My husband is the mildest of men, even in temperament, gentle in manner.

He makes his own yogurt, sweetly wrapping the Mason jars with a blankie while the stuff ferments.

When the dishwasher backs up and fills with water, he sighs deeply before strapping on a headlamp and going in. Discovering a tube jammed with wild rice and glass shards, he laughs at the ridiculousness because wildriceandglassshards. Plus–hahahaha!–we didn’t have to call a repair man. Two minutes later, he goes into the bathroom, sits down, and the entire toilet seat breaks off (rusty screws affirming our status as low rent). He laughs again, chuckling that he’ll have to scrub all the various kinds of Disgusting off the seat before he takes it in to Home Depot to find an exact replacement.

If we’re out for a walk, and he spots branches on an upcoming bush rattling ominously, he tells me to stop until he ascertains what it is–because he knows I’m a high-strung filly when it comes to rodential phobia. Peering into the foliage, he makes out the critter and tells me, calmly, “Don’t look at the bush, and cut a wide swathe here. Don’t go near it. Someone’s guinea pig appears to have escaped from its cage. Look away. I’ll stand between you and the bush until you get past.”

He loves to put on a wetsuit and hop into Lake Superior once it hits 58 degrees. Open water swimming, being buffeted about by waves and unable to touch his feet to the ground, is his idea of a great time. Often, he swims with a partner or a group; other times, one of us follows him in a kayak. This week, with no kayak along as we were camping in a yurt, I tried solo canoeing for the first time so that I could trail in his wake and provide support if needed. Having never been the one to steer the canoe before, my solo self was mastering a steep learning curve that sounded something like “stroke, stroke, rudder, stroke, C-stroke, C-stroke, C-stroke, slap mosquito, sweat, stroke, stroke, rudder.” Every few minutes, Byron would stop, tread water for a second, and ask, “How are you doing?” In truth, I was having a good time figuring the thing out, but I certainly hadn’t mastered it. “The only thing I’m worried about,” I told him, “is that I’m going to run you over. If I get too close, I won’t be able to correct before I’m on top of you.” His response? “Go ahead. I don’t mind being run over. I can just dive deep ’til you pass.”

A few years ago, he got in a bike crash and knew something bad had happened to his wrist. However, he had made a commitment to chaperone Paco’s third grade class at a swimming pool field trip that afternoon. So he stood poolside for three hours, pacing in the humid air, watching wild energy do cannon balls. Once Paco was dry and changed, he loaded the kid onto the back of his big cargo bike and rode the two of them to Urgent Care. When the doctor diagnosed a broken wrist, Byron called me to come pick up Paco, so he wouldn’t have to wait for a few hours while the cast was put on. However, since a cargo bike is too big to fit on a bike rack on the back of a car, Byron simply rode it home from the hospital, navigating with one hand. Smiling.

Simply put: you do not rattle this man’s cage. The bars are invisible.

There is one thing, though, that gets his back up.

It’s called Having His Face Touched.

If he has ketchup on his cheek or a crumb hanging from his chin, I may not give into impulse. I may not reach out and brush it away. While all other touches everywhere else on his person are received with happy sighs, I may not touch his face.

If I do, I receive the firmest of remonstrances.

Seeing a well-meaning spousal hand heading his way, my low-key Norwegian-ish husband morphs into a heavyset woman of color starring on a reality show.

Prickly, eyes flashing, attitude jerking, he unleashes the equivalent of

nibc0 (1)

Then, as my hand curls into my chest protectively, recoiling from his vehemence, he cleans off his face, pats my leg, and asks sweetly, “Can I get you another beer?”

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anniversaries anniversary Groom

Nine Volts


My brain is asleep. So is my body. The noise doesn’t fully register.

After a quick blip of “Huh?” I drop back into the blackness of sleep.


Hell and damn it. My brain pushes to consciousness like it’s swimming up from the bottom of a murky lake, half panicked, gasping for air. As it surfaces and draws in a shuddering breath of wakefulness, the only thing to pierce my confusion is this: there’s a chirping in the hallway. I lie there in the dark, discombobulated, trying to figure out what day it is, what time it is, what my name is, who’s the president, why Kanye’s a genius, why creme brulee isn’t the new kale, and how in the glottis my husband can still be snoring when there’s a robin or a katydid or a Kristin Chenoweth periodically pipping mere feet from his head.

I spend a few minutes engaged in magical thinking, during which I dreamily muse that the noises might simply have been the house settling, or something toppling off a shelf in the closet, or the sound of a ghost sharpening knives, lulling myself with assurances that the chirps won’t necessarily contin–


This time, I’m awake enough to understand: it’s the smoke detector remonstrating us for letting Daylight Savings pass without changing its batteries.

As I sort out what’s happening, I rue the law of batteries that decrees they must die when it sucks the most. Commiseratively, my husband, Byron, exhales a steady zzzzzzz. This takes me back to the early years of our marriage; he slept, while I felt around in the dimness for babies and boobies. Sometimes, with the first kid, he’d wake up, too, and we’d turn on a bedside lamp and spend precious Hallmark-sponsored moments together staring at our daughter’s soft, tiny fingernails while she nursed.

A few weeks into that, we realized that middle-of-the-night communal marveling resulted in a completely non-functional household the next day. If we hoped to eat good food and pay bills on time, then at least one of us should get some sleep. During the next handful of years, as my breasts and I continued to work the black hours, Byron applied himself wholeheartedly to the task of getting reasonable sleep, The result of this was a household wherein Daddy made delicious homemade pesto that Mommy loved to eat–that is, once she lifted her head off the steering wheel, wiped the tears off her cheeks, and trudged into the house for dinner.

In the intervening years, the zzzzzzzzzs have continued, but nowadays I sleep (or read or fret) rather than nurse. Instead of tag teaming our days, as we did when the kids were new, Byron and I now share a common purpose at night: resetting for the next day.

Unfortunately, that smoke detector is putting a serious crimp in my reset.

Shivering in anticipation of the cold air, I try to convince myself to throw open the covers and stand up. I try to make myself be the adult in the room. I try to fool my brain and body into thinking the chirp is actually a hungry baby.

Brain and Body are no patsies. They know I’m messing with them. In desperation, Brain argues that the definition of “adult” is actually, simply, clearly “the tallest person.” Then Brain points out that Byron fits that definition. Because Brain is emphatic about making her case, she also notes that the smoke detector is high on the wall, near the ceiling, a place that’s easier for taller people to reach.

The notion of thumping downstairs to get a stepladder convinces me: I’m going to shove the snoring guy and make the chirp his problem.

Rationalization is a glorious thing, for it throws itself across descriptors like “lazy” and “selfish” and muffles their mealy yelps. I mean: obviously, I have to wake Byron because he is taller. Possibly, irrationally, I have to wake Byron because he never nursed babies.

We’d have to ask Brain to be sure on that one, and she’s currently refusing callers.

With Byron’s next wall-rattling inhale, I slip my knees behind his, trying to pry him to consciousness with a hearty spooning.

He doesn’t stir. Spooning feels too much like clean, direct love, and this endeavor is about hoggish, miserly love. This is about a love that entails him getting up and taking care of things so that I can stay in the bed and be warmly supportive from the island of mattress.

I whack my foot into the back of his calf. Twice. Firm-like.

He rears up, bleary and confused. Poor thing’s a full four minutes behind me that way. Since he’s the one who’s discombobulated, and since he doesn’t know yet that he’s about to get up and handle my problem, he deserves kindness. Softly, I start to talk. In truth, I could just say “Eep, opp, ork, ah-ha” for the first few words, as I’m only moving my mouth because the act will get him to remove his earplug. Once the earplug comes out, I shift into genuine content: “So there’s a noise in the hall…”–

as though it had been scripted, a chirp echoes loudly.

“Wait. What?” he asks, his brain pushing up from the bottom of the same lake that had recently been drowning my consciousness.

“There’s a chirping noise out in the hall from the smoke detector. It’s been bleating every few minutes.” Then I trot out our household’s most terrifying currency: “I’m worried it’s going to wake the kids.”

Although Byron is less scared of wakeful children in the night than I am, he snaps to and gets that this is a pressing matter if we want to avoid a kitchen full of cranky whiners in the morning. Marshaling his forces, he thinks through the situation. “There are actually three smoke detectors on this floor of the house–one in each bedroom–and also a carbon monoxide detector in the hall. It could be any of them. Have you noticed where the chirp is coming from exactly?”

Every single day, my husband teaches me. Abstractly, I knew some nice men had come a few years ago to remodel our kitchen, and while they were here, they also updated the smoke and carbon monoxide detectors throughout the house. Once they took down all the hanging sheets of plastic and drove away in their trucks, though, I got distracted by the new cabinets and forgot to look up and see what they’d done elsewhere. In my defense, if I look toward the ceilings, I see all these cobwebby things that someone should deal with. It’s better to keep my gaze aimed forward, really.

Helpfully, I answer Byron while sweeping an arm wide. “I know the noise is coming exactly from out there. Not in here.”

We decide to listen for the next chirp with an ear to specific location. As I listen, I realize both my pillow and my husband’s back are very soft.

We wait. And wait. Some more.

Because we are wide awake and ready to figure this thing out, there is nothing but silence.

After a few minutes, Byron throws open the covers and wanders into the bathroom to relieve himself, at which point a chirp from Could Have Been Anywhere resounds loudly.

How frustrating. But as long as he’s up…

Coming back into the bedroom, Byron grabs his headlamp. He straps the thing to his head and goes out into the hallway, ready to narrow down the possibilities.

With the stoic patience of a Scandinavian type in his forties, he stands there quietly, leaning against the banister. In his underwear. Wearing a headlamp.

Minutes pass. Silence.

More minutes. Still nothing.

He just stands, quietly, his eyes clapped on a six-inch space high on the wall. Waiting.

Eventually, I hear him yawn, and even though there’s nothing I can do, I can’t take it. I hoist myself from the bed’s warmth and join him in the hallway. I ask if he’s able to reach the detector, should he need to, or if he’d like me to run downstairs and get the step ladder. Thankfully, his legs are step ladders all on their own, so I am safe from the threat of exertion.

There, by the banister, we stand together and stare at the plaster. Come on, you damn thing: chirp so that we know it’s you. If it’s not you, then it’s time to bust this process into the kids’ rooms.

Silence. Obviously, our focused attention has made the thing shy. Trying to fool it, I begin to look around. The only thing worth looking at is Byron, all tall and leaning, shirtless, in his underwear, the headlamp an unexpected accessory to his ensemble. He wraps his arms across his chest, warding off a shiver.

Cripes. He is the cutest.

He stands there in his headlamp and underwear, the perfect foil to an unpredictable, ridiculous thing, and somehow it’s a metaphor for our marriage. All my own unpredictable ridiculousness ever needs is him, standing there unwaveringly, ready to deal with things–all the better if he’s in his underwear and a headlamp as he does it.

After a few minutes, freezing, I return to bed. As I lie there, willing the detector to chirp, the shadowy image of Byron, still leaning against the banister, makes me smile. When we got married, I thought I knew him. Our years together–fifteen!–have schooled me, though. There was no way for me to know that the 28-year-old anthropology-major-turned-naturalist that I married would

teach our sixth grader how to play cribbage so that the kid could feel confident when his new elective class in that game started;

attend cross-country banquets with our ninth grader, willingly spending hours making small talk (which he hates) in the presence of a pasta buffet (which he hates) because he delights in the community she’s found;

become a literacy volunteer at an elementary school for a minuscule monthly stipend because the work matters;

take up blackwork embroidery at age 43 as he continues to explore the various permutations of being an artist;

train our kids’ palates with his excellent cooking, to the point that they’d rather have a dinner of groundnut stew or Thai curry than spaghetti;

tell me every few days, “I like you so much”;

hear my point more than my fumbling words so that I always feel innately understood;

stand in the hallway in his underwear and a headlamp at 4 a.m., hoping to catch a wayward chirp.

Eventually, after silence reigns for a few more minutes, Byron surrenders and returns to bed, but not before checking the supply of batteries. We’re short on the nine-volt version, which he’ll need the next day when he changes out the batteries in all the warning systems. Then he snuggles under the covers, and we chuckle, knowing the offending detector, wherever it is, will be issuing a tweet any second.

It doesn’t, though.

As the minutes pass, the house is quiet. Dark. Still.

It sighs a little, as do I, when Byron drops back into sleep and emits a gentle zzzzzzzz.

I lie there for a long time–like a nursing mother listening for her baby’s cry–expecting another chirp. It never comes.

There is only Byron,

the soft skin on his back,

his steady breathing

the perfect noise.


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Steadily Growing

“At the age of six I wanted to be a cook. At seven I wanted to be Napoleon. And my ambition has been growing steadily ever since.”–Salvador Dali

Today, Byron turns 42.

He has been, and in some cases still is,

son, brother, friend, father, student

custard scooper

corn cross-pollinator

park ranger


anthropology and earth science instructor

newspaper delivery boy


office manager

book seller



greenhouse worker








bill reckoner

splinter remover

kickball roller

beer brewer


crossword puzzler

logistics coordinator



sounding board

voice of reason

purple beard sporter.

In recent years, he’s also been Artist.

For this piece, Byron laid out 275 one-inch by one-inch squares, and then, for each of 275 successive days, drew a mini-diary entry. There’s a teensy ink sketch of a necktie for the day he went to a meeting with the mayor to strategize about how to re-imagine park funding in a way that could keep libraries open. There are also minute depictions of a shovel, an owl, a planter, a pumpkin…among 270 other Lilliputian moments of life, all harmonized by the presence of emerging sight lines that meet up in the lower righthand quadrant.

Byron, the least OCD person on the planet, makes art that presents as fairly OCD.

He had a show this past summer and spent weeks deciding which pieces to include before working on matting and framing and layout. Below, you can see where we laid out the final drawings in an effort to figure out how they’d fit on the public wall space to best effect.

Our time living in a Muslim country affected him. Upon our return to the States, he spent some time studying Islamic art and the use of variations within sets of geometric shapes, as we had seen all across Turkey in the tile work of madrassas and mosques. Here is one result:

He is pulling together a website to showcase his art. Here’s a link to his “galleries” page, which includes both pen & ink drawings and digital collage: Laying Fallow. I love the precision of the pen & ink and the whimsy of the digital collages (the one with the Amish figure on the ship was a commissioned piece; he bartered his services, and, gollee, have we enjoyed the blueberry-lemon bread, pickled beets, and other baked goods from the recipient).

Tonight, we will celebrate with white bean/bacon soup, pumpkin bars, limited-release Surly Darkness beer (gaspingly expensive), and a night of music seeing his favorite group, Cloud Cult (having conveniently driven their biodiesel van to Duluth to perform on the anniversary of his birth).

This talented grown-up boy,

still discovering the myriad vagaries that constitute “ambition,”


quite simply,

the best.

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foccacia Groom kitchen remodel the construction crew sweeps up at the end of the day

They Say They’ll Be Done in Four Weeks…

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art show college students crap Groom where do you hang that stuff after the show?

Who’s Your Daddy?

Back in the 1980s, I did the college gig all traditional-like. Squirming and chafing in Montana, I hit eighteen and began the countdown to flight. When the time came to start college, I viewed the 1,000 miles separating my new campus and my hometown as “a headstart on a life where I don’t work in a bowling alley.”

1,000 miles away from my high school, I learned to wear scarves and listen to REM and dance to Soul Asylum and subsist on the salad bar and listen to convocations featuring distinguished speakers like that old curmudgeon Garrison Keiller and stalk physics study group sessions in the hope that the word “torque” would ever mean more to me than being the last name of a member of the 1960’s faux-musical group The Monkees (Peter Tork) and attend a production of Sam Shepard’s True West and climb the water tower about an hour after putting the keg’s tap directly into my mouth and,


I think you get the picture.

So I have that experience in my life that represents “college.”

However, now I teach at a community college, which often feels more like a move of social justice than a career choice.

Because, you know, there are reasons why students are attending the community college. Certainly, there’s convenience; there’s affordability; there’s the personal touch. Additionally, though, students often find that the community college is a place to go after–or while in the midst of–personal crisis: divorce, job loss, rape, rehab, mental illness. Our students, in short, aren’t living their educations. They are tucking their educations in and around their lives, flitting to campus for class and then booking away again the minute the Anatomy & Physiology lab is done, tearing to daycare to pick up the twins.

Thus, community colleges often lack the traditional “college culture.” They are commuter campuses, by and large, so our students miss out on the experience of checking their mail for care packages from home or riffling through their roommate’s drawers while she’s at Abnormal Psych, looking for weepy journals, sex toys, dime bags, packages of Pork Ramen. They pop in to “learn” and jet away to “live.” Rarely is there a marriage of the two.

All of this explains why I so love the end-of-term student art show on our campus. For three quick days, the place almost feels like–has the vibe of–a college. When the art show is hung, I feel like shouting to the students, “If you think this is good, you should know places exist where professors take you outside for class in the Spring, and you all sit and lean against trees–YES, there are trees!–and talk about Kierkegaard. And sometimes after class you go play frisbee, and after that someone will play a guitar and sing Cat Stevens off-key. During all of this, you feel more comfortable than you ever have before and simultaneously kind of queerly alone–yet certain that your life will never be more vivid. This, dear community college students, is what you should extrapolate from the art show. Scurry now. Do that. Extrapolate.” (then, being where we are, I define “extrapolate”)

This semester, the art show was particularly fun because Groomeo has been cashing in on my free credits and taking some art classes, so his work was displayed, too, AND he got to pour glasses of Pepsi at the opening night reception. Me? I got to skip around and clap my happy hands in front of any piece signed “Jocelyn’s Husband.”

I also got to warm up my snarky sotto voce comments for the dreck that festooned the place. As it turns out, I possess happy hands and sotto voce comments in equal measure, so I went skipping and bitching and mocking and twirling until I was finally forced to collapse back at Groom’s Pepsi table and order a double.

Much revived by the carbonation, I headed back out to witness more of “the learning curve made incarnate” that decorated the walls and tables. Of course, personally, my best artistic abilities involve stick figures, sock monkeys, and my own urine, so I couldn’t be too condescending.


Come. On.

I. Mean. Really.

And I haven’t even included photos of the myriad works featuring Tinkerbells or clay seals playing basketball.

What I learned from my art trolling with the kids was this: five-year-old boys rewy, rewy think paintings of Captain Hook and cigarette-smoking chimpanzees wearing visors are soooooooo cool. I also learned that my husband does a damn good job–so good, even, that when his first assignment in Drawing class this term was to create something on a scratchboard, as a way of learning technique, and the teacher recommended animals as a good subject for this medium, he was able make that untenable assignment sing. Initially, when he came home from class and told me that there might be kitties involved, I recoiled and gasped out, “You mean…create an animal? Like, on purpose? Must you?” Cringing right along with me, Groom said, “Well, textured subjects work well on scratchboard; there’s no way to erase, and there’s nothing but black and white, and so fluff translates well. But never fear: I’m going to think on it.”

For one wild day, he considered doing a picture of a dandelion gone to seed. I was able to get behind him on that notion. I knew the alternative.

But then he decided to listen to his teacher and take this basic assignment and do, yup, something basic. He announced he was going to scratch out a sheep.

Greeting his declaration with more than a minute of silence, I eventually left the room to re-group before returning, resolved, able to tell him my love would withstand this one test, but if he ever painted a unicorn, it would be over, and he’d need to be out by Monday.

Crikey, though, look what he did with the Baa-Baa:

Dude made my jaw drop at a sheep’s head. Previously, the closest I had come to this was dropping my trousers in the loo at a pub called The Boar’s Head.

With this bowl he threw in Ceramics class, my years of muttering about “this pain-in-the-arse piece-of-crap-we-serve-beets-in” came to an end.

This wall displays three of his 2-D digital designs, one for movement (him on a unicycle), one for radial balance, and one for rhythm. Maybe you all should send me gifts now, so I can send you a little thank-you card, featuring one of these on the front. I like books, espresso, and dangly earrings.

Here’s Girl, viewing her pappy’s self-portrait. The instructor took his photo, off of which this drawing was based, on a particularly greasy-headed hat-hair day, which means I now get to tell him all the time that he has a seriously ginormous forehead. I’m tempted to get him all steamed up and fry an egg on it.

Cutting in closer to that portrait, I find my happy clapping hands coming out again.

I mean, look. He’s just nice (…even though I’m not quite sure where his eyelashes went; did they never grow back after the bacon grease fire of 2005?).

Seventeen years ago, His Groomishness graduated from a pricey place that offered up the traditional campus experience. Now he’s mixing it up a little and making me all shivery.

Indeed. Every night, I get to hop into bed with those peepers–those kind eyes that have staked out residual territory just below the ginormous forehead of a community college student.

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anniversary Groom marriage noodles sickness


A pot of water boiled on the burner behind my husband, as he leaned against the stove, pulling my face into his sweatshirt. This story does not end with seared human flesh, so relax, gentle reader.

He hugged me to him for a long time, hard.

Finally, I managed to choke out, through thick tonsils, “I really love the hug. But I’m having trouble breathing even when my air passages aren’t obstructed by a hoodie. Let me come up for a gasp.”

I reared back, gulped in some oxygen, and nuzzled back in for the hug.

After a minute, he took my hands off the sweatshirt covering his back and tucked them underneath, so they touched his skin.

“That’s never bad,” Groom pointed out.

“Brave man. You’re not very discerning about who touches your unclothed bits. You have no idea where these hands have been. But I like your skin.”

We were quiet for a minute. The water burbled behind us.

“I’m really sorry you’ve felt so pooky for so long this week,” he said into my greasy hair.

“I’m really sorry I haven’t showered for two days,” I responded. “And thanks. This tonsil stuff has been suck slathered onto a crud cracker.”

“I’d do anything to help you feel better,” he said, hugging me tighter, cutting off any hope of breaf to my body.

Breaking away for a few more gasps of air, I pointed out, “You let me watch America’s Test Kitchen and brought me omelets and espresso milkshakes in bed. You made me feel twelve kinds of better.”

“Well,” he noted, “I like you.”

“I like me, too.”

Then he turned to the pot of water and poured in the macaroni that he would bring to me, minutes later, after I’d crawled back into the bed. While I ate the noodles, wincing with every swallow, he joined me under the covers and stroked my calf with his foot.

Nine years ago today, my husband literally was The Groom. I was the other one. As we stood up in front of 120 friends and family, it was unseasonably warm. That Santana song featuring Rob Whatzhisfutz was the #1 song in the U.S.. I cried a lot during the ceremony, and not just because that Santana song featuring Rob Whatzhisfutz was the #1 song in the U.S..

I’d never actually dreamed of being a bride. However, I had dreamed of finding a One True Love.

It’s simple to feel that I’ve found such a thing when we’re both in perfect health; it’s unquestionable that I’ve found it when one of us is suffering an illness.

I am constantly awestruck that I have something to believe in.

I was a bride married to amazement
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms

–Mary Oliver

These banners, painted by my mother-in-law, were the backdrop to our vows.

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2-D design beer fermentation Groom radial balance

Decapitating the Child

For almost nine years, Groom has been our stay-at-home parent (I married him because he was the closest thing to a woman I could find in a man’s body). He is an example of walking Zen, so his temperament has been perfectly suited to taking the kids to storytime at the library, playing soccer in the yard, building a pirate ship out of cardboard boxes, making Mommy a latte, and cooking up spicy pork bits for dinner. It’s been a good ride.

But now Girl is in third grade, and Niblet is in half-day kindergarten, and Groom is thinking about what he wants to be when he grows up. Certainly, he’s held some part-time jobs (newspaper boy, coffee shop barista, cross-country running coach, adjunct anthropology and world geography instructor) during our marriage. And before I yanked him away from it, he was working as a naturalist at an environmental learning center. In sum, he can throw paper, grind beans, run 50K, lecture on the Yanomamo, and teach Voyageur canoeing to a group of 4th graders.

Looking at his resume, then, it would seem he can do anything but may be qualified for nothing.

To get past that little issue, Groomeo is, this semester, taking advantage of one of my job perks: free credits at the college where I teach. While he’s already got a degree from one of them spendy private liberal arts institutions, he’s now experiencing the rich and diverse pageant of humanity known as the community college classroom as he takes ceramics, drawing, and 2-D digital design courses this semester, with an aim, ultimately, to earning a second degree in graphic design or art education. While he’s heard my stories for years about how agonizing it can be to teach students how to be college students while they’re in college, the reality of being in courses where he’s the only person to turn in an assignment when it’s due has been occasionally startling. Equally startling for me has been the inside glimpse I’m getting into my colleagues as they instruct my husband. Since Groom and I have different last names (he’s “Smothers” and I’m “Brothers”), the instructors of his classes don’t know that they’re teaching my husband.

Even better is the fact that one of his courses is taught online (the 2-D digital design), so I can read the teaching and look right at the class.

It’s kind of, um,


While I think most of my colleagues are crazy-ass talented rock stars, not everyone is turning in a performance worthy of Ozzy biting the head off a bat. In fact, I’m discovering that sometimes students do terrible work or no work at all, and still they get big points. And sometimes instructors send out messages to their classes that are so undecipherable and riddled with errors that I have to read it out loud seven times before throwing up my hands and saying, “I have no idea what she’s trying to tell you. I don’t think she’s ever written a sentence before.”


But since I’m merely a fascinated onlooker, I can only read and blush and apologize and try to urge Groom to set the standard, and maybe everyone in the class, from the other students–to the teacher herself–will realize that the work can be better.

In the 2-D design class, the students are asked to post their assignments to a class blog, so everyone can view the image that’s been created, along with an explanation of what the student is trying to achieve and how he/she went about making the final image. Here are a few copy and pastes from Groom’s classmates, as they elucidate the subtleties of their pieces, on that blog:

“For my abstraction, i chose pieces of fruit. I tried to get a real close up image so you weren’t exactly able to see what it was. I wish it flowed more than it does because I don’t think the art work is very balanced.”

“I think the pictures here speak for themselves. I did not use any computer programs to maniulate the images because the images are cool on their own.”

“I used mostly images and shapes that appeal to me and tell who I am. Sorry It’s so small but I had to resize it that small to get it to fit.”

Clearly, these students have taken chisels and pounded little holes into their hearts which allow love and passion and emotion to flow out of their chests and into their art. On top of all that, their critical thinking is staggering.

When I see the larger context of the entire class’s explanations, I find myself appreciating, on behalf of the, em, challenged instructor, that she gets to have Groom in her class. He’s generally a person of few words, but at least he’s willing to take the time to explicate his process. So, here, for your reading enjoyment, is one of the Groom’s posts for class**:

I am glad that we have about a week to complete these assignments. My brain doesn’t create the best designs on a short time frame. I need to get into the class, read the assignment, and then just let it sit and ferment in my brain for a few days. If anyone has ever made beer, this will make more sense. After an initial fermentation, you rack the liquid (transfer it to another container to remove sediments and jump start the fermentation process) and let it sit some more. After my initial processing of ideas, I sit down and “rack” my ideas into a design. It usually isn’t that exciting–just like your imaginary beer or wine at the racking stage of the process. I let the ideas ferment (usually on bike rides, runs, or when I wake up in the morning) some more and come back to them at the bottling stage. Some more tweaking and changes occur, just like the process of moving my brew from carboy to bottle. Then I need to go away and come back later. My imaginary brew needs me to do the same. It sits and mellows. So does my design. The results end much better at the end of this long process than when they were a jumble of ingredients. Enjoy my latest homebrew. It is posted above.Part of my problem in the early fermentation stage is the Internet. In this assignment, we had to find six items with a radial balance. Sounds easy. But when I do a search in Google, like for “bicycle wheel image”, and then 100s of search pages appear, I start to hyperventilate. I just don’t have the patience to sift throught them all and find what I truly want. I find it much easier to make my own images, from my own life, and work from there. So I photographed six different fruits and vegetables with radial balance on a white background (making it easier to cut them out in Photoshop later). I loaded these into Photoshop and began altering them. First I changed them to black and white by switching from RGB color mode to Grayscale. Then I messed with the contrast and brightness. Once I had an image I liked I cut the fruit or veg from the background and pasted it into a new document. Here I switched back to RGB color mode and created a new layer in which I selected the image, airbrushed a green color over the image, and then selected overlay so the color and black and white image below merged. I did the same thing with my son’s head.

Then I created the master document and began to copy and paste the images. First, I created a layout by creating a gradient layer with the red color. I put the darkest color in the lower left corner, creating the radial focus point of the design. The color fades out from here, empahsizing the design’s radial direction. My son’s head went over the focal point, and I began to arrange the food in a spiral pattern from his mouth, resizing the images to get larger the farther they got from his mouth.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this brew. It has left me mellow and hungry for some squash.

**I’m the kind of sick this week where I have to wince, cringe, groan, and clench my fists every time I swallow. My tonsils have a lifelong history of kicking all other tonsils’ asses when it comes to swelling and pain. When I’m sick like this, and the docs tell me to open my mouth and say “ahhhh,” they generally jump back and hold themselves for a minute before gasping out, “Well. Now. That’s impressive.” At any rate, that’s why I didn’t have a whole lot of sass to pour into this post. Since I literally can’t talk right now, Groom’s words have pitched in.

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Groom marriage the 1950's urine

Stop Being So Square, Big Daddy

I would have made a great 1950’s housewife–and not just because I can whip up a chrome-plated five-can casserole and smoke and drink like a fiend while pregnant.

Witness this exchange between The Groomeo and me, transcribed from the dictaphone in our secretary Miss Walcott’s shorthand during the year 1958:

Groom: My ear still hurts. It’s been feeling swollen or infected–totally weirdsville–off and on for days now. It’s fine for awhile, and then it hurts up the wazoo. I’m feeling like a real party pooper.

Me: Are you thinking it’s time to have the doctor spin by the pad for a housecall?

Groom: I don’t know. I’m not really sure if it’s bad enough to see that shuckster Dr. Kildare just yet. That square is bad news.

Me, channeling Jane Wyatt in “Father Knows Best”: Maybe it would help if I hoisted my well-starched crinolines and peed in your ear?

Groom: It’s not a jellyfish sting, you know. Good thing you’re toting around a classy chassis, or you’d be clutched, Nerd.



(off to Sardi’s to check my Ooh-La-La lipstick in the bathroom mirror and await the reviews)

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Groom night talk

Riddle You That


Overheard tonight here at the compound:

Groom to me: “Wow. Good thing we have these paper towels–because this thing is dripping with honey.”

Any guesses?

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cookies Groom holidays love Mormons PBS

Golden Plates: Tarnished

 Yesterday, I watched voyeuristically as my country acted the john to another media-Hallmark-florist-driven whore of a holiday. Having steered clear of the entire transaction myself, I had plenty of time to muse on the fact that it was a mutual-antipathy of VD that first watered the love blooming between Groom and me.

Oh, plus he owned a silver Honda hatchback, and I sported some fierce Dee Snyder spiral-perm curls. Those were also part of the initial shizzbang.

And we both liked toast.

Now, nine years later, the Honda has hit the road; the curls have curled up and died; the toast is toast; but, proudly, the antipathy pathies on.

Indeed, the grumpy question around our house is why do we need a day about celebrating love, when love is all around, no need to waste it? Mos’ def, we’ve always had a feeling we just might make it after all.

And yet. A recent interaction between Groomeo and me indicated that it might be time to starch my crinolines and rub a burnt match along my eyebrows, lest he stray West:

It was night, dark, but not stormy. For the second time in two years, we were watching public television’s documentary about the Mormons. This documentary is so hot, so smart, so sizzlin’ that it completely puts PBS’s special on home funerals in the corner. This documentary has some seriously smart talking heads in it, to the point that David Byrne should just crawl over into the corner, too, and commiserate with the home funeral program about what it feels like to be such losers. By the time the Mormon talking heads are done with you, you’ll be swearing the state of Utah needs to get some testicles, revert to open polygamy, and go back to living The Principle.

As the show lead into a not-a-commercial commercial, it snagged viewers with a teaser of what was to come in the next segment, which would explore the role Mormon women play in the church and in family life. The voiceover tantalized:

“The Mormon woman has long conveyed an image of perfection: she makes cookies, she always looks beautiful and impeccably groomed, she greets the world with an enormous beaming smile–”

Ever quippy, I interrupted, “Ohmigod, I’m totally a Mormon woman.”

Quite agreeably, Groom patted my arm with his Mitt and noted, “Yea, you do make cookies.”

Slap that on a card and lick it shut, Hallmark.

And if Groom ever leaves me for a lovely Mormon homemaker named Bev, I’m going to leave him right back for my Fine Gay Boyfriend, Bob Mould:

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