Monday, November 29, 2010

Disobeying my Husband is Tempting Fate

After 40 blissful years of marriage, I can say without exaggeration that Eric has taught me a thing or two.  That's saying a lot, especially if you consider how little I actually listen to him.  But we think so differently, that occasionally his logical brain, employing the time-tested steps of the scientific method, stumbles on a good idea that is actually useful in my everyday life.  His rules and suggestions can be annoying on first hearing, not to mention the endless repetitions he feels are necessary to make sure I heard and understood, but a few ideas stand out as winners.

For instance, back when we were courting, he criticized my idea for how to spend that New Year's Eve.  We were on a chaperoned ride in the family buggy with Old Bessie in the harness, when he said, "New Year's Eve is amateur night.  Let's stay in and watch movies on the Betamax."  After all these years I may be getting the details a little mixed up, but his idea was that thinking people stayed off the roads when non-thinking people were out drinking and driving.  Even though that ruined my plans, it began a sacred family tradition of living through another year, DUI-free, that we still enjoy today.

Another law he laid down early in our marriage is "Don't buy crap."  Now this was very hard for me to understand, because I grew up under rather modest circumstances (read: "poor"), and I had spent many years perfecting my ability to be thrilled with anything cheap.  So acquiring a husband who thought differently led to some pretty unpleasant misunderstandings:

Me:  How do you like the steak?

Him:  It's terrible.

Me:  But it was only $2 in the "last week's specials" bin...

Him:  Take me to the emergency room.

And I have made many mistakes in the gift-giving department, particularly when I shop for small electronics.  We have a Rubbermaid tote filled with off-brand junk and factory-reconditioned devices that I once considered great deals - the tote is labeled "gifts that died." In the accumulation of the crap in that tote, I began to understand why he called me "penny-wise and pound-foolish."  Eventually I began to accept the rule "don't buy crap." 

But another rule that reared it's ugly head recently was his admonition, "Never go to a new restaurant until it's been open for a few months."  His thinking is that a new place needs to work out the kinks - why waste money when the outcome is uncertain?  Of course, I thought it was just another way he tried to keep me from spending money.  Checking out new restaurants was always a treat back in the good old days (after Prohibition was repealed).  I spent many years as a waitress and bartender, and considered it my professional responsibility to sample and critique my competitors. It didn't matter that it had been decades since I'd hoisted a tray to my shoulder and sauntered across the terrazzo in chunky white shoes - it was my duty to rush over and check out new eateries post haste.  So that rule stung, but being the ever-obedient wife, I meekly smiled and agreed, while collecting glass shards for future grinding, if necessary.

Last night, after a trip to the bookstore that got shortened because they don't carry several things I was shopping for (I go there once per week - why did I think they had Wii games?), my friend announced she was starving and croissants and coffee weren't going to cut it, menu-wise.  So we looked out the door and the nearest restaurant was a new Mexican place right across the street.  Neither of us knew anything about it, (cue scary music), but hunger and convenience prevailed, so what's the harm?  It's just one of my husband's silly rules.  I can hear you out there yelling:  "Don't go in!  It's new!"

In the hope of keeping the attention of those who don't like long blogs (too late now!), I won't mention every single thing that was wrong with our dinner.  It's a painfully long list. (You're welcome).  Suffice to say that, when I did finally complain about my watery salad, and our mystified waiter left (presumably to confer with the manager) and came back, his explanation was that "Taco salad is one of our greasiest dishes."  Well, didn't I just feel chastised!  Somehow I missed the "Greasy" category on the menu - it must have been right under the "Canned" entry, where they probably listed the queso my friend ordered.  She was not impressed, and by the time I sampled it, the cold cheese had a thick layer on top, generally indicative of microwave heating.  Now I happen to like that layer, but it really shouldn't form on a $5 dish of queso ten minutes into the meal.  And I have to mention that our waiter, in response to our request for separate checks, charged each of us for "0.5 queso."  Have you ever?  I thought it was hilarious, but my dinner partner insisted that he put all 1.0 queso on her check, so the poor guy had to go figure it all again *big sigh*.

Now the waiter was poorly trained, and would have benefited in the long run if we'd politely made an issue of the problems with our dinner.  But he was so earnestly off-the-chart bad that I knew he wouldn't learn anything from my on-the-spot advice.  And I wasn't in the mood to go all Dorothy Parker on him, because I'd had a lovely weekend of being a kind, thankful person and I just couldn't work up enough righteous indignation to launch a complaint.  

I didn't penalize him with a bad tip, because I intend to call the manager and bend his/her ear for some minutes explaining the shoddy food and treatment we received.  Hopefully they will all learn a valuable lesson from me, Mrs. Anonymous Patron, when I get around to calling.  Incidentally, I don't want to name names or hurt their business, but the restaurant is named after a condiment one often dips tortilla chips in, so consider yourself warned.

Anyway, the experience comprised all the problems you'd expect at a new restaurant.  Some of those issues will probably be resolved in the coming months, especially if knowledgeable busybodies such as I take the time to call management.  But the biggest lesson is much harder to swallow.

My husband was right.  Again.  Two times in forty years.  It really pains me to admit that.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Can this consumer be saved?

It is 1:02pm on Black Friday, and I'm still at home.  Just got out of the shower, in fact.  Spent the morning in my flannel pjs, looking through Black Friday ads and making notes on my Christmas planner.  But I didn't go to any stores, didn't shop online, didn't do my part for the American economy.  I guess the terrorists have won.

I don't do Black Friday.  I actually never shopped for Christmas presents on the day after Thanksgiving until my first Thanksgiving as a daughter-in-law (1994).  I spent that day holding coats and shopping bags while my mother-in-law and her sister demonstrated how super-shoppers get it done.  A few hours with them and I was exhausted beyond description.

Why I'd never Christmas shopped on that day is pretty simple:  I never had any money until the Christmas bonus showed up, usually around 12/15 or thereabouts.  No matter what my job, I never managed to juggle the paychecks and bills until mid-December, and then I just shopped with what cash I had and was done.  No long-term planning or budgeting involved in those days.

Once, several years after my first Black Friday experience, one of my children desperately needed something that necessitated my standing in line at 5 in the morning to get in ToysRUs for a Black Friday bargain that couldn't possibly be repeated in the month remaining before Christmas.  Yes, I actually got the inflatable bouncy tent, which (amazingly) appeared in sale ads that whole month for less than I paid that day that I slept standing up in public.  

Not only that, but the darn thing sprung a leak roughly 5 minutes after the girls started jumping in it.  And didn't my husband think that was hilarious, since he'd stayed up until 3am blowing the stupid thing up.

So you might say that experience cured me of shopping on Black Friday.  It also helps that I'm not that fond of shopping in the first place, so I feel no need to venture out in my amateur fashion and attempt to compete with the shopping experts to find the one and only $229 I-Touch with bonus $15 gift card left in South Bend.  Let the scavengers have it.

When it comes to shopping for groceries, however, I'm in a league of my own.  I challenge anyone to a grocery bill showdown - anytime, anywhere.  I'm reasonably certain I pay less for my butter than my neighbors do, and I'm damn proud of it.  But when it comes to electronics, toys, clothes, stuff for guys - you know, useless stuff - I don't care enough to get very competitive.  At least not on the morning after Thanksgiving, when USA Today alleges I ate upwards of 3,500 calories before I served dessert(s).

No, I just don't need anything that badly.  In fact, yesterday reminds me that I really don't need anything at all.  My children and husband are healthy, my mother-in-law is on the mend, and my family back in Alabama are all well.  I have a lovely home, a working furnace, dependable transportation, my husband has a good employer, we have clean water to drink and air to breathe and I'm protected by the world's greatest military and the world's best constitutional government.  I have great friends, nearby and far away, and I like myself enough to enjoy being alone.

Like I said, I really don't need anything at all.  And I get the satisfaction of feeling like I outsmarted the fake-holiday marketeers who tried to manipulate me to get my full belly and fat butt out of bed ridiculously early to buy stuff for people who also don't need much at all.  

It's almost kickoff time, I had popcorn for lunch, just popped an Amber Bock and I haven't spent a dime today.  I'm a thankful little Frugal Hoosier War Eagle right now.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving Eve

On this Thanksgiving Eve, I am grateful for many things, but tonight I want to mention one particular group who contribute daily to my happiness and sanity: my Granger girlfriends.

They are such an amazing group of ladies, and I am not just saying that because I drank half a bottle of ChiChi's premixed Long Island Ice Tea tonight.  They are also amazing because no matter how much of the aforementioned Tea I drink, they let me talk and talk and talk and dispense advice as befits a grand dame of my advanced years.

Tonight we had a mini-gathering at Susan's house;  she managed to chase her family off on the pretense of "working" as a "nurse" on the "labor and delivery floor" tomorrow - what a scam!  She had lovely snacks and some wine; note to self: how did I come to be overserved?  She runs a very lax establishment and I don't recommend it for lightweights.  We also played bananagrams (I won) and Querkle, a delightful shape- and color-matching game for ages 5 and up, and I lost.  Stupid baby game.

Anyway, I have to spend tomorrow cooking and cleaning before Eric's mother and brother come for lunch, so tonight's get-together was a pleasant way to relax before the big day.  Some people experience much more pressure from family and holiday obligations than I do.  I keep the expectations pretty low - I just basically state my willingness to perform a minimum of traditional jobs, and that's that. If I screw up, a grand total of 5 people will know about it.  Fortunately I'm not required to please two sets of parents, siblings and siblings-in-law and their kids.  I don't know if I could stand all that pressure.

So I'm very thankful that our Thanksgiving is a small, low-key affair.  After several recent trips to the local food bank/soup kitchen/homeless shelter, I'm not much in the mood to overdo for us fortunate folk.  My family is blessed in so many ways, the list could go on and on.  That itemized list is a subject for another installment - when I get all sappy and serious.  Tonight I'm simply offering up a prayer of gratitude for my girlfriends, near and far.

Thanks for always filling my empty glass.


Monday, November 22, 2010

Happy Monday to all, and to all a good week

Let me just begin by saying that I have two equally wonderful daughters.  If anyone had ever told me that I'd like my own children so well, I wouldn't have believed them.  Your children are supposed to be a constant trial of your patience, and your most cherished dream is alleged to be attaining the empty nest years - right?

Well, I don't feel that way.  At least not yet.  And realizing I'm lucky, and realizing it could change any day, and realizing I'm probably jinxing myself by even saying this, I'll still say right here in front of God and everybody that I like my girls almost as much as I love them.  And I'm not playing favorites, but today I'm only writing about one of them.

That said, my younger daughter, Camille, gave me a lovely start to my day.  She didn't know it, but that doesn't matter, because it's Monday and that usually means headless chickens tripping over each other in the kitchen from 6:00 - 8:30am.  But not today.

I should back up a bit and explain that Camille is a musician.  She plays piano and bassoon, and is quite accomplished at both.  I was what you would call musical as a young person - I played in the band, sang in the church choir, dabbled at piano - but in spite of the fact that I had a little talent, I didn't work at it or value it like I should have.  I don't refer to Camille as "musical," I call her a musician because she takes her instruments seriously.  Whether in a group or as a soloist, she owns her effort, her talent, and her accolades.  When she isn't pleased with her results, she doesn't blame anyone else.  I think that's impressive for a girl of thirteen.

Most mornings, Camille only has a few minutes to spare (she is a slow mover upon waking, but that's fun dirt for another blog when I'm annoyed at her).  If she has a few minutes to spare, she usually turns on the TV to watch one of her archived episodes of "Dancing with the Stars."  I despise television in the morning, but I can usually ignore ten or fifteen minutes of Tom Bergeron and the most dramatic panel of dance judges in world history if the volume is turned low enough.  But today, she decided instead to practice her new piano piece:

and it was so lovely.  I'm amazed that a child raised by me could attempt something so delicate and emotive.  I don't know how she broke the genetic bonds of uncoordination to play so well.

I began my Monday to the soothing sounds of my daughter tinkling the ivories with her usual care and seriousness.  Add a cup of coffee and a furball warming my feet, and I was in heaven.  So here I sit, writing about my lovely morning, and there goes Camille:

waiting for the bus in the rain, with a fifteen pound backpack strapped on, and a bassoon to wrestle onto the bus and under the seat for the half-hour ride to school.

So the next time I start to wallow in the attitude of the unappreciated mother who does everything so my kids can have it easy, someone please remind me to look back at this entry.  My kids have it good, there's no denying that, but they don't have it easy.  And Camille demands more of herself than we demand of her.  So I should just thank God that I have her in my life, and that she'll be living with us for at least a few more years.

Thank you, Camille, for a lovely start to Thanksgiving week.



Saturday, November 20, 2010

And so it begins...

I've never been someone who has hangups about birthdays.  For some reason, the numbers don't seem all that important as they go up.  I fully expect that one day that will change, and I'll freak out about an upcoming birthday and leave town so no one can rib me about it (by leaving town I mean go on a cruise).  But so far, I've not dreaded any upcoming birthdays.

In fact, I couldn't wait to turn 30.  When I hit 30, I was still a single working girl, with long, big, bright blond hair, an unfortunately deep tan and a tad too much enthusiasm for happy hour, to put it politely.  I'd spent my 20s in a male-dominated work environment, and it seemed people constantly patronized me with statements about how "girls" my age didn't know anything.  I truly felt that turning 30 would magically cause the world to take me seriously.  It didn't, but I wasn't worried about my biological clock or wrinkles or a mortgage or any of those issues that preoccupied my 30ish friends.  I just had a big party and moved on.

By the time the next decade rolled around, I was married with two children, living 900 miles from home.  POOF!  In 3,650 days, quite a bit changed.  But I didn't dread turning 40 either.  Somehow, that number just seemed like a good place for someone like me to be.  And Eric gave me a surprise party that accounted for my first understanding of why Depends are so popular - I was extremely surprised!  But again, another party, some food and drinks and the company of great friends, and I moved forward without too much concern about getting old.

As I approach the half-century mark, I know I'm supposed to get all philosophical about aging and the value of youth in our culture, and the appalling idea that a young person like me could get mail from AARP, and many other weighty subjects that mature people enjoy cogitating upon.   But none of those matters resonate with me at this time.  My age wasn't really on my mind until yesterday, when I was fitted for my first pair of bifocals.  All of a sudden I'm feeling old!

I wore glasses for most of my life, until my adoring husband suggested I have lasik surgery back in '01 when he got a bonus for a patent he filed or something like that.  I have loved life without glasses dependency these last 10 years, but I have to say I kind of like my new specs.  I'd only started needing reading glasses in the last year or so, mostly late at night when my eyes were tired, but suddenly, in the last few months, my magnification need went from +1.25 to +2.75.  Whooooosh!  This aging stuff happens fast when it happens.

So I like my new glasses, but part of me is mourning the fact that I need them at all.  If signs of aging continue to surprise me in this furtive and speedy manner, it seems only a matter of time  before I'll need to stock up on Depends, denture adhesive, Miss Clairol, ExLax and prunes.  I'd better start a list...

Meanwhile, I'd better party while I still remember how.  Thankfully, my little pumpkin friend helps keep me feeling young:

Have a great weekend~

Sunday, November 14, 2010


According to the blogging experts, and there are no shortage of that self-proclaimed breed online, in order to build readership (a less egotistical word for "audience") the serious blogger must blog daily. 

What happens if the blogger has nothing entertaining to say?  Especially if that blogger is someone who, when she does have a subject for blogging, uses 300 words to say what others can convey in 20?

I find myself in that situation today.  I've got lots of drafts that need to be cleaned up and organized before they can be published (why does that sound familiar?)  So this is when the experts tell you to post a picture and a cute comment and sign off.

The only recent pictures I've taken are of inanimate objects that I want to sell on ebay, so I'll spare you the VHS movies and antique furniture (of course, if you are in the market, shoot me an email).  I also may need to give Colin a brief rest - and Colin, please send more pics - so as to put to rest the notion that I'm obsessed, when I'm only politely interested.

So I leave you today with an image that always makes me happy, even when the NCAA and FBI are snooping, and young men resort to unsportsmanlike behavior, and TV announcers sound like gossip columnists, and being undefeated is almost a curse instead of a blessing.  An image that takes me back to childhood, Southern rivalries and family allegiances.  An image that will always mean home, even though I never lived there.

 War Eagle!

Friday, November 12, 2010

Blogging for my Digestive Health

Up until a few days ago, I was blogging endlessly about chores I couldn't seem to get done because of the demands of being a newbie blogger with 2 followers and almost 10 daily page views (on average).  I was taking blogging as seriously as church while letting cobwebs grow in my kitchen sink.  Re-reading a few of my entries, I realized I was going to run out of interesting things to say about my messy house, and grounded myself from blogging until I finished the oft-mentioned chores.

I developed a case of blog constipation as I tried to focus on completing a few long-overdue projects the last couple of days. Since I'd banished myself from blogging until the cursed jobs were done, I had to content myself with furious note taking in draft form - no publishing until I was done!  Well, I'm happy to say the glassware has been packed, antiques auctioned off, outerwear is in the coat closet, all the bird feeders have been emptied, cleaned and refilled, the yard tidied, the ironing is done for another six months and I'm free to get a case blog diarrhea as I unleash a fresh barrage of polite ravings.

I'm trying to improve this blogging effort, but I obviously need some guidance.  I had a terrific meeting this morning with a friend who is a veteran blogger, web designer, online palm reader, and inventor of HTML (also, she had ONE date with Al Gore, and then he dreamed up the Internet.  Coincidence?)  So she's all that, digitally speaking.  This lady is also the person who told me about Blogger (easy enough for even me) and encouraged me to just sit down and and write and worry about how to turn it into a blog after I started writing.  My friend is so tech-savvy and answered my endless questions about the mysteries of the blogosphere and how to pick up a reader here and there.  I expect to make numerous mistakes trying out some of her suggestions, and will undoubtedly embarrass myself trying to employ some of the tech "info & lingo" she tried to explain. Bear with me.

Colin isn't going anywhere, so don't even mention that idea.  I'm considering letting my other boyfriends (Clive Owen, Gerard Butler and Sean Connery) have their picture under mine occasionally.  Stylistically, this is the only sacred space on the page. Feel free to offer suggestions; even criticism is welcome if it's sugarcoated and couched in lots of ego-stroking.

My husband is delayed on the return leg of his trip, and won't get home until late tonight.  The silver lining is the nice voucher the airline gave him for his trouble - and I get to use it!  While I wait up for him I'm going to work on cleaning up some blog drafts about a variety of subjects that have inspired me in recent weeks.  I may end up publishing lots of disjointed blather until he gets safely home.  'Cause I'm definitely finished with housework for the foreseeable future!

Monday, November 8, 2010

Domestic Diva or Defeated Dingbat?

If the road to Hell is paved with good intentions, I should have arrived there weeks ago.  I've been planning, strategizing and preparing to get some major household projects completed for quite a while.  I have come up with excuses for today's lack of progress that go back weeks in history, but the truth is, I've made almost no headway on any projects in or around my house.

Years ago I was in a club for stay-at-home mothers.  It was the support system I needed, raising small children with no family nearby.  One of the women from that club became a very dear friend, and we talked on the phone daily, while we cleaned the kitchen after breakfast, and worked on the first load of laundry of the day.  We always got to hear PBSKids programming in stereo, since both sets of children watched the same morning shows.  We tried to be both motivator and sympathizer for each other, which wasn't always possible.

I'll never forget the day she coined a phrase that made my blood run cold.  "Michele," she said, "I am defeated by my house."  And I knew in an instant what that meant.  For this lady was a very meticulous housekeeper, a germphobe, a person who enjoyed cleaning out closets and organizing junk drawers.  I called her a toothbrush cleaner - no job too small.  The main areas of her house always looked very nice to me - clean and tidy.  But somehow, the parts I never saw got the best of her, and one day it all became too much one day and she decided to let the house win.

The concept disturbed me so because, up until that time, I'd always assumed that at some point I'd get into the "maintenance mode," and from that time on I'd just stay on top of things.  From my perspective, my friend appeared to be in maintenance mode, just whipping out her toothbrush to freshen up the grout because she was bored and her kids monopolized the TV.  I didn't realize that her to-do list was as long as mine, and she never got to any of her "real" projects because laundry, dishes, cooking, vacuuming, shopping, bill-paying, mending, chauffeuring and being an irresistible sexpot after 9pm does consume every waking hour of every day for many years (although the sexpot part is the first job to get sacrificed).

That day, I realized that the maintenance mode doesn't exist.  It is a mythical place, like Atlantis; no one ever gets there, and those who say they've been there are assumed to be insane.  And if it was possible for my friend to be defeated by her house, maybe one day it would happen to me.  Maybe one day I'd look around and say, "Okay, house, you win.  I give up, because I can't beat you."  But with the innocence and optimism that has never characterized any of my thoughts or actions, I mused:  "That will never happen to me.  I'll never let a stupid messy house beat me.  I'll always try to keep things presentable."

Well, today the house won a decisive match.  The longer I looked at stuff, the more it mocked me.  I tried the clipboard approach, walking from room to room, making notes and prioritizing jobs, which generally revs my motivation.  All that came from that effort was 1) I felt crunching in my carpet, which is never good; and 2) I think I own the world-champion dog hair tumbleweed...I can't wait to put that monster on the postal scale. 

So the boxes and newspaper still crowd the living room.  Hundreds of pieces of glassware, china, lamps, bric-a-brac and crap that need to be re-wrapped and re-boxed still cover 95% of the floor space (read: walking area) of the room.  I guess it won't mind waiting one more day for me to get the job done.  I guess I'll eventually run out of excuses - or will I?  I guess the fact that I'm hosting bunco on Thursday means that I have to quit blogging about being defeated and start actually fighting in this war!

No more blogs until the glassware is safely in the attic!  Goodbye, world!


Sunday, November 7, 2010

White stuff

I recently waxed poetic (or maybe I waxed corny) about the beauty of autumn around these parts.  It's been a lovely fall, notable for the abundant sunshine, which is always welcome since we're facing six months of gloom in our near future.  The photograph above illustrates the intense colors I've enjoyed out my back door.

On Friday, the season's first snow arrived.  It was late this year; we've actually had snow in September two of the four winters I've lived here.  Part of me dreaded the delay:  the old wives' tale holds that the later the first snow, the more severe the winter.  But there is even competition among old wives, it seems, because another version says that if there is no snow on the ground at Halloween, it will be a mild winter.  So who knows.

What I do know is that this is the scene yesterday at sunrise:

And while I'm no photographer, look at these amazing colors:

And if you'll forgive me just one more amateurish shot, here's that tree from the top...gorgeous leaves gone, a skeleton wearing a coat of snow:

It melted by afternoon, but we know there will be more.  Yes, winter can be challenging, but the first snow is always a treat.

Friday night

Some weekends it seems we barely have time to come up for air.  I won't bore you with the list of activities our girls have on weekends, but it's almost as bad as the week anymore.  But they have wholesome interests and worthwhile pursuits, so we try to accommodate them.

That's why this past Friday night was such a treat.  We usually eat dinner together at least 3 school nights, but it takes some doing, and often it's a brief meal dominated by discussions of logistics and statistics.  A sample school-night dinner conversation is a rapid-fire conversational do-si-do of statements and requests, and may sound something like this:

Child 1:  "I got an A on my Japanese exam, we're reading about the Franco-Prussian War, a kid created a test-tube toot in chemistry and I'm out of lunch money." (bite)

Parent 1:  "That's nice, that's boring, don't use that word at the table, and how much do you need?"  (chew)

Child 2:  "I need 5 pieces of neon yellow poster board by yesterday, I have to practice 2 instruments for one hour each, I'm DVRing 3 shows tonight so you'll have to miss Monday Night Football, I'm out of my special shampoo, and your friend called this afternoon and said call back within 5 minutes if you want the tickets." (slurp)

Parent 1:  "Look behind the piano, practice in the basement, I cancelled your recordings, use my cheap stuff, and you're grounded! (swallow)

Child 3:  "I need a ride home from Pet Rock Society, your laptop is too slow for my computing needs, the shower drain is clogged and I want to get my other eyelid pierced."  (gulp)

Parent 1:  "I'll pick you up at Door A, buy your own damn laptop, tell Dad, and not until you buy your own laptop. (dagger eyes)

Parent 2:  "I love family time.  Let's sing our favorite song...Beans, beans, the musical fruit..."

Not to say every night at the dinner table is as calm and organized as my example, and I really only have two kids, but there is almost always singing at the table,(sorry, Momma), and as long as Parent 2 lives here, there will always be some mention of tooting.

This particular Friday night was great - no homework or lessons to plan around.  Eric grilled steaks in the snow, and dinner was rounded out by leftovers, so I didn't even have to cook.  Conversation was leisurely, with lots of "code-talk" by the girls, referencing their favorite shows or music.  Eric helped bring relevance to the discussion, invoking The Blues Brothers, Monty Python and Ulysses S Grant.  Teachable moments followed by tooting references - dinner as usual. 

After dinner the girls dug out the snow gear and played in the backyard for about an hour.  Every few minutes I'd hear a squeal or scream and a burst of laughter and think - they're 13 and 15 and still playing in the snow together...thank you, God!

After they came in and warmed up, they decided to put on a little concert.  Mary Kathleen has been working on some difficult cello pieces and demonstrated her improvement in technique by playing several selections.  Her vibrato has become very controlled and steady, and she shifts hand positions now with much greater ease.  My heart just wanted to burst with pride and amazement.  When we moved here, Mary Kathleen really wanted to be in band - she wanted to blow something and be loud.  Somehow we went to the wrong meeting and met the nicest orchestra teacher in Indiana, who convinced MK to try the cello.  And here she is, delicately coaxing beautiful sounds from four strings with a clump of horsehair.  I just can't get over it.

Camille could barely wait for her turn to exhibit.  While Mary enjoys cello and wants to do well, her heart is in her art, specifically drawing.  Camille, on the other hand, never met an instrument she didn't want to learn to play.  Musical accomplishment is very important to her.  As a 5th grader she decided that she wanted to play bassoon.  It's not an easy instrument, not small or sleek or cute or even pretty-sounding (it plays the grandfather in Peter and the Wolf).  But she has embraced this instrument and is doing very well trying to master the sound and all the air it takes to get this huge array of tubes to sing.  Her Friday night performance was a reminder that practice is a solitary pursuit, rarely noticed by others until we decide to sit down and play audience.  She has come so far in eighteen months, I was truly stunned.

It won't be long before these people want to leave here and go somewhere else and have their own lives beyond these four walls we call home.  But Friday night, and for now, they belong to me.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Domestic Diva back from the Dead

It's no secret I'm not much of a housekeeper.  In fact, as one person living here once observed, the more I'm at home, the less I get done.  For example, (s/he said), when I worked at Kohl's or in the schools, I had a tighter schedule and forced myself to get things done in the limited free time I had.  The unnamed espouser of that bit of wisdom did penance on the couch for his/her comments - please don't state the obvious to someone who has just cleaned "your" toilet.

So no, I'm not someone who automatically thinks: "What can I clean today?" when met with a few minutes or hours to spare.  And I've always felt a little guilty about how my standards have slipped in recent years.  But waking up after a mere two days with a stomach bug, I realize that I am far and away the top-dog, blue-ribbon, gold-medal, first-place house cleaner in my family.

I'm not suggesting that my working husband and schoolkids should keep up with the laundry or clean the bathrooms in 2 short days.  That's a bit much to ask.  But,as any housewife can tell you, 2 days of neglected laundry takes 6 days to catch up - simple household math.  And I got a up-close-and-personal look at the toilets, so I know at least one would have passed inspection before "the illness."

But the kitchen, the heart of the home, a relatively small area where the family spends lots of time in the morning and evening - wouldn't that be easy to take care of?  After two mornings of frozen waffles and two nights of leftovers and canned goods, the kitchen should be pretty tidy, right?  No such luck.  It looks like Emeril was in here throwing around ingredients and going "bam" with shredded cheese and bacon bits (added to all foods served in the Arnett house.)  There seems to be a tacit understanding that, if you just use something to swipe visible stuff off the counter, you have just "cleaned the kitchen."  It matters not if that something was a dry sponge or a slightly used dinner napkin; if it got the stuff to the floor where the dogs can deal with it, the kitchen is officially clean.

And the floor, my nemesis, the floor.  Sample findings in a 6' x 6' area in my breakfast room: black dog hair, white dog hair, long brown hair, short grey hair, cooked rice, kibbles, bits, grass clippings, beads, a Smartie, leaves (whole and shredded), dryer lint glob, penny, fern frond, 0.7mm pencil lead, various crumbs, a felt chair slider and carpet fuzz.  Appetizing, no?  Who wants to come eat at my house?

I won't even mention half-empty cups on side tables, granola paper at the computer, shoes under the recliner, unfed fish.  Oops, I just did.  

Not that it was much better 3 days ago, but since I sweep or Swiffer most days, at least the filth was the invisible kind.  So I am doing today what I do most days when there's work to be done - I'm complaining about it via computer.  After all, I've been sick.  I shouldn't overdo it my first day standing.

If my family reads this blog, they may feel compelled to point out a few slight exaggerations on my part.  In fact, probably the only thing that would ever make them comment on one of my blogs would be to refute this tirade and list my own crummy, long-term messes.  In fairness, they took care of themselves and left me to moan and hallucinate in peace.  Eric did all the taxi duty so the girls didn't have to miss meetings or lessons.  And no one who knows us would see much difference around here - unless they stand just so and look at the greasy streaks on the granite - but who would do that?  There's one presentable room downstairs for drop-in company, so I guess that's something to cling to.

For now, I have to attend to my unwashed self.  Because once I've showered, I won't want to sully my cleanliness with housework - perhaps just errands and lunch.  I feel the need to reward myself for being the best housecleaner in this family, even when I'm sick. 

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Please put these words in mothballs

Every few years, a word or phrase takes the country by storm, followed shortly thereafter by a national puking-fest caused by buzzword overuse.  I mean, dialing back to the 1970s, who can forget J.J.'s tagline, "Dy-No-MITE!"  It was funny the first few times, but somewhere between 20 repetitions and infinity-squared repetitions, most of us ceased to experience side-splitting mirth.  A few others that have gone by the wayside unmourned include:

"Well, ex-CUUUUUUSE ME!"
"Don't have a cow, man."
"It's all good."
and anything followed by "...not."

I could go on, but thankfully, someone else did,and that someone published a darn good book called Literally, the Best Language Book Ever: Annoying Words and Abused Paul Yeager, just to give credit where credit is due.  Please read it for a humorous yet scholarly treatment of the subject.  My treatment is completely subjective and superficial.

However, my kids and their generation have co-opted a few words that I would like to take back out of slang and reinstate in the proper-usage category.  Unfortunately, once the kids have begun to think the word "fail" is funny, it is hard to use "fail" to invoke shame or inspire motivation.  Once a good, useful word has been trivialized in the vernacular, it's hard to recapture its precise meaning.

Yes, that lowly word "fail" is a buzzword for...I'm not sure what, really.  If Camille makes a lame joke at the dinner table, Mary Kathleen is sure to mutter "fail" as a response, resulting in a burst of laughter which could have easily sufficed for the original joke.  And I see that I resorted to "lame" to describe a joke rather than someone whose movement is hindered.  Am I also doomed to unwittingly abuse Mother English?

Another word they bandy about is "epic."  If I ask, "How was the exam?", I'll probably hear, "It was epic - I got a 97."  Homer would curse such mindless usage (not Homer Simpson, Camille).  And if you were to get a score of 57 on that test, your response would be, "Epic fail."  I'm hoping that epic has a short life as a buzzword.  A recently released-movie had the tagline "An epic movie of epic epicness," which leads me to believe that even Hollywood recognizes the overuse and wants to move on.

"Random" has become a term of endearment.  If my daughters call someone "random," it is intended as high praise.  "My friend Hildegaard is so random - she's epic!"  So much for the mathematical connotation.  If you blurt out amazing comments that are not relevant to what is going on, and use song lyrics to answer in algebra class, well, "you rock!" (oops - another phrase I'd like to stamp out).  I really liked it when "random" meant random.  Let them use "quirky" or "addled" and leave random to the statisticians.

Before I forget, I'm also ready to retire "dude."  For the record, the only person I ever want to call me "dude" is Matthew McConaughey (under any circumstances whatsoever).  Grown women who call me "dude" need to change it up...let's try "ma'am."  It preserves the distinction of rank and allows all my younger friends to make me feel old. Children who call me "dude" are guaranteed a minimum of 30 minutes of being completely ignored.

Awesome has become the word America can't live without.  I would love to start a campaign to outlaw "cool" and "awesome" as acceptable one-word answers.  I am guilty of falling back on "awesome" when I'm not really listening, or no other suitable comment occurs to me.  But you can really appreciate the "epicness" of the problem when you spend five minutes on facebook.  Just choose any photo album or video clip and read the comments.  "Awesome" not only describes Alaskan glaciers, beautiful sunsets and miraculous survival stories, but you'll also find it describing the capacity of Huggies diapers, a cat flushing the toilet, the special effects in the new Harry Potter movie and the beating of a protester at a Rand Paul rally.  I think it's fair to say that we should either retire "awesome" or reserve it for experiences that inspire true awe in us.  ("Good luck with that," I hear you saying...)

I wonder what it says about our society that many words have been adapted to allow for exaggeration or to convey extremeness. For example, why do people use "emo" so much?  "Emo," I've been told, is a shortened form of "emotional," but refers to someone who is very depressed or suicidal.  Do today's teenagers have that many situations that necessitate the description "emo?"  I hope not.  Likewise, my daughters could not hold a conversation without the words "overly" and "insanely."  Boys are insanely annoying, and a stuck locker door is overly frustrating.  Although I have tried to emphasize precision in word choice in rearing these girls, it appears I have failed epicly.

I hope we can retire some of these words, pack them in mothballs for a few decades and let a future generation discover them anew in their non-slang form.  I'd like to feel nostalgic for the word "random."  I'd like to reminisce about the days when "epic" referred to a disaster movie with an all-star cast or a book over one thousand pages. I'd like for everyone who still says "boo-ya" or "freakin" to to be selectively pelted by killer asteroids.  Dude, that would be awesome!