Wednesday, September 29, 2010


It sounded like thunder, and I thought maybe we were going to get some much-needed rain to quench our parched gardens and yards.

And then I remembered that the sky had been perfectly, crystally clear when I'd looked out the window right before bed. I knew then what the sound was rumbling in my bedroom on an unusually quiet night in the banging class neighborhood:

The Reds won, and there was an explosion of fireworks from across the river because we just clinched our first NL Central title in 15 years. I think the sound carried better than usual because so many fans had been holding their breath, daring to believe the impossible.

The fireworks seemed to go on forever as Jason and I lay there in the dark. I could imagine all the celebrating, champagne-uncorking, and general mayhem coming from Great American; it's been a long time coming, and Cincinnatians haven't had too much to celebrate these days.

On the radio this morning I heard the DJs talking about our last title back in 1995.

1995. Wow. Life was so much different then. That fall I was in my senior year at Centre, student teaching instead of taking classes, getting a bitter dose of reality. I had thought a full load of classes at a demanding college was hard; I had no idea teaching 90 students a day, most of them freshmen, would make me miss all-nighters and 10-page literary analysis papers.

But I still followed the Reds. My roommate was (and I'm sure still is) a Braves fan, so when the Braves dashed our World Series hopes in an embarrassing fashion, she drew a little broom on the ancient chalkboard in our room; yes, they swept us.

I tried not to hold it against her.

I figured the Reds would get there again someday soon. I'm not a huge baseball fan, but I like to go to a few Reds games every year and I love the energy in the city when one of our sports teams does well. It's a great uniter for a community that can be angrily divided.

I was in high school when the Reds won their last Series in 1990; we all loved that team, and for the first (and really the only) time in my life, I watched pretty much every game. I didn't gripe when Dad wanted to watch the Reds or when a game pre-empted one of my shows. And I cried when they won that last game.

In a city that often takes a beating for its backwardness and quirks, a city that cites "Cincinnati chili" as a claim to fame (and it's not even really a chili, if you want to get all technical about it; it's a Greek stew of sometimes questionable quality), it was really something to be proud of.

I hope we do well in the playoffs, and I hope I get to watch the Reds win another series.

Any maybe, just maybe, I'll be drawing a little broom of my own.

Monday, September 27, 2010


I am afraid. Very afraid.

Afraid of many, many things. Some which make sense (spiders, various supernatural entities which may or may not exist, losing someone I love) and some which do not (Lasik, making pie crust from scratch, driving a stick shift.)

I've always been timid, but it's getting worse as I get older. I was never the kind of kid who was brave enough to do cherry drops from the parallel bars on the playground, but I would at least ride any carnival ride, tackle any roller coaster, watch any scary movie, and jump off the high diving board.

Nowadays, I can't even watch my daughter ride the "pepper shakers" at the church festival (the carnie in charge of the ride this year had red eyes and a case of the munchies), and it takes everything I've got to muster up enough courage to jump off the 1-meter springboard at our neighborhood pool.

But the thing that really gets me, the thing that makes my heart beat dangerously fast  and makes me shake in my boots are not these things that I can name. See, the thing is, I startle really, really easily.

Everyone gets startled from time to time; I suppose there's some basic survival instinct there that served a purpose when we were hunters and gatherers, a physiological response that made us pump obscene amounts of adrenaline when a lion would come up to us and tap us on the shoulder while we were lost in thought, listening to our iPods.

For me it's an extreme reaction. Or over-reaction. I swear, I've shaved 5 years off my life from all the times my heart has stopped because my husband has the audacity to walk back to our bedroom while I am drifting off to sleep.

"AAAAUUUUGGGHHHH!" I'll scream. And then Jason's heart skips a beat, too, because there's nothing like walking back to your bed in the darkness and hearing your wife's soul being ripped out past her vocal chords.

"What did you think I was?" he'll ask. And I never have an answer; I never have time to think, my body just goes into fight or flight.

Even Ainsley is used to this. A few years ago, I was cleaning the sink in my bathroom when Ainsley decided to do something "cute" to get my attention. She took one of her stuffed animals and had it peep around the corner. My brain had a moment to think this was precious; unfortunately, my heart had already gotten word that a set of beady eyes had just appeared over my shoulder and it tried to jump out of my chest.


It's funny; young children have their own reactions to their mommies unexpectedly screaming like banshees. Not screaming, so much. Just a lot of tears.

At 8, she sadly is used to it. The weekend we celebrated her birthday, I bought her a big, shiny balloon that I tied onto the railing of our entryway stairs. When I tied it, it made the balloon about the height of a tall-ish man as it swayed in the constant breeze created by the closest air vent. I went to get something from the bedroom, headed back down our hallway, and caught sight of the balloon. You guessed it; I screamed.

I worried that I had freaked my kid out. But she just rolled her eyes.

"Momma, it's just a balloon," she said. And right back to watching Phineas and Ferb; this is just a part of her life.

A couple that we're good friends with know me very well but have never heard my barbaric yawp, which Jason says sounds like someone has reached down into my stomach and tried to pull something out. Until this weekend, that is, when we decided it was time to watch The Descent. They'd never seen it; Jason and I had been talking to them about it since we all went to see Paranormal Activity and were all kind of underwhelmed. I say The Descent is one of the best horror films of the previous decade; there are several "Gotcha!" moments in it that are great for an easy startler like me, and one in particular that I think might be the most genius of all "Gotcha!" moments in any horror film ever.

So, I knew this scene was coming. I didn't want to give anything away so I was playing it all cool, not wanting to ruin it for them. The thing is, though, I'd forgotten exactly where this moment was; I somehow was taken off guard yet again. I couldn't help myself.


You know what's worse than being scared by a horror movie? Being scared by someone else being scared of a horror movie. I like to think that I truly enhanced their movie-going experience. Brought a little verite to the whole proceeding, you know? If they didn't jump from what they were seeing on screen, I know they jumped after I screamed bloody murder out of nowhere in our darkened living room. We all had to stop the movie, laugh at me for a while, and step out of the room for a while to calm our nerves. I'm confident that by the time they left a couple of hours later, everyone's heart rates were approaching normal.

"How did Ainsley not wake up during that?" one of them asked.

Eh. You live with me long enough, you get used to it.

I know that as Halloween approaches some wise guy is going to send me one of those Halloween emails where you're supposed to play some goofy game that has you concentrating super-hard looking for the queen of diamonds on your screen, or where you're supposed to watch a girl on a bike to supposedly see her fall in a hi-larious way, or watch a car ad where a car goes meandering peacefully through a forest, and then out of nowhere Linda Blair's Exorcist face or some other ghastly-looking creature pops up and screams 3 inches away from your face. I know this as sure as I know that the sky is blue and UK will win another basketball championship someday, but that won't keep me from screaming my scream within 30 seconds of opening the link.

Such is the life of an easy startler.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010


Sad news from the Cranky house: I lost one of my aunts this weekend.

It was sudden and unexpected. She had not been ill, but apparently had a fall and died at home in her sleep after, probably from a blood clot that travelled to her heart.

It's the kind of thing that you almost can't believe when you hear. She was there, and then she wasn't. My mom, sister and I can barely wrap our heads around it.

This aunt lived alone and never married, and there was always something child-like and innocent about her. Her death has hit me pretty hard because it seems so very sad to me that she left this world so quietly and so alone.

This will be the third death in my extended Barbourville family in as many years; it's also the third that has happened in September. Wake me up when September ends, indeed.

For the third September in a row, I will be heading "down home" for a funeral of one more person who tied me to my family and to my birthplace. Like the other trips, I will be travelling under beautifully clear late-summer skies and get to see the leaves just starting to change color up in the mountains and hills. But I won't be enjoying the view; one more link to that world and that part of my life is gone. There aren't many left, and they are getting along in years.

Today I am feeling a healthy dose of guilt as a side dish to the usual grief and sadness over a lost life. I didn't go down to visit her often enough; Ainsley doesn't even remember which aunt she was; the last time I did see her, which was last year during a funeral, she asked me to come down some time and "just visit." I didn't, because in my mind I am always too busy to make the three-hour trek; now I find myself needing to make that trek to say goodbye to someone in death who I should have made that same time for when she was alive.

June was a special person, and she will be missed. She had just about the strongest faith in God I've ever seen. She loved the people in her life completely, absolutely, and without judgement. She loved to work crossword puzzles and could cook a Kentucky cornbread and a pot of pinto beans so good it'd make you want to slap yo' momma. And don't even get me started on her sweet tea, made in an ancient Mr. Coffee coffeemaker with just the right ratio of lemon juice and sugar. Try as I might, I can't get mine to taste like hers. It was rare to see her without a wide, gap-toothed smile, and once you got her laughing about something, she couldn't stop and eventually everyone in the room would be laughing with her.

A friend of mine recently told me that every family has a rock and a light. June was our light. Death won't be able to dim it; even as I write this, and my eyes feel full of tears, I can't help but smile thinking about how much joy she carried with her every day.

Surely, she carries that joy with her still.

Goodbye, June. We will miss you so.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Fine, Fresh, Fierce, I Got It On Lock

Show of hands: who gets really, really excited to hear "California Gurls" on the radio?

Anyone? Anyone?

It was kinda cute the first few hundred times, but like this summer's heat here in Kentucky, it wears on you after a while. Now when it comes on the radio, I find myself changing the station with a lightning speed previously reserved for any and all Nickelback songs.

While I appreciate Katy Perry's pride in her California girl assets, I feel other states have something to offer, too. We Kentucky girls may not be quite as glamorous as a California girl sipping gin and juice underneath a palm tree, but we can be quite charming drinking a bourbon and Coke from a Mason jar out on the trailer porch. (I kid because I love.)

I am no song writer, but here's my prose ode to Kentucky Gurls.

California girls may have sun-kissed skin so hot it'll melt your popsicle, but we Kentucky girls turn bronze, too. Especially around prom season when every girl between 15 and 18 buys a month of unlimited tanning from the local Fantastic Sam's.

Kentucky girls wear Daisy Dukes, too. Just instead of a bikini on top, we like to wear layered tanks from weekend sales at Old Navy, sweet little homegrown t-shirts with sayings like, "Gettin' Lucky in Kentucky!", or perhaps a Hooters tee. "Tacky, yet unrefined" could really be our state fashion motto and not just the slogan on the ubiquitous Hooters shirt.

We may not have a coast line, but we've got water a-plenty. Kentucky girls aren't getting sand in their stilettos, but on any given summer Saturday you can find them tubing down a lazy river, drinking beer on a pontoon boat at Lake Cumberland, or reading a magazine while sprawled on a plastic lounge chair beside the neighborhood pool. We don't need a Pacific beach to be warm, wet, and wild.

And believe you me, California girls have not cornered the market on partying. Find a big backyard, get a few Kentucky girls, a bucket of Original Recipe, a cooler full of Coronas (or even a gallon jug of sweet iced tea; we don't always approve of the liquor), a cornhole set (it's a game; get your minds out of the gutter), and some country music on the radio, and you've got yourself a shindig.

We may not have west-coast sophistication. We may not have beaches and palm trees. But we're a whole lot of fun with nary an ounce of pretentiousness. Once you party with us (or at the very least, sit down and watch a basketball game or the Derby with us), you'll be falling in love... Oh, oh-oh-oh, Oh, oh-oh-oh....

(Oh, and while I'm singing the praises of my state, let me defend it, too. There's a Popeye's chicken ad out now where the main character says that Popeye's chicken is better than KFC because Louisiana is known for its cooking, whereas Kentucky is known for racing horses. Pshaw. Offends me to my core. Popeye's might have done better in a taste test, but that's still restaurant fried chicken. Don't tell me someone from the land of red beans and rice and jambalaya, wonderful though those dishes are, can compete with us in the fried bird arena. Fried chicken is the pride dish of many a Kentucky cook, and don't you forget it. We'll come down there with a chicken and some seasoned flour and totally kick your a$$. That is all.)

Some of you are neither from Cali nor from Kentucky...what do the Gurls in your state have going for them?

Friday, September 3, 2010

The Heat! My God, the Heat.

Y'all remember the Seinfeld episode where Elaine is talking to Puddy about being afraid she's going to hell and says, "And the HEAT! My God, the heat!"

Our local newspaper had an article today that told us the summer of 2010 was a very hot one, historically speaking. File it under things that make you go, "No sh^%."

Jason and I quote Seinfeld a lot in general, but we've found ourselves throwing out Elaine's above line a lot this summer. If this June, July, and August had a theme for us, that theme would be, "I'm hot. And not in the good way."

With summer unofficially ending this weekend, I thought it would be a good time to take a look back on the long, hot summer of 2010. It was the summer when...

We discovered that our happy place, Hilton Head Island, is not so happy after all.

How could you have such an incredible time at a vacation destination one year, and then be so miserable the next time you go? The place we stayed this time was dirty and (remember the theme this summer?) hot, with air conditioning that only kinda sorta worked. The kid threw up the first night we were there after eating a bad shrimp, my rental bike got stolen even though I locked the darn thing up (there were cut locks littering the ground around where my and several other's bikes were taken), and the only beautiful day we had was, of course, the day we left. However...

We also discovered that, at least in Savannah, we really do believe in ghosts.

The night I found my bike had been stolen (and biking was the most fun thing we'd found to do on gray days) I wanted to get the heck off the island. So we drove to Savannah, got in for dinner at The Lady & Sons with no waiting, and went on a ghost tour. The most fun we had on our Hilton Head vacation wasn't actually in Hilton Head. Ains volunteered to take pictures after the guide told us to look for orbs in our photos, which could be spirits lurking in the dark. Sure enough, we found a perfect orb in one of our pictures, which the guide told Ainsley was definitely a ghost, much to her delight. When we got home, I found two more pictures with orbs. Jason thought they were water droplets until I showed him one picture in which the orb appeared right in front of his male parts, in which case he became totally convinced that it was a ghost. Like the guy in Ghost Adventures, female spirits are apparently drawn to him in a carnal sort of way.

Jason and I got addicted to True Blood.

Where do you go after the season finale of Lost? To a show that doesn't make you think and is pure escapism. We rented the first two seasons on DVD throughout the summer; right now we're using our free trial month of HBO to catch up on season 3 on-demand. No matter how hot it is outside, no matter how bad a day I've had (and there have been many bad days these first weeks of school), hearing Bill the vampire say, "Sookeh!" in that melodramatic rasp cracks me up. And Eric the vampire is so incredibly hot. In the good way.

We watched Inception, felt both awed and confused, and talked about it for days.

It's been a while since a summer movie made me exercise my brain. I know there's been a lot of backlash, but I loved every minute of the ride.

Jason built a 10-inch reflecting Dobsonian telescope that actually works, making an astronomy geek out of our child (and maybe me, too.)

I've never exactly seen Jason as "handy" (love you, anyway! mean it!), so I'm still a little shocked that he was able to build a real, honest-to-god working telescope. It's not a little bucket-scope like we made in Governor's Scholars out of a 5-gallon pickle bucket and some PVC's big, freakin' scientific instrument, y'all. And through it Ainsley has seen the rings of Saturn, the Ring Nebula (faintly), 4 of Jupiter's moons, and a host of double stars and clusters and what-not. I love watching her drop all the girly-girly stuff she got for her birthday in a red-hot minute on clear nights after her Daddy calls out, "Want to go look through the telescope?" It's good for a girly-girl to get her geek on sometimes, you know?

I found out there's no joy quite like watching your kid work really, really hard to achieve something.

After a really fun season swimming for our pool's instructional summer team, Ains decided that she wants swimming to be her sport. We thought cheer leading had become her fave; turns out it takes a back seat to her love of being in the water (whew.) She found out she could try out for an advanced indoor team that makes its home at our family rec center, and during the try-outs I saw her push herself harder than I've ever seen before. She set her mind on a goal and focused on it and swam her absolute hardest in an attempt to kick some butt. Her breast stroke was weak so she's been asked to work on that and try out again mid-season, and I thought that might make her want to give up. But she has decided (without my prodding; I'm not one of those parents) to attend 3 practices a week this fall because she wants to be on the team so badly. It brings tears to my eyes to watch her push herself in the pool; every parent wants their kid to work hard for something they want, even more than they want them to be naturally great at something.

I read a very, very good book.

Librarians aren't supposed to say this, but I haven't been completely impressed with books this year. The best things I'd read had been young adult fiction, but it had been a while since I picked up an "adult" book and found it impossible to put down. The Passage, by Justin Cronin, got under my skin in a way a book hasn't in a long time. If you haven't read this one yet, do yourself a favor and get a copy. Don't be intimidated by its heft; you can rip through it fairly quickly because you won't be able to stop yourself. It's a page-turner, but it's also's just a darn good book.

Jason said goodbye to glasses and contacts forever (or at least until old-age-vision sets in.)

On the day that this post posts, I will be taking the hubby to get Lasik. I'm sure it will go well. No, really, I am. And if it goes well for him, then I will get it someday. Yeah, sure. I probably will. Maybe. If I can get past the thought of, you know, lasers burning away at my cornea.

That's it for me, folks. Here on the tail-end of one hot summer, tell me what you'll remember about this one.