Diapers and Dragons

Monday, December 28, 2009

I'm Back, and All Vestiges of Grinchiness Are Gone

I'm fairly certain this has been the longest I've gone between posts since my three-month hiatus a year ago. Perhaps some of you thought I'd disappeared off the earth again, but NO! I have not. Just off the Intarwebz. DraftQueen would be more ticked off about this if she wasn't buried cute-little-nose-deep in massive work (I happen to know she was back at work on the 26th, which was a Saturday people!) so I haven't gotten any snarky little text messages from her about abandoning her. On the one hand, I'm glad she isn't feeling abandoned (well, I hope she isn't.) On the other hand, I miss her. And you. Oh yes, dear readers, I missed you.

BUT.

I have been off in Real Life having an absolutely wonderful holiday break, the best I've had in a long time. It's amazing how that can happen when one strips away the excess, the stress, the materialism, the worry about schedules and traveling and events and gifts and STUFF that has clogged my recent years. I kept it simple this year, and I'm so very glad that I did.

I kept the focus on a small circle of people: my children, my siblings, my boyfriend. So the 23rd and 24th were my Christmas Eve and Christmas, spent with my boys and my siblings. We stayed all together down at my parents' place in Detroit (which made me feel closer to them as well, even though they're off in West Africa) and celebrated by doing all sorts of our traditional family activities. The males decorated the (artificial, which is also traditional--West Africa, peoples!) tree and house, which made for some interesting choices:


This is, in case you can't tell, a piece of plastic greenery stuck in the frame of a mirror. Very classy.

As well as some sweet moments:


My sister's husband, "Muttonchops Hubby", helps The Widget place an ornament.

My sister and I made candles as gifts (more about that in a future post) while the males baked cookies. Then we had a delicious dinner of Mediterranean Roasted Vegetables on couscous (my sister is vegetarian) and watched Claymation Christmas, a family favorite since someone taped it back in 1987 and sent it out to us poor television-deprived missionaries.

(I showed this to Joe a couple of days later and he said that while he liked it well enough, once a year is just about right. Barbarian.)

The morning of the 24th, I managed to keep DramaBoy and The Widget in bed with me until just about 7 a.m. Since we had all ended up in the same twin bed, you can imagine how well I slept that night. So I went down to put a firelog on the fire, light the candles, make cocoa, and put on Amy Grant's Christmas album at high volume while I sicced the boys on the peaceful sleepers. We read Luke 2 together, prayed, and then opened presents.

Interestingly enough (and SUCH a surprise, knowing our family), the vast majority of the presents were books. I myself received several books, a set of exercise videos (which I need to use), and a lovely pair of earrings. Oh, and two little handmade tree decorations from my boys via daycare.

Simple, but wonderful.

Then we made our traditional breakfast of Christmas Eggs (details again in a future post) and sweet rolls, and then relaxed before making dinner. The boys didn't so much relax as run rampant, much of the time wearing the awesome custom-made reversible superhero capes I got for them from BeeBeeBug:


DramaBoy action shot: orange side out, blue side in


The Widget action shot: yellow side out, green side in


The mighty superhero team of DramaBoy and The Widget, fighting a villain: colors reversed. Pants were, apparently, optional.


It was wonderful.

My sister and her husband left for his family's home that afternoon, so my brother and I took the boys to a Christmas Eve service at my family's home church, where my uncle is now head pastor. It was lovely. Then we had a simple dinner of leftovers and relaxed while watching Surf's Up with the boys. That movie was far better than I expected!

Christmas morning actual I took the boys to their grandfather's house for their Christmas with their father and his family, and since then I have been relaxing and *gasp* enjoying WINTER for the first time in years as well. We went four-wheeling through fields and wetlands until my feet just about froze off. I had no idea just how beautiful that stark winter landscape is. We went ice-skating, and I learned how to skate in hockey skates since I forgot my figure skates. We dropped by and visited friends and some of J's family. We drove around and looked at holiday lights. We went to dinner with friends at PF Chang's, and now I know why people like that place so much (nom nom nom). Last night I dragged J to see Avatar, which was somewhat cheesy and predictable (hello, it was James Cameron), but really quite good and well worth seeing in the theatre and in 3-D. J even managed to stay awake the whole time!

And tonight I will celebrate my birthday (which was on the 25th, but I rarely celebrate it that day for some reason), gathering friends and siblings around me in a casual get-together at a place owned by one of J's friends. Simple, no stress. It's becoming my mantra.

I'm thinking this is the way I should start doing holidays all the time. Maybe I'll even get to the point of being able to live my life that way!

You never know. Miracles do happen.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Twenty-Four Hour Sunday



I cannot sleep because my head hurts and at the same time a million thoughts are whirling through it. Perhaps the two are linked. I am finally drifting off around two in the morning when a friend who is far too young and doesn't realize that some people might need to sleep texts me and jerks me out of my doze.

I am still awake fifteen minutes later when my youngest son begins coughing and crying in his room. He has been suffering from the sniffles and his congestion is making him miserable. I lift him, his warm but thankfully not-feverish body solid in my arms, and take him to my bed. He falls asleep nestled against my chest, and then I manage a parenting twist on the classic hug-and-roll technique, depositing him safely beside me.

Half an hour later I am still awake, this time because there is no way I can sleep easily with a small sniffling person jamming his feet into my side. There is a noise from the doorway and I roll over to see my slightly larger small son shuffling in. Mama, I want to sleep with you. I can't sleep in my bed, he whispers. I sigh and open my arms, the signal for him to clamber over my body and take up most of what little space his brother has left. I rearrange both children and finally gain a precious ten inches of space for myself.

Slumber does not come easily when elbows and knees are being jammed into one's extremities with the occasional whack of a hand across one's face, but my children are kind enough to sleep in two hours later than usual, so I do not wake until almost eight in the morning. My bed is warm and full of snuggles.

************************

I survey the catastrophe that is the house in the aftermath of three small people having a late-night playdate. For a moment I regret passing on my friend's offer to help clean last night, but it was already almost 11:30 when we got back and she still needed to drive home with her little girl. I am glad my boys had so much fun, but the chaos is a bit overwhelming.

Time to clean up the mess! I announce to my small boys. You can watch TV while you clean up, but all these toys need to be put away. All the train stuff goes in that box, and the Legos in their bin, and everything else goes back on the toy shelves.

Can we have a snack? DramaBoy asks.

After you clean this up, I reply, and they slowly start to pick things up.

I climb the stairs and face the four large baskets of clean clothes waiting to be folded. With the boys downstairs working at a snail's pace while they watch Backyardigans, I am free to watch my non-kid-friendly shows like CSI and Cold Case and The Soup while I fold clothes. There's nothing like crime and gore and celebrity stupidity to make chores go faster.

************************

The giggles erupting from the bedroom alert me to my children's lack of focus. Snacks of chips and raisins and a lunch of macaroni and cheese have kept them going all day as they worked through their mess, but there's only so long they can concentrate on the task at hand. I walk in to discover them wrestling on the floor clad only in underwear and pull-ups. Thankfully they have already picked up the toys that could hurt them in their rough housing. All that's left are the clean clothes still strewn about the floor, now performing the role of wrestling mat.

I cannot bring myself to be stern with them. Their giggles are infectious and I soon am on the floor with them, turning the wrestling match into a tickling match with some wet raspberries thrown in for good measure. Finally they conquer me and I end up on my back, two small bodies bouncing merrily on my belly. Worn out, I rescue myself and stumble from the room, promising them a treat if they finish cleaning the room. I still have a duffle bag to pack and two more loads of laundry to wash, dry, and fold. Their giggles are diminished but still bubbling as I walk down the hall.

************************

Do you want to go out in our pajamas and go through a drive-through tonight, or do you want me to have pizza delivered? I ask the small Spiderman-clad boy in front of me.

I want to go to Lucky Duck Pizza and get pizza! he declares.

No, baby, I say. We're just in our pajamas and so if we go out, we have to go to Taco Bell or Arby's or somewhere like that.

We can wear our pajamas? he asks.

Yes, I say.

Mama? he asks, a twinkle beginning in his eyes.

What, honey? I say.

We have to wear our shoes if we're going to get our booty! he says and bursts into giggles.

I snort back laughter and hope he's referring to playing pirates.

************************

I sink deep into the liquid heat, the bubbles rising up until my chin is covered. I breathe the sweet scent of vanilla and exhale, muscles loosening one by one. I wiggle my toes against the end of the tub and reach for my book. I hear the hushed murmur of my boys' voices from their room but relax in the knowledge that they are unlikely to emerge again tonight. I open the pages and submerge myself in another mind's world. Perhaps by the time I crawl between the newly laundered sheets my own will be soothed enough to allow sleep to come quickly.

Silence falls upon the house.

siblings of soul



siblings of soul
born of blood and pain and scars
that run deeper than skin
family of dysfunction
(some ruined for all time while
others heal in stages)
our stories often untold
sealed within our hearts
seared upon our spirits
scored across our minds

and when i meet them
(these lost yet found brothers and sisters
struggling through darkness
in search of the light)
when i meet them
there is an instant connection
as if we have known each other
across the miles and years
(the screams and tears)

we are twined together
they and i
shadowebs spun and wrapped about us
(we are everywhere
and everywhen)
and when we speak at last
we can spin our own soulthreads
out of love instead of hate
out of healing instead of pain
and stand together
siblings of soul
bound together for all time

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Odd How My Bank Account Gets Smaller the Bigger They Get

These little people called kidlets (you may have heard of them before) have this bizarre habit of growing up. And changing. Oh, and costing money. Strange how those go together. I'm not sure if my boylets are in some sort of conspiracy, but this week has been one to make my head reel.

First there's all the talking from the Widget and that crazy writing thing that DramaBoy is doing these days, and now they're daring to grow physically at the most inconvenient times. You'd think they could hold off a week or two so that Christmas gifts could fulfill some needs, but no....So out comes the debit card and a couple of pesky emergency purchases are made.

The first emergency has been, in reality, creeping up for a couple of weeks, but I was in denial. You see, neither of the boys could fit comfortably into one of the car seats in my car. Not just any car seat, but the very first car seat we ever had. The car seat in which we brought home the teensy tiny DramaBoy, who was so very small that I had to wedge him about with rolled-up receiving blankets so that his wee head wouldn't bobble out of control. The car seat which then held the almost as teensy tiny Widget when he came along less than a year-and-a-half later, also wedged with rolled-up blankets.

Tangent: What would we do without those things? The blankets, I mean. I had about thirty of them and never seemed to have enough. Note to new mothers: you can NEVER have too many receiving blankets!!!

Anyhow, DramaBoy could no longer be forced into the seatbelt in that thing at all, and The Widget was having to hold his breath most each trip we took. Too tight! he would say, patting his chest with a look of mild desperation. Too tight, Mama!

It was time and more than time. Yesterday I headed off to Target to grab one of their Cosco brand transition seats--you know, car seat one way and booster chair another? As I pulled its simple plastic-wrapped bulk off the shelf, I couldn't help but chuckle over how we had researched car seats for months and purchased the (quite pricey) deluxe suede-and-faux-leather car seat (HA! What were we thinking? Ever tried to clean baby vomit out of suede?!?) all those many years ago, whereas here I was snagging the very basic store brand seat that cost perhaps one-sixth as much, if that.

Ah, parenting. How time changes one's perspective.

The old seat cradled the new one on the way back to the house:


I hope its feelings weren't hurt too much.

Farewell, thou old friend. You have been through the wars. May you rest in pieces peace.


What you can't see in this picture: the cuts, the stains, and who knows what else...

Both my boys are now safely strapped in and (bonus!) able to breathe. All good, right?

HA. Today as I was putting on DramaBoy's shoes at the mall play area, I realized there was a gaping hole in the toe:


Finger shown for display purposes. This would have been his toe, without a sock.

So we had no choice but to head off to Target yet again (Who would have thought five years ago it would have become my go-to store? Ah, the realities of parenting...) to search for shoes. The Widget's were looking a little worn and tight as well, not to mention that buying new shoes for one boy and not the other would NOT go over well.

Sometimes they're as bad as twins.

Ah, but we couldn't just get any old shoes. DramaBoy made it clear he wanted Spiderman shoes or, at the very least, some sort of superhero. The Widget chimed in with his parrot act agreement. And lo, Target had Spiderman shoes, in both "good" and "bad" versions. And lo, there was a pair in The Widget's size! And...oh crap. None in DramaBoy's. We searched high and low. Nothing. No other shoes were deemed suitable for replacement, either.

Finally, in desperation, I called another Target and sent the poor customer service lady in search of Spiderman shoes (either moral compass acceptable from my point of view, though DramaBoy insisted he really wanted the "bad" Spiderman) in the right size. She was quite confused at first, but finally found one pair ("good" Spiderman) in size 9. SCORE!!! I informed DramaBoy that if he didn't want the "good" Spiderman, he could settle for a pair of the "bored" shoes. All or nothing, buster.

We bought The Widget's pair and then travelled the twenty minutes to the other store, where the shoes were waiting at the Guest Services desk. They fit, DramaBoy decided (after a look at my face) that the "good" Spiderman was just fine (Now The Widget and I have the same kind! he declared with a fixed smile), and he wore them out of the store so that his poor tootsies would no longer be wet and frozen.


The heels flash when they walk. 
This way I can find the boys when they try to hide from me. 
Mwahahahaha!

Call me a sucker for giving in to my child's demand for brand name merchandising, but whatever. The price was right, my boylets are happy, and I no longer look like a mother who can't keep her children's toes covered.

It's all Win.

Friday, December 18, 2009

It's the Holiday for the Rest of Us



In case you didn't know, I am NOT an elementary teacher. Not by a long shot. I deeply respect elementary teachers for being able to keep their sanity teach a bunch of little snot-nosed buggers kidlets. If I were to teach elementary school, I'd end up in a straight jacket and the children would end up on a therapist's couch. Well, sooner than they would otherwise, at least.

No, I teach high school. And this means that I am not the grateful recipient of two dozen little holiday gifts this time of year from my adoring students. I may have five times as many students, but the vast majority of them view giving gifts to teachers as a form of major sucking-upage. Much to my dismay, far too few of them want to be known as sucking-uppers.

(Yeah, yeah, I know I'm making up words here. My plan is to make it into the Urban Dictionary someday. Bear with me.)

It probably doesn't help that I'm not exactly a warm-fuzzy, maternal, "nice" teacher. I have a reputation for being tough and a little bit of a bitch, a title I claim proudly. I'll meet you halfway and help you out if you need it (the quality of mercy is not entirely strained in me), but by old Willie Shakespeare, I'll make you WORK for your grade!

Case in point: today is the last day before our Winter Break. None of my classes are having holiday parties. They don't get to goof off all hour.

Oh no.

My sophomore and junior classes have not one but TWO quizzes to take today (one vocab, one literature), and my Mythology class has to finish reading their Norse myths packet and show me their notes by the end of the hour.

My gift to them? I'm not giving them any work over the break. AND THEY SHOULD BE GRATEFUL.

So my students aren't exactly falling all over themselves to express their undying love and gratitude to me.*

However, some years I do pretty well around the holidays. This week has been good. Yesterday I received gifts throughout the day from a few students, my department Secret Santa, and one of the young teachers I mentor. For some reason coffee and chocolate have been a consistent theme. Wonder why. Maybe they're under the impression that caffeine and endorphins might inject a little holiday spirit into me and make me grade their papers a little more leniently.

Of course, they might get a little unlucky and end up with some Festivus spirit.

Maybe I should save that batch of persuasive essays for the 23rd and find a red pen to replace my usual purple.

You know, for that special holiday effect.



I'm just awesome that way.

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*At least, not right now. I do get students who come back a year, two years, five years later and thank me for being such a hardass. At some point some kids do realize I'm doing them a favor.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Boylets, Brothers, and Bragging

Yesterday I got to see my two boylets for the first time in six days. The Widget was still asleep in his little daycare cot when I arrived, and I kissed his soft cheek until he awoke, realized it was me, and flung himself into my arms for a snuggly cuddle. Then we went off to find DramaBoy, who raced across the room with a joyous MAMA! and flung himself in turn into my arms, only to then begin whining and snarking about this and that for the next several hours. It's his way of letting me know I'm being punished for my absence. I may be used to it, but it doesn't make me any happier.

I also discovered, because I'm so on top of things, that last night was the official Holiday Celebration at daycare, and DramaBoy's class was scheduled to perform for parents. So we went back to the house and bumbled around for a couple of hours, but returned by six for the performance.

It was my first ever official holiday performance to attend as a parent!!!!

Holy crap, my kidlets are growing up.

It seems that every time I turn around (especially these days when I go for some time without seeing my boys) they're maturing and changing in leaps and bounds. The Widget's speech is expanding extraordinarily. No longer is everything in shorthand. Instead of simply demanding Water!, he now says Mama, I want water. Instead of simply observing Tree! when he sees a Christmas tree, he now says Look at Christmas tree! It is Christmas time! Instead of simply reporting [DramaBoy]! Hurt! Ow!, he now says Mama! [DramaBoy] hit me! He hurt me! (Ah, the joys of brotherhood.) He asks full questions. He plays little jokes. He carries on conversations instead of merely listening.

As for DramaBoy...Oh my. A week and a half ago he moved up from the Preschool class to the Pre-Kindergarten class. He is now the youngest in the class at just-barely-four. And last night when I was wandering around his classroom, I saw this:



He can write. He can write whole words, with readily identifiable letters, including both capital and lowercase, and they're more than just his name.

I had a mini-heart attack when I saw it, then promptly took a picture and texted it to half a dozen people.

Not to brag (okay, who am I kidding, I'm totally bragging), but his teacher told me that he is better at letter recognition and writing than quite a few of the kids who have been in that class for a year.

I'm so proud I can hardly stand it.

Then we went into another room where all the parents perched precariously on tiny chairs and about a dozen tiny people filed into the room and sang "Jingle Bell Rock" for us. DramaBoy knew every word and even did those fist/arm pump thingie motions when they sang the word "rock." So. Dang. Cute.

Then we ate lots of yummy food and the children played and I caught up with a good friend whose daughter is DramaBoy's best friend.

When we went back to the house, they ate some yoghurt and got into their superhero jammies and went to bed and had way too much fun talking and playing with each other until well after nine o'clock.

And my heart was full.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

"It'll Stick to Your Bones": {W}rite of Passage Challenge #2

Okay, so this week's challenge over on {W}rite of Passage is to describe my elementary school lunch using my senses. Thing is, I was (mostly) homeschooled for elementary and my lunches weren't terribly memorable, whereas the meals at boarding school during my middle and high school years have stuck with me (perhaps literally when it comes to some of those meals) ever since. So I'm going to break the rules kinda-sorta and describe a meal in the dining hall at the glorious and now defunct International Christian Academy in Ivory Coast, West Africa. And because I'm a total rebel crazy like that, I'm going to describe my most loathed breakfast rather than lunch. Isn't it fabulous how the nasty memories stay with us the most strongly?

"It'll Stick to Your Bones"

7:00 AM and we were promptly lined up outside the doors, shivering a bit in the chilly 65 degree morning. The elementary kids got to go first, as usual, so I stood silent with the other bleary teens, resentful that we were forced to get out of bed and come to breakfast when it was the worst meal of the day. A few more months and we'd be in the last trimester of our senior year--then we'd be allowed to sleep in and skip breakfast if we wanted!

Finally it was my turn to shuffle through the creaking doors and sidle up to the long tables. It was Monday: oatmeal day. I groaned in my mind. Huge vats sat steaming faintly, hapless students whose turn it was to serve breakfast wielding enormous ladles in repetitious movement. Dip, lift, glop. Dip, lift, glop. I stared glumly at the array of blue plastic bowls already lying in wait. Which one contained the least? I hesitated, then snatched a bowl before Lauren could shove me ahead. I didn't need a tray for my solitary bowl and spoon--the only thing worse than the food was the watery reconstituted milk, lumps of undissolved powder still floating in the greyish scum on top. I wouldn't be taking any. Lauren, of course, loaded her tray with four small plastic cups of the stuff. I shuddered.

Bowl and spoon in hand, I wandered over to our usual table, where other girls from our dorm were already sitting and doctoring their lukewarm cereal. I plunked my bowl down on the table, then sat.

"I just love this stuff," one of the other girls muttered. She lifted her bowl and turned it upside down, demonstrating for the umpteenth time that the glutinous grey mass at the bottom barely quivered, much less succumbed to gravity.  We chuckled wearily. It was an old joke. I quickly reached for the sugar container. I upended the jar and watched as the crystalline stream poured into the scant ladleful of oatmeal at the bottom of the bowl. Once the quantity of sugar nearly matched that of the cereal, I stirred the two vigorously until the contents of the bowl took on a semi-transparency.

I sighed, hesitated, held my breath, and shoveled the syrupy mess into my mouth as quickly as possible. The quasi-dissolved sugar allowed the bland glue of the oatmeal to slide over my tongue rather than cling to my tastebuds, but I still had to force each spoonful down my reluctant throat. One, two, three, four....Done!

I sighed again, in relief this time, and pushed the bowl away. The sickly-sweet taste of my sugar overload would stay with me for a few hours, but that was better than the alternatives. One more Monday breakfast over; one less bowl of oatpaste to consume.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Old Ironsides

Context: This story was inspired by some tales I've heard lately hanging around Joe's garage. He and his buddies have known some interesting people in their time. I have several others simmering in my mind; at this rate I may end up with a book's worth of short stories. Please note that Joe is NOT in this story.

He hesitated before turning the corner, listening for the sound of metal on metal. If they were busy, chances were better that he could rummage around in relative peace. The noise level reassured him. He shuffled out a few feet and peered around the wall through the massive glass doors that shielded the interior from the frigid Michigan winter. Every hoist was filled, the mechanics' bent forms shadowed by the vehicles poised high above the floor.

He moved forward again, ducking beneath the one door still raised from admitting a customer's truck. He moved to the barrels by the wall and began rummaging through the oily rags and empty canisters for the plastic and aluminum he sought. Quite a haul today. Soon the ancient saddlebags slung across his shoulders were bulging, the flaps barely able to conceal the hidden loot. He shifted to accommodate the new bulk, the linked keyring straps rasping.

"Hey, Ironsides!" The voice was jovial but contained a dangerous edge. "What the f--- you doing over there? Lookin' for donuts again?"

He ducked his head, saying nothing, rooted where he stood.

"You can stop lookin'. We saved a few just for you!" The speaker walked into view from around the Ford F150 waiting for service. He held a battered pastry box at arm's length, his face twisted into a smile. His eyes glinted a flinty grey amidst the grime.

He ducked his head again, shifted his saddlebags, and gingerly grasped the box, gripping it tighter as the other man suddenly loosed his hold. He clutched it close to his chest, then shuffled back out the door to sit on the curb. His muddy eyes flickered back toward the shop, where a knot of men had gathered, grinning and muttering low comments to each other. He edged the lid of the box open, jerking his head back a moment at the stench that rose from its interior.

Five donuts sat in battered gloom in one corner, huddled away from the grotesque curl of stinking brown nestled in the center. He stared, motionless, caught for a moment. From the doorway came a burst of laughter.

"What's wrong, Saddlebags?" the mocking voice rang out. "Ain't you gonna eat them? What kind of gratitude is that? That'll teach me to do you a favor."

His eyes flickered up to the door again, then back to the pastries. His thick fingers moved into the box, caked fingernails flaking as they brushed against the half-raised lid. He selected the mangled, oozing jelly donut closest to him and lifted it to his mouth, heavy tongue swiping the saccharine dribbles of strawberry filling as they spilled over his thumb. Chipped, stained teeth bit deep. The cake was faintly stale, the jelly thick and cloying. He chewed stolidly, swallowed, and raised his eyes again to the men laughing and clapping each others' shoulders.

"You sick freak!" one of them called out. Perhaps it was the man who had given him the box; perhaps not. They were all the same.

He stood, bags clunking flatly against each other, box tucked carefully under one elbow, and shuffled toward the bus stop. The bins there were often filled with recyclables from the many passengers who came and waited and went. He already had the fare he needed to head down to his next area, the one closest to his biggest stash.

His mind moved momentarily to a flash of green and beige, rectangles of much-abused paper in stack upon stack, and another of grocery bags filled to bulging with silvered disks. The mice had been moving in again. Perhaps he would have to use a little of what he would get today from the contents of his saddlebags to purchase some traps. He should be able to find some cheese in the dumpsters behind the Kroger down the way; he had been planning on searching them for some dinner later anyhow.

He shifted his bags once more and absentmindedly reached for a chocolate glazed donut, most of the glaze smeared on the cardboard in sweet parody of the lump of waste now freezing in the ditch next to the shop. The men's laughter had already faded in his mind, joining the echoes of countless other voices left behind over the years.

Monday, December 14, 2009

This Weekend I Went Snowmobiling and I More Than Survived



At first I felt like I would fly off the back of the monstrous black-and-yellow beast at any moment. My boots kept lifting off the footboards, my rear bounced on the seat with every bump, my faceplate kept tapping the back of his helmet. I clutched his jacket with a death grip, sure that with the next burst of speed my hands would be ripped away and I would be flung backwards to break my neck or legs or spine. All I could do was hold on for dear life and try to see enough of the trail ahead that I could anticipate the bumps and turns, just a little bit.

And it was fantastic.

I was determined to figure this out. Surely there was a better way to keep hold. I remembered he had warned me that this sport could be hard on the knees. If it was hard on the knees, then my legs must need to get more involved. So I experimented with my foot placement. It turned out that if I pressed my ankles and shins against the side of the machine, I was able to brace myself better. That was a start.

At the first stop we made, I cleared the snow away from the footboards and realized there were metal teeth built into the boards at regular intervals. Aha! A way to get my boots to stay on better! When we climbed back on, I jammed my boots into the teeth. At last: they could stay on the boards without having to brace them against the tiny ridge on the side. Now I could get my upper legs more involved. I soon realized that if I gripped the machine and his hips with my knees and thighs, I was suddenly secure.

I no longer had to grip his jacket until my fingers ached. Instead, I held on just enough to brace myself in the absence of handlebars and concentrated instead on learning to lean into the turns so that he wouldn't have to fight both the machine's weight and mine. Gradually I learned to spot where we'd need to lean, anticipate the need to raise my rear end off the seat and grip with my knees so that I was no longer jounced by the bumps. We began moving in concert, almost one being on the machine. My face ached with the width of my grin, stretching muscles chilled by the wind screaming through the small space beneath my faceplate.

That's when I learned that he had been going easy on me. He could sense my new confidence, my ability to hold on with my lower body rather than my hands. I had thought we were going fast before; now he showed me more of what this machine was capable. We roared down straightaways at speeds that tugged at my body, skimmed over rugged stretches, spun around curves with bodies at acute angles to the ground, soared over hilltops so that I yelled with delight on this rollercoaster of snow.

I was alive: not only alive, but Living.

We climbed a massive hill that rose above the trees, turned, and stopped. We dismounted, raised our faceplates, and gazed out over a variagated grey and blue landscape of hills and naked trees edging mistily into the distance, dark against a crimson winter sunset. We stood in silence a while, listening to the gentle sighing of the wind, soon drowned out by the distant rumble of racing machines on the trail below.

So is this something you find enjoyable? Would you want to do this more if you had a machine to drive? he asked at last, glancing at me.

I grinned again and sighed, the crisp slice of air tingling in my lungs.

Oh yes. Oh yes indeed.

Friday, December 11, 2009

"Remembered Grace": {W}rite of Passage Challenge #1

This is my first attempt for {W}rite of Passage, in response to Challenge #1, which asked us to find a person in public, study his or her character, and build a story around him or her. The linky list following my story is for other participants in the challenge.


"Remembered Grace"

He trudged through the icy air, his nose buried deep within the collar of his coat. A blast of warmth greeted him when he pulled open the door, bracing himself against an urgent gust of wind, raising his head at the aroma of roast beef and chicken and marinara sauce. Colleen's face widened in a welcoming grin when she spotted him.

"Hey there, Ray! Your usual spot's open. Go ahead--I'll be right there."

He walked carefully down the stretch of damp tile to the end booth closest to the salad bar and slid himself wearily onto the bench. His nose started tingling, blood finally circulating after his freezing walk. Winter was here, all right. The festive lights and wreaths that draped eaves and doors no longer looked out of place. Two weeks until Christmas. Maybe he should put up some lights this weekend. His stomach clenched. The thought of holiday cheer was too much of a stretch. Why should his house reflect something his heart didn't?

Colleen appeared at his side, sliding a steaming mug of coffee in front of him. She plopped down a fistful of cream and cocked a hip, looking at him expectantly.

"The usual?" she asked.

"Sure," he grunted. She smiled again, and he returned the gesture halfheartedly. His face felt stiff, unused, and he hoped she would blame it on the frigid air rather than unfriendliness.

He glanced around the room as he peeled the foil off three creamers and stirred them into his coffee. More smokers than usual tonight; his neighbor across the divider had just lit a cigarette and the smoke curled lazily to the ceiling. The aroma was familiar. Too familiar. Maybe he needed to start sitting somewhere else. It wasn't like he needed to sit in the smoking section any more. That had been Gracie's vice. Only habit dictated his choice these days.

Enough of that. He reached in his coat pocket and pulled out his earbuds, placing them carefully in his half-frozen ears before peering at the screen of the I-pod. At least he could manipulate the damn thing these days. It had taken Michael an hour to walk him through the process, but now he could have his choice of music any time he pleased. The husky tones of Johnny Cash flowed into his ears, and his shoulders gradually released their tension. Shut off the mind. Just listen.
Like a bird on a wire
Like a drunk in a midnight choir
I have tried in my way to be free
Like a fish on a hook
Like a knight from an old fashioned book
I have saved all my ribbons with thee
Colleen was at his elbow again. Steam rose in fragrant streams from the plate of roast beef, mashed potatoes with gravy, and green beans that she placed in front of him.

"There you go, honey," she said, pitching her voice to be heard over the music in his head. "You need anything else right now? I'll get some more coffee for you in a minute."

He glanced at his untouched mug. "No hurry," he replied, and ducked his head in a nod of thanks.

The food was good. It wasn't gourmet, but the flavors were strong and solid, and the warmth reached his core. He was soothed by the comforting familiarity, something Gracie had never fully understood. It had been a running joke: she trying something different every time they came, he sticking to meat and potatoes. She had always wanted to try new restaurants, too, but had given away as graciously as her name to his need for routine.

His stomach clenched again. Maybe he should have compromised more. Maybe he should have stretched himself, allowed himself to be pulled along with her on an adventure or two. Maybe then he wouldn't feel so haunted by might-have-beens.

His plate was clean. Somehow he had finished it all, though his mind had stopped registering each forkful. Colleen was there almost immediately, whisking the dish and cutlery away and replacing it with a smaller plate of warm apple pie. She must have sensed his unwillingness to talk tonight; she just smiled swiftly at him and was gone.

He picked at the crust, placed a spoonful of creamy cinnamon-laced apple on his tongue, forced himself to swallow. He barely tasted it. Gracie would have been teasing him right now about how Colleen hadn't even asked if he wanted the pie, because he always had apple pie (warmed, no ice cream) after his meal. She would have been trying one of the holiday specialties instead, would have consulted with Colleen about which one was the best and when they had been prepared.

He released his spoon and stared blankly at the table.
The first time ever I saw your face, I thought the sun rose in your eyes.
And the moon and stars were the gifts you gave,
To the dark and the endless sky, my love.
And the first time ever I kissed your mouth,
I felt the earth move through my hands.
Like the trembling heart of a captive bird
That was there at my command.
A movement caught his eye and he glanced up to see a young woman walk by, mahogany hair gleaming in the flourescent lighting. A young boy clutched her hand, half skipping to keep up, glancing around in delight at all the customers. She bent a moment to say something to the boy, and something in the curve of her back, the tilt of her head, the sweep of her hair across her cheek, sparked a mind's-eye glimpse of another woman decades before who had moved like that with a different still-small boy, her own red-brown hair yet unwhitened by age.

His breath caught in his throat. The pain was as sharp as it was those first few weeks. He had sat endlessly in that house that had ceased to be a home when her voice could no longer be heard, when her laughter no longer pealed through the rooms, when her smile no longer lit up each day brighter than any sun. How was he supposed to face each endless day, each aching night, without her presence? How was he supposed to celebrate holidays left empty of meaning without her there to share them?

He sat there, fingers clenched around his mug, for what felt an eternity, struggling to breathe, fighting not to break into a thousand shattered pieces.

Then there she was again, facing him this time, bent a bit as she held the arms of her son, one slim limb in each hand. The boy was laughing, his brown eyes glinting with mischief, dodging this way and that as she kept him from escaping to run riot through the booths. Her face was lit with delight, and as she lifted it to spot her way, her dancing green eyes caught his a moment and her mouth stretched in a wry grin as if to say What can I do? And why would I want to?

Her face was not Gracie's, but her joy in this moment of innocent childhood fun was, and he suddenly could not hold back an answering smile. He looked down at the boy and could see Michael as he had been at that age. He, too, had been full of movement and joy and mischief.

Michael. Tall, strong Michael who had, he suddenly realized, been doing everything he could to fill the gaping void left by Gracie. Michael, who looked so much like a male version of her that he was caught off guard every time they visited. Michael, who had invited him to Red Wings games and Emily's preschool concerts and bought the I-pod so that he could fill the silence with his beloved music. Michael and gentle Allie and their beautiful, boisterous little girl. How long had he shut them out? How long had he forgotten that Gracie had left behind a piece of herself in their son and granddaughter? How long had he ignored the memory of her words?

"You aren't allowed to pretend the world doesn't exist once I'm gone, Ray. I want you to live and love and be part of life. Don't disappear into yourself or I'll have to kick your ass when we see each other again someday. Don't think I won't!"

He straightened in his seat. He owed it to Gracie to follow her wishes. She had filled his life with love and laughter. What kind of husband, lover, best friend would he be if he let her legacy disappear?

He glanced at Colleen. She was standing by the salad bar, staring at him. Her face was creased with worry, deepening the wrinkles around her mouth and eyes. He smiled suddenly and beckoned her over.

"How's your daughter doing?" he asked. Her eyes widened, then she smiled and leaned against the table.

"Oh, honey, let me tell you! She and her husband just did the most crazy thing. I told Tom I just don't know what to think!"

He sighed with contentment and settled in his seat. Gracie would have loved to hear this story. He could almost see her across the table, face full of humor and sympathy.

She would always be with him, but it was time to let others be there too.
We saw houses falling from the sky
Where the mountains lean down to the sand
We saw blackbirds circling 'round an old castle keep
And I stood on the cliff and held your hand

We walked troubled brooding wind swept hills
And we loved and we laughed the pain away
At the end of the journey, when our last song is sung
Will you meet me in Heaven someday?

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Trapped Inside My Own Mind

There are days when I get stuck inside my own head, when my cheeks flush with heat and my heart pounds heavy in my breast and my thoughts whirl and twist and turn upon themselves like dervishes gone wrong. There are days when the slightest thing gone wrong rouses rage and I must choke it down, yell at myself inside my mind to calm down, chill out, treat life like reality instead of some ridiculous soap opera. There are days when I want to scream at the world to just shut up, shut down, go away, leave me alone to breathe for five minutes five hours five days five weeks until the thoughts slow down and drain away and I no longer feel like a fish gasping for air on a flint-sharp shore.

But I CAN'T, I can't shut it all away because life must go on, and I have two little boys who need to know I love them and am there for them and I really don't want to be paying massive therapy bills for them years down the road when my salary has been slashed and my benefits are pouf and they're blaming me for all the ways they're F'd up. I'm supposed to be the rock, I'm supposed to be the stable one. And when I feel like the weight of my world (I'm not saying THE world; I know so many people have it worse; I know and I feel guilty about that too because how can I feel like this when I have so much that others don't) is so heavy on my shoulders that my spine may break with the strain of it, I still have to keep moving, pushing through my day so that my students learn something and my children are fed and clothed and loved.

Still I get trapped in there, pounding my fists against the locked doors of my mind. I trap myself: I am not so naive, so un-self-aware that I don't realize that I do this to myself every time, and somewhere, somehow, there is a key to how I can get out. It's just...that key isn't the same every time. It morphs, it changes, it camouflages itself so that only when I stumble across it by accident, by trial and error, do I find what will fit the lock and open the door and free me from my own cage.

I feel overwhelmed by the emotional load I'm carrying right now. Work is no solace, because we are in financial crisis and friends are losing jobs and my students are carrying burdens of their own that sometimes are brought to me in the hopes that I can lighten their load or find the key to their own cages. As for home: I have no real home right now, and while kisses and hugs and cuddles and funnies from my adorable children are often a key of sorts, there is also all the stress and strain of single-parenting two very young boys. And have I mentioned that divorce sucks? Even when it's the right choice and both people are trying the best they know how to make things work out?

There are so many reasons I want to fast-forward life by half a year or so.

For now, blurting these words onto this screen, sending it out there without even allowing myself to check back over the draft--this is a key, of sorts. My heart is gentling its beat. My cheeks are cooling. My thoughts are slowing, are calming, are allowing my fingers to keep up.

Perhaps my prayers can become more than panicked gasps. Perhaps I can marshal myself enough to get through the lunch I forgot to bring and the class I still have to teach and the shopping I need to do for our school gift drive and the fundraiser I have tonight and one more night.

Because as hard as it is for me to focus on the present and not obsess and worry over my future, all I can handle right now is this day, this moment, this thought.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Tids and Bits: They're Adorable. Well, I Think They Are.

There is a locally owned non-franchise pizza place not far from the house that I fell in love with shortly after it opened. Not only does Lucky Duck Pizza have fabulous pizza and salads and whatnot, the owner is awesome. He's super-friendly and cheerful (but not in an annoying way), gets to know his customers, and is Always There, working right alongside his (also friendly and cheerful) employees. The first time I ever went in, shortly after he opened, he told me that if I ever had ANY questions or comments, to please let him know. I hesitated, asked if he really meant it, told him I'm an English teacher, and then let him know he had some grammatical errors on his flyers. Namely, the use of apostrophes to make plurals, which as far as I am concerned is one of the Major Grammatical Sins and drives me nuts. He not only freaked out too and made sure the next set of flyers was corrected, every time I go in he has me look over his flyers and let him know if they're okay!

You have no idea how much of a thrill it gives me to be ASKED to edit grammar and punctuation by people.

Seriously. I'm a total grammar geek.

So lately when I'm exhausted at the end of the day and need to feed my kids and don't want to default to fast food, Lucky Duck has become my go-to place. They're inexpensive, and two Baby Bellas and a Greek salad will feed all three of us no problem.

My children have also come to love the place, not least because of their reception there. It's where someone knows your name and calls you adorable, people. DramaBoy now insists on carrying the two little pizza boxes out to the car, calling out Who wants a pizza? to everyone and grinning like a little maniac. He's going to be a pizza boy, he informs me. The Widget drags carries the salad, safely ensconced in a plastic bag. And everyone smiles at us. I've even heard a few Awwws.

I'm telling you, my children are labelled "adorable" almost everywhere I go. I say almost because there are the occasional meltdowns in public that wouldn't lead anyone to use that particular adjective, but generally speaking, I'm not just biased when I say my boys are plain old stinkin' crazy C-U-T-E.



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I have some new best friends. Not of the human sort, but oh how I do love them. You see, I get cold easily, and my hands in particular turn to icicles in minutes. I blame my mother along with Michigan's frigid weather. I've also been worrying about my lack of neutral long-sleeved tops, the sort that can go under other tops or vests or whatnot.

Yesterday as I sat in my gab-fest venting-session Professional Learning Community group meeting, I noticed my girl Casey was wearing an adorable thermal top with cut out thumbs. I nearly squeeed (fortunately stopping myself) and had to ask where she got them. 2 for $20 in the juniors section at J.C. Penney, baby!

Guess where I went after work?

And guess what I'm wearing today?


I got the vest at Penney's too. It is also adorable.


WARM HANDS!!! Squ---er, YAY!

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My friend Melissa over at Rock and Drool recently joined the online writing community {W}rite-of-Passage, where members practice writing stories and essays on their blogs in response to weekly challenges, then critique each others' work in an effort to encourage and improve good writing. After some consideration, I've decided to join as well. This is a bit of a stretching exercise for me, as I've never been terribly confident in my creative writing abilities. But I do want to improve my writing, as that was a key reason to begin and continue this blog (besides the whole spew-my-angst-into-the-blogiverse thing), so I think this is a good idea for me. So be on the lookout for Writing Challenge entries coming your way. Feel free to critique (CONSTRUCTIVELY--I do have feelings, people) in the comments or in direct emails. Whether or not my entries are adorable or touching or hilarious or awful or boring...well, we'll just have to see.

Gulp.

Monday, December 7, 2009

So Do You Know That Feeling...



So do you know that feeling you get when you look at your naked body in the mirror and realize that the utter lack of decrease in exercise and rampant indulgence increase in snacking has led to a body better described as "jiggly" than "jammin'"?

And do you know that feeling you get when you optimistically take home reams of grading with the full intention of spending most of your weekend (when not playing with/feeding/bathing/cleaning up after your kids) catching up on everything you should have been doing for the last three weeks, and then when you come back in to work on Monday you realize you only got about half of it done and you spent far more time chatting online and creating a mix-CD for a Christmas present?

And do you know that feeling when you write out the check for the house cleaner because she's coming in to clean (duh) and you look around and realize that while you managed to get the kids to clean up the majority of their incredible mess, the house is still way cluttered and messy and there isn't enough time left to clean up before the cleaner comes?*

You know how that feels?

No?

Um...

Yeah, me neither.

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*Woah. I need a thesaurus. Way too many forms of "clean" in that sentence. I'm not doing so well on the writing front either, apparently.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Seriously, My Mouth Is Watering Just Thinking About Them, People!


So in yesterday's suprisingly optimistic post about Christmas Past and Present (trust me, the optimism caught me off guard too), I mentioned my family's traditional Christmas morning breakfast: Christmas Eggs. And then DeeDee over at Fiddledeedee posted about a $100 Visa gift card giveaway that asked contestants to share a Christmas tradition they are continuing with their own families, and I wrote about Christmas Eggs. And she is also doing a Saturday Stirrings post today, so BOOM! I'm all meme-ing and stuff here. Head over to those two posts if you'd like to enter the contest and/or if you'd like to check out more awesome recipes.




While pigs and pork are relatively common out in Ivory Coast, West Africa (that's where I grew up, if you're new or oblivious), processed pork in the forms of ham and bacon are quite rare. Somehow my father would manage to track some down every year before Christmas: thick, rich, smoky bacon bursting with flavor and all the more delicious for its rarity. He also canned his own tomatoes and tomato sauce from tomatoes grown in his garden behind the house.

So each Christmas morning at some point toward the end of the gifting extravaganza, Dad would go off in to the kitchen and rattle around with muffin tins and eggs and bacon and tomato sauce, and soon we would smell the rich scent of Christmas Eggs. We each got two at breakfast and filled in the cracks with Mom's coffee cake.

Bacon is plentiful in Michigan grocery stores, and my tomato sauce comes out of a bottle or can, but I still carry on this tradition every Christmas. For some reason I simply cannot bring myself to make these eggs any other time of year--it just would not be right! So here you go. Perhaps you'll find yourself adding something new and delicious to your own Christmas breakfast.

Just--if you decide to make it other times during the year, don't let on to me, okay? 

Christmas Eggs

thick-cut bacon*
large eggs
tomato sauce
salt
pepper

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Line the sides of each cup in a muffin tin with bacon. Make sure the ends of the bacon strips overlap. Crack an egg into the center of each cup. Carefully pour a tablespoon or two of tomato sauce on top of each egg. Salt and pepper to taste.

Bake for approximately 15 minutes (don't you love my precision?) until bacon is cooked through and eggs are firm and opaque.

The cooked eggs/bacon should come out of the cups with the help of a large spoon. Serve hot and enjoy!

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*I have made this successfully using turkey bacon, if you're looking for a lower-fat option. The thicker the cut the better, but you could also double layer if needed. I haven't tried that, so you'd be entering experimental arenas....

Friday, December 4, 2009

It May Not Be the Best Time of the Year, But It Might Be Decent After All



Snow fell last night, just a little, just enough to dust the grass and cars and rooftops with a powdered sugar frosting. I have mixed feelings as I look out the window at this evidence that Winter Is Here.

Because three weeks from today is Christmas.

Christmas was always my favorite holiday. We rarely had white Christmases in my childhood, what with the whole growing up in West Africa thing--we had to travel back to Michigan every few years to experience what was in all those songs. Rather than snow and ice, we had harmattan winds and dust. Oh, and all the ash from the annual burning of the fields. Ah yes, the lovely ashflakes that drifted down to coat everything and everyone in a sooty grey.
I'm dreaming of a brown Christmas
Just like the ones I used to know
With the ashflakes falling
And muezzins calling
While desert winds softly blow...
Christmas was hiding out with my sister in our bedroom, crafting presents out of sticks and string and fabric and paint.

Christmas was an enormous fete (party, of sorts) in our courtyard on Christmas Eve with hundreds of people gathered around a blazing bonfire while church groups sang and danced and performed skits and preached until the wee hours of the morning.

Christmas was waking up at four in the morning and creeping out to the living room to feel the stockings and gawk at presents and then creep back into bed.

Christmas was waking up and waiting in bed until Mom put on the Christmas music, then running out in robes and slippers* to hot chocolate and a room filled with candlelight.

Christmas was Christmas Eggs**, made with the precious bacon Dad would somehow manage to track down every year and the tomato juice he canned.

Christmas was the enormous morning service held in the late morning, again in our courtyard, with more singing and sermons by various church groups.

Christmas was the day spent eating and unwrapping presents and playing games at Grandma and Grandpa's house out at the hospital compound with uncles and aunts and cousins and various single missionaries pulled in for the celebration.

Christmas was Grandpa's personalized puzzles he had worked on for months, puzzles we each had to solve in order to track down the special presents he had hidden.

Christmas was my mother finding me at 1:15 in the afternoon and hugging me and giving me a kiss and whispering Happy Birthday in my ear.

Christmas was Joy.

It was also my birthday--as in Christmas Day itself. Birthdays were always a big deal in my family, so we would celebrate my birthday a day or two later in order to give me my own day. I was never cheated by people thinking one present would suffice for both (unless it was a really big present), and I didn't really mind having a holiday birthday. It was kind of cool, sharing a birthday (well, sort of) with Jesus.

And then I grew up and moved back to Michigan for college.

I know holidays always change as one grows up, moves away, joins other families and their traditions. I was fortunate that during college my boyfriend (whom I eventually married) had a family that readily adopted me into their holiday celebrations, including Christmas. It wasn't the same as being with my own family, but it was still good. My in-laws were never quite as good at handling my birthday, since they don't do much for birthdays anyway, but at least they acknowledged it and, again, were not stingy by combining presents. Christmas was still a wonderful time of year.

The last four Christmases, however, I spent in tears at some point. Every single one.

Almost five years ago, DramaBoy was exactly one month old on Christmas. I was drained, exhausted, and suffering from what I thought was the Baby Blues and was in fact the early stages of high-functioning Post-Partum Depression. My first tears fell when my husband rolled over and went back to sleep when I tried to wake him up, refusing to get going so we could actually be on time to his father's place. I sat with my baby in my arms and cried silently. I cried later that day when we got to his mother's place, tired and worn out already only halfway through the day. And then again either that night or the following (it's a blur) at my own family's celebration because my parents were leaving for West Africa in a matter of days.

The next year I cried at my mother-in-law's again, because of fatigue and depression and because my parents weren't there. Oh, and because I was pregnant, unexpectedly (well, unexpectedly five months earlier), and terrified by the prospect of trying to parent two babies when I felt like such a failure parenting one. And DramaBoy would not nap.

Then two years ago I cried at my mother-in-law's, again (her place was my safety zone--I was allowed to break down there), because my husband's father and step-mother had overwhelmed us way beyond any comfort zone with extravagant gifts, apparently in a competition to see who could give more to the three grandsons (our two and his step-sister's one). And DramaBoy and The Widget would not nap.

That brings us to last year. Last year I cried, in private, because my world was falling apart and I knew it could very well be my last Christmas in the familiarity of what had become my second family. And indeed, that has proven to be true.

As for my birthday, it was the first year in my entire life I did not celebrate it. I didn't want cake. I didn't want a party. I didn't want to do anything that meant I would be the focus of attention. I could barely handle the birthday hug from my mother.

This Christmas--this Christmas is a haze of change and uncertainty. Separation and divorce make everything even more complicated than the holiday already had become.

That weekend is the boys' weekend with their father, so I won't see them for a few days after the holiday. We have not yet figured out how we will handle the holiday itself. I think it would be insane to try to split the day itself with the boys, since there is already a split between their father's parents. I don't want to drive the boys crazy with a million places to go and be, torn between parents and grandparents and aunts and uncles. My sister and brother-in-law will be in from Boston, but I don't know what they'll be doing yet, especially as they will be spending time with his family and their friends as well.

So what do we do? I think we may have to start planning on a yearly scale, doing some sort of trade-off of Christmas Eve and Christmas from year to year. Perhaps, with the custody timing the way it is this month, I should have the boys for Christmas Eve and then drop them off at their grandfather's on Christmas morning. Where I would go from there...I don't know quite yet.

I do know that a silver lining is that this year I can strip away a great deal of the excess and materialism that has slowly poisoned this holiday for me. Christmas will be simple this year. I may borrow my dear friend Melissa's small artificial tree rather than enduring the Real Tree ordeal. My shopping list suddenly got much smaller. I don't have much money or desire to be lavish, so I'm focusing on finding or making small but meaningful gifts for the handful of people on my list. For that matter, since I am no longer caught up in my former in-laws' ways of doing things, I can dispense with sending out or receiving Christmas lists, something that has always made me a little uncomfortable. Instead of worrying about presents and meals and baking and all the excess Stuff of Christmas, I want to simply enjoy being with people I love, whenever and wherever that happens.

As for my birthday, it doesn't matter much to me what I get, if anything. But I do plan to celebrate. What I want is simple: a gathering of friends who will go along with me somewhere fun some evening, where we can just talk and laugh and have a drink or two and enjoy being together. That's all. That's more than enough.

So as I look out on the dusting of snow, which is sticking despite the brilliant sun, I'm finding myself far less nostalgic for the Days of Yore than I expected. True, it's a time of tremendous change, and I don't tend to deal with big changes all that well, but maybe--just maybe--some of the changes are good.

If this feeling keeps up, I might even turn on one of those radio stations playing Christmas songs.

And that, my friends, would be a true Christmas miracle.

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*Hey, it gets down to eighty-five degrees during the day and sixty at night out there this time of year! That there is Winter, people!


**Remind me to give you that recipe. It rocks.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

I Was Trying For Something Humorous And Then Found Myself Getting All Nasty. Must Have Been The Subject Matter.

We never talk trash, our rhymes are clean
Our rhymes are never vague and we say nothing obscene
So any sucker mcs who wanna battle us
Can you go at least 20 lines without a cuss?
Cause once we start to jam, you'll be in a state of shock
Clear the way party people, we're the new kids on the block
Ah, memories. Back in 1990, when I was a gangly, gawky, flat-as-a-stick seventh grader with bad skin and worse hair, someone brought a CD back from the United States that sent waves of (delayed) pop culture through our little boarding school. This was the Next Big Thing, what Regular Americans were listening to, and if we were going to be Cool, we had to be in love with


The New Kids On The Block

God help us all.

Boy bands had been around for a while, apparently (Menudo, anyone?), but NKOTB made them American as apple pie and pickup trucks with shotgun racks. The boys were so Cute. They were so Upbeat and Perky. More to the point for us, they were ICA*-approved, which meant that their lyrics would not offend the Powers That Be Were. That meant we were allowed to listen to the caterwauling music and dance er, bob our heads in appropriate restraint.

I didn't really get the music. But Everyone Loved NKotB, so therefore I loved NKOTB. And when the other girls asked me breathlessly which one was my favorite New Kid, I went with the most popular answer and said Joey...or was that Jordan? Crap, I don't remember any more. Because it was such an IMPORTANT decision, you know. The New Kid you liked best apparently said huge amounts about you.

I think some people may have gotten into fights over it, but mostly I just tried not to look too confused.

When NKOTB went out of style (thankfully quickly), I had hope that the days of boy band craze were of Yore. I should have known better.

In college, along came



The Backstreet Boys

who were then challenged by



'N Sync

and I believe people still debate who won that fight.

I am TOTALLY an 'N Sync girl, let me tell you. I mean, really. How could there be any competition there? Justin T., y'all!!!

Excuse me while I run to the restroom.

Whew. Sorry about that.

And if that weren't enough, along came the MMMMbopping Hansons


Aren't they nauseating adorable?

And lest we think that only the male half of the species offended, there were


The Spice Girls

I wish I could say that was all. But it wasn't.

What do I have against the Boy (and occasionally Girl) Bands?

Well. Where do I begin?

If you like meaningless and cheezy lyrics, derivative melodies, overchoreographed dance moves, an almost complete inability to write or actually PLAY music (and let's not even talk about originality here), and an overwhelming emphasis on merchandising and faux celebrity "news", then go for it. Boy Band it up. More power to ya.

Personally, I want to hurl.

And yet...there is something hypnotic about that pop-bubblegum, faux badass, overproduced stuff. It's kind of like Taco Bell or Cheetos. You know it's just so very bad for you, but once you start eating...you can't put it down.

Because while I may not have ever owned an album by one of these bands...

I did catch myself singing along to their songs.

And I kind of liked that one 'N Sync music video where they were marionettes.

And I did watch the Spice Girls movie.

 I may be going to Music Hell.

Um, so DraftQueen? Once you decide to forgive me for my musical sins, you want to send me some more mp3s? I'll be washing my brain out so it's clean enough to receive those luscious songs.

Oh, and you can thank Jason Mayo of Out-Numbered for the post topic. He apparently is a Backstreet Boys fanatic (seriously, all I can do is giggle) and has threatened to play Boy Band music through my window at night so it haunts my nightmares dreams.

I'd be a lot more scared if he knew where I live.

I'll never tell. I value my sanity too much.

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*International Christian Academy, the now-defunct boarding school where I went for 7-9 and 11-12th grades. They were quite conservative there. Quite.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

There's a Reason I Listen to Alanis Morissette. And It's Not Because of Her Stellar Fashion Choices.

As much as I love myself (because really, who doesn't?) (love themselves, I mean) (well, or me, because I'm awesome) I also am my own harshest critic. No, really. I may not always let people know just how much I judge myself, but I do. It's far easier for me to see myself in a negative light than in a positive. Thus the self-deprecating humor. You know, make fun of myself before other people do, because then it hurts less? Yeah, I'm special like that.

(You see what I just did? Yep. Slammed myself in a joking way. Jeez, I can't help but do it even when I'm talking about how I do it.)

Sometimes the humor fails me. Then I just get angsty. Let me tell you, it's a real riot walking around with an inner teenager, especially one like mine. My inner teenager is not the bubbly cheerleader who loves trips to the mall and texting all her BFFs about the cute guy she saw at Forever 21. Oh no. Mine dresses in black with black eyeliner and mopes about in the corner and writes dark poetry about the horror of existence in a world of pain and anguish and bubbly cheerleaders.

Okay, fine, I've also been known to hang out at the mall with friends and text BFFs about guys, such as the cute policeman who totally gave me a major break this summer on not having renewed my registration for, oh, seven months; or the hot mechanic who changed my oil and replaced my sway bar links this weekend. But then my inner teenager has to hate ME, so it gets complicated.

I never said I was a simple person. I come with fine print. People just keep forgetting to read my manual.

Heck, I wish I could find my manual. Maybe then I could figure out how to run my own head.

Crap. Where was I going with this post? Oh right! Harshest critic. Angst. Too complicated for my own good. Fun stuff. Not entirely sure why I'm spewing this, but hey. Whatever. You can just stop reading if it's too emo for you.

Except now I'm panicking that you're really leaving my blog because AND THIS IS KIND OF THE WHOLE POINT OF THIS STUPID THING I have abandonment issues. And I've been realizing lately, as I've been navigating the ridiculous self-designed maze of my own mind (map not included), that I have a nasty habit of never fully giving myself to those I love. Deep down, you see, I don't really think I'm good enough to keep people around. So I have to protect myself from the inevitable. Friends, family, significant others, my own children...it doesn't seem to matter who the person is, there is always a part of my heart, a part of ME, that I hold back in reserve. There's always an unwillingness to risk myself fully in a relationship, because in the back of my mind a voice is always whispering They always end up leaving. One way or another, you will lose this person. He or she will leave you, will walk away, will break your heart if you give it all.

It's a sobering realization to have. It also explains certain behaviors. For example, my tendency to NOT write my parents much when they're overseas. Oh, they get my blog, I tell myself (which is a handy excuse these days but doesn't do much to justify the previous thirteen years). My mother will write long, lovely, newsy, satisfying letters that make me feel like she just sat down and had coffee with me. And I will, if she's lucky, write back a paragraph or two. Just the basics. A brief response to specific questions, usually. A quick update on how the boys are doing.

For another example, my ability to disconnect from friends and not even realize that two months have passed since I've seen a person or even necessarily talked to that person on the phone. I just continue to go on through my life, pushing away any sense of missing a connection. If she really wants to talk to me or see me, she'll call me, right?

I have to wonder, too, if I'm capable of loving a man in a way that means forever, 'til death do us part. I haven't done so well so far. And recently I've realized that it's one thing to say I love someone: it's another to give him my heart. Fully, completely, with all the tremendous risk that comes from placing that most delicate part of Self in someone else's hands. I don't think I've ever done that. I'm not sure what it takes to do so, or whether that strength, that willingness to risk so much, is even in me.

Most sobering is the realization that as much as I love my children, there's still a part of me I withhold from them, too. You see, they're going to grow up. And they may not like me very much some day. They may not call. They may not talk to me. They may resent me for choices I've made and have yet to make. They may move far, far away and only come home for the occasional holiday. I will lose them. One way or another, I will lose them: to jobs, to wives, to time.

So I shield a part of myself off from the world. Because if I give myself fully, then every time someone leaves, every time someone walks away or vanishes or drifts off or outright rejects me, there's a piece of my heart that goes with them. And I'm not sure there would be enough left of me to survive.

Monday, November 30, 2009

thanksgiving: travelling


long road stretches before
and behind
wintry trees flash by
spare yet regal in their barrenness
promise of life asleep within
glimpses of homes with spiraling smoke
speak family and friendship
warmth by the hearth
and on by fields now stripped
furrowed and naked
sleeping until spring brings seed
and warmth anew

a voice whispers and i turn
twist the dial to give sound
to its potent melody
hum then break into song
he sings too
if somewhat off tune
and we grin at memories of childhood
raised on this

my hand rests in his
as always
cradled in rough warmth
i shift and bend toward him
to see his face in profile
against the blur of passing land
and content
rest my head against the seat
while miles and hours stream by

Sunday, November 29, 2009

thanksgiving: vicarious



sharp scent
like pencil shavings
and childhood
slick plasticked cover sliding
under fingertips until
creamy pages crease
at a touch and bend
spilling inky thoughts into my mind
dreams of other worlds
other lives
chasing each other in mad riot
as i gulp thirstily
never quenching or filling
enough
for there is always another
and i reach again
raise this tree reborn and sniff
deep
of sharp scent
like pencil shavings
and happiness

Saturday, November 28, 2009

thanksgiving: together

i turned the corner
and saw his form
silhouetted against the light
streaming from the barn

solid body
hunched for a moment
to duck under the descending door
and then he moved toward me
as i moved toward him

my pace quickened to match his
we met
melded a long moment
i rested my head on his shoulder
content
at last
to be there in his arms

Friday, November 27, 2009

thanksgiving: dawn



mine was a long-lived Dark
coming out into Light was not easy
nor simple
and still i see the shadows
creeping in corners of my restless mind

Time is an uneasy ally
i do not trust too easily
for she can scar as well as heal
and i bear the marks
born of her fickle friendship

yet when i look
at what lies before me
the obstacles and pitfalls
the fear of the unknown
i do not hide my face as once
i did

for i am earning free from chains
too long wrapped about me
bonds three decades in making
woven and forged in fear and pain
thus here lies my truth

whatever lies ahead
is worth living
come what may

and the shadows cannot last
in the light of a brand new day

Thursday, November 26, 2009

thanksgiving: them



they sneak up on me
these kisses
these soft round arms clasping my neck
lisped words of
i love you mama
or i want a snuggle
or i'm thankful for you mama
and i melt

it's a hard road sometimes
when mothering seems more than i can bear
when the beginning and what followed
scarred parts of my parenting heart

but when they laugh
and when they sing
and when they dance
and when they sneak their way
past all my defenses
all i can do is look at them
and say

thank you
thank you

and that is enough

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

A Letter to My Oldest Son on the Occasion of His Fourth Birthday



My dearest DramaBoy:

Four years ago when I gazed at your tiny, perfect face I had no concept of the boy you would be today. You hop through my days filled with giggles and jokes and smiles and fun. Your words spill out of you a mile a minute, always questioning, always commenting, always full of that unique mix of logic and imagination. I watched you last night waving your arms like a miniature preacher man, telling your big cousin once removed a fantastical story about the witch who lives in the dollhouse you discovered there, and again I marvelled at the breathless reach of your mind.



You humble me. That a little creature so bright, so vibrant, so full of life and love and laughter, could have come out of me--I am blessed beyond measure.

Happy birthday, my brilliant little four year old. I love you.

Your Mama

(P.S. I am thankful for YOU, too.)

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Sometimes I Wonder If They Exchange Messages With One Another. You Know, Just to Keep Each Other Company. Since They're All Lonely and Forgotten and All.



Okay, so you know how you have your Safe Email Account and your Junk Email Account? And how you start out with a new email address and you're all determined that this will be your Safe Address that does NOT get filled with all sorts of bills and spam and emails from people you're trying to pretend Do Not Exist (Anymore)?

And you know how this becomes a long line of Safe Accounts becoming Junk Accounts?

Yeah. My Safe Account (In Real Life, not my bloggy address, though no doubt that is doomed one day as well) is slowly making that change.

I remember the first real email address I had was in college, that good old Michigan State University one that ended with a million extensions Back In The Day (cuz I'm getting Old, y'all) before they decided to simplify things the year after I graduated. Whatever. It was so primitive. Yellowish-white letters on a black background, because that was how we rolled in the Days of Yore. When I graduated, I knew I would never use it again, but it was handy as the I-Have-to-Write-Down-an-Email-Addy-so-Here's-the-One-I-Never-Use default. You know, for all those applications and memberships and whatnot where you know they only require an email so they can flood you with more spam than a World War II foxhole.

I also had a freebie Juno account for a while, but that one became attached to a short-lived stunt as a book editor for a tiny publishing company run by a very former friend who thought that quantity mattered far more than quality. (Remind me to tell you about that some day.) My real maiden name is still out there on the Intarwebz attached to that stupid company on a no-longer-legit but not-quite-defunct website, so no doubt there are still some poor saps sending cover letters and manuscript teasers to that lonely Juno account. If it still works. I don't even remember what it was and have no intention of figuring it out, so whatever.

(Sorry, author-wannabees. I feel for you, but really, you would have regretted that move anyhow. The idiot dweeb individual who ran that company would probably have expected you to turn around and pour any profits right back into the company because, you know, it would pay out Someday When We Get Big. Ha.)

(Not that I'm bitter.)

There were a couple other short-lived accounts along the way, but I didn't use them much. There was one for the school where I interned, but unless some misguided students and parents kept emailing me after I left, no one's using that any longer. Probably deleted anyhow. And I think there was one for the Time Warner Road Runner internet service we used when we lived in an apartment in my early years of teaching, but I never really used that.

No, I was using Hotmail by then. Ah yes, that Hotmail account. Those who know me personally may remember the days of my Hotmail address, which used (and still uses) my maiden name. There are still a few people who get confuzzled and email me there, which is now where messages go to die.

Because my Hotmail account became my Junk Account about five years ago. We moved into a house and our new internet provider provided us with shiny new email addies. The transition was both inevitable and timely: already my Inbox was starting to pile up with far too many spam and business emails, and my index finger was cramping up from hitting delete.

You see, there comes a time when one starts having to use one's REAL account for certain memberships and business accounts, especially when one starts signing up for those oh-so-convenient online billing and banking transactions.

So my Hotmail account became my Junk/Business Account, and my SBCGlobal account became my Personal/Aren't You Special account. Some people missed the news, but most friends and families simply sighed and dutifully changed their Contact lists.

(We won't go into how AT&T took over SBC after a while, which was Not Welcome since I'm really not fond of AT&T and the whole thing brought up some I thought monopolies were against the law!!!! rage.)

So this morning I opened up my SBC AT&T Yahoo (dammit) account and sighed. Because sitting in my Inbox, as has been the case pretty much every day recently, were multiple spam and ad messages.

You see, my Hotmail/Junk account is slowly going by the wayside. Every time I open it up I find there are approximately 1,289,456,723 new messages waiting for me, and the sheer effort of skimming through them to find the very few remaining legitimate messages, all of which are bill-related, is just exhausting. So when I've opened up or changed bills and accounts lately, I've been using my Real email addy.

Which is the Kiss of Death.

Right now I'm only seeing the edge of the tide. Inevitably it will rise and the flow of unwanted and delete-worthy messages will become unmanageable.

Looks like it's time to start shopping for a new address.  Which means that another email account will join the throng of spam-choked long-forgotten Inboxes trailing mournfully in my wake.

Gmail, anyone?
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