Thursday, April 30, 2009

Little Girl, Lost

It has happened. And it was just as terrifying as I imagined it to be.

Ainsley was missing for about 15 minutes yesterday. She didn't get off the bus here at my school in the afternoon. I knew of no reason why she would be staying late at her school. I am fairly sure that those 15 minutes of terror and panic will shave a year or two off of my natural life; seeing as how my heart dropped to somewhere in the vicinity of my lower colon, I don't see how I didn't suffer some kind of long-term health effect.

An angel helped me get through it. One of our school secretaries holds on to Ains for me in her office for the five minutes between when Ains gets off the bus and when our final bell frees me. This same woman has the coolest head in a crisis I've ever seen; any time trouble goes down in our school, she's the voice of reason who knows who to call and where to go for help. So this saint of a woman told me to sit down and breathe while she called the bus garage, radioed the driver of Ainsley's bus, and tried again and again to reach Ainsley's school's front office. When no one picked up there, she called to the church next door and when the receptionist there wasn't willing to offer help, told her in her best "Don't you dare b.s. me" tone that she had a frantic mom on her hands who needed to know where her child was and the least the receptionist could do was walk over to the school and relay a message since no one was picking up in the office.

Turns out Ainsley's teacher knew where she was: she had drama practice for a play she's in. Didn't I get that schedule?

No. No, I did not.

By the time the secretary got an answer, a couple of teachers who had overheard what was going on were hanging close by in the office to keep me calm and I guess to be there for me if I got worse news. I am pretty reserved and cool, professionally; I don't like to get worked up or get too personal around my co-workers. But when I knew Ains had been found, and was safe and sound in a classroom, I took off my glasses, put my head in my hands, and bawled. I didn't care who saw me. I felt people collectively sigh around me, and some patted my back as they went on with their own dramas. Releasing pent-up adrenaline never felt so good.

It wasn't long, though, before relief turned to anger. How could Ainsley not get the schedule home to me? And how can an elementary school teacher trust that a six-year-old will get such an important paper home and not follow through with parents in the form of a signature sheet or email or SOMETHING?!

I found that I couldn't wait until practice was over to see her. I went up to her school and crept into drama practice. I happened to catch Ainsley going up the stairs to the bathroom.

There were a lot of things I thought I would say. Things like, "Why can't you be more responsible?" and "If you can't let me know what's going on better than this, then you just won't do drama anymore." But what came out instead was a classic mom-ism:

"Do you know that you almost gave me a heart attack?"

And as I looked into her little face, complete with an expression that read, "Duh, mom, I was here at school just like I'm supposed to be," I melted. I just wanted to hug her.

Because the reality is, a story that starts with a kid not getting off a school bus doesn't always have a happy ending.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The Lump On My Head

It hurts to comb my hair today.

It's neither traumatic nor a brain injury, but it pains me nevertheless. See, I was walking around in my kitchen with my head turned at an angle to the rest of my body because I was trying to see if the odd-colored spot on my kitchen tile floor was a trick of the light or some stubborn stain that wasn't wiping up. The problem with walking around one's kitchen with one's head turned at a funny angle is that one can't see where one is going, and if one isn't coordinated, which this one isn't, one is bound to run into something.

The something I ran into was the sharp corner where the kitchen wall ends and the hallway begins, and it just so happens I ran into it with the top-right side of my head.

Like Cousin Eddie, if I dent that part of my head, well, my hair just ain't gonna part right.

Even though I was only walking, I hit that edge blind with no hesitation or slowing down. It was a hard enough blow to make my teeth clack together and my jaw vibrate, and caused enough immediate pain that when Jason asked me, "Are you okay?" the only response I could throw out was a gruff, "No!" and a walk back to our bedroom to check that none of my teeth had cracked when my jaw smashed shut. Jason later checked me for blood and signs of trauma and I headed to the gym. No worries.

When Natasha Richardson took her fatal fall on the ski slope this winter, a lot of people were wondering how someone could have a grave head injury and not know it. I even read blogs where people were criticizing her decision to send the ambulance away. But I could remember when Ainsley had taken her tumble on the school playground last year and how, until the pediatrician at Children's Hospital ER pulled her hair back to expose a scrape and a bruise, we had no idea that her lethargy and vomiting were due to a concussion and not due to what we were afraid was an elbow fracture. The scariest part of a head injury is that even if you're not knocked out, even if you get up and shake it off, the damage could be done and you won't feel the most alarming of the symptoms until it's too late.

About a half hour after I hit my head, while I was in may car driving to the gym, I realized that I was getting a headache. The pain extended into my cheek and jaw which had gotten slammed shut after the blow. Did I stop what I was doing? Did I give a moment's thought to going back home where someone could at least watch me for signs of an injury? No. Why? Because I'm a mom and I have things I want and need to do and I know my own body well enough to know nothing seriously was wrong. And because it I didn't hit my head very hard.

Which is probably very close to what Natasha Richardson was thinking.

When I worked out and didn't die, I knew for sure I was okay. In the shower after, I realized it hurt to shampoo; that's when I felt the swollen, bumpy ridge that formed where head met sharp edge.

But as Ainsley's pediatrician told me once: a bump isn't so troubling. It's when you hit your head hard and there isn't a bump that you're in trouble.

Later when I tried to check our voice mail and got frustrated because the password I was punching in brought back an error message, and I realized it was because I was typing in the password for our old carrier which we haven't used in something like two years, I had another moment of doubt.

"Crap. Did I do something to my head? Was this momentary confusion just me being tired and scatter-brained, or do I have a little head thing going on? Oh, wait, Mike Rowe and fishermen." I got distracted by Deadliest Catch like a bird catching sight of a sparkly piece of tinfoil.

This morning with a sore head, and a burgeoning migraine no doubt triggered by the mildly hard knock, I'm only a little worse for wear. But next time (and I know myself well enough to know that there will be a next time) will I be more vigilant? Will I again tell myself that the bump on my head is nothing, since it was nothing this time? And will I be right?

Because it only takes the one time of being wrong.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Ode to a Pontiac

Now that the Pontiac brand is no more, does that mean that my 2006 Vibe is a collector's item? Or does it just mean that I drive an obsolete vehicle?

I am going to pretend it's the former even though I know it's the latter.

My family has a tradition on buying cars that aren't produced for very long. I could spin it to say that we're quirky, and adventurous, and nonconformist. But I think the truth is that we're not good car buyers.

Oh, I shouldn't say that. I like my Vibe and the only trouble it's given me is brake trouble and that's just because my local CarX doesn't like to do things right the first time. But perhaps the only reason my Vibe runs so well is that it's not really a Pontiac at all; it's really a Toyota Matrix with a sporty Pontiac grill.

Just like the 1990 Geo Prizm I bought from my dad and drove for 6 years that was really a Toyota.

"Ahh, the Chevrolet Corolla," a technician once said as I rolled my little red car into his shop for a repair.

Just like the Ford Fairmont he was so proud of buying in 1979, my dad had thought that Geo was the next big thing in cars. He totally believed in that short-lived collaboration between GM and their foreign "enemy." The cease-fire was short-lived, though, and once it became the Chevrolet Prizm, it was only a matter of time before that model would see its end. Probably for the best; as we discovered, the Japanese motor in our Geo Prizm mandated that the car would run long after its American body fell apart. And getting repair, or even getting a key made, was an exercise in patience; sometimes the part needed was a Chevy part, sometimes a Corolla part, sometimes something that didn't exist anymore. Driving a car that was half foreign, half-domestic, and not seen all that much by mechanics made for fun times.

So you would have thought I'd learned my lesson. But the lure of my dad's discount (which the family of GM retirees get even after the retiree has passed away) on a car that had a Toyota engine was hard to pass up when we found ourselves car shopping in 2006.

And I was happy. Until now, 3 years in, when I see that Pontiacs are to be a thing of the past.

Despite assurances that I shouldn't be, I'm worried about my warranty. I am worried about getting knowledgeable repair if and when something goes wrong. Jason and I keep cars for a long time; I was planning on keeping my Vibe until, like the Prizm, it literally falls apart at the seams.

And perhaps I will. Perhaps I will be able to take the Vibe into a shop seven years from now and have the technician know exactly how to make it tick. But it already doesn't bode well; the last oil change I got, I heard the following exchange from the guy in the well below the car to the technicians checking the fluids:

"Wait, this is a Pontiac, you said? Then why does it have a Toyota engine? What kind of car is this?"

The kind of car the Cranky family loves to buy, that's what.

Let's talk cars: Have any of you ever driven a car that is no longer made? Are any of you sad to see Pontiac go?

Friday, April 24, 2009

To Live For

I feel most librarian-y when a book order comes in and I rip open the box, hurl the packing paper aside, and dig in to the titles like a kid with a Christmas present. Especially when there's one buzzy title that I am looking for so I can beat out my bookish library aides for the honor of getting first dibs.

I have read a lot in the last couple of months about a YA novel called If I Stay. Written by Gayle Forman, it's gotten the kind of pre-publication buzz in magazines' book sections I don't hear too often for a writer not already known to a base of readers. Heck, it's already been optioned for a movie to be directed by Twilight director Catherine Hardwicke. Before the book was even available for purchase! Color me interested.

No-brainer, then, that when I saw its sky-blue cover in a box this week I grabbed it. And in two sittings, devoured it. It's not perfect, and it's not going to be the next Harry Potter or Twilight or anything, but it's very moving and subtly poses the kind of deep questions only the best books for young minds do.

It's haunting me. As a book largely about death and a teenage girl's decision whether or not to fight to survive after a devastating car accident, it's making me think about my own mortality in a time in my life where I've been seeing death around every corner. With Jason's mom's situation seeming so grim last week, I'd already been thinking a lot about this question: at what point would I just stop fighting? How sick, how in pain would I have to be before I would ask my family to let me go? And then this book comes along, and BLAMMO! I am ready to plan my own funeral.

When Jason's mom went on the ventilator the very first time, we talked about end-of-life issues. Jokingly, I tell him that I am not afraid to die and feel ready to go because at least that way I could get caught up on my sleep. But then I seriously told both him and my mom my wishes and went so far as to print out a living will and fill it out. But then it sat on my desk, the only things keeping it from being recognized in the state of Kentucky being a blank space for my signature and the lack of a notary seal. What if my mind changes? What if "Let me go, don't let me suffer" becomes "By any means necessary"? Or what if I decide I want dramatic life-preserving measures, only to later find my mind trapped in an agonized body with no means of communicating to my family that I want to let go?

I don't think I am ruining If I Stay for anyone if I say that Mia's (the main character's) choice comes down to measuring what and who she has to live for against what kind of life her broken body can give her. In the novel, she can watch everything that is happening to her because she has become disassociated from her body; she can walk around her hospital room, wander to the waiting room, and hear every word the doctors, nurses, and her friends and family say. She also experiences flashbacks where she lsees her childhood acted out before her eyes. Just when it looks like she has made a choice, she experiences a memory that makes her waffle, or sees how someone she loves is reacting to her almost lifeless body, or hears a doctor's prognosis, and she questions whether or not she should stay. Yes, it's just as heartwrenching as it sounds.

So it may seem a grim and morbid blog question to post on a gorgeous spring day, but maybe it will cause us all to have one of those Oprah life-giving moments. Here it is: if you found yourself in Mia's situation or one like it, where would your flashes take you? What are some of the things that would make you stay?

I'll get us started down this dark path. Because this week, that's how I roll.

There are my friends and family, of course. That goes without saying, doesn't it? But like Emily in Our Town, it's really the little things. "Clocks ticking...And food and coffee. And new-ironed dresses and hot baths...and sleeping and waking up. Oh, earth, you are too wonderful for anybody to realize you!" (Sob.) Here's my list of things to live for, the list of scenes I see when I think about the joys of my life:

1. Getting emotional while reading fine moments in literature, like Emily's monologue at the end of Our Town.

2. Tucking Ainsley in at night after she's asleep and kissing her on the dewy, lavender-lotion-scented dip at the nape of her neck.

3. Trying to unravel the mysteries of Lost (I swear, I will be so mad if I go before I get to see that last episode. Heaven better have HDTV.)

4. Unibroue.

5. Turning my face up to the warmth of the summer sun.

6. Bright, breezy spring afternoons spent with the windows open and James Taylor playing while I cook.

7. Running.

8. Slow dancing with the guy I love.

9. Watching sunrises. And sunsets. Whether from a mountain or a beach or my own backyard.

10. Listening to music. All kinds--from my little girl singing a hymn, to Susan Boyle singing "I Dreamed a Dream", to a symphony orchestra, to a loud rock band.

Feel morbid enough to chime in today? What would keep you in the fight?

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Happy Happy Birthday, Baby

Today Jason joins me in being 35. Finally we're both in that 35--44 demographic, and it's not just me living in middle-age land.

The poor guy has been having a rough couple of weeks. His mom has been hospitalized since March and there have been times when it's looked like she wasn't going to pull off one of her patented miracle recoveries (though I am happy to report that she is finally beginning to turn around) and he's had some tough decisions to make at his job. As always, he has handled it with grace. I would have cracked under the pressure; Jason just battles on. He's calm. He's smooth. He doesn't show stress very often. He's like a guy in an anti-perspirant commercial.

He deserves a good day today. All too often, I use these blog pages to pick on him a little. But today I am going to list all the things that make Jason still the one (cue that Shania Twain song!) Happy birthday, Jason.

1. I find him very handsome and believe he gets more so as he gets older. He looks like the misbegotten love child of Jim Carrey and Cary Elwes, and I mean this in the best possible way.

2. He's funny. Really, really funny. And more importantly, he has passed his sense of humor along to our kid, who without those genes and that example, would just be dark and humorless like her mom.

3. He knows what books I want to read before I know I want to read them. I have blogged about this before because it amazes me. For my birthday and Christmas and our anniversary he almost always gets me a book, and somehow he gets it right every time. He knows if one of my favorite authors has a new book out before I even know, and he knows my tastes well enough to surprise me. Some girls like getting jewels or flowers; I live for the books and have a husband that gets this.

4. He makes just sitting around watching TV fun. He gets excited about the same shows I get excited about (Lost, 30 Rock) and makes watching each one after the kid's in bed kinda like a date.

5. He's my spider killer. This is a talent not to be underestimated.

6. He understands that some Sundays I just need a nap and takes Ainsley out so that I can curl up with a blanket.

7. He is very, very good at his job. He is absolutely the go-to guy at work which can completely suck but which he really complains about less than I would in that same situation.

8. Even though he's a registered Republican, he puts up with my liberal soapboxing and has even allowed himself to be turned a little bit to the dark side (he balks at the idea of registering as a Dem, but he now identifies as an Independent, so my work here is done.)

8. In short, he is awesome.

For those of you that know him, give him some birthday love in the comments.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Out of the Mouth of Ains: Similes

The kid had a really bad bike wreck Friday. The kind that makes a parent stop what she's doing and run to the scene rather than waiting for the kid to shake it off. She came down the hill of our street full-tilt-boogie, not even applying the brake or trying to turn until she was in driveway at the end of the circle, heading for a collision with a garage door. By then it was too late, and her cheap little Strawberry Shortcake bike tipped and off she went in a roll that pitted skin against concrete. And that's a battle skin is going to lose every time.

I was surprisingly calm. When I saw her hit so hard that she rolled from front to back and back to front again, instead of thinking, ohmygodohmygodohmygod, I just thought, Well, I guess we're spending the rest of the afternoon in the emergency room getting something x-rayed. I've come a long way, baby.

Besides losing most of the skin on her bottom left leg and right elbow, and having a deep purple bruise on the top of her thigh from where she rolled over the handlebars, she's fine. She swore she was never riding her bike again, and then was out an hour later. That first night in the bathtub, she threw a fit as the concrete burns hit the water. You probably remember what that was like; after my last bad bike wreck at age 15, I decided that submerging a large, deep scrape into tap water would be a pretty effective way of torturing information out of someone.

Needless to say, the shower has been her cleansing method of choice these last few days.

Monday night she sucked in her breath when the water first hit her still-not-completely-scabbed leg.

"Owwie, owwie, owwie!" she said. "This booboo hurts like hell!"

Bear in mind that this fall "hell" was one of her spelling words at her Catholic school. I knew this was coming.

"Ainsley, don't say that. Remember when we talked about that word and I told you it was only okay to use it when you're talking about the place, like in religion class?"

"But I am talking about the place," she said, annoyed with my ignorance. "What do you want me to say instead? That it hurts like fire?"

Yes, dear, that's much more poetic.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Chick Flick

So, like, what did you guys do this weekend? Me and Ainsley went to see Hannah Montana and it, like, TOTALLY rocked. There was this one guy in it, and he was SOOOOO cute, and Miley Cyrus was just faboo, and the songs were totally awesome. And then it got all sad and stuff at the end, and I kinda started to cry a little, and I realized I really miss Billy Ray's mullet, but then it got happy again.

Okay, now that I have exorcised the inner 12-year-old who took over for a little bit while we watched that movie, I can get back to being me. Totally.

I have to admit that I love having Ainsley at an age where we can go watch cheesy Disney flicks in the theater together on girls' days out. This is mostly because I not-so-secretly love movies like High School Musical and the Miley Cyrus/Hannah Montana concert movie. But there is another component to me volunteering to take Ainsley to these movies where we're surrounded by squirrely tweens; it's a stepping stone to chick flicks.

Some people's loathing for the term "chick flick" is only surpassed by their loathing for the equally un-feminist term "chick lit." They take umbrage at the idea that movies by women, for women, and/or about women should be singled out with a term that implies fluff, not substance.

To those people I say: get over yourselves.

There are movies I love because the acting done in them is a work of art, or because they have something significant to say about our culture or make me think about life in a different way. And then there are movies that I watch with my brain largely turned off so I can just enjoy the ride. I would argue that some movies labelled as "chick flicks" really do fall into that first category; movies like Terms of Endearment (Shirley MacLaine is brilliant) and Thelma and Louise (one of the first movies I ever saw that didn't have a "happy ending", because life doesn't always have a happy ending.) But for us girls, most of us anyway, there is something inexplicably fun about watching "Baby" Houseman dance in the spotlight, or breaking down with Sally Fields in Steel Magnolias, or saying, "Frankly my dear, I don't give a damn," along with Rhett Butler in Gone With the Wind.

The girls' night out to see a chick flick is a long-standing tradition in my family. My mom and sister are not the type of people to get the cultural significance of a Pulp Fiction (heck, my mom still doesn't "get" WALL-E) but they are absolutely the type of women who will sit in a theater and and be moved to tears over Ghost. I often got taken with them when they wanted to see a truly good woman-centric movie (The Color Purple) or when they just wanted have a good time (the early Sarah Jessica Parker flick Girls Just Want To Have Fun.)

It's a tradition I want to pass on. I look at it like I look at junk food: it's certainly not all I am going to feed Ainsley, but it makes for a good treat every now and then. Just as she gets her fruits and veggies and whole grains (almost) every day, she gets introduced to "quality" kids' movies like Coraline and Enchanted. But for fun we occasionally let her have Munchos and Airheads (the Barbie DVDs, Camp Rock.) And some day instead of the Barbie movies and made-for-TV Disney Channel fare, she and I will graduate to rom-coms and weepy tearjerkers. I have no doubt that she will still like the good stuff, too (she is already displaying a love for fantasy movies like The Spiderwick Chronicles and even The Lord of the Rings). But someday I think we'll be able to bond over some fluffy chick flicks.

Because in my family, that's all a part of being a girl.

Here are my questions for you: for you ladies, what are your favorite chick flicks (if you like them at all)? And you secretly like one of these girly movies?

Monday, April 20, 2009

Goodbye, Catman

In early August, 2004, my dad left the house for his last day of work before retirement. My mom had asked Ains and I over to see him off before he left for his last second-shift. Because they were going to be getting pictures of him and giving him a plaque, he dressed in khakis instead of his usual jeans. Other than that, he left the house as he always did and you never would have guessed it was such a big day. He carried a bologna sandwich and a can of Coke in his brown paper lunch sack and he wondered out loud why mom and I were making such a big fuss over him. Later that night, mom said he came home just as he usually did. No celebration. No fanfare. Just a tired warehouse worker who had filled his orders and come home.

Eight months later, he was gone. After we had begun to heal, we started sorting all his belongings. Among them were two laminated letter-sized cards his coworkers had passed around and signed and given him on his last day of work. I had never seen them before; Dad wasn't one to share things like that. Each one had a picture of him standing at his gray Tuffy utility cart which served as his "office" during the years he worked at the GM parts center filling orders for dealerships. All around the pictures were signatures. Some just signed their name, some left a little message. "Happy retirement!", "Best of luck!", and the ever-popular, "Don't do anything I wouldn't do!"

One message caught my eye because it was different from all the others. It said, simply,

Goodbye, "Catman"!

Dad isn't around to ask, so my mom and I are left to wonder why someone at work called him "Catman." Dad didn't talk about his day when he rolled in after midnight. We didn't even know the names of the guys he worked closely with until several of them showed up for his funeral. Was it because he was such a die-hard UK Wildcat fan working in UC and Xavier and IU territory? I guess that's most likely; one year for Christmas he asked for a small AM radio to keep on his work cart because second shifters were allowed to listen to sports while they worked and he wanted to be able to follow his 'Cats. But I sometimes like to imagine there was a story there, an inside joke among his co-workers. I like to think that he had some fun among the pulling and packing orders in those last years working in the warehouse instead of the assembly line, that he engaged in some of the shenanigans we all do with like-minded co-workers to keep ourselves sane.

What his nickname-giving co-worker probably didn't know is that my dad always had a soft spot in his heart for felines, even those that weren't college basketball mascots. I think we've probably all had parental epiphanies; you think you know your parents, you think you've got them all figured out, and then something happens that shows you that what you really know about those two adults who made you doesn't even fill one page of their life story.

When I was a kid, I was afraid of my dad. He was a pretty gruff guy with no noticeable sentimentality. I could turn on the waterworks and get my mom to cave, but Dad seemed unmoved by any human emotion. He was strict. He was a stickler for the rules. He tolerated no backtalk. He was not, until much later in life, very good at expressing affection. I figured he had a heart of stone.

But then I saw the pictures.

We had had various stray cats hang around our house ever since we moved there, and when I was very young Dad had seemed largely indifferent to their existence and not terrirbly sympathetic to our pleas to keep them. Until I was seven years old I thought my dad hated pets in general and cats in particular.

When I was seven, I finally met Howard, Dad's closest friend from childhood who brought some old black-and-white photographs from the day Dad gave over his paper route to him. There was my dad on his bike, rolled papers in the basket; there he was ceremoniously handing the papers to Howard. Then I saw a picture of him with a litter of kittens in his bike basket. And in the next snapshot, he had picked up one of the cats and was holding it next to his face, grinning happily at the camera.

"What's Dad doing with all those cats?" I asked Mom. "He doesn't even like cats."

Mom laughed. "Oh, your daddy is the biggest fool over cats that ever was. When he was little he and Granny Sugar always kept about a dozen of them on the farm and named them all and loved every single one of them. Don't let him fool you."

I saw him in a new light. My dad, a cat lover? Did the Tin Man have a heart after all? It wasn't too long after that that a gorgeous white-haired stray took up residence at the house, and since she didn't look like your standard alley cat with her unusual coat and haughty manners, Mom and Dad let my sister and I take her to the vet and bring her inside. I named her Snowflake, but that name didn't cut it for Dad.

"I'm calling her Katie," he said. "She looks like a Katie to me. She's no 'Snowflake.' "

So Katie she became.

Fast-forward 11 years later. My dad had quietly adored that pretty white cat (who turned out to be, despite her good looks, the meanest cat God ever blew breath into) and even talked to her when he thought no one was paying attention. On a cold snowy night, Katie became paralyzed and my parents had to make a midnight trip to the vet who agreed to put her to sleep despite the time and the weather. The next morning, Mom caught Dad sitting on the end of his bed, sniffing, eyes red.

"There's just something in my eyes this morning," he said, grumpy. But then he smiled a little crooked smile at my mom. He was too manly to admit it, but he missed that mean old cat.

I saw the "Catman" side of Dad several more times after that when his age caused him to mellow out a little. I saw it when he left food out for the neighbor's kitten when he felt its ribs and shortly after when he got angry after finding the kitten hit by a car in the street. I saw it when Jason and I got Scout and Dad picked up cat toys for her when he went grocery-shopping. I saw it when, even though I was an expectant woman in my late-20s who should have been past such things, he bought me a beanbag toy version of the white kitten in Disney's The Aristocats "because it looks like Katie."

This time of year when the weather goes from sunny and perfect to gray and cold in a heartbeat, I think of Dad. We lost him 4 years ago today, and it seems every year when I write one of these I remember something new, see something different. Our parents are complicated creatures; we only get to know them after they're all grown up, and we only see what they want us to see. Later, and sadly, after they're gone, we begin to peel away the layers and see who they really were.

So, goodbye, Catman. I hope that where you are, the Wildcats are always playing and a purring white-haired cat sits in your lap while you watch. We miss you.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Like Riding a Bike

There's an old saying that you never forget how to ride a bike. Had you seen me in our local Dick's Sporting Goods yesterday evening, you may question the validity of that bit of wisdom. I had all the grace of a newborn deer as I tried a bike on for size, getting behind the handlebars for the first time in over two decades.

When Ainsley learned how to ride her bike sans training wheels two weeks ago, she started wanting to go places. It was a preview to her at age 16 1/2 when, if all goes well, the state of Kentucky will license her to drive. With this first set of wheels she was introduced to the joy of being able to transport yourself to places in a fraction of the time it would take to walk. She wanted to ride to the park. She wanted to ride to her Mamaw's. She wanted to explore the neighborhood.

And of course she wanted someone to go with her.

This week she's on spring break and hanging out with her dad. Mostly, she has wanted to ride her bike to the park while Jason sprints down the hills to keep up. So no surprise when I drove home yesterday and saw her on her little bike making the rounds around the cul-de-sac.

What was a bit of a surprise was that I also saw a tall, thin, shaved-haired guy on a bike next to her. Jason bought himself a bicycle.

But he wasn't wearing a helmet! Has he learned nothing from Natasha Richardson?

Of course, the kid was wearing her helmet. "Do as we say, not as we do" is how we roll in our house.

Jason showed me his new ride and started talking about how I needed to get one now so we could go on family bike rides together. I saw a familiar glimmer in his eye; the same one I saw back in 1996 when he talked me into buying my first laptop, the one I saw again in 2001 when we test-drove an Impala when I had really been thinking about a Prism, the one I saw a few years later when we booked our trip to Vegas, the one I saw just last year when we first played Rock Band on a friend's PS3. It's a look that says,

Stop being a cheapskate for 3 seconds and let's blow some money!

I alternately hate and love that look. Any purchase over $100 gives me hives, and I only get that look from him when we're talking at least one Benjamin.

I also alternately hate and love bike riding. I adored it as a kid; where I grew up, most places I needed to go were a ten-minute bike-ride away: my middle- and high-school, the convenience store, the video store, the library, my friend's house. I loved feeling the wind, speeding down hills, the ache in my quads when I rode up a big Kentucky hill. But my most prominent battle scars all come from bike wrecks. That visible-when-it-gets-sunburnt patch of too-shiny skin over my left eyebrow? Bike wreck. The thick, wrinkly, bald white circle on my left knee? Bike wreck. The half-a-dozen pink blotches all over my right knee and shin bone? Bike wrecks. (One of those might be from a tragic razor accident, but mostly bike wrecks.) I lived at the bottom of a hill, and our driveway was a treacherous slope, and no one on my street was ever without a scab somewhere from a mishap either from racing down my driveway or going no-hands down my street. Eventually it got to be too much, and in tenth grade I grew afraid of doing permanent damage, so I gave up my ten-speed for good.

20 years later, and I am thinking of getting back on the horse, so to speak. I couldn't quite commit to it last night; there were too many decisions. I had no idea there were so many types of bike now. I remember when everyone but the serious athletes rode Schwinn ten-speeds. At the sporting goods store, I was confronted by mountain bikes, road bikes, comfort bikes, and hybrids, which blend features of all three of the others. Prices ranged from about what I expected to "Holy crap that's a lot of money for a bike!" Then there was the wall of helmets (from which I told Jason he must choose or face my wrath). Add to that the lure of probably unnecessary but definitely cool accessories and I became overwhelmed.

Then I realized I would have to pick a size. Next to the word "medium" in the dictionary is a mugshot of me, so I kept looking for an M on a bike; hey, it works for clothes shopping.

"They measure the sizes in inches, dear," Jason said. And he rolled out a 16" comfort bike for me.

And that's when I learned that one may not forget how to coast, but one may certainly lose the memory of pedalling. At least, the memory of doing it without losing one's balance and nearly knocking over the Livestrong display.

Having slept on it, and having talked to someone at work about the joys of several paved family bike trails located across the river, I have decided to go get a comfort bike on my day off tomorrow. I will get a helmet, natch. Plus a well-stocked first-aid kit.

Do any of you still ride bikes? And if so, do you have some new scars to prove it?

Friday, April 10, 2009

Marry Me, Ina

My absolute favorite thing to do whilst putting in my time on an elliptical trainer at the gym is to watch Food Network's "In the Kitchen" lineup. I am trying to decide if this habit of feeding my brain visual calories while burning physical ones is, in fact, irony. I can tell you that if I am watching Paula Deen while I work out, and if she uses a lot of butter and mayonnaise, I somehow feel dirtier post-workout than I ordinarily do. It's as if my body is rejecting the thought of suspended fats by revving up the sweat glands in some sort of pre-emptive strike.

Since when I work out depends largely on my kid's and husband's schedules, I work out at a lot of different times of day. So I have pretty much seen every major Food Network personality in action. Like a parent, I love them all equally, but in different ways.

The following are my thoughts on some of the Food Network hosts I see the most.

Paula Deen
Y'all know I love her. Even when she deep-fries a stick of butter and serves it with melted butter and some mayonnaise dipping sauce on the side.

I really, really didn't want to like her. You've heard that you should never trust a skinny cook? Well, I didn't want to trust the cooking of someone who is both skinny and movie-star gorgeous. And I couldn't help getting a little distracted by her assets. But she has become one of my favorites to watch--she's fun, her food looks fantastic and the few things I've tried have turned out great, and her ideas for entertaining actually seem like things I could do. I have never heard the word "tablescape" come from her lovely lips.

Which brings me to...

Sandra Lee
I think Semi-Homemade Cooking with Sandra Lee has little merit as anything other than a good drinking game (Drink every time she adds vodka to something! Drink every time she says, "tablescape!" Drink if her outfit matches the new curtains in her kitchen! Drink every time she says, "store-bought!"). But I have to admit that I feel affection for Food Network's biggest lush--she's like that semi-crazy aunt we all have who shows up at every family gathering with a gallon jug of strong margaritas and some covered dish she says is "fantastic" but ends up tasting like paste. I have no urge to try to cook anything I've ever seen her make, but I think attending one of her dinner parties would be like the funnest thing ever. After one or two of her martinis, I think even marshmallows covered in fondant would seem like a good idea.

The Neelys
First of all, they starve me to death. Their food is pure comfort. Paula Deen's brand of southern food can sometimes overwhelm me and occasionally uses ingredients (like fresh shrimp or lump crabmeat) I can't easily get here in Kentucky. Every episode I've seen of Down Home With the Neelys features at least one item that I can tell is Kroger brand. Now that's my kind of no-pretension cooking. But watching an episode can be like turning on Cinemax at 11pm on a Friday night--you know someone's gonna be getting it on, you just don't know if you'll still have the TV on when it happens. I haven't seen that much sexual innuendo on a family-friendly show since June told Ward he came down a little hard on the Beaver last night (ba-dum-bum.) Yesterday afternoon I actually laughed out loud in the gym when Pat told Gina with a twinkle in his eye that he was gonna melt her butter (to which Gina replied, "Yeah, baby!") and then offered to squeeze her lemons. Is it warm in here?

The Barefoot Contessa
I saved the best for last.
I know a lot of men would play house with Giada in a heartbeat (my husband included) but I think they're choosing the wrong woman. I would totally marry Ina Garten in a heartbeat, if I swung that way. This menu is how she cooks for her husband. Loster pot pie. Green salad with a homemade vinaigrette. Deeply chocolate gelato. The day I saw this episode air, I wanted to call the Contessa and see if she has any openings available for New Best Friend. Seriously, I think that dinner would be what eating in heaven is like. Most of her episodes show her cooking something fabulous for her Jeffrey--guys, you want to be this man.

I know I left off the fave of some you readers, Alton Brown, but his show is a league of its own and is as much science show as cooking show. But yeah, I love him, too. Though I draw the line at buying a scale and weighing ingredients in the metric system.

Who are your faves, my Foodies? And how many of you guys would leave your wives for Giada?

Wednesday, April 8, 2009


In the 90s, while all the cool kids were listening to Pearl Jam, Oasis, and Red Hot Chili Peppers, I was into Garth Brooks, Tim McGraw, and Trisha Yearwood. By the time Garth "retired" in 2001 I was over my country phase; I found that when I turned to a country station I could feel my IQ drop 20 points as I listened to lyrics that lauded getting drunk, kicking ass, and chasing women with big knockers. I felt like country music lost its heart sometime around 2001 and I started tuning in to my area's rock station instead. There I discovered Nirvana, Stone Temple Pilots, and Offspring--better late than never, I suppose.

And I have Toby Keith to thank for that.

The song that almost single-handedly turned me off of country music was TK's "Angry American (Courtesy of the Red, White, and Blue)." September 11 shook me and angered me and made me cry out for terrorist blood as much as any American, but the first time I heard Toby Keith sing, "We'll put a boot in your ass/It's the American way", I wanted to vomit. Way to turn a national tragedy into a bar fight, Toby. I changed the channel every time it came on the radio, so I changed off of country stations a lot in late 2001/early 2002. It broke my country music habit fairly conclusively. The only "country" albums I've bought since then (and since country disowned them, their status as such is debatable) have been the last 2 Dixie Chicks albums.

Since the Angry American song, I've grown to hate the music of Toby Keith with a white-hot fury felt before only for Duke basketball and slang words for female genitalia. When he and Natalie Maines of the Chicks got into a war of words after that whole "the Dixie Chicks disrespected the President" kerfluffle, I really wanted to follow Natalie's lead and wear a "FUTK" t-shirt. "Friendship, unity, togetherness, and kindness" indeed.

Which is why I stand before you today a conflicted woman. The Toby Keith Track Pack was released for Rock Band this week, and it presents a dilemma. To download, or not to download? Because, behind my hate, there may just be a little love.

Back in 2006 when I got my Vibe, it came with one of those car stereos that shows the title and artist of songs playing on certain radio stations (yeah, I know that's not exactly new technology, but it was new to me.) One day I gave country a shot and a song I really liked came on. I started singing along, then realized...oh, no. Could it be? Sure enough: Toby Keith's early hit "Should've Been a Cowboy." And that's one of the songs in the track pack.

Then there's his duet with Willie, "Beer For My Horses." Which should be a lot of fun to play and sing after my own horses, I mean friends, have had some beer. (Jason in particular used to like to go around the house imitating this one after seeing Toby and Willie do it on some award show; hearing him sing it "for real" should be priceless.) So I'll have to download that one.

There's also "I Love This Bar", which my friends will want to play since they went to Toby's restaurant in Vegas and discovered that every time this song gets played the whole house gets free shots. They have fond and slightly slurred memories of their time in Mr. Keith's bar (which they recommended Jason and I go to in Vegas, and which I thought about, but not even a free tequila shot could get me to agree to go in, and that's saying something.) So I'll probably need to buy that one.

But here's the kicker: "How Do You Like Me Now?" Grrrr. I don't know if there are words to express my loathing for this self-important ditty. Oh, yeah, there are. How do I like you now, Mr. Keith? Well, if I were the girl you're still a little stung over rejecting you in high school, I would say...once a d-----bag, always a d-----bag. A house full of CMA awards and all the riches in the world don't fix that ailment. And writing her number and "Call for a good time" on the 50-yard-line? Not cool. Most girls would be humiliated, not flattered. Don't give yourself so much credit for that smooth move, and don't think the girl is a snob for rejecting that advance. Had you written her a song and performed it on the 50 yard line and she laughed in your face, well, that might be worthy of your scorn. But otherwise...grow up, dude. She just wasn't that in to you.


It could be fun to sing these songs by a performer whose work I hate. I could love fake-drumming or singing or guitarring them even though I hate listening to them. Or I could be a complete sell-out going against my principals. I would never buy a Duke why would I download a track pack of Toby Keith songs?

Because I love to hate them.

Ahh, the perils of love-hate relationships.

Do you have any love-hate relationships with a band, performer, or writer? Discuss below. And if you actually like that "Angry American" song...please, just keep it to yourself.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Neighborhood Watch

If you can't beat 'em, join 'em.

This weekend Jason and I got to know our Banging Class neighbors a little better. And I learned something: don't judge a book by its noisy cover.

Oh, and nothing brings a group of women together like a a good cat fight. Or dog fight, as the case may be.

On one of those warm, glowy evenings we had last week, before this current wave of cold weather (and sleet, believe it or not) moved in, I joined forces with the other women on my end of the street to defeat a common foe: the drunken woman at the end of the cul-de-sac whose dogs were running loose terrorizing our kids and fenced pets.

Since the big ice storm we had in January, the dogs have been a problem. Despite the leash laws in our city, and despite the fact that all the other dog owners on our end of the street keep their dogs either fenced or on chains, the live-in girlfriend of the motorcycle afficianado at the end of the cul-de-sac regularly turns her two chocolate labs out into the street to do as they please. I've chased them out of the garage, called them away from a terrified Ainsley (who isn't much taller than these dogs) and generally been passive-agressive in hollering at them to go to their home in a voice loud enough for the owners to hear. I know labs are gentle, but I don't want them running around in my garage while I shovel snow or do yard work, and I certainly don't want to take a chance one of them will nip Ainsley or knock her over in a bid for affection. I am fairly certain each one weighs more than my bony little kid.

Thursday afternoon the dogs were out for hours while the owners sat outside revving engines and drinking beer. The dogs did their usual tricks, running into garages and coming up to all the little kids out playing and going up to the other dogs behind their fences and barking and getting them all riled up. The lady across the street yelled at them, the lady next door yelled at them, I yelled at them, and the drunk owner lady yelled at them between beers to come home. But being dogs, they were more interested in exploring. And since no one was giving them any tangible boundaries, they did as they wanted for hours.

When they came after my neighbor-to-the-right's cat inside her garage, she confronted the owner in a rational, calm manner, asking her to please obey the leash law and keep her dogs in her yard.

Drunk women don't take well to rational and calm.

Before long there was shouting, and cussing, and threats of death toward my neighbor's cat. The lady across the street went down to the circle and provided backup; I found out later that she had tried to reason with the owner once before when the dogs chased her 5-year-old up the street, where she tripped on the sidewalk and hit her head.

By the time I got dinner on the table, cops were called and were taking statements. One cop went down to talk to the owner and tell her she had to keep her dogs in her own house and yard; I am guessing it didn't go so well. He stopped his car in front of our yard after talking to the owner and rolled down his window to talk to the group of hens out gossipping.

"You know, you can't fix stupid," he said. And shook his head and drove away.

Pumped up with adrenaline and united in the fight against stupidity and irresponsible pet ownership, 4 of us girls from the bottom end of the street stood outside until dark, a sort of blue-collar version of Desperate Housewives. We started 0ff with outright gossipping and then got into talk about our homes, our kids, our jobs. We were later joined by a couple of the husbands. By the end of it, I felt pretty bad about the whole "Banging Class" label (especially since the neighbor on the right apologized unprompted for her fiancee's love of dirt bikes and four-wheelers and air compressors.)

Things changed after that. On Saturday, a gorgeous spring day that surpassed in its gentle loveliness any other warm day we've had all season, all our kids played out together in new harmony. The dad across the street offered to take all the kids to the subdivision's park with their bikes and scooters, and during his hour with the kids had taught the three youngest ones (including my daughter) to ride bikes sans training wheels. Jason entertained them all in our yard when their little legs starting giving out. The adults talked to each other more in that one day than we have in the years we've all lived together on the street. And come night fall, Ainsley was invited next door to a little neighborhood bonfire where the kids roasted marshmallows and cozied up in lawn chairs while the men (Jason included) sipped beer and stood around talking like Hank Hill and company.

"I think we should thank the drunk lady for letting her dogs run loose the other day," Jason said Saturday night as we were getting settled in. "If it weren't for everyone getting mad at her, we may not have become friends with our neighbors."

Sad, but true. Though I would have a hard time thanking that lady; when I told Ainsley to stay away from that house for a while, Ains defended her saying, "But that lady's nice...when I rode my scooter down by her house, she was asleep on the hood of her car." So that opened up some uncomfortable mother-daughter conversation.

To summarize: nothing unites a neighborhood quite like a common enemy. Except possibly bonfires, beer, and bicycles.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Goodbye, ER

Last night Jason and I found ourselves doing something we haven't done in years. We had the windows open and were a little afraid the neighbors might hear, but we were enjoying ourselves so much it didn't matter. It was just as good as we remembered.

Of course I am talking about watching ER.

ER used to be never-miss TV. I didn't jump on the bandwagon immediately; my mom had gotten me hooked on Chicago Hope during my visits home. But my senior year in college, when I had a TV in my dorm room for the first time in my college career and my roommate was a dedicated ER watcher, I got hooked. Not so much for George Clooney, though that didn't hurt (I have had a crush on Anthony Edwards since Top Gun; I love the tall, thin, responsible, sensitive guys). I loved the catharsis.

ER was one of those shows in the mid- to late-90s that took great pride in making people sob at least once a season. Between Party of Five, Ally McBeal, and ER, I kept Kleenex in business between 1995 and 2000. If I had had a bad week (which, as a student teacher and later a "real" teacher, was often) I could always turn to NBC at 10 on Thursday night and have a good, healing cry.

Watching the retrospective before the finale last night was like reliving my 20s. Jason and I recounted where we were in our lives during some of those memorable moments; some episodes we remembered talking on the phone through our first year teaching when he lived in Falmouth and I was in Erlanger; some we watched together our first year of marriage in Falmouth; others we remembered watching in Lexington or in our apartment in Fort Mitchell. We went through a lot of changes those first years of our adult lives; ER was a constant, a touchstone we could come back to one night a week.

When Mark Greene died, I stopped watching. Dr. Greene had always been the character I most loved and most related to, and I felt ER lost its heart when he passed away. I was also pregnant with Ainsley when that devastating episode aired, and I cried so hard I thought my heart (and my water) would break. The catharsis suddenly was too much.

When I became a mom, I couldn't stomach television death. ER has always killed off children, and though I know this happens in real emergency rooms every day, I had no desire to watch that every week and add to the things I had to worry about happening to my child. I tried to pick it up again when I was going through my own medical crisis, but ER provides about as much comfort and hope to cancer patients as it does to new moms.

So last night, even though I haven't watched a new episode from start to finish in six years, and even though I only have a passing knowledge of the current characters and story lines, I had to see how it all ended. And I wasn't disappointed. I even teared up a little when we learned that that young perspective medical student who looked so familiar was no other than Mark's daughter, Rachel.

If they had only played that Hawaiian version of Somewhere Over The Rainbow, it would have been just like old times.

Did any of you watch the finale last night? Have you always been an ER watcher? What is your favorite moment from the series?