Monday, February 22, 2010

Burning Down The House

To be an allegedly smart person, I am so, so dumb.

I am afraid of spiders, so I take the proper precautions in not making my home a welcoming habitat for creatures of the 8-legged persuasion. I vacuum cobwebs, I spray bug killer around doors and windows, and I discourage the kid from going in and out too much and leaving the door open.

As afraid as I am of spiders, though, that fear pales in comparison to my fire phobia. I am terrified of fire to the point where I get so nauseated by the sight of a house fire that as a teen I threw up twice after episodes of Rescue 911. So wouldn't I take the same precautions about fire that I do with spiders, only with feeling?

Apparently not, seeing as how my house now smells (and probably will for weeks) like an explosion at the Crayola factory, following a near tragedy at our house involving an oil burner and a tealight.

It's no secret that I have candle issues. I'm an addict. When someone draws my name for a gift exchange, I always tell them I'm the easiest giftee on the block--get me a scented candle with a warm, cozy aroma and I'm a very happy girl.

So they're all over the house, in every room. I can't function in a smelly house. I can't stand cooking smells. It's one thing to smell taco beef when you're hungry and dinner is almost ready; it's another thing altogether to have your house smell like dead animal and cumin for 48 hours after.

For our bedroom, I long ago bought a scented oil warmer with a tealight candle under the oil well that distributes the scent all through the bedrooms in our house. It's my go-to thing for taco night, salmon night, forgot-about-those-potatoes-in-the-bin-until-they-rotted-night...

Problem is, I can't see this oil burner. All my other candles are visible from the main living area of our home. You see where this is going, don't you?

Last night was like so many others. I lit a candle in the living room and in the kitchen to get rid of supper smell. I went back into our bedroom to lay out clothes and could still smell garlic. I lit my oil burner and thought to myself, "Remember to blow that candle out in a few minutes."

But Amazing Race came on. Darn you, gripping reality television.

A little after it ended I went through the rooms extinguishing candles, thinking about relaxing in bed. By the time I got to our bedroom doorway, I could smell smoke.

I'm still unclear on what caused the little inferno, exactly, whether it was a defective tealight candle that just burned too hot or whether oil leaked off the plate, but there was a pretty good-sized fire going around the burner. I actually thought for a minute there that I could blow on it and get it to go out. Didn't exactly put out the fire. Kind of like when my father-in-law tried to put out a raging blaze, which destroyed the entire upstairs of Jason's family's home 10 years ago, with a mixing bowl full of water.


He answered me with an annoyed, "What?" I'm sure he thought it was just a spider. If only.

"Little help back here."

He stood in the doorway for a minute and I saw him start to lean blow on it. Why do we think that will actually work on any flame bigger than a match?

"I already tried to blow it out! It won't! The whole holder's on fire and OHMYGODWHATAREWEGOINGTODO!? Do you want me to get baking soda? Or just call 911?"

"Calm down. Go get a pot."

A pot! To snuff out the flames! Genius! He's totally worth having around.

So I got the largest pot I thought I had...

And it wasn't big enough to completely deprive our little growing problem of air. Smoke was filling the room.


"Calm down. Go get a bigger pot."

And it's funny that I realized I did, in fact, have a bigger pot that we only use to boil spaghetti in. And what do you mostly fit over the burning tealight oil-heater of doom. And as fires will do without oxygen, it went out.

The whole drama lasted no more than a minute. But I felt eons go by. I saw my humble little house go up in flames, all our belongings turning to ash.

The dresser the oil burner sat on was not even scarred, amazingly. As I looked around, a saw dozens, nay hundreds, of ways that the situation could have gone south. Sometimes I have errant paper Lens Crafters lens-cleaning cloths on that same part of my dresser; one of those surely would have caught from the heat. All my makeup and grooming accessories were close to the fire; they all have alcohol in them and would have gone up fast had the flames gotten a little closer. And it all went down half a foot away from my bed where a spark could have lit up the whole comforter, which could have spread to the carpet, which could have gotten to the curtains...

Suffice to say, we were very lucky. And I was very, very stupid.

The charred remains of a once-lovely Bath and Body Work oil warmer were quickly cooled off, wet down, and put out in the trash. The smell, an intense, waxy odor, kept us out of the bedroom for hours. Most windows in the house were opened wide even in the February chill just to get the smoke out and avoid setting off the alarm (and waking Ainsley, who slept through the whole thing in the only place in the house that the smoke smell didn't spread to.) Even this morning when I came back into our bedroom from the kitchen, I could smell perfumed smoke. I can even pick it up on the clothes I am wearing today.

Have I given up on candles? Not completely; but no more back in the bedroom where I can't see them. Have I given up on tealights and oil warmers? Hell to the yes. I already internet-window-shopped during lunch for one of those scented-oil diffuser setups that uses reeds deeped in oil and no flames whatsoever.

Because I still want our bedroom to smell nice after taco night, you know? Just not like burned Crayons.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

A Perfect Game

When I die, there are three things I want put on my tombstone. The three things in my life I am proudest of and most want to be remembered for:

Jason's Wife;
Ainsley's Mother;
Winner of the Flawless Drumming Trophy in Rock Band 2.

Late on the night of February 13, 2010, so late that it may have actually been February 14 if you want to get all technical about it, I scored 100% on Expert drums on Weezer's "Pork and Beans". Which isn't a very challenging song on Expert, and which any member of our fake band "Induhcision" could have posted a perfect score on. But it just so happened that by sheer good luck and good timing I was the first in our band to hit this milestone.

For those of you who don't play Rock Band 2, this means I got through an entire song on the hardest level without missing a single note. I believe it said I hit 993 notes in a row. As I was drumming, I occasionally thought to myself, "Have I missed a note yet? Because I kinda don't think I have." But perfection is awfully hard to come by and, like the Democrat that I am, I have a habit of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory and finding a way to lose. I do not bank on perfection. The score at the end left me shocked and awed and prouder of myself than I should have been over just a game.

I think this makes up for the great Intellivision Bowling Disappointment of 1982.

While all the cool kids played Atari, my family had an Intellivision system. So I missed out on things like Pac Man and Kaboom (well, not really, because I could just walk across the street to my friend's house to get my Kaboom fix) but I dare say all you Atari people missed out on Intellivision bowling. Compared to Atari bowling, Intellivision's version was like Avatar--it looked as close to the real thing as technology could do at the time. If you could imagine yourself pixellated and in only two colors (a flesh tone and either red or blue) you felt like you were really bowling. And because of Intellivision's "advanced" controller, you even got the blisters on your thumbs almost like you would from sticking your digits into a bowling ball.

My family became addicted, but my mom and I more than Dad and my sister. My mom was on a bowling league at the time and had even had her picture in the paper for bowling a 500 series one night. It was the only sport she'd ever done. She loved it because Intellivision bowling let players change the weight of the ball, determine throwing speed, add spin, and change the floor slickness. It took a while, but we eventually found a formula that could practically guarantee a strike if (and this was the big IF) you entered everything in right, stood your guy two clicks from the far left, and hit the Intellivision controller wheel with your thumbnail exactly at 5 o'clock.

With this formula, we all scored over 200 with almost every game. We had epic weekend tournaments that lasted until 1 or 2 in the morning. The leaderboard changed almost daily as we got better and better at it. The digital audience for each game went nuts with electronic cheering whenever a player scored over 200; we always wondered what would happen if someone bowled a perfect game.

We never found out. But we came so, so close.

One evening all four of us played, taking turns proclaiming our bowling dominance. My little red guy bowled strike after strike. Before I knew it it was the tenth frame and I had nine strikes on my scorecard.

Three more to go.

This had never happened before. When it was my turn, everyone got quiet. My dad looked at the TV screen with an intensity usually reserved for overtime Wildcat basketball games.

Click, click, click...strike.

Two more to go.

Click, click, click...strike.

Almost there.

I was a kid at the time, about Ainsley's age. I had not yet had enough disappointments in life to learn that failure is a distinct possibility for every endeavor. In my mind, I was going to get a 300. The crowd was going to do something so unbelievably cool it would blow our minds. I could see it. I could hear it. The ultimate victory was within reach.

Click, click, click...

1 pin left standing.

I knew it as soon as the ball left my red guy's hand. I choked. I didn't hit the wheel at the sweet spot.

Suddenly, the serious tone in the Jim McKay's voice on Wide World of Sports when he talked about "the thrill of victory...and the agony of defeat" rang true. I was in agony. I am pretty sure I bawled my eyes out. Mostly because I knew that was my one shot, and really anyone in my family's shot, to see what the game would do when someone bowled a perfect game.

And I was right. We lost interest in that game, and really in the Intellivision in general, not long after that. No one beat my record of 299, but no one ever scored that perfect score, either. To this day I don't know if the "crowd" would have gone wilder than it did for a 200+ game.

But many, many years later, without even having perfection as a goal (for me and drums on Rock Band, it's really about survival; I am so not the strongest drummer in our group), I finally bowled that perfect game.

And the 8-year-old in me could not be more proud of herself.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

The Last Laugh

Remember a couple of months ago when I shared my angst (what else do I share, really?) about Jason buying our first foreign car, that 2010 Prius that we've both come to love?

And remember how what most concerned me was worrying over what my dad, that retired GM worker and staunch "Buy American" advocate, would think if he were still alive?

The past few days, I've been hearing things. Especially at night, when the house is quiet. Noises that sound almost like ghostly laughter, the kind of sounds someone would make while saying, "I told you so," or "Well, that's what you get."

Yep, we have one of the many cars Toyota is recalling. (As Jason said to a co-worker the first day the Prius recall was official, "It's only the brakes. I'll just try not to use them on the way home.") And I'm pretty sure the familiar chuckle I hear is because Dad's last laugh is on us.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Godspeed, Captain Phil

Sad day today, Discovery Channel reality-show fans. I just read that one of my favorite people from one of my favorite shows has left us. Captain Phil Harris of the Cornelia Marie, the crab vessel second in my heart only to the Northwestern and the Hansen brothers, died yesterday.

Deadliest Catch won't be the same without you, Captain. Here's hoping that heaven gives you calm seas and full pots. Rest in peace.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010


I won't lie to you all. After all, you're friends. I am writing this as I wipe away tears and sip a beer. The beer shouldn't be surprising; it's a snow day, after all, and I don't have to work tomorrow. In fact, it's the best type of snow day--I got the call before Lost came on, and got to have one more viewing of that favorite show while sipping a chocolate martini. Life should be great. I got my wish for this last season of my favorite show ever--to watch at least one more final-season episode ever-so-slightly buzzed and knowing I can browse message boards until midnight because I work for a rural school district during a bad February.

My mistake was turning to recorded programs on my DVR after Lost instead of just putting myself to bed. I turmed on a special recording I've had saved for a week: Surviving Survivor.

"Jason, can you record that for me?" I asked last Thursday night after eavesdropping on a few minutes of it while I was soaking in a hot bath. I work out on Thursday nights, usually, and treat myself to a soak while waiting for 30 Rock.

I had no idea how emotional that retrospective was going to be. It's all Ethan's fault.

I keep track of new Hodgkin's patients. It's almost like a collection I have: famous people who have shared my disease. I already was holding Barry Watson, Mark Fields, Arlen Specter, (just found out we share the same birthday--weird) and Michael C. Hall close to my heart as Hodgkin's lymphoma brothers. I knew Survivor winner Ethan Zohn had (has?) my cancer but in a rare, harder-to-beat form. But I had no idea how seeing his story was going to break my heart into a million little pieces.

After Lost, Jason went to bed. So I started that little Survivor retrospectve thinking it might be a great thing to watch while waiting to get tired. Sometimes, I ain't bright.

Memories started to flow even before the Ethan parts. Survivor started in summer 2000, just as Jason and I were packing up to leave our beloved apartment in Lexington to come back "home" to northern Kentucky. It was inevitable that we'd some back, really, but it seemed too soon. We had lived away from our parents' supervision for years. Yet there we were, leaving our best friends, leaving an area we had come to see as home to go back to our childhood zip code. It was the most painful transition I've ever made.

We swore we weren't going to watch that new reality show. But we found ourselves one night in an apartment left empty except for a bare mattress and a borrowed television, eating a packaged meal heated up in a friend's microwave.

"What's on?"

"That stupid Survivor show."

That's all it takes, sometimes, to become addicted.

Survivor followed us to our new apartment and our new old life. I loved that first season. And I loved the Outback season with Kentucky Joe, who used to work at the school I now call home.

I watched on and off for a couple of seasons. Then, in winter of 2003, I began to call myself a "Survivor." While dealing with the after-effects of cancer treatment, I fell in love with a pirate named Rupert. A good friend bought me my very own authentic Survivor buff from the Amazon season; I wore it over my chemo-thinned head then, and I wear it now when I run a 5K race. It's my talisman.

"Are you watching the finale tonight?" a Kroger clerk asked me one Sunday afternoon when I donned my buff over a sort-of-growing head of hair to grocery shop in the middle of treatment.

"Yes." I said. And there was no need to explain the other, more pressing reason why I was covering my head. That day, I was simply one fan among many.

So there I was tonight. I knew about Ethan. But watching his struggle (so much harder than mine because he has/had a more hard-to-beat type of Hodgkin's) brought everything back. I could smell the chemo. I remembered the hair loss, the nausea, the fear that I was going to die. The sadness I felt every day but tried to keep hidden because I was a new mom and I needed to stay strong for my family. It's been seven years, but it was just yesterday.

We had dinner this weekend with someone I haven't really, really talked to since I got sick. As people do, I found myself making small talk. I mourned my upcoming 36th birthday, that harbinger of middle age. I acted like I hadn't been introduced to my own mortality. Like everything was and always had been normal. What an idiot I am. They must have been thinking, "Does she not know how close she came to NOT being here? She should celebrate this milestone."

I do know how close I came. But then I don't. I'm not that person I was. I went through the fire and came out mostly unscathed. I am here, so it's hard to think that sometimes people don't get through it. People die. Seven years have passed, and I actually forget. I shovelled our driveway today all by myself with only a sore back to show for it. I run. I work. I push myself. And only twice a year at checkups do I really have to remember.

I cried for Ethan. And I cried for me. I too am a survivor. I didn't go to an island and out-play, out-last, or out-win. But I out-played, out-lasted, and out-won all the same. I just fought myself.

I cry for Ethan and hope that he and his soul mate Jenna (another sole Survivor from a favorite season--I, too, would strip naked for Coke, chocolate, and peanut butter) have the same luck Jason and I have had. I know that even if he beats it, and goes on to live a normal, cancer-free life, he too will have those moments where it all comes rushing back.

After all, once a Survivor, always a Survivor.

Monday, February 8, 2010

And One More Thing...

Oh yeah, one more thing to add to the list of annoyances.

People who misuse the word, "literally."

This weekend I heard a broadcaster for the Weather Channel say this:

"This storm literally put up a brick wall, so that some areas saw very little snow, but you just have to drive a few miles north of those areas to count the snow in feet and not inches."


The storm did NOT put up a brick wall. Storms can't do that. They lack hands and access to bricks, trowels, and mortar. Now, if you had said a storm was literally tearing down walls, you may have been right. I've heard of storms that can do that. I believe they're called tornadoes and hurricanes.

You could have made a perfectly nice metaphor if you had just said the storm put up a brick wall (leaving the "literally" out) because some areas saw very little snow while other areas just a few miles away got a foot. That would have been a nice way of explaining things to your viewers. As it is, you just annoyed a lot of English majors.

If this were the only time recently I'd heard that word misused, it wouldn't irritate so much. But like the misuse of the " 's " to make a word plural, it's become a virus. (Not literally!) When a well-known actress was interviewed about a shoot that took place on a cold, rainy day, she said "We were all literally freezing out there on the set." No, you weren't, or you clearly wouldn't be able to talk right now, would you? You would have some serious medical complications. I heard a student here say that he couldn't wait for lunch because he was starving. And for emphasis added, "Literally. I am." I doubt that. I mean, he looked pretty healthy to me.

I'm just going to stop there because this whole thing is killing me. (Literally! Slowly, but surely.)

Friday, February 5, 2010

Consider Yourselves On Notice.

People are getting on my nerves.

I don't know what my problem is, but I am annoyed with something like 75% of the adult population right now. Yesterday while working out, a time that usually clears my head and makes me less angry, I kept thinking of all the individuals and groups of people who I would like to be able to stay away from for a while. The following are all those people. If this is you, you are officially on notice.

1. Tim Tebow
Anybody else tired of hearing about this guy?

2. Shoppers who talk on their cell phones in the grocery store, oblivious to the fact that they are blocking me from getting to my winter-storm bread and milk. And who, when I look in their direction because they are talking SO DAMN LOUD and are soooo in my way, give me a dirty look. How dare I eavesdrop on that private conversation they're having in the dairy aisle? As if I'M the a--hole.

3. People with runny and congested noses who don't blow them but rather just sit and sniff--All. Day. Long.

4. Colleagues who think they're so superior and so far above actually learning something from somebody else that they sit in a presentation and pass notes and whisper among themselves and smirk. What are we? 10?

5. Smug, thin people who appear on local news programs this week every year showing us all how to make healthy, low-cal, low-fat, high-fiber Super Bowl snacks. I don't much care for football, I just want to watch humorous, sexist commercials while eating the kind of junk foods I mostly stay away from the other 364 days of the year. So back off, culinary buzzkills. Take your "healthy" potato skins topped with Greek yogurt, turkey bacon, and edamame with you.

6. The well-meaning but still slightly-crazy members of my family who have insisted, despite the fact that I haven't celebrated my actual birthday with them in over a decade, that having me over for a birthday dinner this year is absolutely essential to their own well-being. "Your sister's feelings will be hurt!" my mom said. "We do this every year!" First of all, it's my birthday and I want to be able to ignore it if I so choose, and secondly, fail! We do not do this every year, not since I was something much closer to a kid. (Last year I got my birthday present from my sister at Ainsley's birthday party in August, soooo...really not sure why a dinner and cake and presents the weekend of my real birthday are suddenly so gosh-darned important to everybody.)


If you perhaps could be any of the people above, please please PLEASE step down. If not, feel free to commiserate or add your own list of the people in your life you're putting on notice below.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Bread and Milk

We are potentially looking at two back-to-back winter storms here in the tri-state area within the next week. Which means the people of Cincinnati are all doing one of two things:

1. Going to the nearest grocery store to wipe it out of bread and milk; or
2. Commenting on news stories about the impending storm with jokes and criticism of all the folks out there wiping out the bread and milk.

While I do find it ridiculous that even if the forecast is just for 1 inch of snow the stores become madhouses filled with people buying enough food to last through an apocalypse, I myself plan on stopping at the store today and buying, yes, bread and milk. They're staples, folks. They're perishable items. They go fast in my family. We gotta eat. But some people need to criticize and make fun just to make themselves feel better, you know?

So if it makes anyone out there have a better day, go ahead and make a snarky comment about moms like me stopping at Kroger on their way home from work today to buy at least those two things. Go ahead. I'll wait.

Of course, there are other items I consider staples when I'm going to get snowed it. Items such as:

This is absolutely essential. If you're ever at my house when I get the call from school that the next day is a snow day, the first sound you'll hear after I get the good news is the whoosh! of carbonation being released from a brown glass bottle.

Powdered-sugar doughnuts.
I blame my sister for this one. During the blizzard of '78 when she found herself out of high-school for weeks, she became the designated walker--she bundled up and daily made the short walk to the convenience store up the road to get a bagful of items that roughly passed for food. Her specialty of the house became broiled doughnuts. I so associate that delicious (and ridiculous) treat with snow storms that I simply can't enjoy a good dose of White Death without them.

The latest People magazine.
Celebrity scandals and pictures of pretty people snapped by intrusive papparazzi are much more fun when you know you should be shovelling your driveway instead.

Call it a white-trash survival instinct--if faced with a truly disastrous storm that wipes out power, closes roads, and all but buries my house in a snow drift, I know that a few pounds of Hillbilly Steak kept in a cooler will ensure that me and mine won't starve.

So long as we have some bread and milk to go with it.

Some of you have already had big winter storms hit this season. What are your snow-day essentials?

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

My Noodle. Cooked, It Is.

Not able to blog this morning. No brain function left. Watched Lost last night. Said, "Wait...what?" a bunch of times. Mind has been blown.

Back to business tomorrow after reading Doc Jensen's blog during lunch and giving it time to digest. Hopefully things will be more clear.

But still...awesome.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Out of the Mouth of Ains: Almost Famous

"One...Twenty-one guns...Lay down your arms...Give up the fight..."

I do so love me some Green Day. Combing Ainsley's hair post-bath, I sang along to their performance on last night's Grammy awards.

"Mommy, you're a great singer!" Ainsley said.

I laughed out loud.

"No, not really. I just like it."

"But you're good!" Ains insisted. "You could become a famous singer someday."

"I'm way too old, and not nearly good enough." I'm no Susan Boyle, waiting to be discovered in middle age. Though if I were, I would totally choose "I Dreamed a Dream", too.

"Yes, you could. I want you to be famous. Because then I'll be famous."

"Oh, Ains," I sighed, "I'm not famous and I never will be. I'm just plain old me."

She met my eyes in her mirror, and the look on her face said it all--now life had killed the dream she dreamed.

"I know," she said. "I'm stuck with you."