only seen Granny once since my dad passed away. This is partly because like so many of my relatives she still lives three hours away in the mountains of southeastern Kentucky. But there's another reason. It's not a good excuse, but it tore me up to see her or to even talk to her on the phone in the year after Dad died; she reminded me so much of my him that it was like salt on my wounds. And seeing her reminded me how unnatural it is when a child goes before a parent, even when the child is 64 years old.

Tomorrow I'll say goodbye to the woman that sent me Band-Aids in the mail, the woman who collected owls and looked a little owl-like herself, the woman who walked the one mile each way from her apartment to town every day until her late 80s, the woman who puttered around her house in dollar-store terrycloth house slippers and brought me my own pair every time she came to visit, the woman who never forgot a birthday and never failed to pick a card that would make you smile. The woman who will be referred to as "Maw-rie" a lot tomorrow, but who I will always remember as my Granny Sugar.

Rest in peace, Granny.

Monday, September 15, 2008

And If You Don't Have Any Damage...Make Your Own!

There just wasn't enough damage to my house after the wind storm, so I made my own. When I tried to put our patio umbrella back in its stand in the middle of our glass patio table, I let go and the umbrella hit the glass, shattering it into a million teeny tiny pieces. Right now from my kitchen window you can hear the rain-like sound of glass shards falling through the cracks in the wooden slats of our deck.


I have swept everything up into a pile and the hubby wants me to wait until he comes home to start scooping into the can (I can't risk getting a cut with my lymphedema.) It's making me crazy to leave a neat pile of danger just sitting around. And I feel responsible, so I am itching (literally; I have glass powder all over my clothes) to get out there and get the mess out of the way.

Our neighbors have volunteered their shop vac; the only good thing about natural disaster is learning how darned nice your neighbors are.

I am quarantining myself to the couch for the duration of the cleanup process less I "help" our situation any more.

A Mighty Wind

Now that I've had a taste of a natural disaster, I know I want no part of the real deal.

As many of you know, Cranky's abode is in northern Kentucky. I don't if it has made the news of you out-of-towners, or if you were impacted, too, but the great state of Kentucky is in a state of emergency and my county, Kenton, has declared its own state of emergency just to add the exclamation point to the level of emergency the state is in.

We were the unwitting victims here in the tri-state area of an inland tropical storm (and I am only wishing I was exaggerating this) caused by a perfect combo of three different meteorological phenomena: the remnants of Ike came up the west side of us, a strong area of high pressure hung out to the east, and a super strong jet flow came up out of the south.

Long story short: starting around noon yesterday, and lasting until around 6pm, we had sustained tropical-storm-force winds of 40 mph and hurricane-force gusts over 75 mph. I believe the strongest gust measured at just a hair below 80, with a few hours of regular 70+ gusts.

The area affected by this wind storm is so large that no one has school today. I do mean NO ONE. Not even those schools, like Jason's alma mater, that don't call off for snow unless there's enough of it to cover a kindergartner while he's walking to school.

Here's the kicker with this storm: wind takes down power lines, y'all. Having never had a tornado really close to my person, and not living near the coast, I was a little naive about what high wind does. Especially what 6 hours of high wind does.

We were one of the lucky ones; we lost power for seven hours, starting at 1pm yesterday, but hundreds of thousands in the greater Cincinnati area are still without power and may not have it for 2 or 3 more days. 90% of homes serviced by the area's main power company lost power yesterday. We have roof damage, but it's not bad and we are going to wait a day or two to even call about it because so many around us have it so much worse.

Our house is at the end of a cul-de-sac and is in a valley not surrounded by mature trees. As our entire end of the street stood outside and tried to help each other secure things around our homes as best we could after the power went out, listening to the thunder-like cracks of old trees in the woods behind out homes breaking under the strain, we heard that the damage was worse up the street and that a tree had just gone through someone's living room. I have a colleague that lives in one of those houses up the street, so Jason, Ains and I and our next-door neighbors took a walk. On the opposite side of the street from us, where the mature trees left over from when our subdivision was still a farm are much closer to the houses, trees were leaning against houses and large branches were in yards and blocking driveways. It looked like a tornado had come through. Then we saw the house with the most damage on our street: a tree fell into the outside wall of the house and crashed partway into the living room. No one was hurt there, but when a neighbor came out to help and wait with the occupants while the fire department and paramedics came, a large branch fell off another tree and hit her in the face and shoulder. She got carried away in the ambulance, bruised and bloody but alive, while the owner of the trashed living room stood talking to everyone with her blood still on his shirt.

That was at 2pm. It went on 4 more hours.

I've seen trees in our back woods move to the point of breaking during the worst thunderstorms; then, it only lasts a few minutes. For six hours, we listened to our house groan, watched the trees crack, and counted the shingles that got blown off the front part of our roof to land on our back deck. We sweated inside an electricity-less house as temps outside got to ninety. (We started out with windows open, but had to leave just a few on the back side of the house cracked after things starting flying off walls and our belongings started getting covered with small debris that got blown through our screens.) I threw out a pot of soup I had optimistically put on in the crockpot that morning, assuming this was going to be a normal day. In our part of the world, "Wind Advisory" usually means "good kite-flying weather." No one, not even our weathermen, were prepared for this or knew things would be this bad until the lines starting breaking and trees starting falling.

Food is a necessity, and we had nothing we could eat straight from our cabinets (and we didn't want to open the fridge and let out the cold air preserving our just-bought groceries), so we ventured out when the winds began to subside a little. We found a pocket of electricity off an interstate exit to our north that had a Chipotle open; lines were outrageous, but damn, that was some good Chipotle.

Driving back we saw just how widespread the damage and outages were. We saw huge uprooted trees (I've never seen a tree's rootball up in the air before, and I don't think I care to see it again). We saw siding ripped off homes and blowing like a handkerchief in the breeze. We saw roofs much worse off than ours, with bare patches and shingles sticking up at unnatural angles. It took us around 30 minutes to get back as we took a route that would let us gauge whether or not the school buildings in my district were powered or damaged (with our home phone down because of no juice, and no TV, I knew I would miss any kind of "school's closed" message). In that time, we only found one traffic light that worked.

Our area is stunned. Damage covers the entire metro area and the outlying rural counties. No one escaped unscathed. And our area, which isn't remotely close to the coast, and isn't in Tornado Alley, and doesn't usually have extremes of weather of any kind save for the once-in-a-decade dropping of over a foot of snow, isn't really prepared for this. Our damage is small, but should probably get fixed before the next soaking rain. I have no idea whether that is going to be possible given the scope of the damage and the available resources.

One woman across the river died as a tree crashed into her home office and crushed her while she worked on her computer. So we are very, very grateful that no one we know got severely injured, and that our neighbors who were visited by a tree in their living room were already able to start the repairs and, from what we saw late last night, still able to live in their house.

We will get by. Power came on a little after 8, and life is starting to look and feel more normal in our immediate neighborhood. But the footage on the evening news last night was sobering. It's like what I've seen on TV following weaker tornados, but instead of being confined to a single area, it's everywhere. It's like rain-less hurricae damage, but there's no ocean. It's surreal, and I am doing a bad job describing what it's like here. I still feel a little shocked; I've never seen something like this happen with so little preparation and notice.

Here's hoping I never see it again.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Hulu Hoop

Got anything planned this weekend? No? Excellent! I investigated a new website last night that is guaranteed to absolutely suck up all your time.

After playing around for a mere five minutes last night, I turned to Jason and said, "Well, that's it. I won't be resurfacing until roughly Thanksgiving. Make sure Ainsley gets taken out for trick-or-treating, won't you?"

The site I am talking about, and which those of you with more free time to browse cool stuff on the Internets may already know about, is Hulu.

Hulu is a legal and mostly free download site for many of your favorite shows and even some movies. Right now their biggest partner is NBC, so the NBC shows are the most heavily represented, but I found something there from all the networks.

Many networks offer whole episodes of their shows. That's not so new. What is awesome about Hulu is its archive of older shows.

Miss your favorite 80s shows from your childhood? They've got The A-Team, The Facts of Life, and Fame. (DR--they've got Welcome Back Kotter!) Need a good cry? They've got season three of Party of Five, the season where Bailey became an alcoholic and and forced a tearful family intervention. Need something more cerebral? There's Nova and National Geographic News. Missed the whole Buffy the Vampire Slayer phenomenon the first time around? Full episodes are there! You need to see it to believe it. Cult classics, one-season wonders, Emmy nominees...the possibilities for time-wasting are endless.

But wait! There's more!

They have movies.

Full movies as well as clips. I started my day with some coffee and one of my favorite moments from film ever: the diaper stealing scene from Raising Arizona.

"I'll be taking these Huggies...and whatever cash you got in the register."

The beautiful thing is I could've watched the whole movie for free if I'd wanted to.

I think my morale and mood are going to get a boost from this. Who needs Prozac when you can cue up the SNL clip where Phil Hartman does Clinton stopping into a McDonalds?

"Listen, boys...there are going to be a lot of things we don't tell Mrs. Clinton. McDonald's is the least of your worries."

Sure, you can find some of these things on YouTube. But not all, and certainly not legally. I feel much better about myself as a librarian and protector of copyright getting my funny bone tickled by legally acquired clips.

What? Are you still sitting there reading my blog? Go check it out, dude! There's too much procrastinating and time-wasting to be done for you to be sitting there being productive!

Should you come up for air sometime this weekend, hit the comments with the shows and/or movies available on Hulu that you're most excited about.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

United We Stood

I always find it hard to be witty or to complain about the minor annoyances of my life on the anniversary of September 11. My creative juices dry up and all I want to do is allow myself to be solemn.

This is the post I wrote last year for the anniversary. I've edited it a little, but reading over it this morning, I think my sentiments expressed here are even stronger this year than last. Are we ever more divided than we are in a presidential election year? Especially a year when a debate about lipstick tops the news instead of where these people stand on the issues of our country that so desperately need someone's attention?

Anyway, here are my thoughts on this most solemn day.


They say
Time heals everything
But I'm still waiting.
--"Not Ready to Make Nice", The Dixie Chicks

We all remember where we were on this day 7 years ago. We know what we were doing the moment we heard, the moment we realized it was no accident. It was a day that united anyone old enough to watch, to listen, to mourn. We came together in our schools, our offices, our homes, to comfort each other and lean on each other. Regardless of whether or not we lost someone that day, we cried as we watched the endlessly repeating scene of planes, of bursts of flame, of people jumping from towers in an attempt to escape the hell inside, of buildings falling and covering an entire city with ashes and dust.

Seven years have passed, and unless you lost someone that day, I imagine you didn't become aware of today's significance until you wrote the date on a check, or switched on your TV or radio and heard a broadcaster mention a memorial or moment of silence. We shouldn't feel bad about that; as time passes, and the wounds begin to heal, it will become easier to forget between the major milestones of 5 years, 10 years, and 20 years. It will become easier to see September 11 as another day on the calendar; a day like any other, in which we focus on our little bubbles of family and work and forget how, one gorgeous Tuesday morning in 2001, we all came together as Americans, united in grief and shock and anger.

Writing this post, though, I find myself getting bitter. Like the Dixie Chicks so rightly say (love 'em or loathe 'em, you gotta admit they wrote a good song), I'm still waiting.

I'm still waiting for an end to the sorrow I feel every time I see the towers fall.

I'm still waiting for an end to the terror that I feel every time a loved one gets on an airplane.

I'm still waiting to feel some sense of finality, some sense of justice, that the perpetrator of this act has been found and brought to swift justice.

I'm still waiting for a day when the only videos or pictures released by the devil who did this are posthumous.

I am also waiting to once again feel that sense of unity that came in the months after the attacks. In our collective mourning, we came together as a nation for the first time in my short life. I would hate to think that that will be the only time in my lifetime that both sides of the aisle agree on someting. That that will be the only time we put aside differences of wealth, race, religion, and cultural values and stand up as one people.

I remember how so many of us raced to buy American flags to hang on our porches in the weeks after the attack. Nearly every house, apartment, and business flew a flag proudly that fall. Many people made banners and displayed these in front of their homes, as well. Some were sad, some showed support for the victims' families, and some were angry. I remember the night we were all asked to light a candle outside our homes in remembrance, and I can still see the tiny lights flickering on my neighbor's porches. I remember the moments of silence at the one week, one month, and one year anniversaries. I remember the wedding in Atlanta some friends and I went to that October, and how we bought small flags to stick in our car windows for the ride back home and how so many cars on the road were sporting the same. We were nicer to each other for a short time; people greeted each other, made eye contact, and sincerely asked, "How are you doing?" to complete strangers.

So soon after this, we became more divided than ever. We were reminded by pundits and political candidates of the harsh divisions between us: liberal vs. conservative, religious vs. humanist, gay vs. straight. Pretty soon even those most closely affected by this tragedy started arguing over how best to memorialize the victims and seek retribution.

Every time I go to a funeral, someone in the family says, "It's a shame that it took something like this to bring us all together."

It's a shame that it took a tragedy on the scale of 9/11/01 to bring together our nation.

And an even bigger shame that a mere seven years later, we are more divided than ever.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

The Heartbreak of Being An Animal Lover

Last night found me at my local PetSmart. I no longer own a cat, but the cat that used to be ours and now lives with my mom still owns me, and when the creature needs food or litter it's somehow still my job.

Ainsley will never be able to have a furry or feathered animal in the house because of her asthma, but we both like to window shop at the cat adoption center in our PetSmart. We sometimes leave there a little sad because inevitably a tiny furball will steal our hearts by sticking little paws through the cage, or letting loose a pitiful mew, and we know there's nothing we personally can do to ensure the fur baby gets a good home.

Yesterday evening I was all alone at the pet superstore, save for a huge bag of Fresh Step, gazing through the glass of the adoption room. A PetSmart worker was in there showing kittens to a young couple and a woman was standing next to me holding a little black ball of kitteny cuteness.

I looked over at her direction and smiled; I figured she was test-driving a new pet of her own.

But instead of joy, I saw tears on her face and noticed an open cat carrier on the floor beside her.

She sniffed loudly and wiped her eyes. She rubbed noses with the kitten, no older than 6 weeks.

"You know I'm going to miss you, right?" she said. Then she gave a quiet sob and cradled the kitten gently to her chest.

Oh, dear Lord. She was dropping the kitten off for adoption. Gah.

I found myself starting to tear up. Mind you, I didn't know this woman or her story. I didn't know whether it was the last un-adopted member of an unwanted litter, or if it was a stray that wandered into her life, or if it was a new family pet that didn't work out. I just knew that a grown woman was sobbing like a child at the prospect of saying goodbye to an adorable but helpless baby animal and putting the animal's future into the hands of unknown adopters.

I can't even write about this without feeling myself getting a little choked up.

I am a sentimental old fool anyway, but if you throw an animal, especially a cat, into the mix, then I become a blubbery mess. I get it honestly; I come from a long line of people who like some animals more than they like most humans.

As a kid, we always had a stray something hanging around. The dogs never lasted long; I think they sensed that I was a little afraid of them. But both cats we had during my adolescence were creatures that showed up, fat enough and well-groomed enough to show that they once had human owners, looking for a better life. They were smart cats; my mother never could resist anything small and helpless, and my dad had been known in his own childhood as a great taker-in and keeper of his hollow's stray cat population. They must have been able to sense that, by simply showing up in our yard and occasionally meowing at the front door, that they would be taken in and fed and loved.

My dad could be gruff and harsh-spoken and downright scary. But hand him a cat and he would melt. In the days following his death my mom told the story of when, the year before, a family on their end of the street had adopted a young cat. The family didn't keep the cat inside, and every time it crossed the street in front of dad's car or showed up at their door hungry and thin, dad threatened to take it in himself, ownership tag on its collar or not. One night mom heard him come home from work but he didn't come in the house right away. When she looked out the window she saw him cradling something in his arms and depositing in on the neighbors' doorstep. He had found the cat dead in the street, apparently hit by a car, and wanted to give the cat back to the neighbors as a release for his own anger that they had not been the best of pet owners and in hopes that the cat would be respectfully put to rest. Of all the stories I heard about my dad after he died, this was the one that made me cry because it showed a side of him he didn't let out much.

My mom's dad had a reputaion as a healer. In a place where people had to travel many miles to get "in town" for a doctor or vet, Papaw was a first stop for our family members who had sick kids or pets. He provided competent and loving care for my aunt when she was born at home with the cord around her neck and due in large part to his common sense and nurturing the first night she was alive, she is now a physically healthy woman in her late 60s who, depite being mildly mentally disabled, is able to live by herself. Among the many animals he saved was a flying squirrel named Rocky who landed in mom and dad's Knox County yard as an injured infant and stayed the pet of the family for 2 memorable years. He gradually weaned it from human care with a skill that would impress wildlife professionals and returned it to the woods; after all, fish gotta swim, flying squirrels gotta fly. I am very envious of my older sister that this happened during her childhood and before I was born; there aren't too many people who can boast such a pet.

It's a well-documented phenomenon that people often get more worked up over an animal's demise than a human's. Watch any disaster movie in a theater full of people; adult characters in the movie can die horrific deaths and the audience will hardly bat any eye. When the token golden retriever rushes into the burning building/rising water/flowing lava/collapsing building, you will hear audible gasps and sobs. Perhaps it's the innocence; perhaps it's the cuteness. Perhaps it's that animals love us unconditionally and trust us to keep them from harm. I can only guess at the psychology behind it, but I know for sure that some people who don't cry when Jack lets go of the wooden headboard will cry themselves into the hives over Where the Red Fern Grows. I myself cry until I choke at the ending of Homeward Bound.

I remember when the news story broke about the mother cat who went time after time into a burning building to save her kittens. The mother saved her babies but in so doing suffered serious injury. She survived, and thousands of people offered to take her and the babies in. The whole country was moved. Had a human mother done this it barely would have made news; we all know, and expect, that human mothers will give up their lives to save their children. But somehow when it was an animal...it became one of the most moving true stories we've ever heard and made a household name of Scarlett the cat.

I don't know if I will ever be so moved by the emotion of a complete stranger as I was when I saw that sad farewell between a woman and a kitten. It was genuine, and un-ashamed, and as real as any mother's love.

11 Herbs and Spices

When I read on CNN yesterday that Colonel Sanders's original handwritten secret-recipe formula for the world's most famous fried chicken was being moved under guard while its secure location was being updated, I started to drool and gurgle Homer-Simpson-like on my keyboard. Mmmmm, eleven secret herbs and spices....gaaaaah.....

Now, I can tell you that I make a mean fried chicken myself. Over the course of the 11 years I've been cooking for me and Jason, I've consulted with my mom, watched cooking shows, and pored over techniques from chicken geniuses like Paula Deen to get a darn-good version into the supper rotation. Of course, we only use boneless, skinless chicken breasts in my immediate family, and some would tell you that this doesn't count. All I know is that my mother, one of the finest chicken fryers in the southeast, likes to come over for dinner whenever I get inspired to whip up a batch. That's just about the biggest compliment I could ever get.

I don't want to hide my "secret"; I'd gladly tell you the tips and tricks I've learned (some of which I just learned in the past 2 years or so; God love the Food Network.) The Colonel, on the other hand...Not so big on the sharing.

It's genius, really. By making such a big deal about all the security behind that little yellowed piece of paper, the KFC people have gotten a lot of publicity for their product. And by making people like me think about perfectly and secretly-seasoned deep-fried chicken skin, which I can't get on my own chicken, they're pretty much guaranteeing that this Kentucky girl is going to make a KFC drive-thru stop sometime in the very near future. I know I'm not alone.

Like McDonald's secret sauce, and Skyline Chili: often imitated, never duplicated. And therefore crave-worthy. As much as I try to stay away from fast food, these are the things I abandon my own perfectly-passable home-cooked dinners to eat and to later clog my arteries.

Damn you, Colonel. You and your wee beady eyes.

Do you crave the Colonel's Original Recipe? Are there other fast-food faves that make you abandon diets and New Year's resolutions and good food sense?

Monday, September 8, 2008

Kiss Me, I'm A Little Irish

Of all the things I thought I would dig up as I began genealogical research last week, I never thought I would find Irish roots.

I had never heard anyone talk about it. On both sides, all I heard was about the long-lost Cherokees and the speculation that we are German because there are a lot of German-sounding names. Every March 17 I celebrated St. Patrick's Day mostly because I like an excuse to drink Guinness and make my favorite Irish-stout-laden beef stew.

But now I know...my maternal grandfather's lineage is Irish. Many generations removed from the island, and mixed in with some other stuff, but Irish nevertheless.

My maternal grandfather took his mother's maiden name, not the name of one of her four "husbands" like we had previously thought. Once I uncovered this, it was pretty easy to find his mother's parents through census records. And once I found my great-great-grandfather, I learned that another researcher on Rootsweb shares him as a distant anecestor and uncovered a lot about that line through census records. Sources point to a common ancestor coming over from northern Ireland around 1719; that main line settled in Pennsylvania, then migrated to Virginia, then one branch moved into the mountains of Kentucky. I know that it's a litle iffy trusting someone else's research, but this someone documents all his sources and has transcribed most of them to give proof. It all looks very plausible.

I am hitting dead ends on my father's side of the tree, but I was able to find an Irish immigrant from the late 1700s on his paternal side, too.

So this year, on March 17, I have a real excuse to celebrate. I'm, like, 1/1000th Irish! Well, maybe more than that if you count the two instances of inbreeding I found (they were distant cousins, so it's less icky, but it still concentrates those Irish genes, am I right?)

Out of the Mouth of Ains: GUSPP edition

Friday night as I was helping Ains finish up her shower I told her that after I dried her off I wanted her to "go bathroom."

She looked at me funny. "Go bathroom?" she asked.

Uhhh, what part of this didn't she understand? I left out the "to" and the "the" to make it a command. I verbed it, if you will. "Yeah, go bathroom. Like, go potty."

She became all prissy. "You really shouldn't say it like that, 'cause I heard it like," and here she put one fist on her hip and pumped one fist in the air, cheerleader-style, "go, bathroom! Go, bathroom!"


I guess this means it's official: she's a member of GUSPP. You know, the Grammar, Usage, Spelling, and Punctuation Police. I myself (depite typos on the blog) belong; my GUSPP card is in my wallet right next to my Shoe Carnival Frequent Sucker Club card and my Kentucky Democratic Party card (motto: Snatching defeat from the jaws of victory since 2000! Oh, I kid because I love.)

Or maybe in her case it's Grammar, Usage, Spelling, and Punctuation Princess.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Critter, Creature, Carcass

"That kid," said Jason last weekend at the pool, "is a Creature."

He was of course talking about Creepy Stalker Kid who followed Ains around and eventually went all Ike Turner on her.

"Creature?" you may be saying. "What's this?"

I blogged after our vacation about the Ainsley Wave Classification System, wherein she described the different waves she encountered in Hilton Head as being either a splat, a jiggle, or a jink.

As one commenter noted, there is a Cranky family history of coining terms to further identify people and things. This commenter mentioned that, thanks to us, the terms "critter", "creature", and "carcass" are used in her house.

I cannot take credit for this, but I can explain it. Especially since Jason and I just used the term "Creature" last weekend in describing the stalker kid who hit my daughter.

The Three C Classification System was developed by Jason's brother to describe people whose behavior and demeanor are, shall we say, less than ideal. The lowest level is "Critter." This is for those who are, as the name suggests, small and maybe a little cute and only mildly and sporadically annoying. Like most babies and kids who are just doing their thing, just being kids. Think of it as a squirrel who gets up on your deck and sometimes eats all the seeds out of your bird feeter. Critter. "That critter is back in the feeder again!" It's so low-level that I don't hear the in-laws use it so much anymore; it's just a given that all the nieces and nephews are, in their normal state of being, Critters.

Come to his family's Christmas Eve party and you will see Creatures. This term is still mostly used for smaller human beings. Though I have seen it used on adults who are breaching the annoyance threshold. Creature-ness is what happens to otherwise normal children who get a little hyper, or a little tired, or a little cranky. It's like the largish spider you find in your shower one morning; it's alarming, and rather troubling, but easily dispatched with a shampoo bottle. On Christmas Eve the nieces and nephews all turn into Creatures. By 10pm, the older kids are tired and complaining loudly about the toys that don't work as they should out of the box and/or need batteries or pouting because you won't let them have their 50th salami roll. The 3-and-under set starts fighting and biting. Around this time Jason's brother can be seen in a corner of the room, hands on top of his baseball cap, in awe at the destruction and chaos.

"What a bunch of Creatures," he'll say.


Then there are the Carcasses.

A true Carcass is rare. I don't hear it used much. It really takes a special kind of person to own this status.

A Carcass is a larger, adult person (I don't think I've ever heard it used about kids) who is such a massive tool that it's almost disgusting. It's like the dead whale that washes ashore on your favorite beach, spreading its foul methane decay and large, unmovable mass all over an otherwise pleasant place.

Here's a timely example of a "Carc." Jason and I watched Wednesday's Daily Show last night and saw Jon's clips of doughy-headed Karl Rove from several months ago, bashing the idea of Tim Kaine of Virginia as a potential running mate for Obama, belittling him because he only has three years executive experience as governor and was "only" the mayor of Richmond, Va., before that. Jon had just shown a clip of Karl from just this week praising Palin's experience and qualifications for office because she has been governor or Alaska for two years and mayor of Wassilla before that.

"I don't care what party you're from," I said. "You've got to admit that Karl Rove is a Carcass."

Carcasses are rare, and I think they might be a cool thing to collect. I know my readers must know some fine Carcasses. Chime in below with how some people in your life would measure up on the Critter, Creature, and Carcass scale.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

This Is Me In Grade Nine, Baby

Picture day at our school today.

As any teacher can attest, picture day is one of the worst days. The intercom sounds off all day long, interrupting classes to send different groups down for their portraits. Girls fuss over their hair and makeup and boys whose parents made them wear a shirt with a collar fidget and seem umcomfortable. There's always a feeling of being on the edge of chaos.

All day today I've had ninth graders in the library. Ahhh, the smell of freshmen in the morning.

As they file past me in their fashionable retro tight-legged jeans and brightly-colored shirts ('cause we all know that, according to the Lifetouch people, bright colors look best in pictures even if they wash you out and make you look vaguely jaundiced in person) I keep hearing part of the Barenaked Ladies song "Grade 9" in my head:

I got a blue and red Adidas bag and a humongous binder
I'm trying my best not to look like a minor niner...

This is me in grade nine, baby, this is me in grade nine...

It could be that this song is stuck in my head because the Ladies sing part of it at the beginning of the live version of "If I Had A Million Dollars" that I put into my annual summer mix CD this year. Or it could be that every year when I see our freshly-minted and spiffed up freshmen I think of myself as a petite little wide-eyed ninth-grader.

Finding Jason's old ninth-grade yearbook this summer and seeing myself sprinkled throughout it (there's me in the chorus, singing a very wide-open "ah"! There's me out of focus behind a group of mugging seniors, looking like a fashion victim in my high-waisted and pegged-leg pants!) just made me shake my head at myself a little bit. More so than any other time in my school years, I look at pictures of myself and say, "What on earth were you thinking?"

But I can forgive myself, for is there ever a time when we are so divided inside ourselves as that freshman year? Freshmen have one foot in childhood and one foot in the adult world. On any given day, you might write a note of undying love to your first boyfriend and then later go play kickball in your best friend's back yard. It is for this reason that teachers either love them or hate them. You either embrace the childishness or run screaming and ask to have 17 and 18 year olds the next year. I used to love teaching freshmen when I was in the English classroom, though working with mostly seniors the last 8 years has shown me that there something to be said for those students who are truly young adults.

In honor of picture day, here's a glimpse of Cranky in grade nine. I am not a poet, so this will be prose rather than imitating the lyrical song stylings of BNL. I hope to post my actual ninth-grade school picture soon; my hair in the picture is truly a work of art.

Cranky In Grade Nine:

First, the hair. I had grown out the layers from my long, feathered, permed, middle-school 'do and lopped my newly-straight hair into a simple bob a la Dana Delaney from the China Beach years. But this was the fall of 1988, so I couldn't just let my hair, you know, hang there. I had to pump it up. So I curled and lifted and sprayed the bangs into a Kentucy Claw (though I prided myself that I no longer teased them into a standing-straight-up ratty mess like I had done in eighth grade, because that was soooo tacky.) But this wasn't enough. The height from my bangs did bad things for my face shape if the rest of my hair was flat. So I took a cue from Linda Evans's Krystal Carrington look and sprayed the sides of my hair into wing-like structures that I probably could have used to slow my fall from a tall building. This look, I thought, was so mature and so classy. Never mind that I couldn't get a brush through it.

Then there were the clothes. What you see in my school picture isn't so bad; a simple cable-knit crewneck peach sweater. I was dressing simply that day. But other days I was big on layering; later in the fall, that peach sweater would have been worn over a peachy-plaid button-down shirt. Which still isn't so bad. But on cold days, I couldn't stop myself. I wore a peach turtleneck under the shirt under the sweater. I wouldn't be surprised to find a picture of myself with a blazer on top of all that. I just loved the layers, man. And if the layers were all pastels...well, that just made it all the cooler. I loved to wear colors that today you can only find in baby clothes.

My shoes were always a statement. I am sure that on picture day I was wearing pointy-toed shiny-black flats with my acid-washed jeans. I loved to wear dress shoes with jeans and even shorts. But with skirts? Well, I had to wear my Chuck Taylors or my Keds with my dresses and skirts. Because it showed my funkiness. My nonconformity. Which happened to look a lot like everyone else's nonconformity.

This is me in grade nine, baby.

Pull out your old ninth-grade pictures. What was your style? Were you able to resist The Claw?

Wednesday, September 3, 2008


I really don't know where I come from.

I mean, I know that, basically, all my "people", on both my mom's and dad's sides, are from the mountains of southeastern Kentucky. But when we've tried to trace back further than a few generations, we've hit roadblocks. We've never known with any certainty what breed we are; I envy those folks who know which ancestor came over on which boat from which European country. As far as my grandparents ever knew, their known ancestors hailed from Knox, Bell, or Lee counties, not from Ireland, England, or Germany. It was as if my family sprung wholesale from the rocks and springs of the Appalachian mountains in some sort of divine occurrence.

I've tried some genealogical research before using the new online resources I'd heard so much about. Some of my friends were able to go back many generations without ever visiting a county courthouse or state records archive; I was never even able to find anything about my grandparents. When you're from a group of people who were not born in hospitals, and who only filed birth certificates years later when they needed to pay into Social Security, it can be difficult. Not to mention that many of the rural counties of Kentucky have had a history of piecemeal record-keeping and few resources to help them get what records they have scanned and available online. I gave up years ago; I figured I would have to drive 4 hours each way to get to some of the county courthouses I needed to go to find anything out.

Yesterday afternoon while waiting for a class to come in, I decided to play my favorite online game, Beat Wikipedia. Here's how I play: I go to a Wikipedia article about a topic I know a lot about myself and try to find an inaccuracy that I can later use to show researching classes that Wikipedia is not always a reliable source for academic research. On a whim, I decided yesterday to see what everyone's favorite free encyclopedia had to say about my parents' home county, Knox. Because I am a creature of habit, I did my search through Google rather than going straight to Wikipedia.

One of the first hits, above the Wikipedia page, was a link to Knox County, Kentucky records available through Rootsweb. I knew it was probably a dead end, but I clicked on it anyway.

And ten minutes later, something popped up on my screen that made me gasp and made tears come to my eyes: my maternal grandparents' marriage certificate in all its handwritten glory.

After that, I found my paternal great-grandfather's death certificate.

And after that, the death certificate of my maternal great-grandmother.

I could not believe it. And the beauty of seeing marriage and death certificates is that I now have some leads I didn't have before; the parents' names and birthplaces are listed on death certificates, and parents' names are also on marriage licenses.

The downside is that some of the records I've seen for my family are illegible or vague or even contradictory; the great-grandfather's birth location is listed on one document as Bell County, Ky., but on another as simply, "Va." The man listed as my maternal grandfather's father is not his biological father, but a man who his free-spirited part-Cherokee mother settled down with after having 3 or 4 kids by different fathers. It will take finding his birth certificate to finally solve the great family mystery of who his dad really was, and so far birth certificates are hard to find through either the county's records or the state's. There is a great disclaimer I found about the general state of chaos of Kentucky birth records until around 1920. Apparently, it was not thought of as a big deal to file one with the state in the rural counties. In a place where everybody knew everybody and people stayed on one piece of land from cradle to grave, it just wasn't that important.

After Ains was in bed last night, I did some more digging and tracing and have some leads that will take me to Virginia's online records and to some other Kentucky counties. Surprisingly, the little bit of research I did in other counties made me even more impressed with Knox's recent initiative to digitize their records; my ancestral county has really been a pioneer and is working hard to help people doing genealogies. Who would have thunk that that little poor county would be such a digital-searcher's paradise?

I hope before the first snowfall that I will be able to tell you, with certainty, who that first Cranky pilgirm was who travelled across the ocean in search of religious freedom and/or a better life. And the name of the Cherokee who gave life to my maternal great-grandmother, the striking high-cheekboned, eagle-nosed woman who I have seen in a picture with her long arms around my Papaw and his brother. My Papaw didn't talk much about his mother and her family, but my mom has said he knew the name of the tribe he was descended from. If only we learned more of the details from our elders while they were still alive.

I am not so idealistic to think that all my ancestors from both sides are going to hail from one country and let me be able to say, "We're English," or "We're Scottish." The beautiful thing about being an American is that so many of us are "mongrels." So many of us can say we're a little this and a little that. I am just really excited to finally have some leads about what the "this" and "that" are.

Have any of you traced your families? What did you learn? And the big question: What are you?

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Shotgun Daddy

I have seen the future.

Something happened to our little family on Sunday that gave me an eerily clear picture of the kind of dad Jason is going to be when Ainsley starts dating. I could just see him 10 years from now, gray in his hair, a few lines around his eyes, sitting on our stairs, absent-mindedly polishing a shotgun.

"Oh, this?" I can hear him say as the unwitting suitor comes into the entryway. And then like Ash from Army of Darkness, "This...is my BOOMSTICK! Now, I swear, if you even touch her..."

Sunday we were enjoying magnificent pool weather at Silverlake. Ainsley was, as usual, going back and forth from slides to diving board. Early on she was befriended (and by "befriended", I really mean "stalked", though in a kiddie Nickelodeon-meets-Lifetime-movie-of-the-week sort of way) by a boy a year or two older than her who kept challenging her to races down the twin body slides and who followed her everywhere she went.

When she tired of slide races, he followed her to the diving boards. I followed; even with lifeguards, we like to be close to her when she's jumping into 12 feet of water. Shockingly, some parents let their little four-, five-, and six-year-old kids have the complete run of the place with little supervision; we're worry warts so we tend to hover.

All the kids going off the boards at that time were challenging each other with cannonballs; the goal, of course, was to soak the lifeguard in their wake.

"Did you see how big a splash I made? Did you see my awesome cannonball?" asked Ainsley's admirer/stalker/stage 5 clinger after a very unspectacular jump.

"That wasn't even a cannonball!" replied Ainsley.

The boy did not like that comment and "playfully" slapped her on the arm. When she didn't react to that, he very unplayfully slapped her in the arm with a look in his eyes that frightened me; he was mad, and wanted someone to hurt. That's pretty scary in a 7- or 8-year-old.

"Hey! Don't hit her!" I said in my best controlled-anger, teacherly voice. I didn't like what I had seen. And where, pray tell, was this kid's mother, who should have been the one to tell him to not hit?

Then I pulled Ainsley aside.

"I don't like that this boy hit you. I don't want you to play with him if he's going to be mean to you."

So she went off the board one more time and told us she wanted to go back to the slides. I think she wanted away from young Ted Bundy.

He wasn't daunted just yet. "Oh, yeah! I'll race you down the slides! I call red!"

As we followed Ains back over to the slides, I told Jason, who had not been close enough to the diving board to see the slap, what had happened.

"I don't know if I want him playing with her."

"Oh, relax." he said. "Are you sure he wasn't just playing around? He was probably just being a boy."

Yeah. A boy who bullies. No big deal.

I left him in charge of watching Ains on the slides while I ordered our lunch from the concession stand. When I came back to our chairs, he looked very alert and very serious.

"Well, we're going to have an irate parent over here any minute now. I just chewed out a kid."

While I was gone, Angry Stalker Boy, for reasons still unknown to us and to Ainsley, followed Ainsley off the slides after a race and punched her (yes, punched, not slapped) in the back. Jason had watched them come one at a time off the slide and saw nothing transpiring between then that explained the punch.

Jason had just gotten up and said, "Hey!" when he punched her again, this time in the stomach.

My husband then went into his own angry-teacher mode. When he became an angry teacher back in the day, though, he was much, much scarier than I've ever been. This was the guy who broke up a girl fight by asserting himself and yelling in the middle of two wildcats about to claw and who once shoved a chair all the way across the room a la Bobby Knight.

He got right in the kid's face.

"Don't you ever, EVER, hit my little girl again."

The kid, freaked by my husband's leering 6-foot-4-inch frame and angry baritone, immediately ran away.

And cue the other parent in 3...2...1...

"Did something just happen over here? My son just came over to me, crying, and saying that another kid's dad just yelled at him and scared him."

I let Jason do the talking at first. He very diplomatically explained what he had seen and why he reacted the way he did.

"My son doesn't hit," the mother said. "Are you sure he wasn't just playing around?"

Are you freakin' kidding me?

I told the mom what I had seen earlier at the diving board and that, though I couldn't speak for what happened at the slide since I wasn't there, I could say with certainty that the slap at the diving boards was not a friendly, joking kind of thing. I told her how I had seen him slap her twice, with the second one done with what I perceived as anger.

She didn't want to believe that her angel would really hit someone out of anger, and Jason sort of apologized for scaring the kid but had the last word with, "I'm not going to just sit and let someone hit my daughter." Especially when it's an older boy who should know better and who seems to have some anger issues his own mother isn't aware of.

Just as Jason wanted to defend our kid, I know that she was just trying to defend hers and get the whole story. I would have investigated, too, if Ainsley said a stranger yelled at her. But since I keep a pretty close watch on her in public places, I have a feeling I would have seen something to clue me in. I'd like to think that if she hit another kid on two separate occasions that I would have at least seen one of them.

A few minutes later, we saw the mom and her family leave the water park. Ainsley wasn't hurt, and didn't cry after she got hit (though Jason said she looked like she was going to, which was part of the reason why he reacted so strongly), so we didn't make an issue of it after it was all over. But much later, after we had gotten home, Jason told me that his hands still felt shaky and he was still angry.

"The more I think about it...it was like I had an out-of-body experience. I saw my little girl getting hurt, and I just reacted. I'm sure I scared the crap out of him. But clearly the kid has problems."

Yes, clearly. Clear enough that I had not wanted them to play together after the slap at the diving board, but whatevs.

What was also disturbingly clear is that Ainsley isn't so great at sticking up for herself. I've always told her she needs to stand up more; when I watch her play with the neighborhood kids she kind of lets them walk all over her. They take toys from her, don't take let her have her turn, and generally boss her around. I don't interefere here because I am hoping she will assert herself more.

But her getting slapped and punched and just taking it...it's worrysome. The future I saw on Sunday with Jason guarding his little girl's honor with a well-oiled firearm has another grimmer chapter; Ainsley as a victim of domestic violence, just sitting back and letting a man slap her around when he gets angry and not putting a stop to it.

I know, I know, she's only 6. There's a lot of time for discussion and teachable moments. And when she gets a little older, those wonderful Lifetime movies (based on the true story.)

And a lot of time for Jason to polish his already-impressive Shotgun Daddy routine.