Monday, December 29, 2008

How Not To Spend December 26

I just ate.

Oh, that doesn't sound like a big accomplishment. But trust me, it is. It's the first real food Jason and I have been able to stomach (har) since dinner on Christmas night.

We picked up a stomach virus from Jason's brother and have been in something best described as Hell since roughly 6am on December 26.

While many of you were doing the whole "return the Christmas gifts, shop for bargains" thing, I was worshipping the porcelain throne. I haven't been prostrate before that idol in such a way since Ainsley brought home a stomach virus from daycare 4 years ago that had me in one bathroom, Jason in another, for one memorable night in which we checked on each other's condition by talking through the vents.

Somehow, Jason never threw up with this evil thing. But that doesn't mean he got off light. After each of the four times (in twelve hours; a new longevity record!) I threw up, I felt better for, say, 30 minutes. He never got such a reprieve.

What made it more fun was that my mom wasn't able to watch Ains for us, so the poor kid was pretty much on her own for an entire day. Thank God for new Christmas presents and a Phineas and Ferb marathon on the Disney channel. We took turns being in the same room but a safe distance away from her.

When I was a kid, stomach viruses only lasted 24 hours; after a few hours of yakking, I moved on to popsicles and ginger ale and the next day was eating hamburgers.

My stomach doesn't quite have that resilience now.

As late as 8pm last night, Jason and I were saying we may never eat again.

But around dawn this morning, when I woke up because my abdomen was so hollow that I couldn't get comfortable in bed, and dreaming of oatmeal, I decided breakfast was in order. And so far, it's staying down.

There is one plus to all this. Laying around doing not much (besides spraying the whole house with Clorox and Lysol) has allowed my injured shoulder to get back to almost normal already. So, there's that.

There have been some losses, though. I needed to lose a little Christmas weight, so I am thrilled that I have lost 6 whole pounds. Hurrah! But I have also permanently lost my ability to eat Paula Deen's beef tenderloin and Christmas ham, those being the last items I put on my stomach before all this happiness started.

So, to sum up, here's how I will remember Christmas, 2008:

The year I fell and screwed up my shoulder;


The year I prayed for death from December 26--28.

No, really, I am grateful that I had my family and my friends and roof over my head and some nice presents at Christmas. I don't want to sound like that.

But I can already tell you what I want for Christmas, 2009:

No puking!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

A Very Vicodin Christmas

Sometimes, things happen so fast.

One minute, I was on my feet. The next, I was on my right side, shoulder and hip numb against the ice, examining my rear driver's side tire.

The tire is fine. I, however, am not so much.

It could have been worse. Yesterday afternoon some rain moved in, and even though the brilliant weather people of the Cincy area assured us the temperature would be above freezing when said rain moved in, we were hovering steadily around 32 degrees all afternoon and early evening. It's a wonder I didn't wreck the car when I ventured out to check on my mom and pick up a pizza.

As it stands, I just wrecked my shoulder.

I put the pizza in the car and went around the back to get to my side of the car. I had seen the pizza people throw out some salt and thought I was on solid turf. I really can't even tell you the mechanics of how I fell; my feet went out from underneath me so fast I didn't have time to react, to grab onto anything. My full weight went down on my right hip and right shouder. I Fell with a capital F, which also happens to be the starting letter of the expletive that flew out of my mouth.

Just as I stood up, a man came around my car.

"Ma'am, are you alright? I heard you fall but didn't see you get up right away. You had me worried."

The stranger talked me into going back inside the pizza place to check myself out for injury before I got back in the car. Common sense overrode my mortification and I let him help me in. When no limbs turned purple in five minutes, I (carefully) went back to my car and headed home.

And cried like a baby.

You remember when you were little and you would fall and, even if the pain wasn't that bad, you couldn't help yourself from crying? It was like a reflex. That's how I felt. I wanted my mommy to check out my booboos, but Mommy had herself just been to the ER for her own hand injury that has her in a wrist brace this Christmas.

I was alone in the car and just let the tears flow. And by the time I got home, I thought I was okay.

But then at exactly three in the morning, while the house was quiet and dark and my right shoulder had my full undivided attention, it started talking to me.

"You know I'm not cool, right?" it asked.

"Yes, I do now. Are we going to get any sleep tonight?"

I didn't know shoulders could chuckle. "What do you think?"

So I've been to my doctor, who tells me nothing is broken but that two different tendon/ligament thingies in my shoulder are severely inflamed and will take 2-3 weeks to heal.

"You're lucky," he said. "I visited one of my patients in the hospital this morning who is around your age and had a fall a lot like yours on that ice. But he displaced his shoulder, broke a bunch of ribs, and knocked himself out."

Well, there's that.

I have some Vicodin to take tonight in case the shoulder starts talking to me again. It should ensure a long winter's nap, indeed.

So, if I don't see you, have a merry Christmas. I hope Santa brings you all that you desire and that are healthy and happy.

And if ice comes your way...please be careful.

Friday, December 19, 2008

The Importance of Context

Context is everything.

Yesterday Ainsley brought home one of those flip-books I've talked about which lists this week's rhyming vocabulary words. This week the words all end in "ell". The first word guessed it! Hell! That favorite Catholic school subject.

Later in the afternoon I took her to swim lessons. We got there earlier than usual, and Ains did some stretches and warm-ups she apparently has learned in gym class. At one point she tipped her head back and stretched her fingers up and got a good look at the insulated ceiling above the pool.

"That ceiling is so high!" she said. "This whole place is huge! What the hell were they thinking?"

Say what?

I asked her to repeat herself.

She dodged. "I said, what were they thinking?"

"Ainsley, that's not what you said. You said something else."


"Yes, Ainsley. Now, you know that that's not a very nice word."

"No, I didn't know that. It's one of our spelling words."


Now, she doesn't exactly get a free pass. She knew enough to not repeat it. But she makes a good point.

I wasn't entirely accurate when I told her "hell" is a bad word. Used as a noun, it's said quite a bit at her school and in her church. But make it an exclamation, and everything changes. Or, leave it as a noun meaning a place, and tell someone to go there, and the same word that probably shows up as an answer on the kid's religion tests would suddenly cause a trip to the principal's office.

Not to get all George Carlin on you, but why is there this double standard? Why is "hell" a spelling word this week when she can't use the word in all its possible, multi-layered and complex contexts? Why are "bad" words so taboo?

I myself am guilty of it. I won't write it out, but I will occasionally put "WTF?" into a blog post. I am not entirely comfortable writing the "F" word in a blog that polite people read, but I am completely and hypocritically comfortable writing that text-message-era abbreviation and then making you think that word inside your head! Every time I do that, I make you hear a word that's too taboo for me to write out on a blog I sometimes edit at work.

That is soooo messed up.

It wouldn't take much for me to agree with those that say making a word taboo is giving that word power. If there were no "bad" words, if there weren't a list of seven words you can't say on television and so forth, they would lose some of that charm that makes every kid eventually try them on for size and test out their shock value.

But then there would still be the type of "bad" words that just by their happy arrangement of vowels and consonants bother, annoy, or offend people. Or words for which the taboo is so deep they will never outlive that, regardless of context. My husband doesn't mind hearing me throw out a four-letter word when I stub my toe on the hamper at 4am, but if I say I am making a "sauce" for our chicken entree he almost gags. I am not offended by much, but there is one word for a part of the female anatomy that I will never, ever be okay hearing. Partly because it's a word that just sounds gross; partly because it's demeaning. How much is because it's taboo and how much is because some of us are simply word people I don't know.

I do know that I cannot wait until Ainsley bring home a flip book of "uck" words.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

The Second Librarian

Ainsley wants to be a librarian when she grows up. Yeah, I know. The nut doesn't fall far from the tree.

When I was her age I wanted to be a brain surgeon or an astronaut, so I know this career choice might not last too long. But she is taking her job training very seriously. She has made several signs posting her rules and has set up a little area of my library as her own, complete with a clipboard and metal bookends, which she doesn't really know what to do with, but knows they're somehow very important.

Her latest sign says this: (and the spelling is all hers)

Hand your Book to The seecond librarean Ainsley!

And then under that in very, very small letters:

mrs. cranky is the first librarean

And she closes with a few lines of a song she's learning for Christmas mass, just to make sure her patrons know she's devout:

Prepar a way for the Lord!
Prepar a way for the Lord!

I haven't the heart to tell her that posting that in her library would be violating the separation of church and state...

Monday, December 15, 2008

I'm With the Choir

You ever volunteer for something, then about five minutes in go...Crap. That was a mistake.

That was me Friday inside the church next to Ainsley's school. Of course, it being a church, I didn't say this out loud.

Last week we got a note home from Ainsley's music teacher asking for parent volunteers to attend a Friday afternoon rehearsal with the school choir and join them Saturday night for a short carolling appearance at the school Christmas party. Being a former choir girl who really misses singing carols every December, and being a teacher who could actually leave work and get to the afternoon rehearsal with minimal effort, I jumped at the chance to sing with my kid and her chorus friends.

It sounded good, in theory.

The kiddies all filed into the pews close to the piano. I waited for the other parents to arrive. I figured there would be half a dozen of us; there are a lot of very involved stay-at-home moms at Ainsley's school, and I often feel like an outsider because I usually can't do these little extra programs with the kids. But as we started warming up, it dawned on me: it was going to just be me and one other parent, a dad who admitted his only singing experience was "bar karaoke" on weekends and who I later learned could not, exactly, match pitch.


"Oh, great!" Ainsley's choir director said after warming us up. "Welcome, parents!" All two of us. "Can you sing the alto part on 'Angels We Have Heard On High?' I'll pick a few kids to join you, and it will be great to have adult voices guiding them since this is the first time they've heard it."

Not bad, I thought. That was a standard at Christmas time. I can do the alto in my sleep.

And as she pulled me and the dad and the four or five kids aside and had us sing the part by ourselves, it was okay.

"Oh, you're good," the teacher whispered to me. "Go stand behind the kids and make them feel comfortable in the part."

No prob, I thought. I sang in choirs for 10 years. I am good at standing in the back and blending in and singing the alto line and not drawing a lot of attention to myself with those pesky solos.

"Students," she called out in her lovely clear voice, "follow Mrs. Cranky and do the melody on the verses and those 5 of you do the harmony only on the 'Glorias'. She knows what she's doing."

She started us, and I sang the melody with the whole group. Then came the Glorias. I was looking at my music, making sure I knew what I was doing, when I had this weird sensation. Kinda like the end of that recurring nightmare so many people have where they show up to work naked but don't know it until they're already there in their office sipping their coffee.

I looked up...and 30 pairs of little eyes were all on me. All of the kids assigned to the harmony, and all but three or four of the kids doing the melody, had pretty much stopped singing at the Glorias and had just turned around to watch me. I mean, the teacher had instructed them to follow me and all...

I felt myself turn red.

One little boy standing right in front of me elbowed the kid next to me, without taking his eyes off me.

"Don't stare at her!" he chastised his neighbor. And they both just continued to stare.

I got through, with no help from the dad, who was singing something resembling the melody an octave below the kids.

Can I go home now?

The teacher eventually got everyone on track, and got the small harmony group to stop staring long enough to take a stab at doing the part after stranding me and turning it into a solo, and we ended up going through the rest of the songs (including "Away in a Manger" in a key only an 8-year-old soprano could love) uneventfully.

We got through the performance Saturday night just fine. At least as far as I could hear; the "audience" didn't really stop talking to listen to us. That may have been just as well; I think chances are good that none of the "alto" kids in front of me joined me on the harmony, and on "Away in a Manger" my side of the choir picked a different key than the one the choir director gave them at the first note.

"You have a beautiful voice," the choir director said after the program was over. "Thank you for joining us; I think it helped the kids a lot to have someone behind them helping them hear their notes."

I don't think the "beautiful voice" thing is true, though I am flattered. Not even at the height of my vocal "skills", after taking voice for two semester in college with a guy who really knew what he was doing, was my voice much to listen to. I think it has a nails-on-chalkboard quality that best belongs in the back row of a large alto section or to a Rockband song amongst dear friends who would never tell me how bad I suck. A soloist I am not.

But I always was a good choir girl.

Even with little eyes staring at me.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Welcome to the Rock!

My dear friend and fellow blood-cancer survivor (and blog reader) MelMart and I are big fans of purple shirts and survivor-ware. Purple is the survivorship color, and she and I are both drawn to items with that theme and that color.

So she naturally was touched when one of her students created a shirt for her. It was a lovely purple tee with a logo and slogan created from vinyl craft letters.

MelMart came into the library yesterday and held up the shirt with great glee. It says:


"It's close to Plymouth Rock, in case you were wondering," she said.

Ahh, the pluralizing with an apostrophe is still alive and well.

MelMart was talking about trying to peel the apostrophe off, but the more I think about, the more I think it should stay. It truly does sound like a glamorous destination.

Come visit scenic Survivor's Rock! Take in the sights and smells of Chemo Springs and bask in the rays at Radiation Beach. And for the extreme sports enthusiast, there's always Surgery Mountain!

Survivor's Rock...a nice place to visit, but you wouldn't want to live there. Though I hear it beats the alternative.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

A Christmas Letter

The Cranky Family holiday cards are going in the mail tomorrow. Some years I have the energy to enclose one of those newsy family letters that lets people on your card list know how you've been doing and what you've been up to the past year; some years I don't. This year definitely falls in the "don't" category.

Besides, I figure most people who really give a rat's behind about what I've been up to read the blog.

If you've read me on at least a semi-regular basis this year, you've pretty much seen 2008's highlight reel. But in case you missed a few episodes, here it is: our family Christmas letter.

Dear friends,

I hope this finds you and yours well. As a whole, the Crankies have a lot to be thankful for; we're healthy, employed, and happy. (Most days.)

2008 was a memorable year for us.

Not always memorable in a good way. In February, we almost lost Jason's mom. In September we stood outside our house and watched as, inexplicably, a tropical storm blew into the Ohio Valley and toppled trees and destroyed roofs and knocked out power and closed schools. The very next day I lost my last grandparent (Dad's mom, Kitty Marie.) My mother was in the hospital for a while and Ainsley was sick a lot with her asthma. But we have some good memories from this year, too.

In July I celebrated five years of remission with a long-distance toast to my friends all over the country and a fine cigar. (Thanks, Rick!) I started some genealogy research that uncovered several Irish ancestors (hello, St. Paddy's Day 2009!) And let us not forget that the winter of 2008, with its icy weather patterns and family illnesses, was when we became devotees of Rock Band. What better way to entertain yourself when you're homebound on weekends than to rock out with a little "Dani California" or "Enter Sandman"?

2008 was also the year Ainsley got to see the ocean for the first time. In June we threw together a last-minute family vacation to Hilton Head Island, and it was the best week of my life. The condo we rented was somehow both inexpensive and gorgeous, the beach was serene, the food was amazing. Ainsley discovered the joys of fresh fried shrimp, and her world may never be the same. My soul felt at home there and we hope to make it back someday soon.

The best part of that week on the coast? The day trip to Savannah. Eating at The Lady And Sons at last (oh, hoecakes, I miss you so), touring the city, driving through Bonaventure was a little like falling in love.

2008 may have had some worries for Jason and I, but Ainsley had a pretty good year. She "graduated" from kindergarten, found herself looking from behind a new pair of spectacles, and swam the summer away at our family recreation center's new waterpark. First grade is going well, and she helps me out before school and after school every day. She says she wants to be a librarian when she grows up. If starring in High School Musical 12 doesn't pan out, that is.

So, that's pretty much it for us, and for 2008. We look forward to 2009 (if nothing else, it brings a new season of Lost) and hope that good fortune finds you and your family during the new year.


Cranky and Company

Out of the Mouth of Ains: Young Scientist Edition

Everyone's least favorite part of my husband's job is that every so often he has to go in overnight to help with a release. Last night was one of those nights, and after dinner Jason explained to Ainsley that he would be taking a nap so that he could get up in the middle of the night and go in to work.

She thought about that for a second.

"Daddy...Are you nocturnal?"

So, thanks, DR, for the subscription to National Geographic for Kids. Evidently little miss SpongeBrain BaggyPants is learning some things.

Forget the Snuggy...

Oh, it's all about the Slanket. I've been converted. Especially since QVC has a one-day only special on them.

And look! I can get it in brown! That way I really will look like a homicidal monk.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

The Click, Click, Shift Girl

Finally, after 4 visits to the dentist, my wonky tooth is finally canalled and crowned. I would say it's been a comedy of errors except that it hasn't been funny; the first crown didn't fit and had to be re-made and re-seated, and I have since learned that the tooth behind the one they root-canalled is cracked and was causing some of the pain and needs to be fixed in January.


Because my dentist and his assistant have spent so much time working in my mouth this fall, they have adopted a nickname for me. I am known around that office as the "Click, click, shift" girl.

See, I have this noisy jaw. I didn't realize just how bad it was until the dentist started commenting on it. For years, Jason has tried to get me to do something about it; sometimes mid-dinner he will stop eating and look at me.

"Your jaw..." and then he stops, because apparently it's beyond words.

Jason would prefer that everyone eat in a cave 50 miles away from him, though, because of his eating noise issues, so to me that was never a reliable indicator of how fracked up my jaw joint has become. But when you can get a seasoned dental assistant to wince...

"Oooh..." she said when I showed up for my root canal and opened my mouth for the first time. And then she shivered.

And so it was every time after that that I had to open up during the canal prep. "Oooh..." followed by a shiver. And then when the dentist came in I realized there had been some discussion between the two of them.

"Yep," he said, looking at his assistant. "Click, click, shift."

They explained to me that every time I open my mouth, it goes through a ritual. Each jaw joint first clicks, then the whole jaw shifts position, and then I can open my mouth.

At the first post-canal appointment, the assistant asked me how my jaw held up after the canal. And once she mentioned it, I realized the dull ache in my jaw had been the only discomfort I had.

"Your jaw..." she said, echoing my husband. And then she shivered.

"The 'click-click-shift' girl is back!" she called out to the dentist.

This most recent appointment they just made jokes about it.

"Open, please," the dentist said as he cemented in the new crown. Click, click, shift. "Don't hurt yourself," he added, grinning.

Ha, ha. Laugh it up.

Needless to say I left the office with a handout of physical therapy exercises for TMJ disorders. It's going to require 15 minutes of my valuable free time every day for however long it takes for my jaw to stop making noises of such an extent that even dental professionals get weirded out by them. I can't promise I can keep this up, though; this is a bad time of year to try to consistently carve out a few minutes of my time. I'm exhausted every night as it is and haven't been good for much of anything except couch-cushion-warming after 8pm.

But thinking about sitting on the couch just made me yawn, and yawning required the click-click-shift, so I guess I'll be starting those exercises now.

Monday, December 8, 2008


A while back I started some very amateur genealogy research and stated on the blog that I wanted to know my origins by the time the first snow fell. Well, we had a little Alberta clipper move through over the weekend, dropping just enough white stuff to make my little corner of the world look like a snow globe. The roads slicked up in the unseasonably cold temps and reminded me of my promise to reveal what, besides sugar and spice and everything nice, this Kentucky girl is made of.

So here it is: so far as I can tell, as far back as I can go, I am Irish, English, German, Welsh, with perhaps a dash of that peculiar and controversial Appalachian blend, Melungeon. (If you've never heard of the Melungeons and their claim to be the descendants of early Mediterranean settlers who intermingled with the Native Americans and whites of the mountains, go look them up--Mom's relatives used to talk about how they were part "Portugee" and she never put any stock in it until we learned that nearly every surname I found going back 4 generations on her mother's side is a Melungeon surname.)

I am a mixed bag. Which makes me, like the rest of you dear readers, uniquely American.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Beware The Evil Eye Of Clinique!

Oh, the joy a free makeup bag from Clinique brings.

The ladies out there no doubt know all about Clinique's regular promotions where if you spend a mere $22.95 or something close to that figure you get a bunch of free sample-sized makeup in colors only Jezebel could love. I live for this, as a sometime fan of Clinique; that crap's expensive and I really need a tiny tube of lipstick in a shade called "Grapevine" after I've blown a day's salary on their hypoallergenic eye makeup, just to make me feel like I scored a bargain. Never mind that "Grapevine" makes me look like one of the vampires in Twilight after dining on a little deer blood.

Ainsley benefited from the last round of Bonus Days. I got a bright green plastic clutch filled with too-bright makeup, but the sales lady let Ainsley pick her own smaller bright-green plastic makeup case. It was empty, and was an extra from a previous promotion, but it made Ainsley feel like a big girl as she left the store with a little makeup bag that was a miniature of her mommy's.

It's a round bag with a handle and after dinner Ainsley held the bag up in front of one of her eyes.

"Look, mommy," she said in a suddenly deep, ominous voice. "It's the Evil Eye Of Hell!"

It's the what now?

I guess that's the kind of imaginative play you get when you let a Catholic school girl suddenly interested in heaven and hell watch The Lord Of The Rings movies.

But I can't help but also see it as a commentary on expensive department store makeup.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Out Of The Mouth Of Ains: 4 Letter Words

The night before her Friday spelling tests, Ainsley always comes home with a little flip book for all the spelling words. To help with phonics (there's a long-lost educational concept) and reading, each week's spelling words share a common ending consonant or the same internal vowel sound or both.

This week were the "ut" words--cut, but, nut, etc.

She walked up to me yesterday afternoon with her little flip book and showed me the very last word: "shut."

"Um, mommy," she began. This is her new favorite way to start every sentence. "I know a cuss word you can make from this word."

I would ask her how she knows this, but I have a feeling I already know.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Hey There, Delilah, What's It Like On That Planet You're From?

Could anybody tell I was having a bad day yesterday? I mean, it's not like I ranted about anything.

No, the holidays are not Cranky's favorite time of year. Add to that all the brouhaha about the economy, and the bailouts, and the huge mistake I made of reading the local paper's editorial section on a day that was already a little blue, and there you go. Ainsley's right; I have been mean, and perhaps I should think about changing that.

After I posted the GM and UAW rant last night, I got out of Dodge (har) for a little bit. I needed to be alone. I needed to get out by myself, listen to Delilah, maybe have a little cry, and get some items necessary for baking a coffee cake for the kid's teachers' holiday breakfast Friday.

I've written before about the embarrassing fact that I am a closet Delilah listener. There are worse skeletons I could be hiding, but not by much.

So there I was, sad, stressed, contemplative, getting out in my car all by myself in the rain. I turned to Delilah for a cheap bit of sentimentality sure to bring on a good cry to get everything out of my system and make me a better person for a few days.

I didn't count on the giggle fit that ensued.

One of my favorite things on the Delilah show is when she completely mismatches, in my opinion, the song to the moment. I'll be listening to the caller's sad story, and have in my mind a half dozen "good" ballady pop songs that could fit, but then she'll trot something like "Young Turks" out and make me go, "WTF?"

Last night a woman called in who has five children ranging in ages from 2 to 11 with number 6 on the way right after Christmas (yikes.) The woman was calling to give a shout-out to her patient Super-hubby, who was helping her chase the kids already there and dealing with her fatigue and mood swings from the kid yet to be and generally being a prince of a guy who was making the whole motherhood thing bearable for her. Of course, D told her she would find "the perfect song."

Well, I could think of quite a few. There's "Because You Loved Me" by Celine Dion. The similarly-titled but not as similarly-sounding-as-you-might-think "Because You Love Me" by Jo Dee Messina. You could do old-school with "Stand By Me." Or go over-the-top with Mariah Carey's "Hero." I mean, those are just the "thank you for being there during the most difficult time of my life" songs that occurred to me in the 10 seconds before the actual chosen song started playing.

It started out promising. A new Faith Hill song called "A Baby Changes Everything." Ah, just like the Johnson and Johnson commercials! Sweet! Maybe not perfectly perfect since this is baby number 6 for this woman, but kinda perfect. Surely it mentions the baby daddy's role since the point of the woman's call is to give props to her hero hubby. Cue Faith Hill's soaring voice. What could possibly be wrong?


The lyrics start out talking about a teenage girl, no ring on her hand, lost and alone and in a certain predicament, all her dreams and plans dashed by an unexpected event, deciding she needs to run far, far, away.


So, um...a teenage pregnancy-runaway song for a mature woman who has been a mom for nearly a dozen years now? Really?

I listened carefully. Maybe it would be one of those songs where the same chorus is used in a couple of different contexts as a couple or a person gets older. You know, like "Butterfly Kisses" (which starts out with a dad getting butterfly kisses from his sweet little girl and then ends with him getting butterfly kisses as he's walking her down the aisle) or the tearjerker "How Can I Help You Say Goodbye?" (where a mom helps her little girl say good bye to her best friend when she moves away, then helps her say goodbye to her husband after they separate, then finally helps her say goodbye as the mom herself wastes away in a hospital bed.) I don't know why these types of songs get me, but they do. They use every cheap tearjerker cliche in the book, but it works. So I was waiting for the cleansing tears.

But then I realized the song is really about (wait for it)...

Mary. Yes, that most famous of surprised teenage mothers.

Delilah played a nativity song that also serves as a message about unwed teenage mothers, a Christmas song in which Joseph plays no real role, to honor this woman's helpful husband. Are you kidding me?

About halfway in I got the giggles. And the giggles soon became belly-shaking laughs. And then I did end up crying, but only because I was trying to hold the giggles in so I could run into the grocery store without looking like a loon, and when I try to not laugh I end up getting so tickled that I cry.

Gosh, I needed that.

With the next song I realized that Delilah is just doing Christmas songs now in honor of the season, so I forgave her a little bit. I don't know what she could have picked there that could have worked ("I Want a Hippopotamus For Christmas"?) for a pregnant woman and her husband.

But surely...surely there is something else.

Later she played "What Child Is This?" for a woman whose 19-year-old daughter, the baby of the family, is about to leave the nest and move into her own apartment, so she redeemed herself with that oddly poignant choice.

If you're interested in hearing the Faith Hill song, click here. You probably won't find it as amusing as I did because you are a normal human not two hairs away from a nervous breakdown like I was last night. But if you are amused/overjoyed by overdone Christmas ballads ("The Christmas Shoes", "Mary, Did You Know?", etc.) this will be right up your alley.

And weigh in on this one: Is there another Christmas song that would have worked better for this not-long-distance dedication? Or am I judging the D too harshly?

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

General Mayhem

I haven't gotten on my soapbox in a while. But I have something to say, y'all. And though I might be preaching to the choir, I've just got to get it off my chest.

First off, let me just say that despite my lefty leanings, I am not a big fan of these here bailouts. I know that even many conservatives are saying they are necessary to keep our economy from completely going under after that big iceberg we hit but I just don't know how I feel about the government saving companies who made bad choices.

I will say, though, that I don't want those who work for the banks and the car companies to lose their jobs. And every time I think I have my mind made up, that the bailouts are the worst mistake we've ever made, I hear my dad's voice in my ear, whispering, "Save GM, save the world."

Part of my morning ritual, after the madness of the first hour of school has wound down, is to take 5 and read the editorials in our local paper. Very rarely do I agree with any of the editorials or letters to the editor in this most conservative of regions, but sometimes I am surprised, and I always am interested in what other people are thinking about the day's topics. I don't think I have all the right answers and like to challenge myself to form my own opinions rather than always toeing the party line.

Today there were two letters from readers talking specifically about GM and the potential bailout. Both were in support of the bailout as a way of supporting the workers themselves.

Well. On our local paper's website readers can comment much like a blog. And these two letters got a lot of comments. Angry comments that draw an awful lot of conclusions about the men and women who power the American automobile industry.

One commenter calls UAW workers in general and GM workers in particular "deadbeats" who work 4 hours a day and make $72 an hour. "Go out and get a REAL JOB working 8 hours a day!" he says.


Oh, that's just one anonymous a-hole commenting on a blog, you may be saying. Oh, if only. Opinions like this, that working for GM is some kind of overpaid dream job, prevail.

"The union salaries are killing the Big 3!" people are saying. "The workers make too much money to just stand on an assembly line and tighten screws!"

"Their benefits are too much!" others say. "They need to have their insurance benefits cut and retirees need to pay full premiums like the rest of us!"

Finally..."They have pensions! And their spouses draw their pensions! The pensions are doing them in!"

Oh, the horror of retired over-65s who have the gall to be drawing pensions.

I know that UAW rules are one of the many things that have made American car companies unprofitable. But I also know, as the daughter of a man who worked first on 2 GM assembly lines and later in a GM parts warehouse, that that life is far from Easy Street.

I don't know who the above responder was referring to when he talked about deadbeat workers making $72 and hour and putting in 4 hours a day at most, but I promise you he wasn't talking about my dad and the men and women he worked with.

For 30+ years, my dad did hard physical labor. Some people think that standing on an assembly line and plugging in one part for 8 hours a day isn't hard labor; as someone who barely made it through one summer working on a warehouse supply line, I can tell you it's grueling. At the Norwood plant, Dad did brake assembly and stood crouched half-in, half out of car bodies. For several years at Marion, he worked with welders and came home every night with holes burned into his t-shirts from sparks. When mom washed his undershirts, she would sometimes shake her head at the holes that made it through those, too. The last years he worked he filled orders at a parts warehouse and, according to the pedometer he wore for kicks one night, walked about 10 miles criss-crossing all over the warehouse in a standard shift. Dad, however, didn't complain.

In his last decade, an 8-hour shift was a short one for Dad. Knowing that layoffs could come at any time, he took every opportunity for overtime he could get. Even in his late 50s and early 60s he worked on average 10 hours a day, 5 days a week. During what he called "good times" he worked a 12 or 14 hour shift each weekday and then a 6 or 8 hour shift on Saturday.

Working those kinds of hours doing that kind of on-your-feet job is difficult. I couldn't do it; seeing my dad come through the door worn to the bone some mornings after a 14-hour shift just as I was getting up for school is one of the biggest reasons why I worked toward a college degree.

People talk about the overly high salaries negotiated by the union. I don't know anyone in Dad's group who made $72 an hour. Here's the reality I saw: in the parts warehouse, after 30 years of UAW-negotiated raises, my dad's regular hourly wage was something like $22 an hour. Is that a nice salary? Certainly. Was it exorbitant? As someone who made it through college on financial aid and frequently qualified for free or reduced school lunches, it sure didn't feel that way. Did he always rake in that kind of hourly wage? Hell, no. In any given year Dad might have been on labor cutback or temporary lay-off for at least a month or so, often longer, and even though he drew unemployment, things got tight. When I was in second and third grade Dad was out of work for 15 months, and that's the poorest I've ever been; in the winter of 1982 I had two pairs of cheap overalls and two white turtleneck sweaters I alternated between to wear to school and we dug through couch cushions for change to buy luxuries like Coke.

Beginning in the 80s working for GM was unstable; Dad was constantly worried about layoffs but had enough years in that it made no sense to get another job. When the Norwood plant shut down, the only reasonable option was to "commute" to the small town 4 hours away to the next closest plant in Indiana. During those years, Dad's salary supported us (though my mom always made a little money as a hairdresser) and kept up an apartment for himself. He could have packed us all up, but with rumors of that plant closing, too, it seemed too risky a gamble.

We did have pretty good health insurance, though like everyone, benefits declined and out-of-pocket expenses went up starting in the 90s and continuing through Dad's retirement. For a long while we had to pay full price for doctor visits though most everything else was covered at 100%. Dad died less than a year after he retired, and one of his big sickbed worries was that the insurance for retirees was not what he and mom were used to and he racked up some pretty big medical bills in the last months of his life. Had some of his doctors not decided to write off most of those co-insurance costs, my mother would still be paying on his bills 3 years later.

My mother still benefits from Dad's retiree insurance coverage as her secondary insurance, which I've heard some pundits slam. She doesn't pay a premium for her insurance, but the insurance isn't as good as mine; her recent trip to the hospital is going to cost her a couple thousand out of pocket. She still draws his pension, too. This leads many to point to GM's welfare state. But here's the thing: they both counted on that. My mother didn't work for one single company all her life to get her own health insurance and retirement benefits; she was a hairdresser who worked in small privately-owned shops. Dad was from a different generation; in his mind, he worked to support both himself and my mom for their whole lifetimes. He chose to spend his working years in a GM factory because it was his best option after he left the military for being able to support his wife not only during his lifetime but after he was gone. Change was in the wind before even he passed away, and he had begun to save a modest bit of money to support Mom if GM every decided to cut retiree benefits. But in a time before 401Ks, in a generation where many women did not work outside the home, GM's "welfare" made the long hours, the uncertainty, and the hard labor worth it.

Some of the commenters have pointed to the union's "30-years-and-out" rules as being behind the times. It was fine when people were dying in their 60s, they say, to allow people to draw benefits after 30 years. Now that people are living to 90, that's just too much! No wonder the Big 3 are going bankrupt!

Anyone who thinks 30 years of factory work isn't worthy of retirement never worked in a factory. It wore out my father's body. When he moved, his joints popped like gunshots. The cancer my father died of, bladder cancer, is a common one in people who work around industrial painters and with solvents (which Dad did at various times during his career.) Not to blame his job for his cancer; I prefer to point my finger at the cigarettes. But working on an assembly line and in a parts warehouse put wear and tear on his body in a way that school librarianship is never going to put on mine. And I will be able to retire after 27 years. And draw a pension. And have retirement insurance coverage.

Even though my mom relies on Dad's pension, she is frustrated with the auto companies. She was outraged that the CEOs showed up in private jets. She realizes they have made bad business choices. She knows there has to be a huge change in their business model if they are to survive. She is trying to prepare for what life may be like if the government allows them to go under. It will be a much tougher life, as she will just be living off of her meager savings and Social Security. She's resigned to the possibility, but doesn't want this. She wants to have the life my Dad worked so hard to give her. And I think this really sums up where I stand: no matter your opinion on the bailout, no matter whether or not you think the Big 3 should just be allowed to go bankrupt and have to start all over, you have to see that there is a human face to this.

There are people who worked 8 hours a day 5 days a week for 30 years and physically gave the best they had to a company. There are people working (more than 4 hours a day, and for way less than $72 an hour) in plants and distribution warehouses now whose families and communities won't make it without these jobs.

The GM my dad worked for, with its pension, union wages, and benefits, must change if it is to survive. It does not follow a successful 21st century business model. I get that.

But before you judge and blame the union, and blame the workers, and the "welfare state" for the crisis, think about people like my dad--the men and women with calluses on their hands from doing work many of us wouldn't be willing to do. Think about working that kind of job day in and day out and what kind of retirement, salary, and benefits you would need to be able to do that kind of work every day of your working life. Think about the older workers and retirees who, rightly or wrongly, were essentially given a promise of security.

Think what you want about the bailout and about the failures of the American auto industry. Just be careful what you think about the men and women who are most affected by the future of those companies.

Mean Mom

"You're mean!"

I hear this every so often from Ainsley. In fact, I just heard it last night. Usually I wear it like a badge of honor. If my 6-year-old doesn't occasionally think I'm a big meanie, I'm not doing my job.

My mother-in-law has a framed poem in her house given to her by one of her boys called "The Meanest Mother" or somesuch and it talks about how the mother in question always made her kids eat their vegetables, tell her where they were going to be and who they were going to be with, be kind to others, go to bed on time, do chores, stay in school, etc. And then the last line goes like this:

You know what this world needs? More mean mothers.

Having worked with high school students for a dozen years now, I could not agree more.

Last night during bath time, when I refused to cave to the "just five more minutes to play before you wash my hair, please, please " request, I got my usual, "You're mean!"

So I gave my usual response: "Good! I want to be mean."

But then came a zinger.

"You've been really mean for 4 days now! Do you ever think maybe you should stop being so mean?"

Oh, snap.

The things I had to hold back from saying. Chief among them the sordid truth:

Yes, Ains, I've been mean for a few days! Mean as a snake! Wanna know why? Maybe it's the PMS! You'll understand that someday, sister! Maybe it's the holidays and the fact that I have to buy every single present for every single person on our list! Maybe it's because it took me an entire weekend to put up a Christmas tree because I couldn't get any of the old lights to work and then when I went to the store I bought the kind with the white wire instead of the green wire and had to take them back and get some more! Yeah, or maybe I'm worried about the economy! I'M STRESSED, OKAY!!!

But she wouldn't understand, and just writing that a day later made me overuse exclamation points and holler out in all caps, so I have a feeling that rant would have just reinforced the whole "You're mean!" point of view.

I told Jason about it after Ains was in bed, and he got a big kick out of it. This morning he asked Ains, right in front of me,

"Has your mommy been mean for 4 days?"

"Five, now," she said, looking over her shoulder at me. I hadn't even said an unkind word to her yet, so she must have just been going on my looks.

Hopefully things will lighten up soon. Hopefully whatever it is that's making me so mean (hormones, stress, hormones) will wane and I can go back to my sweet, lovable self.

I can hear that! Stop laughing!

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Out Of The Mouth Of Ains: The Ish Edition

As Ainsley always does when she's exceedingly happy, she spent much of the day Saturday talking about how much she loves all of us. I think she gets overwhelmed easily by her own joy and doesn't know what to say. Saturday was the day we put all the Christmas decorations up and put the lights outside our house, so her heart was light as we travelled out to do a little Christmas shopping.

"I love you so, so much!" she chimed from the backseat. "I love you more than anything else. Except Daddy. And Mamaw. And Meemaw. And God. And everybody else in our family."

And there she stopped short.

"Except that God isn't in my family," she reasoned. "He doesn't have our last name."

This brought a discussion about last names. I felt she needed a little clarity here; because of remarriage, her Meemaw doesn't have the same last name as her Daddy. I explained how people in the same family can have different last names because when women marry, they take their husband's name. Most of the time.

"So if you grew up and married your friend John from school," I explained, "your new name would be Ainsley Smith. Or if you married Greg, your name would be Ainsley Hanson."

"Oh, but I would never marry Greg," she said. "I've told you before that he's mean-ish, nice-ish, and fun-ish. But mostly mean-ish."

That's right, kid. Keep your standards high. Hold out for someone special-ish. Maybe rich-ish. But definitely smart-ish. How about doctor-ish?

Monday, December 1, 2008

The Christmas Skit

Ainsley has written a Christmas skit.

The working title is simply "Skit" and it's rather simple. The main characters are Mary, God, and an angel and it's based on these books Ainsley has been reading at school lately called The Gospels. Perhaps you've heard of them.

She has even cast her play with herself playing the angel, me playing Mary (hahaha) and Jason playing God (BWAHAHAHAHA.) She wants me to buy her some highlighters so that we can highlight our lines because, apparently, this is more important even than costumes and a set.

It's fairly well-written so far as any play adapted by a six-year-old can be well-written. But it's no "The Kidnapping of Rudolfo."

It does not surprise me that Ainsley has written a Christmas skit because writing holiday plays runs in the family. I was hoping she would wait until she was in a high-school Spanish class to express her holiday spirit through drama, but she's getting an early start.

One of the many treasures Jason found when he cleaned out his stored boxes of old folders and papers this summer was a copy of a Christmas skit our Spanish class was supposed to write and perform our sophomore year in high school. This was a favorite assignment of our former Spanish teacher, and she herself usually got written into the action. This skit Jason found from the last year he went to the same high school I did is a lost masterpiece; we wrote it in English, we each took pages and translated it into Spanish, and according to the drafts he found, the Spanish teacher even edited our translations. But sadly that one never saw the light of public performance. Perhaps this was for the best; the plot line was that an alcoholic pedophile Santa comes to an orphanage to get his jollies but is foiled by the clever and knowing antics of the orphans and an enterprising nun.

No, I am not joking. Yes, our Spanish teacher was going to let us do this for a grade. And tape us doing it. And I think play the nun, which was a very wink, wink, nudge, nudge bit of high-school irony.

But wait! There's more!

The next year, after Jason and his screenwriting gift had left us, my good friend penned a script for a Christmas skit that actually was videotaped and still survives to this day: "The Kidnapping of Rudolfo." Or Rudolph, if you speak English.

There are some parts of this famed skit that I would be proud to show you and admit being a part of the creation of. The basic plot is rather creative and a true product of the political and social climate of the early 1990s. In an effort to ruin Christmas for Americans, Saddam Hussein kidnaps Rudolph and hold him ransom. Once President Bush and Vice President Quayle are alerted, they work with the United Nations and with Santa and his elves to launch a dangerous mission into enemy territory to free Rudolph. Also, I think Ronald Reagan was involved in the rescue, but I think that was mostly because our main screenwriter had a Reagan mask.

The parts I am not proud of involve a subplot with a prostitute and Dan Quayle and some not-subtle sexual innuendo. This is probably because our Spanish teacher played the prostitute and dressed the part and then showed the video proudly to many of the other teachers in our school. But I digress.

Writing, translating, and filming that thing took up pretty much the entire time between Thanksgiving and Christmas break. I remember filming my last scene (I was a news anchor who reported both the breaking news of Rudolph's possible demise and the news of his daring rescue) at 7pm in our Spanish classroom the night before the thing was due.

The special effects were what you might expect from poor kids with a VHS camera and two VCRs (the big kidnapping scene consisted of a toy stuffed Rudolph, some fishing line, and some edited-in explosion footage from something or other our director had taped off of TV) but it had a lot of heart.

Also a lot of boobs thanks to our teacher.

It used to be Christmas tradition to trot that video out every few years and look at how young, thin, and stupid we used to be. We used to like to show that to the people in our lives who didn't go to school with us, but at some point we realized that the whole thing is both childishly goofy and seriously inappropriate. But it has been a while, and it may be time to go back and reminisce about a simpler but dirtier time (DD, I'm looking at you, oh ye holder of a copy.)

But first, I have to go get my Mary on.