Thursday, December 8, 2011

Green Christmases

I do love snow, just a dusting, and just in time for Christmas.  Otherwise, snow is what makes winter my least favorite season.  I hate driving on snowy and icy roads, I hate the unpredictability of winter travel and having to cancel plans with friends... I just hate winter.  The less snow the better, whatever Bing Crosby has to say about White Christmases.  Bah, humbug.

But, winter does contain my favorite holiday:  Christmas.  It is so much fun to shop, and plan, and make homemade gifts and food to share on that special day.  Each year, my girls and I try to mix things up a bit and make Christmas not just about gifts, but have it mean something more.  This year, we are forgoing wrapping paper and using bags sewn from Christmasy cloth for our gifts.  I like the idea of recycling and using as little paper as possible; recycling is what I do every day with books, after all.  Nicholas and Jill gave me their gifts last year in cloth bags, which inspired me to do the same this year.  Thanks, Nicholas and Jill! 

So, this Christmas is a green one, whether or not there is snow on the ground.  We are going green with our disuse of paper and next year, will use the same cloth bags to house different gifts.  Also, how we choose to replace our artificial tree for next year's Christmas will further mix things up in our home.  Half the lights on our ten year old fake tree will no longer light, so it's time to retire it.  But, I hate cutting trees down to use for just a few weeks, so no real trees anymore.  And, with the girls getting older, do I really need a big tree?  Perhaps next year, we will just have all our mini trees scattered throughout the house and no central place for Christmas, rather, it can be all around us.  I like that idea.

No matter how you celebrate Christmas, whether as a secular holiday or religious one, as a commercial enterprise or simply not at all, for me Christmas is the ultimate expression of faith and family.  Each year, we redefine it in our home, but it's always uniquely Hartelt, with lots of food and laughing at each other till we cry with all our inside jokes, and uniquely Boettcher, with the ornaments made by my former in-laws still making our home festive and my daughters' generation keeping the Boettcher sense of humor and irreverence alive.  And we Hartelt Boettchers wish you all a Merry Christmas!

Sunday, October 2, 2011

School Pictures

When I was a girl, nothing was funnier in Sunday morning cartoons than Calvin subverting the will of his parents and teachers, especially on school picture day.  He put Crisco in his hair to make it shiny (and pliable).  He made faces like these:

And this:

In fact, the second picture was my facebook profile picture a few months back, because I still found it so funny. 

And, then came this fall's school pictures for my girls.  Sarah announced she wanted to dress like a mime this year, with black beret and turtleneck, and black and white makeup.  I was a little taken aback.  In my experience, most thwarting by kids of school picture day was done in the early years.  My baby brother Loren once cut his own hair the night before school picture and looked the next morning like a scalped former prisoner of war, albeit one in kindergarten.  Cathy tattooed a penguin onto the center of her forehead the night before her first grade photos, which were coincidentally on September 11th, 2001. 

Most of the penguin came off with a warm washcloth.  But, not all.  Cathy was five and loved penguins.

Sarah, on the other hand, was thirteen this fall.  She should have known better.  I perhaps also should have known better after she told me about her mime idea.  So, when her school pictures arrived, and she burst out laughing, I did, too.  After a moment of silence.

Yes, that's my girl.  My cross eyed girl with borrowed horn-rimmed glasses.  In a way, it's true what our moms used to tell us.  If you cross your eyes, they will get stuck that way.  This moment of time will be frozen forever, with my baby girl making a face at the camera.  And, if she gets irritated at my blogging about her moment of subversive triumph, well, isn't that what school pictures are for but for parents to show off? 

Momma gets the last laugh, honey badger. 

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Anniversaries in September

Today is my 38th birthday, anniversary of my birth.  Also this month is the anniversary of my bad news diagnosis, which has turned instead into a rare gift, one which makes me value each day.  September is also the month Gonzo was hit by a car, but lived to bounce back better than ever.  I always remember where I was September 11th, 2001, as the summer days turn cool and blue.  And, the end of September marks the anniversary of my dad's passing. 

He died of Alzheimer's eight years ago on September 26th, 2003. It was a rainy Friday and I had been at the nursing home nearly non-stop for three days, but had gone to run errands, like cleaning his suit for the funeral and buying him a new tie in goldenrod yellow. Then, I went home for a nap.  I was sleeping when he died. 

For years as his disease progressed and his grasp on reality retreated, I would try to understand where or when in his memory did he think he was?  I watched him turn doorknobs in the center of a smooth wall, where there was no door.  I listened to him use German, reach for something in mid-air which I could not see, and call it, "Schoen."  It was beautiful, whatever he saw. That act of trying to get inside his head and understand my dad is what led to the writing of my book.

When I think too long about anything, I end up writing about it.  My blog usually follows a good lunch conversation or a walk with my girls.  I brooded about my dad's life and death for years, which has turned into a three hundred fifty-ish page novel.  I hope it makes sense to people who didn't live these events themselves.  I like that the timing of my book's release date coincides with September, the month when everything happens.  Because, even though great tragedies occurred this month, like 9/11, and my dad's passing, my bad health news, and Gonzo's accident, it is a beautiful month, too, to be alive and value each day.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

My Best Birthday Gift

Next week will be my thirty-eighth birthday.  With that many under my belt, I've had some great birthdays, and some craptastic ones. 

The winner for worst, hands down, was my thirty-fifth.  Within twenty four hours of that horrible day, Gonzo was hit by a car, his hip dislocated, some fur and skin missing, and I didn't know if he was going to make it.  That same day, U of I neurology called and told me that best case scenario, there is remission, but no cure.  I don't know how many birthdays I have left, though, I suppose no one ever does.

Birthday runners-up for best include my twentieth, when my co-workers left my birthday gifts for me to find when I came into work that morning, and my thirtieth, when Erik and the kids made me a Gollum cake.  But, the best, hands down, was last year's.  I had dozens of people trek to my house for my Backwards Birthday Party (born in 73, turned 37, so I told my friends to buy themselves a gift.  Brilliant, no?). Even better, on the actual day, my best friend for life, Beck, took me to Devotay in Iowa City, where we drank too much sangria, ate emu, laughed until we cried and wandered around downtown Iowa City, where we met Manny and Dominique.  Best day ever.

I now really love celebrating my birthdays, even if I don't always remember how old I am, until I ask what year this is and do the math.  Sure, it's a crapshoot as to the quality of birthday, but I have a hunch this year will be a good one. Beck and I will once more spend the actual day at Devotay.  That weekend will be a shared birthday party for September birthdays in our pack and I am very excited about how many people can come.  And, after setting up that bash at Capone's, I found out from Becky that there was another party planned, a surprise party for me at Devotay, which I kind of ruined by organizing the Septembers deal. 

Even though I am bummed at wrecking my chance at the first surprise party of my life, I am still really happy, happier than I've ever been.  Three years ago, I was given a real gift, being reminded that life is finite. Every day with the people of my life is a gift: my daughters, my dog (still kicking!), my family, and my second family in my friends.  The best birthday gift doesn't come in a box; it's just knowing I am loved.  I don't want presents for my birthday.  Just presence.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

For All Things, Their Season

Last fall, two weeks before the first snowfall, Cathy's friend Jake was still alive.  This spring, when the lilacs were budding, Tyler was alive, and Nathan died the week my tulips bloomed.  Those deaths rocked our small town, made people mindful of everything:  the passage of time, the struggles of being teenagers, and the beauty those boys would not live to see. 

This year, my daughters lost friends and classmates for the first time in their lives in a terribly cruel and permanent way.  I lost people, too, but in more adult and expected ways.  The snow was melting and we  avoided the soft mud when Adam, John Hudson and I helped Abbi and her John load the U Haul and move away.  Abbi, Gabe, Leah, Brandon, and Justin all left my work, replaced by Jennifer, Callista, Emily, Elizabeth and Cassie. 

A few weeks ago, my friend Jodie referenced a quote about people coming into our lives at different times, sometimes only for a season, but always for a reason.  Today, Laura referenced that quote when we three were having lunch and I was reminded how beautiful a sentiment it is, and how accepting loss is part of life.  People come into your life, people leave it.  A few remain, and I was reminded of that today, too, when talking Darren's ear off; he is one of my oldest friends and my only guy friend to know me through all my adult relationships.  Sometimes, we have no control over who leaves our lives, and if it's sooner than we wish, it can hurt terribly.  Sometimes, we stay connected by love when proximity ends; Gabe is coming home this fall to visit and I see Abbi as often as I can.  And, sometimes... Sometimes, we just have to let people go.  Love can die, just like anything else.  There are seasons to love, too.  Finding the reason is sometimes harder.

But, for those uncomplicated loves in my life, the friendships that sustain me, thank you.  Darren, Becky, Laura and Jodie, and all my friends (is it a bad thing that there are too many to list?) you are amazing, wonderful people and I am so lucky to have you in my life.  I know you aren't going anywhere. 

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Cheer Meetings & Twinkie Trees

Yesterday, on my supper break, I received an angry text from Cathy:  "We are out of shampoo. Darn Sarah."  When I called her to tell her I had bought more, I got this response:

"Mom, I can't talk right now.  I'm in a meeting."  What?  I thought she said she was eating, so I continued, "You need to stop blaming your sister for using the last of the shampoo.  She has a right to use it, too, and I just need to know before it's gone so I can buy more."  Cathy whispered, "Okay, Mom.  I really do have to go.  I. Am. In. A. Meeting."  There was lots of teenaged giggling in the background, so I gave up.  "Fine, enjoy your meeting."

On our walk last night, Cathy told me, she really had been in a meeting, of cheerleaders having a cheer-mergency over their upcoming cheer car wash.  They were giggling, because they could hear me scolding her.  Oops.  And then, Cathy went into a long spiel about what did I think she was doing, having a meeting with her stuffed animals, asking Big Bunny to please take minutes, and Walking Talking Elmo to hold all calls?

So, that was yesterday's funny.  Sunday's funny happened after I forced the kids to try a bunch of unfamiliar foods.  We bought prawn crackers, spinach buns, fish balls, egg drop soup, biblinka, shredded squid, and more, from the Oriental Market where the non English fluent cashier whistles Scorpion tunes.  That was an unmitigated disaster.  But, the after-supper party was fun.  A few of Sarah's unsuspecting friends came to join us after they returned home from boating.  As they walked down the sidewalk, Cathy, Sarah, Spencer and Kaitlyn were ready, having tied a twinkie to a ball of yarn and left it on the sidewalk.  As Ashton and Leighton approached, the twinkie slowly moved out of reach.  Then, Ashton sprinted toward it, Spencer took off running down the highway, the twinkie bounced along ("like a gazelle," Ashton later said) and the kids erupted laughing. 

Leighton loved the idea of tricking more kids in that manner, so we set to work trying to string up twinkies in our mulberry tree with low hanging branches, with yarn that could retract into the branches when the kids reached up to grab one.  We then played Pictionary and the story game, and called it a night.

My kids keep me young.  And maybe, I keep them young, too, because I don't want to see them rushing into adulthood, with all its challenges.  Their childhoods will be over soon enough, and then the house will seem very big and very quiet, with no twinkies in our trees, and no stuffed animal meetings.  Cathy can laugh about it now that she has "real" meetings, but those conferences with her toys were not that long ago.

Friday, July 1, 2011

"Take One For The Team, Baby Carrot!!"

Cathy names all her facebook albums according to a comment, heard and worth remembering from that night's conversation.  One album is titled, "Where My Cabin Resigns," and when I pointed out it should be where my cabin resides, she just sighed and said, "You don't get it, Mom. You just don't get it." Ever since she was small, Cathy had an adult's ability to find the funny in any situation.  We went pedal boating the other night with Spencer and Erika, who was remembering our whole, "See that girl over there?" schtick.  We've been laughing over "See that girl over there" jokes (like, "See that girl over there?  She only thinks she's adopted") for several years, meaning Cathy came up with that joke around the age of twelve. 

She is now turning sixteen on Sunday, sharing her sweet sixteen party with her longtime friend, Erika, and here is her birthday blog, replete with old photos and a recent story for which this blog is named.  We were weeding the garden, and Cathy accidentally pulled up a baby carrot along with the weeds.  Rather than replant the tiny, feathery roots, she tossed it aside and said, "Well, now the weeds are gone, its brothers and sisters can get some sun.  Take one for the team, baby carrot!" and we laughed all night over that. 

Happy Birthday, Baby Carrot!  I am proud of you for many reasons: your sense of humor, your kindness, and your ability to deal like an adult, but enjoy life like a kid.  You made me proud when you bought Lexi's homecoming dress, when you wanted to sponsor Binti as yours (and Sarah's) Christmas present, when you opted to spend your time and money when you were given both, by going and buying toys to distribute to the Helen Nassif Pediatric Wing of Saint Luke's Hospital.  You are a great, funny girl and loved by many. 

Saturday, June 25, 2011

In Lieu of Sugarbottom

Twenty four years ago, Rebecca Hanson moved with her dad and sister to Mount Vernon.  At first, I was scared of her.  Becky was strong and outspoken, confident enough to make jokes at her own expense and to call out people who took themselves waaay too seriously.  For someone like me, scared of her own shadow and opinions, Becky was something new.  We had friends in common, started hanging out more and more.  I made her laugh, and Becky's laugh is like no one else's.  She can make an entire movie theatre crack up, just at the sound of it.  We became friends.

Weekends were spent at house parties with friends, or at rural dance halls like Dance Mor in Swisher, the Loop in Monticello, and Prairie Moon in Prairieburg.  One of the best nights of my life was spent with Becky, New Year's Eve 1990, and a bunch of friends we met dancing on tables at Dance Mor, then followed to the SW side Denny's.  Becky spent Christmas Day 1990 with my family, and we cut apart all the boxed chocolates and smushed together the icky ones to leave for others, til we discovered there was a map. We smoked candy cigarettes to mock the teen smokers around us. We invented the stupefyingly hilarious game of holding a toilet paper tube to our eye, and watching objects like troll dolls dropped, while listening to Depeche Mode. No, we were not high. 

We went to prom together, graduated together.  When Cathy was born, Becky videotaped it, and the tape gets all shaky when she started to cry.  I was in the waiting room for Mitchell's birth and in the room to see Kennedy born.  One of the first things Becky said after I called her with the news my dad had died was, "How can I help?" I call Beck first, with all good news and bad news. 

The Prairie Moon Ballroom has burned down, many years ago now.  You can't buy candy cigarettes in stores anymore.  The Denny's on the southwest side of CR is long gone. And, still, we are friends, better now than we were back in the days we spent every weekend together.  Even if I don't see Becky for weeks or even months, I know we can pick up where we left off and I know that she understands every backstory to every new story I tell her.  I know her family and their stories as well as my own.  I have faith in her goodness as a human being, and with her ability to empathize, because she understands bad luck, too.

So, tonight when my truck started flashing the oil and battery "Danger, Will Robinson!" lights on its dashboard, while I was on my way to her birthday campout at Sugarbottom Campgrounds, fully stocked with tent, sleeping bag, potato chips, Bacardis, and her silly birthday card, I couldn't believe my bad luck.  Of all the things I would never want to miss, it would be Becky's birthday weekend, at a time in her life when experiences and good times with friends is what she values most.  But, here I sit, at home with my truck in the garage, waiting for morning when Karl can look it over. 

So, Becky, here is your birthday blog, in lieu of my presence at the campout tonight.  You are my best friend, and have been for more than half my life.  I think of you as a sister now, and my whole family loves you.  You are incredibly funny and make everyone around you laugh. You are kind.  I've seen you many times hold your tongue when you knew something and wanted to say it, but didn't.  You are generous, with your time and your talents and praise of others. You give more than you get back, time and again.  I'm sorry I'm not there tonight.  But, I hope you know that I am always there in spirit.  Happy Birthday.

Monday, June 13, 2011

What My Girls Put Me Through

Last Saturday, Sarah sent me the following message:

"OH, MY GOB!  Baby raccoon!"  And this:

I started to panic.  On the tiny screen of my phone, the background appeared to be the back porch where her grandparents live.  Could a baby raccoon have crawled up there to die and Sarah was petting a rabid animal?  I remembered all the times the girls had liberated tadpoles from the pond, to keep in ice cream buckets under their beds, until I returned them to the pond from whence they came. 

I texted back, "Oh, MY Gob, is that a raccoon?  Has it bitten you?"

To which Sarah replied, "Oh, the minx bit me, but twas only a scratch."

Oh, no.  I was one hundred miles away and Sarah had been bitten by a raccoon.  Then, I get this from Cathy:

"Don't worry about Sarah, I was the one who got bit, but it wasn't the raccoon.  It was the bobcat."

WTF was going on?  I didn't get the full story, just tantalizing, "Oh, Mom, stop worrying.  The skunk left us mostly alone,"

until last night, when Cathy told me they had been at a fair and played with the animals (under supervision) at the wildlife preserve area.  She actually was bitten by the bobcat, whose baby teeth were so tiny and inoffensive, they didn't even break the skin. 

My girls love to tease me.  It was a great weekend for all of us, they had a nice time with their dad, I had a good time with friends at Leah's going away party, but the best part is that they included me in their good times.  And that they didn't die from rabies or death by bobcat.

This last photo is not from their time at the fair, it's one I took a month ago, when we were out walking on the gravel road behind our house.  The girls decided to share a dandelion and each try to blow the fluff off it, into the face of the other.  Such moments were made to last, even just on film:

 All my girls put me through... is worth it.  Every moment. 

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Unusable Wedding Toast #1: Textses From Your Exes

On this happy occasion of John' and Abbi's wedding, we all have this one chance to congratulate them on their good sense in finding each other, and then, making it work.  We all have stories to share about John and Abbi, great, fun experiences we've shared.  I was curious, though, about those not with us today, who years ago knew our happy couple best.  I'm referring to their exes.

It was tough work, getting these names.  Neither one will offer up much dirt on ex-boyfriends and -girlfriends, they are just too frickin' happy to care about what didn't work out in the past.  So, I was forced to take over several bottles of Captain Morgan and our friend Adam, to get the happy couple talking about when they were less happy.  You don't remember this night, guys?  Well, neither do I, not really, but in the morning, I had lists of names.  You both wrote down the names of your exes on cocktail napkins.  I used the back of a postage stamp, and Adam filled several toilet paper rolls, single-spaced, writing on both sides.  With the miracle of facebook, I hunted down your exes for their congratulations.  And here is what they had to say:

Alicia:  "I can't believe John is getting married.  Finally!  I thought he would never commit.  I guess that just means he couldn't commit... to me."

Pedro:  "Abbi was the light of my life, star of my nights, sun of my days.  I will miss her forever, and wreck her marriage if given half the chance.  So... do you have her number?"

Jane:  "I thought John and I were perfect together.  He didn't think so, obviously.  He just took my heart and my record player and hit the road after three glorious days and nights.  I still miss that record player."

Brad Pitt:  "Abbi's getting married?  Shit."

Cameron:  "I think I was John's first boyfriend.  I'm pretty sure I was.  Except, he didn't know I was a boy.  I went by Candace back then."

???:  "It was a night of passion and then it was over, Abbi was gone.  I have never forgotten her.  Does she ever mention me?"

Pedro:  "So, seriously.  Do you have her number?"

Shannon:  "John is the best boyfriend I ever had.  I still love him, but I know he was looking for somebody else.  He was looking for Abbi.  I'm glad they found each other.  Mostly glad."

Leah:  "Congrats, John  and Abbi!  I was John's first girlfriend back in sixth grade.  It was great the two weeks it lasted, but I knew we wouldn't stay together."


So, let's all raise our glasses to John and Abbi!  You found the loves of your lives, and you could have done MUCH worse!  Love to you both!

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

...And the Business of Books

And doesn't everyone who loves books secretly want to write one of their own?  I have read so many books that I am now the worst kind of critic.  If a book bores me quickly, I will toss it aside.  And I have literally thrown a few, like "The Da Vinci Code."  I hated that book, which puts me into a minority, I know.  After throwing a blah book aside, I've many times had the thought, "I could do better."

So, I tried to.  My first novel, "Lights in a Black Forest," has been read in its entirety or in pieces by many friends.  No one hated it.  Brandon and Kyle made suggestions, Christine corrected my German text, but everyone who read it, thought it was good, and publishable.  Even one literary agent who liked it, but didn't love it with the requisite fervor required of an agent who handles only a few books per year, said she had no suggestions to make.  There was nothing to fix.  The book should be publishable. 

Two years later, however, I cannot find a publisher or agent.  The book industry is changing, publishing houses are closing, agents are struggling to make a living as consumers move away from print copies and toward ebooks.  This had me completely bummed, until three people intervened to make me see that what I perceived as a hurdle was instead an opportunity.  John and Trey both suggested selling my book online as an ebook, Trey even sent me the link on how to do this.  A few weeks ago, Ed told me of the seven largest publishing houses, four were expected to close soon, leaving three.  The head of  Warner Books has moved to Amazon to handle their online book print business. 

And so, ebooks it is.  I spent this morning looking around Amazon at how to self publish, and worked on designing a rudimentary book cover, which I need to show Becky for help and advice.  And now, I am pumped.  I can sell ebooks and also use a Create Space site to make print copies, meaning I can have book signings at area businesses willing to host me.  I can give my book as gifts.  And, the lack of an agent or publisher will mean less help, but also more control over my final product.  My book is my baby.  I hope it does well in the world.  I hope people other than my friends like it. 

We shall see, very soon.


When the girls were small, we used to read chapters each night, all curled up on my bed. I read aloud from the Great Brain series by John D. Fitzgerald, the Narnia books by C.S. Lewis, and first four Harry Potter books.  After Cedric died at the end of "Goblet of Fire," I thought those books were growing faster than my girls were, and worried they would get nightmares reading the rest.  We read the Series of Unfortunate Events, and some excellent stand alone books, like the "Phantom Tollbooth" and "Nurse Mathilda." 

For a few years, after they had outgrown the age of being read to (I thought!), the girls did not seek out books on their own.  And that worried me.  They played the Sims, excelled at board games, and made movies on our PC.  But, they didn't read half as much as I did as a girl, with fewer distractions than kids have now.  But, eventually, they rediscovered reading.  On her own, Cathy read Gregory Maguire and Rachel Cohn.  Sarah liked manga for a few years, and then found Margaret Peterson Haddix and other authors she enjoys so much, she reads non-stop until the book is done.

What a relief, as a parent and lifelong reader, that my kids will be readers, too, even without Mom there to narrate the stories.  But, that nightly tradition has made a resurgence, too.  About six months ago, when Cathy was sick, she wanted nothing more than for me to read the Mrs. Piggle Wiggle books aloud, and change the names of all the children characters to Dylan.  Last week, I read the children's book "I Love You Forever" to Sarah, and she cannot stop referencing it.  Her favorite part is when the mother of her grown son drives across town with a ladder on her car and breaks into his home to cuddle him when he is sleeping.  So, Sarah and I will text each other:  "I'll love you forever, I'll like you for always, When you are grown, I will break into your home Macgyver-style with only a ladder and some chewing gum." 

And this fall, I have one reading goal and I hope we can make it happen, despite Sarah's cross country and Cathy's basketball cheerleading.  There is a book titled "The 13 1/2 Lives of Captain Bluebear", which is 700 pages long, but full of adventures, like Minipirates and dragons.  I want to read this to the girls like we used to, a few pages a night on Mom's bed, like midnight travelers on our own little raft, which sets sail on the first page, and takes us whereever the book does. 

Which is what books are supposed to do. 

Friday, May 27, 2011

Things Undone and Things to Do

After five years at HPB (she just got her anniversary pin!), Leah is leaving us for a library directorship in Montana.  I am happy for her, as she has wanted a job which better uses her degree for ages, and also to move back home, to the nine month long winters with neighbors five miles down the road.  It's not my dream, but it's hers, so I commend her for achieving it.  BUT, before she goes, we have to do one thing together, something we've talked about doing for years and I've always chickened out.  We are going to sing.  At a karaoke bar.  Leah can sing and does it well.  I can't.

But, I don't want this idea of us singing together, or better yet, of Leah singing with me playing air guitar in background (t'would be much funnier), to simply never happen.  For everything I accomplish, I have more things I want to, and don't.  I wanted to join roller derby, but really can't skate anymore worth a darn.  I wanted to go to Germany, but that partly depends on the largesse of my oldest brother, who is preoccupied lately with going to Aruba, or perhaps Juarez (see previous blog).  I did see the Pacific last summer with Christine and Darren, and plan on going to California for the first time with Beck this summer.  I have written a book and now have plans on how to publish it. 

So, I'm going to sing karaoke, after drinking enough to fortify myself, and check that off my list.  I am also going to be a bridesmaid next spring, and am already writing out toasts for the bride and groom.  Some are unusable, like my story about how the happy couple met on eharmony, and are so lucky.  I was less lucky,  met a guy on eharmony with a soundproof room in his basement, manacles on the wall, and a gimp suit which didn't look exactly empty.  Just kidding, actually the soundproof room was for sound editing and the man was very nice.  But, my version sounds better, doesn't it?  Just perhaps not good for a mixed crowd at the reception.  So, my gift to Abbi and John will be a book of unusable wedding toasts and I have a year to come up with this (about the length of a Montana winter.  Hmmm).  I will not leave this undone. 

I guess that my dreams and list of things to do keeps changing is not a bad sign, just that life itself changes, sometimes the people in our lives change as they move on, or we do.  Celebrating the moment is the thing, whether with a beer in my hand at a karaoke bar, or a glass of champagne at a wedding reception.  I can't wait. 

Friday, May 20, 2011

Thirteen Reasons Why Not

Last week, I took home to Sarah a book I had heard Clare talking about at work.  It's a young adult novel, titled "Th1rteen R3easons Why", about a young woman who commits suicide, but leaves thirteen cassette tapes listing her reasons to a friend.  Sarah loved the book, read it in two days.  And then, on Tuesday, another boy at MVHS committed suicide, the third in five months. 

So, today's blog lists my reasons, thirteen in homage to the book NOT to commit suicide.  This blog is for all the kids in my life, my own and those I borrow to fill my house with fun and surprises.  Don't do it.

1)  YOU'LL MISS YOUR OWN PARTY.  I think sometimes kids have a strange notion of time and permanence.  I believe most kids who do something impulsive want more than anything to hear the outpouring of love which happens at their funerals, and then somehow undo the suicide and return to a world which finally appreciates them.  It doesn't work that way.  You won't be there, and you won't come back.

2) LIFE GETS BETTER.  It truly does, though whether it's because as adults, we have more freedom than you do to make our own mistakes and suffer the consequences, or because the raging hormones settle down enough to make the pains we suffer hurt less, I have no idea.  But, life does get better.  Just wait it out.

3) TIME HEALS ALL PAIN.  Whatever seems so dire right now, won't be so bad next year, or even next week.  Friends come into your lives, frienemies leave it.  You will change teachers, and maybe even schools.  A bad grade or a bad breakup can be all you think about for a few days, but it will get better.

4) YOU WILL NEVER KNOW WHAT YOU MISSED.  You won't know who had a secret crush on you, who was going to ask you on a date or to meet his parents.  You won't have the great teacher all the older kids are talking about and see why they do. 

5)  YOU WILL MISS OUT ON THE BEST PARTS OF YOUR LIFE:  proposing to the one you love, or accepting that proposal, saying hello to the baby you've felt kick around inside for nine months, watching the SOLD sign planted in the yard of the first house you buy, taking care of your parents as they age, and feeling life come full circle. 

6) NO ONE CAN EVER REPLACE YOU.  Because you are special.  There will never be another you, no one even close to being like you.  Even your siblings are not copies of you.  No one can tell jokes like you do, can draw like you do, can give hugs like you.  No one.

7) NOT EVERYTHING IS YOUR FAULT.  Bad things happen in the lives of kids, and it can be hard to make sense of things.  But, for every bad event you've suffered, I bet I know an adult who has gone through the exact same thing.  Maybe not the combination of tragedies, because your life is your own, but most adults have also suffered, learned from it, and grown into empathetic people who love others. Just because bad things have happened to you, that doesn't mean you deserve bad things.  The pendulum will swing the other way and you will be happy again. 

8) MOST PEOPLE THINK ABOUT IT AT SOME POINT.  And they don't go through with it.  If you have thought about it, don't be ashamed. Just find someone to talk to and tell how you are feeling.  Like I wrote in #7, there is someone in your life who will know exactly how you feel.

9) "YOUR LIFE IS NOT YOUR OWN."  I give this speech to everyone now.  It's something I just learned myself a few years back, but it resonates although it was hard learned.  You don't own your life.  You belong to everyone who loves you, who would be heartbroken if anything happened to you. 

10) ALL THE GOOD IN LIFE OUTWEIGHS THE BAD.  Make a list of everything about this world that you love, from blooming flowers, to driving fast with your windows down, to your favorite foods, to getting a funny text in class, to your favorite band, and so on.  You don't take that stuff with you.

11) IT COULD BE CLINICAL.  If you are sad, and nothing makes you feel better, ever, then it might be time to ask a doctor why.  Sometimes our brains let us down, stop producing certain chemicals we need to judge situations correctly, and let happy things make us happy.  There is no shame in getting prescribed help if we need it, no more shame in that than in the shots I take every day to stay alive.  Doctors are here to help.

12) SO DON'T DO IT.  Don't let the last decision of your life be the worst one you ever made.

13) BECAUSE I LOVE YOU.  If you are getting this blog on your page as a link, I think you are special.  You may not need this intervention, but everyone needs to be told they are loved, especially my girls and their posse of friends.  I always thought I would have a big family, and I did get one.  You are part of that family.  Don't do anything stupid. 

Love, Mom

Friday, May 13, 2011

Books and Why I Love Them

Four years and one week ago, I started work at HPB.  My first real job was working in a bookstore, my first (and only) business owned was a bookstore, and working with books is my favorite way to make money, especially working with used, old, dusty books. 

These books have stories all their own.  Some hundred year old Bibles arrive at our store with names inscribed inside, gifts from those long dead to others now dead, too.  Some have old photos stuck between the pages, or flowers picked a half century ago and pressed inside.  Some are rare and valuable, with provenance, like those owned by Clara Barton and gifted to a Jones County resident and Red Cross founder. Some are chewed and drooled upon baby books.  We have found many cards and letters inside books, some love letters.  Once, I found a long letter from a husband to his wife:  "I tried everything.  Why don't you love me?"  I tore it up.  The wife had not cared enough to keep it, and the man's secrets should be his own.  Poor guy.

And, then, there is the timing and luck involved in finding the right book at the right moment.  I blogged a few months back about finding "There Are No Accidents" on a clearance shelf in Minnesota, the first place I went to on our Thanksgiving vacation, after wanting to buy a copy in Iowa, and letting that copy go. I was meant to have that book.  It made me think long and hard about why things happen, why I do things, and what the possible meaning could have been in writing into my novel the names and characteristics of many people I did not know at the time of writing, but met later.  My friend Z was especially nailed, down to place of employment and city where his mom lives, maybe why I feel so protective of him, like I made him with words.

So, I meant to write this blog last week, on my actual four year anniversary, about how (most days) I love my job, how I love the books themselves, and love the autonomy of deciding if Tibet goes on the China shelf or in "Other Asian Countries".  (I opt for Other Countries.)  I find it amusing to receive a call, like this morning, from a customer at 8:10 in the morning frantically needing a book on how to make your own chain mail.  At 8:10, in the morning, a pressing need for chain mail. 

But, last week on my four year anniversary, I was distracted.  My earlier blogs about finding love when I wasn't looking for it will not be deleted, just because that love ended sooner and more badly than I imagined.  It was, however, highly distracting all week, as I pondered the whys and wondered what the meaning of it all could have been.  And then... at power hour, when we all work to empty stacks of books into our cubes in record time, I grabbed one off the counter.  It was "Everything Happens For A Reason."  I looked up.  Seriously, God?  Again? 

I took it home, started reading with skepticism.  When the author wrote we all are given hurdles to overcome as a growing experience, I raised my eyebrows.  What about the Holocaust? I wanted to ask the author.  What did those who died learn from that?  On the next page, were the words, "As a Holcaust survivor..."  And my cynicism failed me.  The lessons I can learn from every event which does not seem to go my way, according to this book, can be summed up as opportunities to make us happier people who understand our purpose in the world.  I think I am pretty happy, because I don't need stuff, or people, or events to make me happy.  I try to make others as happy as I am.  But, as for my purpose in the world... 

Well, maybe that is not to be a half of a couple.  I'm starting to think that is not my purpose in the world, as good as I am at being a girlfriend and wife.  Maybe, it's just to make sense of things for myself first, and then to share what I've learned with others.  And I do this best with fiction.  So, maybe the lesson from my recent heartbreak is just to encapsulate all the good from that into fiction, and write my little heart out, and then, not to give up getting my work published. 

I want my dusty books on shelves in HPB one day.  Love to my friends, and thank you, Melinda for lunch today and listening to my theory about this book.  It helped me think through quite a bit. 

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Mom's Day

My first illustrated blog, told with pics and rambly captions, instead of rambly musings. 

My first Mom's Day gifts arrived last Wednesday:  silk flowers, Dove chocolates, body lotion from Linz, picked flowers from Cath, Sarah, and Spencer, and notes from Matt and Trid.  Linz shared a story, about how she texted Sarah asking what smells of lotion I would like.  Sarah responded "dogs and boys".  Linz chose a flower scent instead; Bath & Bodyworks were all out of dog and boy smells.

 On Mother's Day itself, I had breakfast with my fambly.  Mark shared a funny story about how he had the option with Homeland Security to transfer to someplace amazing, like Aruba, but only if he takes whatever they give him at the end of his stay in Aruba.  He might well end up in some warzone bordertown like El Paso, across from Juarez.  He could also transfer to DC, and then end up in Juarez.  Loren says all roads lead to Juarez.  I say all roads lead to my house.

Karl thinks the Detroit Lions are a shoe-in for this year's Super Bowl.  Heh heh heh heh.  Still laughing.  He is such a dreamer. 

Most of the family went up to Mount Vernon's Chalk the Walk, where I took great pictures of my best friend Becky, who is an amazing artist, as well as Cathy's friend Matisse.  Cathy was originally supposed to be chalking the walk with Matisse, but ended up going with her dad this weekend, instead.  This made me very sad, even when I picked the girls up, until...

Cathy and Trid surprised me with a Mother's Day cookie!  The nicest surprise was that, despite going to see her dad this past weekend, Cathy and Trid had been plotting my Mother's Day gift for days.  I even got to pull out old baby photos to show Trid.  That is every mom's dream. 

So, after some bad moments with Cathy, when both our feelings were hurt, mine because I had felt forgotten by my girls, Cathy because she is not the type to forget holidays and thought I should know her by now, the night ended really well, with my mothering instincts guiding me through a bad situation, and Cathy's emerging maturity allowing her to move on and end the day on a good note, camping outside.  Though just barely outside.  And then we got cold and came in.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

What Didn't Go Wrong This Week

Many things went wrong this week, so many things it began to feel surreal. 

My beloved, six speed, cherry red riding mower got a flat tire, which wobbled on the rim until I got it back into the garage.  The printer ran out of ink at a critical moment, and when I tried to print out fifty pages of my book for a literary agent interested in seeing more.  I dropped and broke my glasses at Trey's house, and although he offered to fix them, I was too blue to try.  I've rocked the nerd tape before on broken glasses, and I wasn't sure super glue would fix something which slides down my nose a hundred times a day.  I burned my hand pulling cookies out of the oven.  Abbi and I locked ourselves out of her house, and after circling her home, decided I should pull myself up and through her living room window.  We got back inside, but I showed off my least favorite side to Abbi and whomever else was watching, as my bum teetered on the windowsill and my legs dangled.  Becky came over and drove her son's moped, which my dog may or may not have knocked over, and it would not restart for us, so we wheeled it into the garage next to my broken mower.

But...  This was also the week I ran the first race of my life, two years after my first episode of singular sclerosis, which unfortunately multiplied and was aptly renamed last fall.  I ran the Drake Off the Roads 8k (5 miles) in 52 minutes, a respectable time.  I had an agent respond favorably to my query letter, and sent off some pages.  Becky's moped restarted, my mower will be fixed, my hand will heal, and Abbi and I got back into her home, me with the knowledge that I can lift my own weight. 

Everyone has down days, and I had my share this week.  But, the highs were so great, I think these will be what I remember.  And in the lives of others, Sarah will remember this is the week she painted Harold with his purple crayon on our basement wall.  Trey will remember his niece's prom march.  Abbi will remember a doppelganger boy cat coming to stay, until she saw his testicles, which meant he was not her Chloe come back home.  Cathy will remember her stay with the Griefs in their cabin. 

And so it goes.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Cathy's Muted Rebellion

So, on Easter Sunday, after the awesome green hair/purple hair worn by my daughter and my pastor, we came home to our Easter baskets.  There were no surprises there, for those readers who do not know, I must confess that I am the Easter Bunny.  At least in my house, I am.  I am rarely surprised by what goes on there, but Sunday was a day for surprises. 

"Mom, you're in a good mood now, right?" Cathy asked.  This is never a good sign.  My good moods rarely last after bad news, like that she wants another piercing, or that she fed our dog the lunch I packed for work, or whatever it may be.  But, she was so excited, and when she pulled me by the hand and asked me not to get mad, I tried not to.  She had been hiding something from me, something small and alive, under her bed.  His name is Kid Cuddy.  He is a hermit crab.  He had been living in our house since January.

Cathy thought it would be great fun and rebellious to buy a hermit crab, buy him a carrying case so she could take him places with her, like on walks, feed him and clean his cage every night after I went to bed, and see how long the secret could last.  "I'm such a rebel," she kept saying, with pride, as she recounted her elaborate deception, and which of her friends found out about Kid Cuddy, and when she had told them, and so on. 

And then, she asked me to blog about this.  Usually, I am asked NOT to blog about things, because my girls find stories about them embarrassing.  This time, she was so proud she pulled one over on me, she wanted the world to know.  I don't mind sharing that I knew nothing about the crab under her bed.  I'm just glad it wasn't a hobo. 

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Easter Blessings

The girls and I went to church this morning, for the sunrise service at Linn Grove Presbyterian Church, a tiny 150 year old church a few miles up the road from us.  Linn Grove is the sister parish of our old church in Springville, which we loved so much that we never transferred to a Mount Vernon parish, but could not get our act together on Sundays to continue attending as we should have.  The two churches share a pastor, Karen Downey-Beals, who spent one memorable Christmas with us, when I thought we should all take turns reading "A Christmas Carol" by Dickens.  It was the worst holiday idea I ever had, but was saved by us giving up on the book, and playing a shared story game instead.  Sarah had just learned to write the word "poop", so it was the only word she wrote in the pages passed to her.  Once, Karen also wrote "poop", in solidarity with Sarah.  Beautiful. 

We wore, as people do, our favorite and most appropriate Easter clothes.  I chose a pink dress, white sweater and heels.  Very conservative.  Cathy wore a dress, black tights and a shiny blue lip ring.  Less conservative.  And Sarah wore a dress she made last year with Grandma Hartelt, over skinny jeans, her winter boots, and the hair she dyed green two days ago.  Much less conservative.  Kind of edgy, actually, but she looked pretty and had no holes in her clothes, so off we went.  Driving there, I thought about how Sarah has started questioning her faith and where in the world there is a place for her.  She thinks of church, with its mostly conservatively attired and mannerly congregation, as being no place for her.  Imagine all of our surprise to arrive at church and find that Pastor Karen had dyed her hair purple, in solidarity with all those kids in the world who want to stand out and be different.  There was another girl there, with purple hair cut short (the night before, we learned).  And Sarah.  Pastor Karen didn't know Sarah's hair was green, didn't even know we would make it.  And, yet, there she was, in all her glory, absolutely beautiful in purple hair. 

(The other little miracle of today was when I remembered our other association with Linn Grove.  Cathy did a project on it historic place in our community, complete with video tour.  A week later, the church was robbed, and many of its heirloom possessions gone forever.  The church caretakers had no proof even of the existence of the silver and the safe, and so on, except for Cathy's video.  Insurance ponied up, and the little church got back, not its treasures, but compensation to buy new ones.) 

Sometimes, the miracle is in the timing.  And for a miracle in the form of hair dye to occur on this, most holiest of days, made me smile all day.  If I could have, I would have totally high fived God.  And if He works in mysterious ways, like hair dye, He might've high fived me back. 

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Ms. Versatility

So, Giselle nominated me for Versatile Blogger award.  Yay and congrats to Giselle for being nominated first, after your very first blog!  Here is my cool pic:

I am going to follow the Versatile Blogger directions and tell 10 things about myself and nominate some of my favorite bloggers. 

1.  I have two beautiful daughters, who bought new bike helmets tonight at Target.  They chose matching kitty cat helmets, one in blue and the other purple.  Very cute.  : )

2.  We also bought oodles of crafts at Hobby Lobby tonight, including cloth for Sarah's quilt and Trey's, prompting the text exchange with Trey over how long it actually takes me to finish a quilt, according to Cathy.  "Years," I admitted, at least according to Cathy.  I think it took a year for me to finish her most recent quilt, with help from my mom after my machine pooped out.  Which brings me to...

3.  I take on too much and it takes me a long time to finish half started remodeling projects, books, crafts, etc.  I work fast once I start, but am distracted by #1, my two beautiful and very busy daughters.

4.  I also get excited by many different things, too much for one person to have time to do well.  In the past year, I've wanted to run a half marathon, join roller derby, join bike rides with Lisa W., finish my four quilts for which I have fabric, and learn German...

5.  I want to learn German so I can read in German, travel there someday (soon?) and read Faust in German, so I can understand the meaning of life.  I dislike the sound of French spoken aloud, think it sounds like people lying, but really love sound of German voices, perhaps because...

6.  I am half German, have German citizenship through my dad, and wrote a book based on his early life and his last years, what he may have remembered as he was forgetting everything else.

7.  To be fair to my Norwegian and Irish hybrid mom, who is thoroughly American except for her love of lutefisk and lefse, I am researching pioneers, Norwegian and Irish immigrants, and the train business in the 19th century to write a book for my mom.  This one is not a sad mystery, like my dad's book.  For my mom, I am writing a love story. 

8.  And who better to inspire a love story than my amazing new boyfriend?  Life is full of surprises.  At different times in recent years, I've thought of wanting to have a loving relationship like something I should get over, like a ten year old who did not receive that pony for her birthday.  If I could get past wanting that, maybe I would be happy with everything else I have in life.  I did kind of get past actively looking for someone, maybe because the right person (Trey) was just around the corner. 

9.  For years, I've thought of having a new person in my life as having someone with whom I could be as close as I am to my family, someone who would get along well with them, and someone who I could trust to do the right thing even if no one is watching.  I have four brothers and one sister, whom I love very much. 

10. I like blogging, obviously, about my family, daughters, boyfriend, dog, and everything else which occurs to me. 

My favorite blogs to read:




Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Monsters, Seen and Unseen

Last night, there was an automated call to my cell phone from the local superintendent.  She informed parents that a ninth grade student had died yesterday, name and details withheld for now, and events would be cancelled for the night.  More information would be forthcoming. 

This was eerily reminiscent of another call, five months ago, when Cathy's friend Jake died by choice, hanging himself in the boys' bathroom at school.  Sure enough, more information was shared, the ninth grader was revealed to be a small boy named Tyler, and he committed suicide.  It's Mount Vernon's second suicide in less than six months. 

As a parent, I am heartbroken for his family, scared of copycat deaths in the school, worried for my daughters, and at a loss as to WHY??  As a former teenager, I remember all too well WHY, how dire life seems, how clueless parents and teachers and peers can be, as I hid the animals within, those monsters of fear, self doubt and nameless, limitless emotion.  I wish I could tell every teenager that life WILL get better, just hang on and wait it out. I can start with my two, and hope they believe me.

Because life does get better.  Even when it is hard in ways we cannot fathom as a kid, we adults have learned tools the children do not have.  We understand that we were not the first people to walk this earth and love, and lose those loved, and eventually, to die.  We share this world and become more tolerant as we age, because we have met more of those people whose space we share. 

Another hidden monster, no less scary and dangerous than teen angst, are those hidden diseases which come out and throw our adult lives into chaos.  As all my readers know, last fall after I went blind, the neurologists diagnosed me with multiple sclerosis (many scars).  It was probable before that episode; after it, it was definite.  This is a scary, scary MonSter. 

But, I am not ready to die.  Knowing that I can, and will, has been the strangest gift of my life, to value life each day until it's gone.  I wish I could tell this to Jake and Tyler, wish they had known my girls well enough to be welcome guests in our home.  I wish...

Recently, I made a new friend.  Life is all about connecting and being surprised by beauties and sorrows.  Giselle, my brave friend, has written about her struggles with the MonSter.  I want to encourage my few readers to check out Gislle's blog as well, now listed on my page to the right.  Her monster comes out much more often than mine, but she is dealing with it. 

I wish those little boys had known their monsters were not unique, and others could have helped them fight them off, or wait them out. 

Very, very blue today. 

Monday, April 4, 2011

Conversation Pieces

In our house, the girls and I have lots of stuff with stories.  We have a magic 8 ball bathroom scale, which no longer gives you the correct weight, but gives up a good guess every time you shake it.  Our weight veers from a pound up to 400. We could throw it out, but why?  It's funny, and our clothes tell us when we are gaining weight, anyway.

In our car, we have the next to last Mimzy.  It was passed out among other Mimzys after Sarah and her friend Hannah went to see "Meet the Robinsons."  Sarah did not get the last Mimzy, we think Hannah did, so ours must be the next to last one.  Still, a very special childhood souvenier.  And maybe magical as well.

We collect plates and china, nothing valuable, but fun and interesting to us.  I love Smurf and Care Bears glasses; too bad they break so easily anymore.  We also collect interesting china plates, most from my dad's province of Upper Silesia, others from around the world.  I have a plate stamped on its back with "Made in American Occupied Japan."  It must have been made soon after the war and traveled to Iowa, where I bought it.  It might be the last intact plate of a set, with a story all its own. 

Then, there are all those stories we carry with us, to haul out and dust off and share with someone new.  Trey and I spent a great weekend with some of my family and, just as importantly, with each other.  There were things I learned about him, when he lived where and how his life progressed to bring him to the Midwest and to me.  And, I know he learned alot about me, as I chatted with family and shared nuggets of funny and a few things more sad than funny. 

And that's the thing about conversation pieces, and the stories we share.  We all have items and moments from our pasts to share, but they are useless without someone to share them with.  Most of this past weekend, I kept thinking, "I am completely happy right now.  There is nothing I would rather be doing, and no one I would rather be with than Trey at this moment."

If anyone reading this weighs himself (herself) at our house, do not be alarmed.  If you are in my car and see a small cloth bunny staring at you, do not make direct eye contact.  Please don't break our oddball china collection, but if you do, we then have the joy of shopping for more mismatched pieces.  If you come over and ask about the weird things we own, both tangible and remembered, we will tell you.  If you ask my girls, though, they might just make something up. They are conversation generators all on their own. 

Monday, March 28, 2011

Sleeping Dogs

Every morning, we follow the same routine at my house.  I wake up first, let Gonzo out, let Gonzo in, and feed all the animals.  I eat my breakfast at the computer, make the girls theirs, and drive them to school on the days I work later.  Right now, Cathy is simultaneously having pancakes and getting ready for school.  Gonzo is behind me, full of food and empty of...yesterday's food.

So, when I was feeding Gonzo today, I was petting him as he ate and thinking what a special dog that he lets me do this.  Some dogs don't like anyone near the food bowl when they are eating.  I have even reached into Gonzo's mouth on occasion and retrieved something he should not have picked up.  He lets me, because he trusts me.  Even when he was hit by the car and his hips were broken, he let Wayne and I pick him up in a blanket and never barked or bit anyone, just seemed to know we were trying to help.  Because he trusts people.  And he's never had reason not to.  He has been loved and spoiled from day one, needing only to look at us to communicate his needs.  Abused dogs learn to fight back, to nip and growl, and attack figures who remind them of past abusers.

People also do this.  We all learn from past experiences and relationships; these can change our behavior forever.  We may not bite, but we pull back, withdraw, and find it hard to trust.  We follow, worried our owners will abandon us, if we've been abandoned in the past.  Sometimes, people behavior can seem crazy, to others and sometimes to ourselves, but it's never really crazy if we just put ourselves in the other person's shoes.  There is always a story that makes sense of what we are doing and why.  And if we can reach out and touch with love a poor dog who didn't deserve his bad life, we can do the same for each other, and maybe help bring about change.  Even shelter dogs can change, if they are loved.  People can, too. 

That gives me hope, for myself and for the people I know who deserve to be loved, but don't think they do.  My own personal issue is having difficulty talking when I am upset, about what has upset me, to the people with whom I am upset.  It got better this weekend, though I have a long way to go before I am as trusting and loving as Gonzo.  Can I just say again, what a wonderful dog he is?  : )

Friday, March 18, 2011

Nuggets of Funny

Okay, only two things to share tonight. 

The first is my favorite quote this week, which could have ended up in a "White Noise" redux blog, but was hands down the best thing heard all week, and so stands alone:  "Stop running!  My pants are falling down!  I repeat, my pants are falling down!   This is not a drill!"

And, the funniest suggestion all week was made by my baby brother Loren tonight, after another riotous night with family.  He is planning to make a facebook page for my childhood imaginary friend.  So, if I am suddenly in an open relationship with a Prince Jellygonda, of King Chapel, Mount Vernon, (occupation: Prince, contact info:  wish into a well and he can hear you), I hope all friends understand, even my grown up man friends.  I am a teensy bit embarrassed at the prospect of sharing my imaginary friend with the world, but am touched that my family remembers my obsession with a longago love I insisted was REAL.  I still remember wishing others could see him the way I could.  And now, on facebook, they will.  : )

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Peas in a Pod

When I was a teenager, my Aunt Gerdi once looked at me and then at my brother.  "You two look so much alike, it isn't even funny," she told me.  I wasn't laughing.  It isn't funny, to grow up as the less pretty version of my brother Karl.  And yet, I wouldn't choose to look like anyone else.

In a family of six kids, I am the shortest and least photogenic.  My brothers are so good looking that when my friend Jeff D first met them, he kept looking from them to me, and saying, "But, they are model gorgeous."  I could tell he was trying to figure out where I came from.  Meanwhile, I was trying to figure out if my handsome brothers had turned him, and Jeff's upcoming drag show debut is for more than fun.  But, I do look like them, especially Karl.  My eyes are blue, his eyes are unnaturally blue, like those aliens in "Dune." 

We all laugh the same.  We kick each other to shut each other up.  We grab our stomachs and laugh silently, what my nephew Peter calls our "bullet dodge" laughter.  We laugh until we cry, at jokes no one else really understands or finds amusing.  "What do you get when you cross a dog eating baby with a 90 year old with leprosy?"  "Seven fingers."  See?  Makes no sense whatsoever.  Neither does "Aunt Erni basement rot" or the song we sing when Mark comes home for Christmas, "Carmelkorn, Carmelkorn, Mark, Mark, Mark."  My sister in law Katie fits right in, with her "It's all right to be angwy, Ewik." 

So, looking alike is only part of what draws us together as a family; what really are the ties that bind are all those inside jokes and stories, and shared sucky memories.  If I could change my appearance or fight off age with Botox and cheek implants and all the rest, I still wouldn't.  Because then, I wouldn't look like the people I love most.  I can settle for being the ugly duckling in a beautiful flock, because I love my flock more than anyone. 

Monday, February 28, 2011

My Moment

This was perhaps the worst Oscars in recent years.  The jokes were awful, Anne Hathaway changed her dress during each cutaway, James Franco called the technical awards winners "nerds" and even if that joke was written for him by a fourth grader, he shouldn't have said it.  I saw the fewest nominated films in years, but still, the girls wanted to go to the Bijou in Iowa City and watch the telecast on the big screen, so we went. 

Surrounded by college student film buffs shouting out answers to the Oscar trivia contests which went on during each commercial break, the girls wanted a poster.  Last year, my kids cleaned up, winning free movie tickets and posters.  They correctly guessed many of the categories, having seen the shorts, all the animated, and some of the films nominated for acting.  This year, we were empty handed until...

"Which film won for makeup in 1981?  It won the first Oscar for makeup?  Anyone?  Bueller?"

Crickets chirped.  The college kids were stumped.  My own kids slid down in their chairs as I tentatively called out, "An American Werewolf in London?"  and won a poster for Lindsay.  I wanted to make a speech, about how I owed this poster to my ex-husband, who was the real horror movie buff, and I wanted to thank the Academy, and the student board who runs the Bijou, and wanted to thank my parents, but I looked at my teenagers, embarrassed that their mom had even spoken (my role now is to chauffeur and only to chauffeur) and sat back down.  Still, it feels good to win on Oscar night.  : )

Thursday, February 24, 2011

White Noise: This Week's Heard and Observed

"So, I'm trying to suggest the most white trash names possible for my friend's baby.  I thought Sherry Shasta.  Or Booyah."  "What about Whiskey Bliss?  Allthatandabagofchips?"

"Homework later!  Ghosthunting now!"

A personalized ringtone goes off, Michael Bolton's "How Am I Supposed To Live Without You?"  The woman answering her cell says, "YEAH?  What do YOU want?"

"I want a pocketful of ramekins.  Let's steal these."

"Do we have time for a ferret run?"  "There's always time for a ferret run."

"MOM!  That mouse isn't moving in its cage.  Smack it around a little."

"So, I have a new game.  I calm myself by lying, like this:   My eyebrows grew like caterpillars and then crawled around my face.  I was hungry so I ate a whale.  It was good." 

"I love the fact that you aren't like normal women.  I just think it's cute that you don't care how you look to other people."

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Linz, a Blog for You

The blog for Gonzo was started earlier this week, halted when Sarah needed on the computer for schoolwork, and just finished.  In the meantime, however, Lindsay also asked for a blog of her own and I had to admit, it's about time.  When I wrote the S&*t My Kids Say blog, I ended part one saying only two kids in the world call me Mom.  Linz pointed out that is not true; she calls me Mom, too. 

In January, Linz moved into Cathy's top bunk.  They went shopping for ways to organize and separate their stuff in Cath's room and happily settled into a routine.  They share with Sarah all the things they all want to use, like downstairs tv and computer.  Linz drives the girls to school most days, on her way to her own school.  They experiment with cooking, as Cath and Sarah have done for years.  It's a new experience for Cath, sharing her home full time with a friend, but she's doing really well with it.  And, of all Cathy's friends, Linz has probably joined us at more family events.  She's gone on our family canoe trips, gone to a family wedding reception, gone with us to stay with Uncle Kirk and go shopping in MN.  She went with us to the Oscar shorts last year, and the Oscars party at the Bijou, where she wore a huge black afro wig, and we had to sit in the back so we didn't block anyone's view of the theatre screen. 

Earlier this week, Linz said something I could have included on the S*&t My Kids Say blog, had I written it now instead of a month ago.  After watching Inception with me, she said, "If there was an Oscar category for most confusing screenplay, Inception would be the winner and only nominee."  I laughed over that for a day.  If she didn't live with us, I wouldn't get those awesome moments of pure funny, and I think that's what some parents don't realize about having kids.  It's work, but it's not just work.  It's an opportunity, to be a part of their lives. 

I'm so lucky to have Cathy and Sarah, and for a little while longer, Linz.  And, to all the kids who might trek through our house in a given week:  Matisse, Darrow, the Spencers, Kenny, Taylor, Cece, Kyra, Kiyaya, Lexi, and, of course, Matt, thanks for coming over and being part of our family, before you go back to your own.  My house will feel very quiet and empty when you have all moved onto college and homes of your own.  In the meantime, let me know who else wants a blog. 

Gonzo, the doggie lama

Okay, Darren.  We've had this argument before, about whose dog is the doggie lama.  Now, that I've met Bozwell, I can attest he is an amazing, beautiful dog. I might well believe he was the doggie lama, if I hadn't already known Gonzo, who is the doggie lama.  I have proof. 

So, we found our pup eleven years ago rolling in manure in a barn outside Wyoming, Iowa.  He was of indiscriminate breed and color.  What I thought was a wiry bush of brown fur revealed itself after a good bath to be silky black, curly when it's wet.  The breed is some mix of perhaps yellow lab and maybe cocker spaniel, but he's been called everything from a border collie to Australian sheepdog to springer spaniel.  It doesn't really matter what he is; it matters who he is, anyway.

Gonzo was twelve weeks old when we took him home, gentle and sweet, loved cats, which was a good thing.  Some of our cats have loved him.  Tiger used to lurk on the couch arm, waiting for him to pass below and then jump on his back and ride him.  Oggy and Jazz, as abandoned kittens, thought he was their mother and he would wash them.  When they tried to nurse, he looked at me in bewilderment, but even when they bit him, just got up and found another place to lay.  Butterscotch hated him, but Butterscotch hated everyone.  He let Cathy's parakeet hop all over his paws and back (we have pictures of this).  Once, at our old house, there was a baby bunny who tried to jump through our chain link fence and got caught up in the diamond links.  Baby bunnies scream when they are scared; Gonzo investigated, figured out what was wrong, and while we watched, he pushed the bunny through. 

He is pure love.  Anyone wanting an example of abject devotion needs only to go walk with us.  If I let loose of his chain, he will take a few steps alone and then come back to me.  If the girls take his leash and walk him and I get too far behind, he will lay flat on the sidewalk and try to army crawl his way back to me.  He won't pull or hurt the girls to return to me, but he won't take another step further away. 

He is a problem solver, thinks things through, and is full of love. For a dog to deny his instincts to give chase and hunt, and instead nurture smaller animals is almost unheard of.  So, sorry, Darren and Valerie.  Your dog is great, mine is better, at least to me.  Maybe that's how everyone feels about their dogs, but I never did about a dog until Gonz. 

Friday, February 11, 2011

Rock, Paper, Scissors

So, today's blog is all about money, or the idea of money.  Because, really, money is only an idea. 

I was out shopping with Sarah yesterday afternoon, because her newly acquired birthday money was burning a hole in her pocket.  I also had something to spend:  a Bath & Bodyworks coupon, to buy a certain dollar amount and receive more in merchandise free.  Anyone who knows me well knows how I love coupons.  I get my scissors out and basically make my own money, clipping away.  All those pieces of paper can be traded for stuff, or cash back. 

I once said to a friend how amazing it was that I could just trade a little piece of paper for stuff, meaning a coupon, and realized the same was true of money.  It has no value on its own; its only value is in the faith consumers have that a bill with a certain face denotes a certain value.  During failed economies, like the Weimar years, families would load up wheelbarrows full of cash to trade for one loaf of bread. 

So, here's where the rock comes in.  Recently, on NPR, a couple of economists were explaining exactly this:  the faith which propels our economy, not goods.  An island culture out in the Pacific (I forget which country), does not use cash.  They use rocks.  Unluckily for them, one especially huge and fine rock was being transported by boat to the island and fell into the ocean, where it sits on the ocean floor.  The islanders STILL use that rock as currency, because they will buy and sell ownership of it, knowing that it is there. 


Wednesday, February 2, 2011

John Henry vs. Machismo

  It's a good thing, living where I do, that I am extremely good at shoveling snow.  I've never owned a snowblower, never really wanted one, and get along just fine by shoveling myself out whenever it snows hard. 

At our old house, sometimes I would venture outside at the same time as our neighbor across the way, and after a wave, Don and I would race, whether he knew it or not.  He with his snowblower and I with my shovel, and we would tie working equal distance of the sidewalks around our corner houses.  Sometimes, I would even win.  I felt like John Henry, with my shovel. I never felt like a girl, outmanned by a snowblower. 

But, occasionally, I find myself outgunned by the good intentions of a few guys with their toys.  Today, for instance, Sarah and I were out shoveling, when up walks Justin N. with a shovel.  He figured we could use his help.  What a great kid, and so is Linz, who called him because she knew I wouldn't ask for help, but might need it, anyway.

Then, when I drove over to Ely with my trusty shovel to unstick Linz's car, I got in two minutes, before a red-cheeked man from across the street came over and waved me aside.  He had a snowblower.  He manfully tackled the waist-high drift created by the snowplow, before being waved aside by a younger man with a much bigger snowblower.  "Stand back, old man," said the boy.  The two men laughed and Linz and I just looked at each other over the guys' heads, standing helplessly by with our shovels, afraid to get in the way of this testosterone contest fought with snowblowers.  The winner was the guy who arrived next, with a skidloader, to easily move the pile of snow.

I totally could have gotten Linz's car free, just as I could have cleared my own driveway.  I don't know if it's the protective instinct among men to fix things for women and show off a little at the same time, what their cool toys can do.  It's very cute, really.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Sarah and Burglars, Part Two

The conversation between Sarah and myself, an hourish ago.  "Mom, I've been hiding something from you."  "What is it, honey?"  "It's your purse." 

Darn jewel thief, anyway.  So, Mom's revenge is to blog this week about some of Sarah's best moments, in honor of her thirteenth birthday.  Enjoy, Sarahbee!

Her first grade open house was interesting.  All the first graders were asked to fill out a chart, with basic information about their favorite colors, animals, and so on.  Sarah eschewed the more popular pinks and blues in favor of "metallic copper."  Her favorite animal was not a kitty or dog, but the Komodo dragon.  And, in response to the intrusive (I thought) question on their posterboards, "Where do you like to go to be alone?", most children replied, "In my room" or "In my treehouse".  Sarah wrote, "In the dark places of my mind."  The collage each child created of his favorite things usually had pictures of sports, or school, or their own family members.  Sarah's was comprised of lipstick, diamonds, and corn. 

My WTF? moments as a parent are many, that night was one of the most interesting.  I wouldn't trade my girls for lipstick, diamonds, or even corn, nor would I want boring children.  So glad I don't.  Happy Birthday, darling Sarah!

Sarah and Burglars, Part One

When Sarah was only waist-high, I once asked her what she wanted to be when she grew up. 

"A cleaning lady," she told me.  I was still thinking about this, her first choice, with the word, "Why?" unspoken, when she added, "Or the guy who dresses up in black and takes away people's pretty things."

"Do you mean a burglar?  Or a jewel thief?" I asked.

"Yes, a jewel thief.  I want to be a jewel thief when I grow up." Again, the obvious answer to that is "Why?", when she answered me, without pause.  "I want to take away the pretty things from people who have too much and give them to poor people.  Like Robin Hood." 

To which I said, "Aww... You can be anything you want to be, honey.  Just try not to steal."

I was reminding her of this when we were out walking Gonzo this morning, and our talk segued into my telling her about the NYC garbage strike of a few years back, when people desperate to unload their trash wrapped it up in Christmas paper and left these attractively, deceptively packaged piles in their unlocked cars.  Sarah thought this was HILARIOUS, and came up with a scenario, during which a family of burglars unwrapped their "gifts."

"Eww... I got dryer sheets and some eggshells.  What did you get, Dad?"

"Some cat litter and a half-eaten brownie.  Wait.  That's not a brownie."

Thank you, Sarah, for making me laugh most days, from when you first could talk, to now, when you have much more to say.  I love you, birthday girl.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Electra and Eurydice

So, once again, I am taking time off from my real job to work on my book.  And, once again, I am writing about my dad.  I always write about my dad.  A psychiatrist would probably label me with an Electra complex, but that's not it.  I didn't idolize my dad in life and certainly don't now in death.  I think I write about him, because he was so wrapped up within himself, he was lost to his own children.  We never had him, didn't really know him, but after much time and reflection, I have come to terms that I don't really need to know a person to love him, anyway.

My mom has always been more accessible, talks easily and openly about everything.  She held back a few secrets until I reached adulthood, and now, there are no secrets.  She reaches out like I do, with the belief that words heal all, that the right words in the right order hold a magic and a power.  I've heard all of her stories many times, but the one which molded her is a story which happened before she was made, a story which made her life possible.  My grandfather's first wife was on her way to the hospital to deliver her fifth child, and her last.  This was the first time Izero had delivered a baby in hospital.  My mother's half sister, only five, watched her mother pack up to leave for a few days and wanted desperately to run up and hug her mother goodbye, but she didn't.  And she never saw her mother alive again.  My grandfather remarried, had my mother with his new wife, and many years later, I was born, to grow up hearing how tenuous is life, and how people will leave us without warning.  Never hold grudges and always fix what I can; this is what I was taught, because like Orpheus learned, once Eurydice is gone, she is gone forever.

And in the meantime, to write my dad's story and do him justice, I have to get inside his head, when he was a boy and packed up what he could carry to leave his home in Upper Silesia forever.  How many times did he look back, as he hurried away?  I will never know, so I have to invent an answer.  Fiction works best, in writing what is true; paradoxical, I know. 

So, both my parents made me who I am, but my mom much more so.  Because even though the story I write is based on my dad's life and rewritten to give him absolution and a happy ending of sorts, the fact that I write is due to my mother, and because of her I care so much for others.  Someday, the people I love will be gone, but first, I will be.  That is a near certainty.  So, I hope when my girls write my story and try to make sense of my life, they remember me picking them up and swinging them in my arms to radio music, that they remember us opening a tab and playing Carmena Burana while we rated guys on Hot or Not, that they remember us reading aloud from the Great Brain series, Phantom Tollbooth and all the others.  I don't want to be a character in a Greek tragedy.  I just was happy to be their mom, and a good friend to mine, and a daughter, and maybe, if I find an audience, a writer, too. 

Sunday, January 16, 2011


Okay, so I've apparantly not been clear or as inclusive as I should be, writing this.  I accidentally offended my friend Jeff C., by writing that he had no idea how much I overthink everything, but I guess it sounded like I said he had no idea about everything and anything, not my intention at all.  My apologies, Jeff C.  It's always good talking to you about life, but I do overthink things sometimes.  Most of the time.

And, to Cath, I'm sorry I neglected to mention your amazingly creative use of the letter G in playing Scattegories for the category of Awards Ceremonies.  However, just like there is no magazine titled "Kitten Hunter's Weekly" for K, no job starting with C like "Constipation Artist" and no W superhero called "Waspguy", there are no Gnoscars.  That said, the Gnoscars are pretty darn funny and I'm sorry I left that out. 

Feel free to contact me regarding other errors, factual or in my understanding of matters.  I will publicly apologize and move on.