Monday, May 23, 2011

Fathers, Daughters, & Disco Sticks

Today's guest blogger is Ted Ten Eyck. He's extraordinarily funny, even more so when you meet him in person. If you enjoy his wry humor you'll love his take on therapy, as well as his feelings about picking zits. Don't read the zit one if you're eating. 

When my wife finished watching the coverage of the recent royal wedding, she confessed the following to me:  “I’m glad you’re not a prince, because I don’t think I would make for a very good princess.” Having learned a thing or two over the past twelve years of marriage, I knew I had to respond carefully:  “Don’t be silly. Of course you would be a good princess.” My wife appreciated my lame attempt to sound supportive. But she went on to explain why she felt she would be a less-than-exemplary princess:  “I probably would have just flipped off all of those spectators at my wedding.” Oh. Well in that case, you definitely are not good princess material.  

My wife can breathe a sigh of relief because I certainly am not prince-like material. Luckily, I don’t want to be a prince. Hell, I don’t even want to be Prince. (But that is mainly because he is a full sixteen inches shorter than I.) Even though my wife knows she wouldn’t be a good princess, I am sure that doesn’t stop her from still having a desire to be a princess. Because, as far as I am aware, most people born with lady-parts have some yearning at some time in their life to be a princess. (Don’t worry; I make sweeping, stereotypical comments about men later on.) This desire is reinforced with weddings and proms and, as I discovered last year, the beloved Father-Daughter dance.  

My understanding is that the dance has its origin in basically forcing fathers to spend time together with their precious daughters. Fatherhood was very different “back in the day.” It was, after all, a time when it was socially acceptable for the likes of Don Draper to get drunk at a bar while his wife was in labor. An awful lot has changed regarding the role of fathers since then. Today, for example, men are expected to not only be (1) present and (2) sober for the birth of their child, but to also (3) pretend that their wife did not just have a bowel movement on the birthing table while awaiting Junior’s arrival into the world. Yet despite all of these changes, year after year, the Father-Daughter dance keeps on happening.  

And this is a really special night for the girls. The girls are typically wearing a new dress...and new shoes...and new jewelry. Some go to the hair salon on the day of the big event; some go for a manicure and pedicure. They get flowers from their father. And the girls are absolutely beautiful. They look like little princesses. 

Unfortunately, these little princesses don’t have a proper audience who can fully appreciate just how beautiful they look. I paid close attention this year, and discovered that the girls themselves really don’t care what one another look like. As long as they tamed their bed-head and are not still wearing the same Justin Bieber t-shirt they had on at school earlier that day, all is apparently good. And the only other people in attendance at the Father-Daughter dance are, appropriately enough, fathers. The fathers will make a big deal about their daughter’s appearance. They will even throw in a perfunctory, “You look beautiful!” However, all fathers really care about is making sure their daughter is never, ever wearing sweatpants that proudly proclaim “JUICY” across the ass.  

So, the only people who will truly appreciate all of these efforts are the only people who will not actually be attending the dance. Yes—the mothers. The same ones who bought the dress and the shoes and dealt with their daughter’s tears because the hair stylist made her hair too curly. So the mothers latch onto what they can; namely, posting the pictures on Facebook for all of the other mothers to appreciate.    

Despite the fact that my wife was already sharing her photos with all 252 of her Facebook friends before my daughter and I even entered the event, we still got suckered into paying for the professional pictures at the dance. And then we had to walk past the refreshment table, and another table where they were selling glow sticks. (I refused to buy one just on principle; I don’t need to give my daughter practice for what she might experience when she finally gets to go to her first rave.) Then it is finally time to enter the ballroom (a.k.a. high school cafeteria) where the magic happens. And I have learned from experience that the night will only play out one of two ways:   the first scenario happened to me last year, where my then six-year-old daughter clung to me the entire night because she was overwhelmed and over stimulated with the chaos of the event. The second option is what happened this year:  we walked in and my precious offspring dropped me like a hot potato. “Dad, I’m gonna go dance with my friends!” Fine by me. At the age of 41, I am pretty sure that I have more than met my lifetime quota of having to dance to “Y.M.C.A.”

That means that I am then on my own to mingle with the other fathers who were also ditched by their dates. So what is created as a result is a cafeteria full of men left to make small talk with other men. And everyone knows that striking-up conversation is not a strong point of people born with dangly-parts. That is why men prefer to get together with a planned activity in mind to give them something to talk about; activities such as playing poker or watching a stripper. So, if the organizers of the Father-Daughter dance really wanted to raise some serious money for the school, they would do more than just sell soda and candy bars; they should offer a full cash bar. Not only would the alcohol provide the much-needed social lubrication, but the sales would bring in enough money for the school to most likely build a new wing. (I can hear it now:  “Today’s assembly on scoliosis will be held in the Anheiser-Busch Multi-Purpose Room.”)

Although I have been tempted to bring my own flask to the dance, I have so far used my better judgment. So I have to resort to using my patented conversation starters that are specific to the Father-Daughter dance. Let me give you a few examples:  

“Hey, Bob? Doesn’t it seem odd that the kindergarteners are all dancing to Katy Perry going on and on about losing one’s virginity?”  

 “Am I the only one here who finds it creepy that our seven-year-old daughters are chanting ‘Boys wanna touch my junk’ along with Ke$ha?”

“Good to see you. Nothing like Lady Gaga proclaiming that she ‘wants to take a ride on your disco stick’ to build lasting memories for girls and their dads, eh?”

I really, really wish I was joking about these particular songs being played at the dance. But believe you me, these are the selections. Luckily, the songs that are played for the slow dances are surprisingly free of sexual innuendos. So, I have nothing to carp about regarding what we are dancing to; I do, however, have some things to say about how the dancing actually happens. Some pairings opt for the isn’t-that-cute daughter-standing-on-Dad’s-shoes move. Let me tell you from experience that that is enjoyable for the fathers for approximately seven seconds. Then there is the traditional option where even though the two dancing parties are holding hands, there is enough distance between said parties as to not catch cooties. (I wish that this image did not conjure up for me so many memories of dancing this way with uninterested partners during junior-high mixers while Journey’s “Open Arms” played in the background.)

If I had been cooler in middle-school (or in high school, or in college...), I would have had the chance to dance really close with a girl, with our bodies pressed up against one another and the girl’s head resting on my shoulder. Surprisingly, this is the move that many Father-Daughter pairings resort to. Unfortunately, because of the massive height difference between most adult males and their elementary-school-aged daughters, the girl’s head inevitably ends up resting on her father’s lower abdomen. And that is a sight that you will never see, rightfully so, in any of those Disney princess movies.  

So, I can bitch and moan all that I want, but it doesn’t matter. And that is because the Father-Daughter dance is not about me. It’s about my daughter, the princess. And my princess has a magical time at said event, because she feels special on that night. And hopefully later in her life she will find someone who can make her feel that special each and every day. In the meantime, she is stuck with me, her father, who is still closest at being prince-like only when I play the soundtrack to “Purple Rain” on the drive home from the Father-Daughter dance.  

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Four Year-Old Manipulation

With enough bows, clips, and saliva, you too can have this look.

My youngest daughter turns four in two weeks, and while she knows exactly how to inflict you-never-play-with-me-guilt, she’s yet to figure out how to use threats appropriately.

I mean, any good mediocre mother worth her weight in wet coffee grinds knows how to threaten a kid and get results, right?

My soon-to-be four year old desperately wants long hair (just like her best friend at school, and Kiki and Mirena on Fresh Beat Band) which is fine with me. The poor girl didn’t inherit any thick, lush hair genetics from my husband or me, consequently her hair is thin and wispy and requires a sufficient amount of saliva to keep it in place. Keeping it ultra short is not only darling on her tiny, pudgy face, but also a great way to make those locks look a bit thicker. Sadly there aren’t too many cartoon characters or TV show personalities that have short hair (unless you count Dora and while you may want to speak Spanish after watching her show, you definitely don’t want to replicate her head) which is why, my daughter now wants to have long hair. Like her best friend. And Kiki and Mirena.

I don't mind if my daughters have long hair, but I do mind them looking like field mice nest in it. My rule is that females in this house can have long hair as long as it’s fixed for school—that is, having some type of comb or brush go through it and making sure it is pulled back out of their eyes.

But my daughter does not particularly like to have her hair fixed. Especially when she is tired and hasn’t had her morning coffee breakfast yet. We had yet another battle of the wills this morning when I finally used my mom threat.

“Fine,” I said to her. “If you don’t want to fix your hair then I’m going to cut it.”
She was silent. I’m thinking that she’s going to finally cooperate.
“Do you want me to cut your hair right now?” I asked, smug smile on my face.
“Yes,” she replied. “Cut it.”
Shit. I hadn’t planned on that response. But it was 8:00 a.m. and I did have my coffee so I quickly switched to plan B and did what all moms do when their threats backfire and said, “Fine. I’m going to get some scissors.”

I searched the kitchen where we keep scissors and the junk drawer where we keep scissors and even my daughter’s craft desk where there are always scissors, but guess what I never found? I had great visions of my marching back into that bathroom with a pair of sharp, pointy cutting utensils and pretending to cut her hair—an effectively loud snip! snip! to startle her into fixed-hair submission, but now I had nothing. Just empty threats. Empty threats can work, mind you, they just aren’t very good for story telling later.

When I walked back into the bathroom, ready to tell her we’d have to wait on our haircut, she said, “I’m ready to fix my hair now.” And we proceeded with two ponytails and a barrette. Easier than I thought but it could have had a more exciting ending.

As parents we know what will motivate our children; what works for some doesn’t always work for others. We figure out exactly what will devastate our kids the most—losing video games, being grounded from friends, no TV extra chores—then dangle it just above their heads or take it away all together to produce the desired behavior, or as sufficient punishment for some misdeed. Parents hone this skill with time so that eventually we can even make it sound like losing the item was the kid’s idea. Those moments are pure parenting joy.

But my youngest doesn’t quite know how to hit below the belt yet. Her threats inevitably still only affect her. Most days if she doesn’t get her way, she threatens:
“FINE! THEN I’M NOT GOING TO PLAY WITH MY FRIENDS OR EAT MY DINNER!” Which is okay with me because that’s one less playdate I have to supervise and meal I have to make. Another one of her more popular threats: “FINE! THEN I WON’T HAVE ANY DESSERT AND I WON’T PLAY WITH YOU!” Again, these are okay with me since we’re trying to cut out needless sweets and I’m off the hook for  Polly Pocket pretending.

Tonight I told her she couldn’t have any more snacks which  included chewing gum, when she yelled, “FINE!” THEN I WONT BE A PART OF THIS FAMILY!”

This was a threat I hadn’t heard before. I’m pretty impressed that she’s clearly stepping up her game and trying to find the salt for my wound. Sadly, that one didn’t work on me either. I’d miss her if she left, don’t get me wrong. But in the evenings while I’m trying to make dinner, I fantasize about the day when everyone is gone and I don’t have to prepare a meal that is healthful and colorful with the five available items in my pantry, when I can in fact, resort to a bowl of Raisin Nut Bran in front of the TV. So if she’s not a part of the family anymore this time will come much sooner.

Sure. Maybe it’s not a good thing that she’s constantly threatening things when she doesn’t get her way. And I probably should be concerned that she uses the word FINE with such vehemence; I really don’t know where she gets that little tid bit.

Fine. I do know where she gets it. But one thing she hasn’t gotten from me is how to use threats appropriately and then how to follow through with them when they backfire. Maybe she’ll learn those things when she turns four.

Monday, May 16, 2011

The Usual Run of Things. Shocking, I know.

Todays' Guest Post is from Tara over at Two Hands and a Roadmap. I'm pretty sure that we are twins, separated at birth and raised in two different cities. If you like my humor, you'll love Tara, because she swears and has mediocre goals just like me. Plus she preserves tomatoes and cans fresh peaches. Another reason to love her! I'm guest posting over on her blog today, in case you want to take a read. Enjoy!

I should be offended by this. I should rail against gender stereotypes in general and the use of "Mr. Mom" to refer to a man who nurtures children and keeps house in particular. I should, at the very least, be disdainful of the country twang and cliches.

But I'm not. I enjoy this song. It makes me happy to know there's someone out there as bad at the stay-at-home thing as I was. With a procrastinating nature, a fundamental inability to stay organized, and a phobia of the telephone, I wasn't exactly a natural. Plus multi-tasking is physically painful to me. Make dinner while entertaining toddler? No way, no how; I could do one or the other, period. It all added up to a hot mess of crayon-marked walls and smoke detectors announcing that dinner was done.

Now that both kids are in school full-time  and I'm away at work -- leaving my husband in charge of a lot of morning household tasks -- you would think I have limited opportunities to screw stuff up. Yet I manage, over and over.

A classic bonehead maneuver involved an elementary school Christmas party that I volunteered to organize for my younger son. His teacher gave me a list of names and numbers of people who had signed up at the beginning of the year to bring stuff to the party. My job was to call them (uh-oh), and organize all the dishes coming in from different parents (holy crap). Oh, and not to lose the list. Teacher chuckled as she handed it to me; it seems the parent who volunteered to run the Halloween party LOST THE LIST and the whole party had to be run in a most unacceptable way. How ridiculous. We're not letting her do that again. Ha ha, freaking ha.

The smart readers just figured out where this is going.

I shoved the paper, cleverly stapled to thick purple construction paper to make it unlosable (um, ha?) in my van and forgot about it. Plenty of time.

Two weeks later and a mere three days before the event, I decided I'd better remind the people who signed up (in September, remember) to bring stuff. I knew I'd have to apologize for being so scatterbrained and late, but it would be OK.

The paper was gone. Gone. While I sorted various piles of paper in my kitchen and office, I imagined the humiliation of calling the teacher and telling her that another mother has lost a party signup sheet. I saw my picture up in the teachers' lounge, with blacked-out teeth and surrounded by epithets scrawled in Sharpie markers. When I had to move my paperback copy of ADD-Friendly Ways to Organize Your Life to continue searching, I had a private laugh. It sounded like the giggle of a madman.

I finally found the paper. It was on the floor of my van. There were no staples. No thick, purple construction paper. It was a regular printout, on green printer paper. I picked it up and marveled at my ineptitude. There wasn't much time, though, to figure why I had mentally manufactured such a strange and erroneous detail. I made calls; I made apologies; I made recommendations for party contributions. I did not lose the list. My mind is another matter altogether.

So if you need me, I'll be the one folding laundry and laughing like Renfield. It's the only multitasking I can manage.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Chicken Update Part Deux

Suffice it to say, the chickens are growing rather rapidly and can now eat their weight in chicken mash. I also need to change their water at least twice a day because they insist on pooping in it. They bring the concept of "water with floaties in it" to a whole new level.

Julia, once the cute, fluffy, yellow chick you think of on Easter and color in springtime coloring books is now the epitome of ugly. Her snowy dander is now being replaced by orange tinted feathers and if you didn't know what stage she was in, you might think someone ws plucking her feathers instead of new ones growing in. I'm 70% certain that she's my Buff Orphington, even though that's the chicken my middle daughter wanted. I'm pretty sure that Giraffe (middle daughter's chicken) is in fact, the Rhode Island Red.

Here is Giraffe. She actually has beautiful color and her feathers are gorgeous. I mean, if you can call a chicken in this tween stage gorgeous. It's all relative.

All the pictures I have of Blackie are out of focus. That's because she's nosy and wants to see what the camera is all about. Her feathers are coming in black and white..slightly reminiscent of houndstooth pattern. Poor Blackie seems to get picked on by the other chickens. She's a tiny bit slow, I think, and you know how chickens pick up on things like that. She also always has poop stuck to her butt, which I'm sure is why the other chickens cluck and cackle at her, wondering why the heck she can't poop with dignity like the rest of them. Needless to say, when I hold Blackie, I always have a towel.

May is the flock bitch. I'm sorry to say it, but she's clearly got Napoleon Syndrome, and she throws her weight around acting like she's the chicken in charge. She forces the other chickens out of the food and the water and then waddles her fat butt up to take their place. Blackie is usually the target of most of her scorn, but she's an equal opportunity bee-otch. I'm pretty sure you won't see her sleeping outside during the winter; she'll have the best roost in the chicken coop and she'll let everyone know it. All I have to say is that her eggs better be gorgeous. (They are supposed to be blue-green.)

Here are the girls going after the food I just put in their cage. Mind you, they have food in this thing 24 hours a day, and yet when they run low they squawk like they haven't been fed in years. A lot like my kids, come to think of it. I can't wait to put the chickens outside because it will be six less things-that-breathe complaining that they are hungry.

Yep. The girls still live in this pack n'play, which is now covered with a baby gate so they don't fly out. Much like taking their first baby steps, the tweens can now fly a bit and a couple of them have made it to the edge of the playpen. The last thing I need is to clean up chicken poop from flying chickens, so gated they have become. And here's a toast to not getting rid of all the baby paraphernalia!

 This, ladies and gentlemen, is the new door for my chicken coop! Isn't it beautiful? The open part will be covered with chicken wire eventually, and it hinges on the left so the door can open almost all the way around the wall. In theory, this should make it easy to clean the coop. That remains to be seen since the chickens aren't outside yet. But dang the coop is looking good!

Hubby installed the shelf a little differently than planned, but I like it even better. The shelf will stay where it is and the nesting boxes will be removable  for easy cleaning. Under the nesting boxes Hubby cut a chicken door that will lead to their outside back porch. We'll be able to open and close this door from the outside.

Here's what the door looks like on the outside. Once cover this area with chicken wire, the girls will have access to outdoor air and sunshine during the fall, spring, and summer. During the winter I think they'll want to avoid the snow.

This is the new sliding door that closes in the coop and the storage. The other door was rotted and warped. Hopefully this new door will also keep out the predators looking for a nice chicken dinner.

Here is the old door. Pretty sorry looking isn't it?

Friday, May 13, 2011

Thoughtful Thursday: Progress

Photo Credit: Jared White Photography

We spend a lot of time building. Most of life is about building something; a life, a career, a resume, experience, knowledge, an empire. We see building things as a sign of progress, an attempt at making things better, a way to conquer ignorance, or earn more money, or provide a future for children you have or hope to have.

We are all architects and engineers of our own design.

Most of what we spend time building are walls. We construct houses to keep out the elements, reinforce doors and windows to keep out thieves at night. We build fences around our lawns to define what is ours and ensure our privacy. We work in cubicles designed to give us our own “space,” to hang pictures of our children and set our hand painted coffee mugs that hold pencils and pens. These spaces are sacred.

When our hearts break for the first, and second, and third times, we build walls around our heart to protect it from possible trespass. Maybe these walls are little at first, but time adds mortar and experience adds bricks and before you realize what’s happened there’s a six foot wall in front of you and you don’t remember consciously building it but there it is just the same. And you’re not sure how to take it down or if you even want to, so you don’t. That wall feels safe somehow. You come to love that wall and feel safe within its shadow and you spend so much time caring for that wall it becomes one with you and you with it.

We build walls of Coach purses and Jimmy Choo shoes, plastering the gaps in the drywall with labels and dollar signs and rings with many facets; sports cars and boats and flat screen TV’s, man caves and pool tables and high end Italian leather shoes imported from Florence. These walls travel with us protecting us from the negative impressions of others, keeping us safe from the fear that we won’t measure up. Or that we don’t belong. And it’s proof that we’re building something big.

We live our lives and make more money and build more walls to define our space and we sit in our private backyard around private pools and bask in thankfulness that we can’t see our neighbor’s ugly back porch. Because our neighbor doesn’t value space like we do, clearly isn’t building success like us. We toil in cubicles making money for the corporation who signs our paychecks and we hope that making more money for the company will earn us a larger cubicle with more space to call ours. Where we can have more privacy and be even more productive.

And the walls around our heart make us stronger and independent and those are two traits we admire and respect so we search for someone to love us who is also strong and independent. Who doesn’t want to love someone who is strong and independent? We assume this common ground will be ties that bind us together, but all it really means is that someone picked up their wall and set it right next to yours. You chisel away tiny holes in the brick and mortar for communicating and holding hands, but you both keep those walls erect because you remember what it was like when you were 13 or 28 and your heart broke into a million pieces and you were humiliated. But now that you found someone with a wall just like yours who is strong and independent, that can’t possibly happen to you again. And if it does, well, you’re prepared.

The problem is that after awhile you look around your well-planned space, the space you own, the walls you built, the perfectly manicured yard and realize:

You’re all alone.

And you don’t like it.

For all the space, and notoriety, and social class, and money, and stuff you’ve gathered and built over the years the only thing you’ve really earned is loneliness. You couldn’t possibly know that your next door neighbor also struggles with depression like you do, or that your co-worker is battling cancer just like your wife, or that man who lives behind you has a solution to the sump pump in your basement that is never working during a rainstorm. Your basement floods and ruins your precious things because he doesn’t know you need a sump pump and you don’t even know his name.

Because the walls are too high and we’re all too busy toiling behind them trying to keep others out of our personal space and earn more money so we can build more walls so we can point to our products and say, “Look what I did. Isn’t that something?”

But we realize that we need some kind of contact; our loneliness drives us to finally seek company, but because the walls proliferate and they are thick and heavy to move, we refrain from tearing down a wall and meeting the person who’s sitting an arms length away and instead we reach out online. We find people that help fill our emptiness with time which is what we have, but not our space which we don’t have, and besides that these time-people require less effort.

Virtual communities open up before us and there is safety in knowing these millions of people here on the computer because they can’t hurt us and can’t judge us and we don’t feel ashamed of our clothes or our hair or our dirty minivans because they can’t see us and don’t know us anyway. This companionship offers the best of both worlds; convenience and community when we’re seeking company, and peaceful solitude when we’d like to be alone. No guilt. No repercussions. No expectations. The push of a button turns the interaction on and off at our will.

We think we finally have it all! We have the walls we’ve built and the things we own and the space we’ve created and now we’re not lonely anymore because we’ve got virtual relationships and a place to play cards, and forums to join where we can meet people from all over the world In fact, we fall asleep at night feeling like we have hundreds of friends indeed.

But we don’t. Not really. We have words on a screen and an idea in our heads and perhaps an avatar representing someone’s ideals of themselves, but it’s all smoke and mirrors and we know it.

So we drink. Or get high. Or smoke cigarettes. Or eat a gallon of ice cream with a spoon in our sweats in front of the TV night after night. That makes us feel better for awhile. In those moments of painless abandon, we try to figure out where the disconnect is because we’ve built a house and a yard and a life and a career and we have things and our children have things and yet we still feel empty. We are strong and independent, and people who are strong and independent are supposed to be….strong. Right?

And in our attempt to find the peace and answers we seek we go back to the only thing we’ve done with any success:


Building things is always a sign of progress.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Poetry Tuesday: Many Haiku for reading: It won't take you long


The lies we believe
Only keep us safe until
We choose to wake up

The line in the sand
Again washed away by waves
She draws another

On Gardening

Potatoes planted
Refuse to send shoots upward
Where the hell are you?

My nemesis taunts
Choking my efforts at growth
Mother f*#@ing weeds

On Chickens

My fresh free-range eggs
Better be worth all the sh*t
I clean from the pen

 I don’t understand
Why they poop in their water
It can’t taste that good

On Children

Peacefully breathing
The rise and fall of their chest
Watching children sleep

Loud obnoxious trolls
Destroy things and ignore me
I call them my kids

 Daily Prayers

Thank you for today
Help me use my time wisely
As I seek Your will

Forgive me when I
Fail to help a hurting soul
Open my eyes Lord

 Say What?

From my fingers drip
Words onto paper like ink
Meaningful blotches

I shiver though warm
Exhausted and can’t find sleep
Blue is flavorless

Monday, May 9, 2011

Garden Update: So far, so slow.

The Bleeding Heart in my backyard. I thought this was a weed when I first moved to MA, until I saw the very same plant for sale at Lowes. Who knew?

So far, it's been a slow start to the gardening season. Our cold, wet weather has made it difficult to get much of anything in; not necessarily because the ground can't support it, I simply don't want to be planting things outside when it's cold. As far as cold season veggies go, the only thing I wanted to plant this year was sugar snap and shelling peas. I'm not particularly good at growing lettuces or spinach, and the bunnies and insects seem to eat it faster than I can grow and harvest it. It's also pretty cheap at the farmer's market, so last year I decided to purchase those and grow things like peas, which are a tad more expensive. Especially the shelling peas since you pay per pound and then shuck all that weight off those tiny peas and throw it away.

These are my sugar snap peas. I planted two batches seven days apart to extend the harvest, but as you can see, not many plants came up. This bed probably contained about 200 pea seeds, and this is how many sprouted. Peas can be fickle that way. This year I also put wire over my pea beds because last year we had an abysmal pea turn out. My hypothesis is that birds would eat the pea seeds after we planted them, but my husband thinks that's silly. Needless to say, you can see how many shelling peas came up in the picture below.

Looks like shelling peas will be a good crop this year. Probably not enough to put away in the freezer--I'll have to go to the Farmer's Market for that--but we'll have enough to eat. And we'll be eating them so often it'll force the kids to like them. Ha.

My rhubarb is alive and well and always grows like gangbusters in my garden. This is despite the fact that noone in my family likes to eat it, including my husband who eats just about anything. I've tried to make believers out of them with strawberry rhubarb crisp, rhubarb pecan bread, and strawberry rhubarb jam. Nothing seems to change their mind. I love it mind you, and I'm sad that the one vegetable that grows so well in my garden isn't appreciated by this family. Sorry rhubarb. I'll harvest you and use you best I can, but that's all the love you're going to get.

These lovely little sprouts are not supposed to be there. These are all the raspberry cane suckers that have grown into my mulch area and are formulating plans to stage a red berry coup. This may just be the year that I pull all the raspberry bushes out entirely. We don't harvest enough berries from these ladies to make it worth my while. They mostly serve to keep Maria busy eating right from the canes when I am working in the garden. If I don't get to the berries before she does, she even eats the moldy ones and the berries that the wasps have half eaten. I try not to think about that too much because it makes my stomach hurt. On top of that, these raspberries have sharp, hair-like thorns down the entire stalk of the canes; after weeding or thinning this area, I look like I've gotten into a fight with a bunch of drunk alley cats. And that's WITH the long sleeves. Pretty much, these berries suck.

Ahhhhh. My herbs are back! Well almost all of them anyway. My oregano and thyme have yet to show new growth this year, but I'm holding steady for a few more weeks. This year I bought two rosemary plants (because I use so much of it) and also another parsley. I don't use a ton of parsley, but it grows well and is pretty to look at.

My chives and dill. 

Sage and lavender. Don't really know what I'm going to do with the lavender, but it smells amazing and looks pretty hearty. I'll have to find some recipes that use lavender. (Besides shampoos and body soap.)

Sunday, May 8, 2011

A Mother's Day for You

Photo by Debi Stone.

I slept in today and woke up to a hot pot of coffee and a warm mug waiting for me in the microwave. My husband served up my favorite bagel and cream cheese, my 10-year-old planned a scavenger hunt for me to find my Mother’s Day gift. My husband will give me all of today to do what I will, without guilt or worry; a grass-fed beef brisket is currently roasting over hot coals in the kettle grill, dinner is planned, he is playing with the three year old in the back yard.

This morning I started a Novena, dedicated to Beth, a mother who isn’t here to celebrate the day. My day is wonderful and beautiful and supported and I am surrounded by love; and yet, a tiny shadow hangs over my head.

Mother’s Day is a celebration of all the visible things we do for our children; the fact that we birthed them being most important of all. We’re recognized for the cookies we bake for class and the projects we help our children craft the night before a due date; the scratches we bandage, the monsters we chase away, the bed time stories we force ourselves to read when we can barely keep our eyes open. We tickle and we wrestle, we support and encourage, we wave when the school bus leaves and the car for college leaves and the Bride and Groom leave and the grandkids leave. We are always saying hello and goodbye.

But this Mother’s Day I’d like to celebrate the silent struggle of motherhood; the things that go unnoticed save for the spaces in our soul only we know about and rarely speak of, not even to our husbands and possibly not even to best friends. Today I’d like to celebrate that 10-year-old girl that lives within each of us; the one that still hurts when put down, the spirit that continues to dream, the child who’d like to make a wish and blow that fluffy dandelion before she knew that would create a hell-of-a-mess in the yard.

For the dreams you gave up or put aside to raise your children: this day is for you.

For the ways your heartbreaks for your children when they are picked upon, or put down, or picked last, or going through a divorce, or lose a child of their own, or struggle with addictions: this day is for you.

For the pain you fight through because your children still need a mother; the headaches,  achy joints, cancer treatments, extreme fatigue, or depression, that can make getting up in the morning a chore you’d rather not perform, yet you do it anyway because someone needs to eat breakfast: this day is for you.

For the single mother who plays two roles, who is lonely and heartbroken and pushed to her max because she is the one holding it all together; for the desire for companionship and love she craves but doesn’t have time to find: this day is for you.

For the women who thought they’d be mothers and aren’t; whether by circumstance or inability to conceive; for the emptiness they feel and the coming-to-terms of a life without children: this day is for you.

For the mothers who feel hopeless; whose pain goes unrecognized until the horrible, awful happens; for the mothers who live in darkness and cannot see light nor hope, whose struggles envelope and suffocate them: this day is for you.

For the mothers who've lost a child, born or unborn; for the space inside of you that died that day, and the tiny ache that never quite goes away; for the tears you wept for your child and the emptiness you feel without them: this day is for you.

For the mothers who are unappreciated by their husbands or children; the ones who are abused or forgotten, and especially the ones who die at the hands of their family: this day is especially for you.

Today I celebrate me; the mom my children see, the girl who whispers within me, the woman I hope to become, my inner secrets, my quiet failings, my disappointments, my mediocrity. My joys. My gifts. My talents. My tears.

Today I celebrate you. I recognize YOU. I see you as you ARE.

Wholly imperfect and perfect.

You are beautiful.

I wish you all a blessed Mothers Day.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

The Chicken Picture Diary

This is the dividing wall my husband built, which separates the chicken coop from the lawnmower storage.  Our  first compromise was that this space had to still fit the lawnmower. Thanks to hubby's handiwork...done!

Three-year old scoping out the new chicken digs.

Hubby also built these four nesting boxes for the coop. He'll build two more so that everyone has a cozy, warm, bed to lay their eggs. He's also going to rig it so that the nesting boxes hang higher on the wall and come out easily for cleaning. 

Right now this is the back of the playhouse. Kids for two generations have jumped off the ledge there and onto that disgusting mattress buried beneath the soil. The former owner piled leaves behind the playhouse and his children would jump off into the leaves, consequently there is fantastic mulch there. Thanks to the chickens, this space will now be their sun porch. We'll enclose it with chicken wire and add a small animal door so the chickens can go in and out.

Thankfully the coop has two windows which we will help ventilate the poop smell.

This is the lawnmower storage. The fact that it's cleaned and swept out makes me want to take a million pictures of it. 

I've been taking the girls outside whenever it is warm and sunny. These pictures were taken three or four days ago. They look nothing like this now. They are much larger and have a TON more feathers. We let them run around inside of a baby gate.

Giraffe and Milly.

Giraffe, eating random things on the ground.

Blackie is the most curious of all my girls. She comes up to me easily and is always pecking around trying to figure things out.

May is the smallest in size, but is the most feisty. She's actually kind of a bitch.  She flys at the other chickens and pushes a lot of them away from the food and water.  

Julia and Molly eating their chicken mash. I can tell you that this is full of roughage for them and very frequently is not absorbed by their bodies, resulting in extremely gritty chicken poop. Which is probably why that poop is so good for gardens.

The fluff from all the chickens is quickly being replaced by feathers. I'm not sure where I thought all this fluff would go...perhaps I was hoping the fluff itself would turn into feathers...but alas, they do not. This means that I have enough chick fluff on the floors of my laundry room to make a toddler sized down pillow. I have used my vacuum more in the last two weeks than in the four years I've lived in my house.

Well, that's the girls in a nutshell. They are still cute, but that cutness is waning a bit as they grow older. They are starting to fly around the bottom of the pack n' play, so I cover the top with a baby gate. I'm getting some serious mileage out of old baby equipment. But now they are also starting to stink, which means I have to change their pen every two or three days. Oh well. I'm not mucking the coop yet so I'm not going to complain.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Expanding Ourselves

Today I took my oldest two children—Mr. 12 and Miss. 10—to the doctor for their yearly physical.

The Good News
  • Neither had been to the doctor since their last physical. The doctor likes to think it’s because they’ve been so healthy, but really it’s because I’m a cheap ass and don’t want to pay a twenty buck co-pay so they can tell me my child has a cold and there is nothing they can do about it. 
  • My son and daughter both grew two inches in height this year. Say YEAH! to TWO INCHES!
  • It looks as if nature is rolling along at a steady pace and they will both, at some point, mature into adults. Whew. Sometimes I think they’ll be stuck at this pupa stage forever, but according to the doc, wings will be in our future. Thank you Jesus.
 The Bad News
  • Both my children exceeded the average weight gain for the year.
 Like, by a lot.

Like, by so much that to average out the weight gain they would have had to grow three additional feet taller. (I'm guessing here because you all know how much I suck at numbers.) The doctor told them he didn’t want them to gain anymore weight this year at all. Hang steady. Maintain. (And no, I’m not going to divulge the amounts here. If you’re family, you can call me.) I'm supposing that the doctor doesn't really care that my kids are part Italian and they can easily eat their weight in all products made from white refined flour and pasta sauce. This is probably not helpful information. Or a helpful diet for that matter.

He told the kids to cut out snacks, cut down on the amount they’re eating, and no more soda. That’s when my son passed out. No soda? For a pre-teen? Are you kidding? (But again, I was quiet about the pasta.)

The good news is that now I can institute all kinds of new eating habits and rules (that I was very good about enforcing once upon a time) and I’m not the bad guy. The doctor is. Which is fine with me because we see him once a year. I'm thinking that maybe my kids weren't at the doctor sick this year because they are hearty. Strong. A cold germ comes along and the energy they have stored in their tissue helps fight those cold germs off faster than thin, scrawny kids. I know, I know. Excuses, shmuses.

After the doctor’s office appointment I nixed the idea of taking the kids out for ice cream (which was my original plan, but even I couldn’t have lived with that guilt) and went to Walmart instead. Where my son asked for soda. Of course I didn't buy him one. I bought him Gatorade instead. That's a good compromise, right?

Tonight we had pizza for dinner. And fries.

I’m instituting our new meal rules and rituals tomorrow.  

Thursday, May 5, 2011

The Middle Place

Photo by: Jared White Photography
See the original photo here.

Each Thursday I'll be posting my "Thoughtful"'s a change from the usual funny stuff but I hope you'll enjoy it just the same. And I'd love to know what you think about it...if any of you are also in the middle place. And while it might seem bizarre, I'd like to dedicate this to a certain Beth, whose trials in the middle place are now over. I'm sorry I didn't know you better, but I prayed for you just the same.

I’ve lost track of time since I arrived in this middle place; where days seem to disappear in a breath and yet minutes in those days stretch on for eternity. I neither know what I want or who I am any better than I did when I was 12, or 16, or 25. As the days pass I simply know more about who I am not, but this knowledge produces no new answers.

The thing I like least about becoming an adult is witnessing and experiencing the pain in life and understanding that it is now my job to keep that from settling onto my children like caustic volcanic ash—affecting their views, their dreams, the delicate fibers of their safety net constructed by ignorance, illusion, and hope. I sit and lay and dance and sleep with my arms outstretched trying to filter the ugliness from this world, so that for a time, my children can focus on the sunlight streaming in through morning windows or giggle at the ant struggling to carry a crumb twice the size of his miniscule body.

As an adult I know that too much sun will blister their skin. And that ant may be a bird’s next snack.

This middle place in inevitable. When you are young you envision how you’d like your life to be—where you’ll live, the things that will motivate you—you dream and plan and prepare and then you meet Mr. Right. or Miss Perfect.

Together you both dream about a shared union of compromise and compassion, talk of kids and jobs and kitchen colors, promising to always, always keep communication open. You laugh about each other’s iniquities and peccadilloes; the toothpaste tube squeezed from the middle, the urine on the toilet seat, the nail clipping she leaves on the bedside table. In naive earnest you promise each other you won’t let the kids change you, you will always talk through everything, and most importantly—you’ll grow and change together. Forever. Promise. Whatever it takes.

You awake the next morning and ten years have gone by and you find yourself wondering over morning coffee and a sink load of dirty dishes how you ever got to this place and what happened to the goals and dreams you had and the promises you made to yourself, and wait a minute…

just who are you anyway? A glance in the mirror reveals the child you were just yesterday, in fact you’re pretty sure you graduated from high school last week, but suddenly there are more wrinkles and lines, and you don’t recognize the face staring back at you. Where did you go?

This middle place produces casualties; marriages of your friends ending around you because maybe they too woke up one morning and wondered who was lying next to them in bed and it occurs to them they don’t know this person any better than they know themselves. They’ve slept angry for years. The nail clippings and toothpaste tubes and peed on toilet seats become F-5 tornadoes that threaten to destroy the house, ripping out walls and scattering crayon pictures and homemade popsicle stick frames. The storm is always brewing just beneath the how-was-your-days and the peck-on-the-cheeks. All us middle people smile and dance because there are always little eyes watching and tiny ears listening and their dreams at night are scary enough.

The middle place house is not the one you pictured before, in that previous life before children and calendar boxes crammed with fine ball point writing. The leggos and Barbies, school backpacks and homework piles, have all settled in next to your furniture and on the floors and stacked on the kitchen counters. There are bins in the hallways filled with last season’s winter jackets, coats, and scarves that must be put in the attic, adding to the inventory of clothing and baby toys and luggage. And also up in that attic are the boxes of your wedding china that never made it into any china cabinet, let alone got used for a dinner because wedding china isn’t practical. Your life has been about practicality forever. And those crystal vases you loved so much and golf clubs your husband used to take to the course every weekend gather dust up in that attic too, because you’re saving your pennies for summer camp and braces and private school and there just aren’t any more pennies for fresh flowers for that vase or a round of 18 holes. You start wondering if maybe that attic contains more of you than you do anymore, because you’re still not sure who’s staring back at you in the mirror.

The middle place makes you question. Yourself, your choices, your life, your situation. The most important question—and yet the one that could change it all…

Is this it?

Is this life that I’m living right now….it?

And what of the answer?

And there you are an adult again, realizing there are no easy answers, that with each different answer there are deaths: of your dreams, or yourself, or your hopes, or your children’s innocence, or your marriage, or your happiness, or the very family and life you’ve created that has ironically led you to this very question.

Should you continue to sit lay dance sleep with your arms outstretched over your precious children regardless of the price to yourself or your marriage? But how long before your arms fail or your children grow past your reach and the soot of knowledge comes to slowly settle on your children’s heads? Can you protect them forever? And if their learning will eventually come one day, why not tomorrow? Would tomorrow be soon enough to revitalize yourself? Resurrect those old dreams? Find the happiness you think may have escaped you?

Beware of emerald fields viewed from afar. The mirage dissipates only after you’ve made the journey, and you find yourself with the very same body and the very same mind asking the very same questions just with a different zip code or mailing address.

Hindsight is 20/20. The future is unknown. The middle place is filled with What Ifs and Why Nots and If Onlys.

In this middle place I have no answers. I have right now. I have the silence ringing in my ears and the stained couch beneath my body and three sleeping children with sparkling eyes who love to laugh and tickle and wrestle, whose safety nets—for too short a time—still remain delicately held together by ignorance, illusion, and hope.

And I pray I’ll have tomorrow, with the morning sun streaming through my finger-smudged windows and the ants crawling around on our cracked driveway carrying food too big for their tiny bodies.

The ants are always there.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Writing Books? Now There's a Compelling Topic

Well. Here we are on Day 4 of blogathon and I’ve actually posted everyday. Is there a prize for getting this far? This year I’m patting myself on the back every chance I get.

Today is scheduled for a Theme Writing day: the topic being, “My Top Five Favorite books on Writing Are..”

I know I’m a writer, but that topic just doesn’t make me want to grab a cup of coffee, put my feet on the couch, and snuggle up with my computer. Perhaps the problem is I don’t read a lot of books on writing. Maybe if I did, I’d be making a hell of a lot more money in this career, or at least know how to market myself better. I have grabbed a couple books on writing in the past year, and (though my checking account balance wouldn’t show it) have read them. I did find them very helpful with a lot of great advice. Six Figure Freelancing and Goodbye Byeline, Hello Big Bucks both by Kelly James-Enger were both a wealth of information, even if I’ve yet to see six figures. Or four, for that matter. Or  big bucks. I haven't seen those yet either. But that’s less a reflection on the books as it is about my ability and comfort zone with marketing myself. Really selling my work. Cold-calling PR firms and publishing houses, and sending out Letters of Introduction in CitiBank-credit-card-application volume. I know. If you’re one of those writers who make six figures (and chances are you’re not because you certainly wouldn’t have time to waste on this blog, being busy with paid writing gigs and all) then I say, congrats to you. And if your six-figure salary is a direct result of those books, I say, Boo-yah! to you twice.

The other writing book I read and enjoyed was The Renegade Writers Query Letters That Rock. I read that over three years ago. To make use of that book effectively, one has to actually write query letters. Oh, I’ve written them, again, just not in the amount you need to be successful. To illustrate this point: four weeks ago I planted sugar snap peas in my garden. I planted half a package and seven days later planted the other half to extend my harvest. Out of approximately 200 peas, 12 plants sprouted from my first batch and seven plants sprouted from the second. That’s 19 plants out of a possible 200. Maybe some seeds were eaten by birds. Maybe some seeds were duds. That’s approximately a 10% return rate on investment. (And I only know that because I used an online math calculator to figure it out.) But query letters are exactly like that. You must send out 200 to get a few yes’s from editors, but most of those query letters die in the ground.

Which would make sense that I’m not doing very well, seeing as how I’ve sent out a total of seven query letters since January. Statistically speaking, my chances are nil before I’ve even begun and I totally suck at math. But let me tell you, they were great queries. C’est la vie, Important Editors. Your loss. (It’s really more my loss, but saying that makes me feel better.)

No, writing books isn’t what really moves me to read, honestly. I’d rather be reading a great fiction novel, or a book on raising chickens. That’s one bit of non-fiction I’ve been ear marking and reading over and over. Because the chickens in the basement playpen are starting to fly around in there and I'm not exactly sure what to do with them.

But if you are looking for a great fiction read, the latest books I’ve read are:

While they were all great, the one I loved the best was This Is Where I Leave You. I don’t think I’ve ever laughed out loud so many times reading a book. There’s even a great scene with a lit birthday cake and a naked man’s butt. Oh and for the bookclub we sat Shiva and dined on bagels and lox. If you need a good read, choose that one. Heads up though; it wont’ tell you how to be a better writer. It won't tell you how to earn six figures, or even how to pay off one credit card. But it will make you want to curl up on the couch with a good cup of coffee and read.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Sorry, folks. Dogs are not people too.

These ears belong to a dog, not a child. Just to be clear.
 Even though they are very, very, cute. (Photo by Debi Stone.)

The other night I was tucking  my 10 year-old into bed when she said, “Mom, I’m a lot like a dog.”

I took a deep breath. There were many ways this topic could go. Worst-case scenarios popped into my head as I wondered what I’d be explaining next: Bitch. Doggy-style. You’re a “dog.” Since we’d already discussed the difference between pimps and gangstas, I should have figured this conversation wouldn’t be too far behind. I mentally geared up for a discussion about self-esteem, ready to scold her for thinking so poorly of herself as to liken herself to a dog.

“What are you talking about?” I asked. (Good, non-committal opener, allowing her to explain more.)
“Well,” she replied. “I live here in this house, you feed me, give me water, and love me…just like you would a dog.”

Ahhh. So nice she is only making comparisons. “Well yes, in some respects I suppose. But unlike a dog, I have to feed you more than once a day. If I could figure out how to only feed you in the mornings, I’d be all set.”

“Ha, ha, very funny mom,” she retorted with 10 year-old attitude.

It goes without saying that kids and dogs are not the same, and yet when you think about it, have striking similarities. All of us know people who own dogs they consider to be their “children.” People get dogs to test their pre-parenting skills all the time, figuring if they can love, train, and take care of animal without killing it, perhaps they will have some success at rearing a live human. For some people it’s just the opposite: they own a dog because they can love it, play with it, take it for rides in the car, and kennel them while vacationing in the islands. Those people love dogs because their animals will never talk back, need to have an allowance, or vomit strained peas down their backs. They love their dogs because they do not love children (or perhaps just don’t want children for now)—and again, you only have to feed the animal once a day. I’m pretty sure people that do this to their children are put in jail.

Sometimes people get dogs because their own children are grown and past the point of wanting any nurturing; maybe those kids are out of the house or have children of their own, or are simply teenagers who’d rather get chronic acne than be hugged or snuggled by mom or dad. Dogs come in really handy in these situations because suddenly a tiny, furry, warm body needs you and loves you, and you can fulfill the need to be needed while your very own flesh and blood rebuffs and rejects you. And you never want to beat a puppy which helps dissolve some of your desire to thwack your teenager in the head.  

I’ll fully disclose now that I do not own a dog and am a fan of dogs on a case-by-case basis only. I’m not a dog hater per se, I just prefer cats, for reasons that would require another blog entirely. For me dogs are fine, as long as they respect my personal space (which is never), don’t slobber on me (which is never), or make my hands smelly when I pet them (which is never). I’m sure you can see why I’m such a big fan. (Yes, yes, I now own chickens, but again….that’s another blog.)

While hiking with my family in a public reserve a few weeks ago (with three children in tow including my three-year-old) we were approached by no less than five dogs, all of whom were unleashed and running ahead of their owners. While these dogs were sniffing my three-year-old’s face (while we clamored to pick her up as she’s crying nervously), and shoving their heads into our crotches and butts, their owners called out, “IT’S OKAY. SHE’S A REALLY FRIENDLY DOG!” or “DON’T WORRY, HE WON’T BITE, HE LOVES KIDS.” Hear me when I say your excuses do not make me feel less annoyed.

Perhaps if I let my children run up to these people, jump on their backs, beg for a piggy back ride, and then wipe their boogery noses and chocolately hands all over their white t-shirts, while I call out, “DON’T WORRY! MY KIDS ARE NICE, THEY JUST LOVE TO PLAY!” these people would understand how irritating it is to be accosted by a dog you don’t want to know. I don’t care if the dog is nice. Even the “nice” dogs can bite in certain circumstances. Like if my child kicks the dog away out of fear. Not that this has happened, but then whose fault would it be? Mine for not keeping my child from kicking a dog, or the owner’s from letting them run around?

But I can see how it might get confusing. Like my daughter pointed out to me that evening, there are many similarities between dogs and children.
  • Both children and dogs require food, water, and shelter.
  • Both require regular grooming, including baths and haircuts.
  • Both can be trained to perform tricks (snapping the bone from their nose and peeing in the toilet. I’ll let you guess who does what.)
  • When it comes to males (humans and dogs) they both pee standing up.
  • When they are small, both require a lot of care, which also includes getting up in the night with them. As they both age, this care decreases. (Hopefully.)
  • Dog owners and parents always think their “children” are the most beautiful creatures ever.
  • They both get ticks. Some species more than others, but ticks just the same.
  • Both like to dig holes.
  • When they are sick, both vomit and have diarrhea. Both types of owners go out of their mind with worry.
  • Vet bills and doctor bills are usually both outrageous.
  • Both children and dogs will love their owners (parents) unconditionally if treated right.
  • Both dogs and children have smelly farts.
  • Both can follow basic commands.
  • Both enjoy a biscuit every now and then.
 With so many similarities (and I only listed a handful) I can see why dog owners might have trouble remembering that a dog, is not in fact, a human. I can also see why some parents might be wondering what the hell they were thinking as they look at their children. Pets would have been so much easier.

But dogs are not the same as children. There are quite a few big differences.
  • You can feed a dog once a day. They will drink water from a bowl on the floor.
  • Children don’t smell when they get wet.
  • Children don’t crap in your lawn or pee on your mailbox.
  • Children don’t shove their noses into your butt or crotch.
  • Dogs are cheaper. I don’t care how much they eat or how often they have a date with the groomer, dogs will never go to college.
  • Children don’t eat sundries from the garbage can and drag it all over the house.
  • A dog can’t reason with you about why they need the car.
  • And when in the car, children don’t stick their heads out of it.
  • You never have to shove your child’s nose in a pile of excrement so they don’t poop on the floor again.
  • Dogs do not get baptized. (Yes I realize some children don’t either. But it’s always an option for them. Not so much with dogs.)
  • If my child bites another person, or chases something around the yard and then kills it, I do not say it’s because “it’s in her breed.”
  • Children will not eat your shoes.
  • You can euthanize your dog for around fifty bucks.
 As you can clearly see, dogs are not children, even if it feels like it behind closed doors. Even if you love them all the same. I’m not meaning to pick a fight with dog owners—my sister is one, our neighbors are one, and many of our friends own them. We can keep the peace by making a deal. I’ll keep my children from shoving their heads into your private areas and licking your hands, (even though my kids are cute, friendly, and never bite) but you dog owners need to do the same.

But the next time I’m at your house and your dog starts toward my drawers; be forewarned. I’ve got a pocket full of melted chocolate bars for my children, just in case.