Tuesday, November 30, 2010


This is the first in a little series of mini-memoirs I am writing this Christmas about some of the memorable Christmases in my life. Some will be nostalgic, some joyful, some sad. But hey, that's Christmas. I will be experimenting with how I write and what point of view I take and fictionalizing some details that I can't remember. Feel free to skip this little writer's workshop thing I'm doing and join me back for regularly scheduled navel-gazing in January if you like. For the rest of you, here we go.

I love Christmas Eve. Mom, Dad, and Uncle John are drinking fizzy red stuff and when they let me and my sissy have a sip it makes my tummy feel all warm and my face all glowy. I get giggly after just one sip because that's how people do it on the TV and it makes everyone laugh.

I got to open exactly one present tonight and I chose the one from my uncle John because he always buys me the best presents, sometimes even better than Santa Claus. He's my dad's uncle and he flies in to visit us every year on a big TWA airplane. Sometimes I get to go with my dad to pick him up from the airport and I get to see the airplane and the big arm that goes to the airplane door that people walk through. I love that part.

 I think my uncle might be rich because he always buys presents for my family even when it's not Christmas, but Mom says he's not rich, he just doesn't have family of his own besides us. Mom says he was like a Dad to my dad when he was a little boy, and so he's kind of like a Papaw to me.

This year John got me a stuffed mouse with a radio inside it so I can snuggle with it and listen to the radio all at the same time. I already love her and I'm naming her Mouse-a-fee Mouseriddle and Dad found a station on her that will play Christmas songs all night while I'm sleeping. Someday I am going to have her marry my favorite stuffed animal, Mousie, and they can be a mommy and daddy to my sister's hamster, Macy.

I am getting sleepy now but I don't want to sleep yet because I can see Rudolph's nose. My sissy says it's just the radio tower at the police station, and she says it's there every night, but I know that tonight it's really Rudolph's red nose and Santa is on the way to my house. My sissy is a lot older than me and she thinks she knows everything but she doesn't. It bothers me sometimes but she's my favorite person in the whole wide world so I can't stay mad at her even when I try to. She lets me hold Macy sometimes and we look at her poster of Kyle Macy the basketball player and talk about how she's going to marry him someday.

I do hope that red light is Santa's sled because if Santa thinks I was good enough this year, he's going to bring me a doll house. I hope I've been good enough. Sometimes I get in trouble for not listening but my mom and my teacher tell me I am a good kid and I try my hardest to be good. I hope so because I love my new mouse radio but I know I'll love a doll house, too.

It's quiet now and Dad picks me and Mouse-a-fee up and carries us to bed. I can smell the red fizzy stuff and cigarettes but I don't mind. I can hear my most favorite Christmas song, "Silent Night", and from my bed I can still see Rudolph's nose through the window. The covers are warm and soft and so is my mom when she leans over me to tell me goodnight. I close my eyes and hear the TV in the living room and Macy running on his wheel and know that when morning comes, Christmas will be here.

And hopefully my new doll house will be, too.

Monday, November 29, 2010

12 Days of Christmas

I really wish I liked Christmas.

Like the Barenaked Ladies sing about salmon on their awesome children's album, I've tried it. I want to like it. But it's simply a taste thing.

I've been thinking a lot the past couple of weeks about how tough Christmas is for me and trying to pinpoint the exact moment in my life when all the childish joy I used to feel at the holidays just went flying out the window. Here's the thing: I can't just pinpoint one single moment. Christmas in the Cranky house has frequently been marked by tumoil and strife and battles over who's bringing the ham.

So I am doing something a little different with the blog over the next few weeks. It's going to be part therapy, part writing workshop. See, I've been feeling a little bored with myself lately. I haven't had too many blog-worthy events here lately. But I've been thinking more and more that I want to start writing something real. I've always said I wanted to write a book based on my life, my childhood in particular. I haven't been completely honest about my adolescence here; I've covered up a lot of the warts to protect the innocent and the guilty. But maybe it's time to get going on that book I've always wanted to write, which I've always envisioned could help kids like I was. Tell them they're not alone, and that plenty of people out there deal with dysfunction and come out mostly okay.

Mostly okay, just maybe not big fans of family-oriented holidays.

So I am going to write about some different Christmases I had as a kid (and some as an adult.) I am going to experiment a bit with point of view and such, and because I am writing about things that happened so many years ago, there will be some fictionalization as I fill in gaps in my memory. (Just thought I'd throw that out up front so I don't get accused of James Frey-like shenanigans.)

You can stick around, or not. No hard feelings. You may not at all be interested in my own navel-gazing. I just feel the need to shake things up a little and maybe get a feel for where I may want to go with an honest-to-goodness writing effort someday.  

And maybe work through my ghosts of Christmases past.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

A Foundation of Poo

A plumber recently gave my house a colonoscopy, and it failed. Miserably.

We knew the bad smell creeping up from our laundry-room floor drain probably had a sinister origin, but like a person with mild and non-specific symptoms of general unwellness, we put off getting a diagnosis because we kinda didn't want to know what was going on down south. It's amazing how long you can tell yourself, "I'm sure it's nothing." But the day eventually comes when you can ignore your poo problems no longer.

Whether it's from shoddy workmanship when our house was built in the 80s, or whether it's just where our house has settled oddly, our main drainage pipe doesn't angle down to let gravity do its job properly. There's an 8-foot section where it's mostly straight when it should be mostly pitched.

"Uh oh." This is not good to hear when a plumber is watching a camera snake down through your pipes.

I could see the image on the screen, too. "What? What do you see?"

"Well," he said, as he lifted the camera up a little. "Right now we're above water, but right now," and he put the camera back down into the pipe a little further and things got really blurry, "we're in some standing water. You shouldn't have standing water in your pipes. Water should move."

He guided the camera further and there got to be a point where I could see a dip down in the pipes and the water started to move faster. That was the good news; the straight pipe started sloping eventually. The problem is limited to a section of pipe in our laundry room under the concrete slab.

"This is not great to hear, I know," he said, taking off a pair of protective gloves just like a doctor would have. "But it could have been so much worse. I could be telling you we have to dig under a wall, or tear up your driveway or front porch."

Yes. In much the same way that hearing, "Well, it is a blockage, but hey, at least it's not cancer!" should just thrill you as you're being IV ed up for major colon surgery.

As with anything pertaining to poo, it's best to have a sense of humor. I hope I get one soon. It's hard to find anything funny about being out a lot of money and having the laundry room floor jackhammered and losing access to my washer and dryer for a week while the new concrete cures, but I am trying really, really hard to grin and bear it.

Until I find my own humor about this situation, I'll borrow some from Scrubs: "Everything Comes Down to Poo."

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Thankful, 2010

I've done one of these every year, so bear with me as I do another. I would not be able to eat my turkey, dumplings, and pumpkin pie if I didn't take a moment to be grateful. Feel free to throw in your own personal grace in the comments below. It will make your dinner taste better. Honest.

I'm thankful...

1.  ...for my family. Of course.
I may not be the most patient mother and wife (okay, I'm KNOW I'm not the most patient mother and wife) but I love my kid and my husband so much it hurts sometimes. I am blessed to have a kid who's 8-going-on-18, a kid who is equal parts serious/studious/scary-mature and goofy/silly/playful. I am also blessed to have a husband who kills big spiders (or at least tries to) and who works so hard for us. Plus, they're both terribly, terribly cute.

2. ...that my mom has a man in her life who adores her and takes her out dancing on Saturday nights and who in general helps to heal the loneliness she's been forced to live with since my dad died.

3. ...for my eyes, which can see tolerably well without thick glasses or uncomfortable contacts after Lasik.
My right eye could still see more clearly, but now that things are healing, I'm quite happy that I didn't chicken out like I was certain I would do.

4. ...that someone at my school district thought I was deserving of an iPad.

5. ...for another cancer-free year. Writing that will never, ever get old.

6. ...for my new favorite blog, Hyperbole and a Half. Allie's writing and drawings have gotten me through more than one rough day at work. (If you're not familiar with that site, this entry is a great one to start with.)

Incidentally, this may be my last "regular" blog post for a while. I'm toying with trying something new for the holidays. Something that may launch me into getting serious about doing some "real" writing that I might try to get published some day. Stay tuned, and have a great Thanksgiving.

Monday, November 22, 2010

If I Give You Some Money, Will You Please Stop Airing Those Commercials?

I've been sick, and when I get sick, I get weepy.

When I get run-down and under the influence of antibiotics and codeine-laced cough syrup, all it takes is a sad look from Ainsley, or a harsh word from a co-worker, or even just a particularly melancholy view from my bedroom window to set me off.

Saturday, all it took was a commercial.

I've grown immune to the Sarah McLachlan ASPCA commercials. They're brutal, and that damn song gets me every time, but I've seen the same sad dogs and cats enough to not dissolve when I see it.

The Humane Society's commercial, though, caught me completely off guard. I wasn't even really watching it; I was trying to squeeze in a workout during Ainsley's swim practice, even though I felt like finding a quiet corner and crashing. I was feeling better, but still sleep-deprived from too many nights being woken up by my own coughing fits. I was half-heartedly doing whatever simulated human activity you're supposed to do on an elliptical when the commercial came on to the big-screen TV right in front of me. I had my remote tuner thingy tuned to a completely different channel, but it didn't matter; the darn commercial had titles playing over the various photos and videos, and I couldn't look away.

Images of dogs and cats flashed on the screen along with titles telling us the horrors that have befallen that particular animal. The lucky ones had "only" been abandoned. I have no idea what song was playing in the background since I wasn't listening; I can imagine it was something musically engineered to make animal lovers cry.

Before I knew it I was on the verge of ugly-crying right there in front of a couple dozen strangers. I was able to hold back audible sobs, but I did have to pretend that my eyes were sweating from my strenuous walking/jogging/hiking/whatever-the-heck-it-is-you're-doing-on-an-elliptical.

So, Humane Society of the United States--if I give you some money, will you please stop showing commercials like this?

Monday, November 15, 2010

Sent From My iPad

I've long rolled my almost-exclusively-PC eyes at the smugness of Apple commercials.

It stared with the early iPod commercials that featured U2 singing "Vertigo" while cool shades of blue, green, and orange flashed against silhouettes of various hip, trendy, and beautiful people dancing with their iPods. I rolled my eyes, then got Jason one for Christmas, then asked for a Nano for my birthday two months later. Now I find my "ancient" iPod a necessity for life.

Then I rolled my eyes at the Mac commercials where a PC was symbolized by a very stodgy-looking, decidedly uncool guy in a plain brown suit (played by the very-cool-in-real-life John Hodgman) and Macs were symbolized by hipster Justin Long. I already know I'm not cool, I thought. Like I'm going to switch from PC to Mac just because this commercial is telling me the PCs I've been using for years are soooo 5 minutes ago. And then Jason's Dell laptop died, and he chose a MacBook citing "more stability" and "better performance". Pshaw. He looked so smug sitting there behind the glowing Apple logo. I started playing around with it and realized that I, too, will probably go that route when my own Dell dies (or I throw it out the window, whichever come first.)

More recently it's been iPhones and iPads that Apple is telling me will make me one of the cool kids. I've got a Kindle to read on, and a perfectly fine phone that makes and receives calls and texts in a perfectly satisfactory manner, I thought. I don't need no stinking iPhone or iPad. And I rolled my eyes at the smug snobbery (smobbery?) of those commercials.

Until several of us at work were given iPads to use. And I am here to tell you I kinda think it's the coolest thing ever. There. I'm smug.

I knew my principal had gotten one when I got an email from her that said at the bottom: Sent from my iPad.

Well, I thought. Aren't WE all with-it and cutting-edge.

The next day I heard that I, too, was among a select few in our building to try being with-it and cutting-edge on for size. Funny how sometimes you can turn your nose up at something you'd have to buy, but when you're given it for free, it's suddenly the best day of your life.

The first thing I did after the thing landed on my desk? Visit the App Store. This is huge, because just hearing "There's an app for that" on the commercials used to make me convulse with smug-overload.

"Oooh, look at me!" I would say loudly to whoever was in the living room. "I'm so cool I don't even have to say the entire word applications. I can just say 'app' because that how we smugly cool Gen-Y pretty people ROLL!"

But the App Store is so full of wonder and delight that I no longer care. There's a paranormal activity detector on there, people! That lets the ghosts in your home actually talk to you! Plus Angry Birds. Let us not forget the Angry Birds.

Of course, I've been spending most of my time on it exploring ways it can make life easier for teachers and/or enhance learning for our students, since I am sure that was the whole point of giving me one. I am staying better connected with work since it lets me check work email from wherever with just the touch of a button. That may not be a good thing. But I also have it connected to my home email account, which I was terrible about checking because it required me to fire up my dinosaur Dell at home and wait, like, 5 whole minutes for everything to load.

Writing that makes me sound like a spoiled technology brat but I don't even care.

Since I got my iPad, Jason and Ainsley have also used it to find constellations and various other fun things to look at in the night sky. I used it to play some tunes on Pandora radio while I got ready to go out on Saturday night, and we all watched a few videos about the new Harry Potter movie.

So, yeah, I love my new gadget despite myself.

And yes, this was sent from my iPad.

Friday, November 12, 2010

The Eyes Have It

Back when I was in 6th grade, I had an epiphany. I'd realized that I couldn't see my science teacher's chalk-written notes on the space program on the board unless I was sitting at one of the front tables, so I asked to borrow a friend's glasses, slipped them on, and sat back at my usual seat towards the back of the room. The haze of white I had been seeing against the green slate suddenly formed into letters and words that illustrated the old simile "clear as a bell." I could almost hear a chime go off in my brain as my vision cleared; dear Lord, I needed glasses.

Unfortunately, I didn't get those glasses until almost a year later (my mom was convinced I just wanted big, plastic, pink-framed glasses like so many of my friends at school had). When the optician slipped that first pair on my face, I saw everything I had been missing in the couple of years it had taken to realize my once-perfect eyes had gone myopic: trees were made up of individual leaves and were not, in fact, green blobs; who knew?

Countless times since then, I've had similar epiphanies as my prescription changed, or as I found myself with new glasses or contacts. You don't realize how bad you've been seeing until all of a sudden the blinders are lifted and you go, Oh, my God! so THAT's what that sign says.

So then I had Lasik on October 29.

Before I get into the ins and outs of it, let me tell you that I am seeing 20/20. In fact, I kinda feel like my left eye is bionic. I am seeing better through that eye than I have through any pair of glasses or contacts I've ever had. But I am a perfectionist, so my right eye not being quite so perfect (though allegedly still seeing close to 20/20 one week after) has made me wonder whether I did the right thing.

The procedure itself was as strangely frightening as I dreamed it would be.

You've given these people a lot of money for the pleasure of burning away part of your eyeball, so they treat you like a queen and act like your biggest fans while you're there. Everyone is just so darned happy that they are going to change your life that the prep room feels like a big party. The only thing missing are the drugs.

I stil can't believe all they give you at the office I went to is Tylenol PM. When you're having your eyes lasered I think you should at least score a run-of-the-mill Valium, you know?

I honestly don't remember all the details about the surgery because I was kinda sorta freaking out. I know someone put numbing drops in my eyes, and I know that that someone may not have given me time for those to work because I felt a little honest-to-goodness pain when the cutting laser made the flap in my right eye. This was after a big suction cup thingie was placed on my right eyeball with what the doctor told me was "a little feeling of pressure." And it was just a little feeling of pressure, in the way that Pine Mountain is a little mountain. Pressure on your eye is pressure on your eye, whether it's a little or a lot.

They made the flap in the left eye after that, and then they lasered the right eye. Because I probably am OCD, I became obsessed with whether or not I was really and truly fixating on the flashing light I was supposed to be looking at. My cheerleading squad, consisting of a nurse and the optician, kept counting down the seconds left and hollering out, "You're doing great!" But that flashing light seemed to not ever stay in the middle of my field of vision, and once or twice the doctor reminded me to keep still. Just like I kept asking my chemo nurse during my first treament if she had remembered to give me the anti-nausea meds because I was loopy with Ativan, I kept asking the surgeon and nurse at Lasik if I had kept my eye fixated because I was loopy with fear and a pre-existing anxiety disorder.

"Did my eye stay still enough? Because it felt like it was moving, and you kept telling me to stay still, but, you know, I was trying like, REALLY hard but I still didn't feel like I kept my eye still..."

"If you had moved your eye too much, we would have stopped. The laser follows your eye movements," said the nurse.

"Well, if you're sure, but, you know, it just seemed like my eye moved and wasn't in line with the thingie except for that one time the doctor reminded me to look in the center of the light...did it move?"

They kept acting all happy, because they had a lot of my money, but I know they were wishing they had given me drugs. Just an FYI here: I'm really annoying in medical situations. If I ever ask you to accompany me to a procedure, come up with a really good reason not to.

The next eye was uneventful and I had no problem looking right at the center of the flashing light. I knew I was going to have extraordinary vision out of that eye as soon as they smoothed the flap down; I could see intricate detail in the little machine above my head that was making the flashing light. It was...beautiful.

They had me sit up slowly. They had told me earlier that they could tell I was nervous and that I should just relax, and I saw actual fear on their faces when I didn't sit up immediately. They thought they had a fainter on their hands. For a minute there, I thought they might be right.

I sat up to the edge of the table and looked around. They warned me my vision would be like I was looking underwater, and it was exactly like that. Except for one thing...

"Can you tell me what time it is?" the doctor asked.

A regular analog clock was on the wall several feet away. For the first time since I was probably ten years old, I could see the time without squnting or looking through some kind of corrective lenses.



The first few hours after the surgery is not comfortable; the numbing doesn't last, and your eyes know they've had surgery and act accordingly. So I slept, and when I woke up, I could see the numbers on our alarm clocks, I could see what channel the TV was on, and I could see that trees do have individual leaves, all without the help of glasses.

Which is, in a word, awesome.

Since then I've struggled some with some glare, even in my Spiderman-like left eye. And my eyes almost always feel dry, like I need to take my contacts out. But I am mostly happy. I am a worrier, though, and I worry that the ghosting/double vision/starbust crap I have going on in my right eye won't lessen up. The visual acuity in that eye has gotten better in the 10 days or so since the surgery, but I see a litte second ghostly image of most things directly under the primary image. It isn't awful, but I don't want to see it the rest of my life, either. With reading and writing, it's not bad. It's things like far-away lights and even the crescent moon that I am just seeing one too many of.

I made the mistake of Googling some of these things and I'm convinced I have a variety of permanent complications. So I am banning myself from online Lasik-related searches until my next follow-up.

Maybe perfectionist, OCD-type people shouldn't have Lasik.

But then I get up in the morning and I can clearly see my alarm clock, I can tell which is the shampoo and which is the conditioner in the shower without holding the bottles 2 inches from my nose, and even from the dining-room table I can make out the scores for UK basketball games (so long as I don't just try to see these scores with my right eye.) So I should be (and most of the time am) really happy that I don't have to fool with contacts or glasses.

I just wish, as I so often do about so many other things, that it had ended up perfect.