Bread and Pez

As is the case with most households, we pretty much live in the kitchen. Food happens there, of course, but so do soul-baring, cross-word puzzling, game-playing, homework-doing, robot-building, friend-entertaining, and mind-numbing-boozing. We spend a good part of every day in that room; it is, quite clichedly, the heart of the house.

Yet our kitchen sucks big donkey dicks. Dark, dated, baneful, and nonsensical (what is that nutty little hallway that cuts a swathe through any sense of “flow”?), our kitchen is Suck packed into four walls, dusted with oil-drenched and groaning appliances, topped off with a cherry of dropped ceiling and atrocious light fixtures.

The kitchen is, essentially, made out of All Things Poo.

Literally, before people enter our house for the first time, I stop them in the foyer to apologize for the kitchen. I know they will want to shower after walking through it, and some may find they want to up their doses of anti-depressants.

Kitchen must die.

While we’ve been planning its ultimate demise for a few years now (awaiting an estate payout that would finance the remodel), we haven’t quite gotten around to an orchestrated euthanasia yet. In the absence of our taking action, Kitchen seems to be taking matters into her own, um, faux-granite counters. Kitchen is getting suicidal.

First, she started purposefully hemorrhaghing linoleum tiles, causing them to stick to the bottoms of our feet as we carried tea from stove-top to table. Trying to save her from herself, we peeled up the remaining linoleum, inasmuch as possible (a few tiles remain under the fridge and radiator, where they artfully catch marbles, barrettes, and fridge magnets, and generally look like masses of Poo holding marbles, barrettes, and magnets), and in the process, we discovered a lovely old hardwood floor that will one day be refinished.

Next, Kitchen hacked up a microwave door handle, snapping it off one day and leaving us with a wall-mounted (above the stove) microwave that could only be opened by inserting one’s fingernails into the slot between the body of the microwave and its door. With a tough, sometimes nail-damaging, yank, we could ease fraying tempers by warming up a comforting bowl of Campbell’s Dora the Explorer chicken noodle soup.

Sure, some people would cave and get a new microwave.

However, we are made of firmer stuff. We know full well that if we bought a new microwave, when we do finally remodel the joint some months down the line, we’d end up planning the entire remodel around “the microwave we bought last Fall” which, invariably, would fit nowhere and would clash with all desired color schemes. Our fingernails would just have to bear the brunt of our parsimoniousness.

But then, suddenly last week, Kitchen urged Microwave to take a stand. Microwave was no longer satisfied with the Handle Challenge. Nope. He wanted our complete attention. Taking a cue from his cousin, Fridge, he set his fan to moaning and grigging and whooping, until finally Groom was compelled to tape the thing shut with a long line of masking tape reading “Do Not Use.” Of course, since I’m the only other person in the house with the might to open the thing, I was pretty sure that obvious face-smacker of a message was personal.

With tit needing tat, I then taped a message across Groom’s nostrils reading, “Do Not Snore.” The masking tape approximates a Breathe Rite strip amazingly well.

Just a little FYI in the midst of all this DIY.

Anyhoodle, Kitchen’s health has clearly been spiraling downwards for some time. Kitchen is a wanker.

And yet.

Out of a downward spiral can come a flash of unexpected creativity and warmth. Just as Kitchen’s shenanigans edged us towards a broil, Groom realized we needed to embrace the demise. We hated the monstrosity that was the microwave, just as we’d hated the linoleum on the floor. So, hell, why not toss the beast out? Why not remove that strangely-placed kitchen accessory (it hung very low over the stovetop) and make it possible to actually stir a pot of stew this winter?

And as long as a few feet of wall were getting opened up there, why not toss a whimsical painting onto that space? In a few months, the room will get a full-body makeover, and anything we do know will be nullified, anyhow. So why not do it up?

After a family brainstorm of possible mini-murals…during which we gently rejected the kids’ rainbow- and Pokemon-inspired scenarios…this is what Groomeo pulled off with a few hours’ work:

Such a modified wall space lifts my heart everytime I enter the kitchen to dig another handful of chocolate chips out of the bag, and that’s frequently. It makes my spirits sing as I pour granola into my yogurt. It makes my eyes twinkle as I pull the cork out of the wine. More honestly, it makes my eyes twinkle as I unscrew the cap on the wine.

As I love up the new wallspace, I’m considering starting to hate other parts of the house, just so Groomeo can paint over them and create unexpected and capricious little scenes.

Come to think of it, I strongly dislike the bare plain that is our toilet seat. Wouldn’t it benefit from a picture of Pikachu lounging under a rainbow?

When fun idea meets with competent execution, any house project can become glamorous, ja?

Just look at what The Master and his Wee Niblet Apprentice cranked out a few weeks ago, with little more inspiration than the words, “Daddy, we should make a haunted house out of shoe boxes.”


I dig my “anything-is-possible” boys.

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FREAK IT, But She’s Hot

Even heathens and pagans know this one:

A guy named Paul, a whole long time ago, found a scroll and a quill and, over a leisurely cup of red wine, asserted that “a woman’s hair is her crowning glory.”

For completely non-biblical reasons–who is this Paul to me, after all?–I’ve often believed that this assertion is true. I love the hair on The Ladies. Even in the midst of several years of sobbing that no one would ever love me, an enduring belief in the power of my hair often pulled me through. Loneliness was counterbalanced by my excitement over follicular sheen and gloss.

I’m all superficial that way.

So riddle me this:

If I love the locks, how can I be completely convinced that should fado singer Mariza ever grow out her hair, it would be an affront to humanity and the heavens?

Because seriously? She got it all goin’ on. Hair? Would interfere with her beauty, charisma, and dynamism.

Suck hair.

Who needs it?

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All Shook Up

My mom graduated from high school in 1953. She graduated from college in 1957. In many ways, she remained distinctly behind the times; for example, when Elvis Presley first appeared on the Ed Sullivan show in 1956 and essentially transformed youth culture in the space of 3 minutes, my mom was blissfully unaware that some lip-curler with a pompadour and loose hips had just awakened a generation from a slumber it hadn’t known it was having.

She was at choir practice, you see–that night, and most nights. And when she wasn’t at choir practice, she was at a Bach concert. Although she was deeply acquainted with falsetto and vibrato, she knew not who Elvis was.

Nor did she care a whit for the Beach Boys or the Beatles or any other group that subsequently rocked through the door Elvis had opened.

You see, even when there wasn’t a Bach concert on the agenda, she could always count on Hayden being played somewhere. Indeed, the classical composers kept my mom out of the mainstream, kept her dreamily drifting through a world of scores and maestros instead of twists and shouts.

In other ways, however, she was completely a reflection of the times, of the 1950’s. She was chaste. She was modest. She was provincial. She had a poodle skirt.

True to her roots and poodles, she’s continued to make a life’s work out of sweetly-sheltered naivete.

Exhibit A: She had been married for some years to my father and had given birth at least once before she got her first inkling of what male homosexual sex entailed. She–hand to throat, accompanied by a gentle gasp and a little handkerchief waving about the face–had no idea. Who knew how versatile an orifice could be? Certainly not me ma.

Exhibit B: About fifteen years ago, when I was in my mid-twenties, she and I were taking a cross-country road-trip. To pass the time, we were reading aloud a Margaret Atwood novel. Right around the Oregon border, as I relaxed with my feet propped up on the dashboard, holding forth from the book, we encountered the term “69.”

“Stop there,” Mom said. “Now I’ve always wondered: what does 69 mean?”

“Well, um, you know, I could tell you and all, but since I’m squirming at the idea of using some of the words around you, Mom, could we pull over, and I’ll just draw you a picture?”

The brakes were hit. There in a rest stop, I created on paper two very lucky stick people who happily met each other head to toe.

After a few “Oh, well” and “Oh, my” exclamations, we clambered back into the car and zoomed on to the family reunion and some ambrosia salad.

Exhibit C: Just this week, we leapt the Grand Canyon of Uninformedness. Mom is visiting for a week, and it’s been all mellow cross-stitching and caramel-apple dipping, save for one quick conversation held at the top of the stairs.

As Mom returned a few borrowed books to me, she said, “I’m still reading that Julie & Julia one, though. But I can’t read any further until I get a dictionary.”

Why? Well, in this book about a woman trying to cook every dish in Julia Child’s most famous cookbook, there are some, as my mom says it, “sex-sual” terms with which she is unfamiliar. And so she needs a dictionary.

Or a daughter.

“Try me, Mom. I bet I can help.”

“Well, off the top of my head, I can’t remember them all, and I can’t seem to find them here in the book right now, but I do recall one was a word, something like ‘connie-lean-goo-ass.'”

Sucking in a deep breath, I clarified, “It’s cunnilingus, Mom. And it means oral sex, when it’s performed on a woman.”

Thinking further, I added, “Do you know what oral sex is? If not, I can draw you a picture. I mean, I do have some stick people in my portfolio who have been experiencing a pretty serious dry spell. They’d probably be pleased to get a little action.”

But, see, Mom divorced Dad a bit ago. Since then, she’s had a couple boyfriends.

So the stick people will have to remain celibate, perhaps until she asks about fellatio when she turns 80 in a few years.

Mom’s answer? Tittering a little, she informed me, “Oh, I do know what oral sex is for a woman. In the last five years, I’ve learned more than I ever thought I could know about that. I had no idea, but now I sure do.”

It would seem, then, that at age 72, my mom is finally ready to walk through the door Elvis opened all those years ago. She might even be ready to consider the implications of Gene Simmons’ tongue.

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Sucking It Up

In last month or two, during a phase when my lap is always full, my neck skin is constantly fondled, and “I yuv you a bushel and a peck” is whispered repeatedly into my ear throughout the day, I am exceedingly aware that

I have never before–and will never again–be loved as

sweetly

deeply

profoundly

devotedly

innocently

and

all-encompassingly


as I am by my four-year-old Wee Niblet.

It rather takes my breath away.

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Sandwiched Ellipses



Some months ago, my much-adored blogpal, Glamourpuss, tagged me with the following meme. Although I entertain some ambivalence about memes, I so much enjoyed reading Puss’s answers that I’m game on this one.

To wit:

If I were a beginning, I would be….everything in the movie RAISING ARIZONA that comes before the opening credits. Then I’d go get my dip-tet.

If I were a month, I would be…controlled by the moon. But I’m not a month; I’m a woman, so I’m controlled by chocolate.

If I were a time of day, I would be…the eleven minutes of Craig Ferguson’s nightly monologue.

If I were a planet, I would be…shocked by my gravity. I’m generally full of levity.

If I were a season, I would be….turmeric. Ah, crud, that’s a seasoning. Okay, I guess I’d be Fall because it’s the season that’s, em, the color of turmeric.

If I were a sea animal, I would be….choking in mercury-laden waters.

If I were a direction, I would be….“Take a left at the corner, and then sit on the couch.”

If I were a piece of furniture, I would be…overstuffed and stained with pasta sauce, envying the Eileen Gray Bibendum chair in the corner for its sleek, clean funkiness. Superior bitch.

If I were a sin, I would be…gluttony. Put a dozen chocolate-chip cookies next to me, click the stopwatch, watch it run for a minute, and then check the cookies. Poof. Gone.

If I were a liquid, I would be…a Long Island Iced Tea: shots of five different liquors masked by the effervescence of Coca-Cola. I’m a little too much and can make your head ache and your mouth feel all cotoony, yet you–strangely–find yourself coming back for more.

If I were a scare, I would be…a Constitution overturned to allow George W. a third term.

If I were a gem, I would be…an agate. Not that, er, I can really recognize an agate. But my kids and husband are really obsessed with looking for agates when we go to the beach, and I like the idea of them pawing through warm stones to find me. Hmm. Maybe they could just bury me under pebbles and then dig me out so’s we could cut out all this middleman gem nonsense.

If I were a flower/plant, I would be…able to overwinter. Put me outside; bring me indoors; I’ll still give you color.

If I were a kind of weather, I would be….cool, but with no chance of frost. I’m hoodie weather walking around in freckled skin.

If I were a musical instrument, I would be…the zither. Strum me, choir boys. Strum me.

If I were an animal, I would be…a platypus. I’d engender simultaneous feelings of “what the hell?” and “hey, kinda cool.” Dig the bill.

If I were an emotion, I would be….angry, confused, sad, surprised, and strangely buoyant that I was an emotion.

If I were a vegetable, I would be…a point of contention for right-to-lifers.

If I were a sound, I would be…sailed by small boats.

If I were an element, I would be…wishing my isotopes were more stable.

If I were a car, I would be…running on fumes.

If I were a song, I would be…”She’s Happy” by the Gear Daddies–not too polished or ground-breaking, but infectious and full of a good story. Plus, as this song, I’d make you want to sing along really loudly and yell “WOO-HOO” at regular intervals while spilling beer on your pals.

If I were a food, I would be…eaten first by the survivors on the island after the plane went down.

If I were a place, I would be…neither here nor there.

If I were a material, I would be…homespun.

If I were a taste, I would be…stealthy but lingering. Call me Mace.

If I were a scent, I would be…that of fresh bread baking.

If I were a religion, I would be…tolerant of those not me.

If I were a sentence, I would be…a run-on.

If I were a facial expression, I would be…fleeting and revealing.

If I were a subject in school, I would be…playing hooky.

If I were a colour, I would be…sort of a blueish-greenish tone with an auburn undertone, all capped off by a thread of gold. Just that easy.

If I were a thing, I would be…part of the Fantastic Four.

If I were a book, I would be…Russian literature, running on for thousands of pages and requiring flow charts of characters for my readers to have any hopes of following along.

If I were an artist, I would be…formerly known as Princess.

If I were a collection of poems, I would be…pissed off at myself for being so cryptic. But then I’d be sitting on a park bench one day and would meet this other collection of poems, one by Louis Jenkins, and I’d see the light: prose poems can make sense and feck all to the rest of y’all, damn poetry. I’d start dating Jenkins’ poems, and then we’d shack up and have a couple little haikus before heading into a dark and cruel break-up that would leave us all shattered and unsure of our line breaks. But every now and then, flailing around in my Plathian state, I’d drop some iambic pentameter and have a flashback during which I’d be reminded why I had ever loved the Jenkins collection in the first place:

“BIG BROWN PILLS
If I were a landmass, I would be…the Maldives: hovering just above sea-level and easily swamped.

If I were a watch, I would be…chronically off by 7 minutes.

I believe in the big brown pills, they lower cholesterol and improve digestion. They help prevent cancer and build brain cells. Plus they just make you feel better overall. I believe in coffee and beet greens and fish oil, of course, and red wine, in moderation, and cinnamon. Green tea is good and black tea, ginseng. I eat my broccoli. Nuts are very good and dark chocolate, has to be dark, not milk chocolate. Tomatoes. But I think the big brown pills really help. I used to believe in the little yellow pills but now I believe in the big brown pills. I believe that they are much more effective. I still take the little yellow ones, but I really believe in the big brown ones.” –Louis Jenkins

If I were God, I would be…a little more directly communicative.

If I were a vowel, I would be…a team player.

If I were a consonant, I would be…dominant.

If I were a theory, I would be…jubilant the day I received an invitation to the Famous Theories cocktail party. I’d get there early, stake out a corner with a good vantage point, and once the Conspiracy Theory About JFK’s Death showed up (tipsy already), I’d sidle over, pour it a G & T, and start pumping it for every juicy detail. Don’t worry: I’d tuck it into a cab at the end of the evening, shortly before calling the New York Times and getting my first byline.

If I were a famous person, I would be…constantly trying to use my clout as a crowbar to wedge my way close–ever closer–to former-president Jimmy Carter. With a white-hot, volcano-deep passion, I adore that man. He is the axis of my faith in humanity. He makes my heart beat for intelligence and energy bent towards genuine good works. I just want to sit next to him and stroke his arm sometimes. Is that so wrong?

If I were an item of electronic equipment, I would be…Miss Sylvia, our Italian-born espresso machine. She lives in a place of honor, both on our kitchen counter and in my husband’s heart. When I’m off with Jimmy, he will take her to the movies and hold her steam-spout there in the darkness.

If I were a sport, I would be…air hockey: simple but slick, accessible to all ages and abilities.

If I were a movie, I would be…RUSHMORE. I aspire to such elegant perfection in any genre.

If I were a cartoon, I would be…”The Rabbit of Seville” featuring good ole Bugs.

If I were an explorer, I would be…so totally lost I’d have to shoot the horses and eat them, even though I’d be morally opposed to harming any animals involved in the production of my exploration.

If I were a scientist, I would be….still trying to figure out how to focus the microscope.

If I were a relation, I would be…Bill Clinton’s version of “not sexual.”

If I were a river, I would be…the Yellowstone.

If I were intoxication, I would be…free and cause no hangover.

If I were alone, I would be…looking at my watch and worrying about how little time I still had before everyone would be home. Just another ten minutes, please.

If I were a question, I would be…Why can’t all those fresh young rehab-addict beyotches see that Helen Mirren is hotter than they’ll ever be?

If I were a habit, I would be…worn by the Mother Superior as she sang “Climb Every Mountain.” Then I’d feel all dirty after she wore me during an illicit rendezvous with Julie Andrews in the catacombs. Ain’t nuthin’ nastier than nun-on-nun.

If I were in an atom, I would be…looking for my Eve.

If I were you, I would be…a little exhausted yet thinking about doing this meme on my own blog.

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Junk in Our Collective Trunk

 

“Junk in Our Collective Trunk”

Dear Painters of the Renaissance:

I’m sorry I was born 450 years too late.

I apologize for my absence, for I could have inspired you. In your work, Peter Paul Rubens, I see appreciation of a natural, bountiful female sensuality; in your work, Tiziano Vecelli (aka “Titian”), I see admiration of soft, rounded flesh. The women you both painted were veritable chaise-lounges of comfort and ease.

Indeed, as you gents cast about for just the right Venus, no doubt pinching many a servant’s bottom and feeling up the bosoms of unwary women at the market under the auspices of “searching for a worthy model,” I could have saved you some effort and grief. First off, I’m fairly laid back at having my caboose clutched and my chest copped. Secondly, I have what you sought. My bones are well padded and, even more, I’m very good at sitting still and shutting up or, alternately, at prattling on and excising little cross-sections of life–whatever you required at the moment. I have a good listening ear, if you needed one, and I’m very good at asking questions, if prodding would have edged you towards catharsis and inspiration. All of this finely attuned companionship, of course, would have been supplemented with a frothy chai latte and a hazelnut biscotti.

What?

You haven’t heard of chai?

Hark! There is so much I could have brought to you from my futuristic time capsule of global experience. You probably don’t even know what blow dryer is. And honeys? Your beards could’ve used a good blow out. That’s some ratty action you had going on there.

Moreover, boys, if you found yourselves hamstrung by painter’s block, I could have helped push you through by singing a couple infectious Regina Spektor tunes or humming some Billy Squier 1980’s flashback rock. Although I guess it would have been flashforward rock, seeing as we’d be sitting and singing and painting in the 1500 and 1600s, and the words “stroke me/stroke me” may have, at that point, only applied to your canvases and not your own selves (But what a breakthrough that could have been! Talk about an era of light shedding!).

You take my point, though, I’m sure. For you, in your time and place, I would have been a model model.

Beyond saving you boys some time and easing the torturous process of birthing masterpieces, I too would have gotten something from our artist/muse relationship. Truly, fostered under your ideal of the female form, I could have had some kickass Baroque self-esteem. To have been a living, breathing, walking Renaissance hottie–now that would have been novel.

You see, I have a strong, lush body, one that gets very little acclaim in the 21st Century. Until I met my husband, I had never been anyone’s ideal. For years, I thought this was somehow tied into personal failings–a weakness of my own character. I mean, when random people would make derogatory comments (like the 6-year-old boy who biked past me when I was 11 and weighed 120 pounds with the height of 5′ 3″ and hollered “Gawd, you’re fat!”), I used to think they were right and that their judgements somehow pertained to my inner self and that, were I a different or a better person, I’d be thin.

If only I’d lived in a time where women with breasts and bellies and hips and flesh were heralded as Venus. See, in my time, beauty = visible bones. And I don’t really have those. Wait–try my clavicle. Yup, there are some at the base of my neck. But otherwise? I am gooshy, and no one’s ever been clamoring to heft my goosh up on to a pedastal.

Case in point: in college, after much hemming and hawing, and after days of psyching myself up, I called a young man and asked him out for a drink. On the other end of the phone, he went silent, finally chewing out a “No. I don’t drink.” Funny, I’d seen him at party after party, tripping over himself. I amended my offer to going out for coffee. His answer became even more abbreviated, to a more bitten “no.” There was humiliation in my cheeks as my hand hung up the receiver.

A week later, at a party in a parking lot, when everyone had drunk too much, my roomate spotted the cad and vowed to get to the bottom of his refusal. Being small and lovely, she had no trouble gaining his ear. As she returned to me, sheepishly composing a diplomatic reply, the best she could come up with was “He said you’re heavy set. That was the problem.”


This was the college-era me he had seen and found wanting. Bastard didn’t even give me a chance to open my eyes and take the leaf out of my mouth.

I know, dear paintermen, you are aghast. My torso alone could have kept you busy for weeks.

And although I am unique, my experience in this regard is not.

Get this, lads: a couple of weeks ago, a very fragile, sad, scared woman put herself in front of millions of people and tried to convince them through song and dance that she was an iconic beauty. She was mocked and torn down for her presumptuousness, told that she was “fat” because, like me at age 11, she weighed around 120 pounds while standing 5’3″. People couldn’t believe one so pudgy tried to sell herself as desirable.

So how should that make me and the rest of The Ladies feel, those of us who would kill to be so “fat”? Here’s how: pathological.

Check it: I recently went through a bout of food poisoning, possibly some mild e.coli, that wracked my bowels for almost a month. Eventually, I started to feel lethargic and wasted all day long. But mentally? I was turning somersaults; you see, fellas, even though I do an hour of cardio exercise every single day, and even though I do Pilates and yoga weekly, and even though I am fit as hell, I’ve still got the goosh. But under the stringent guidance of the food poisoning diet? Dearlings, I lost seven pounds. And I was thrilled. In the sickness of my culture and my brain, I would have welcomed months and months of food poisoning, if it meant the pounds would drop off.

Let’s all take a moment to sigh, shake our heads, and long for the relatively-rational thinking of the Borgias.

That’s why I have my dreams of time travel. I’d be glad to pack up my goosh and a pan of brownies and head back to the Renaissance, where I would stand a chance of becoming a publicly-revered Venus, freed from the tense relationship that my body and I currently carry on. You’d do that for me, the whole vaunting my womanly form thing, wouldn’t you, my little artistic pudding heads?

And if the time-travel channels to the Renaissance are jammed, I’d be willing to jump back even further, say 24,000 years, where I daresay I’d discover a quiet peace while sitting in the corner of a cave, watching some prehistoric sculptor carve out his vision of Mother Earth–the earliest of Venuses:

See, I don’t even have to be the model. I just want to witness passionate veneration of breasts held sway by gravity; I want to behold someone treating a rounded belly with awe.

So go ahead and objectify, ya big immortalizers of flesh. I’m not complaining about that one whit. Just give us a jiggling buttock to applaud every now and then.

Stretch your canvas a little, and then fill it up.

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Dognapped

 

Until recently, we had an extremely yappy dog living next door.

She didn’t live alone, of course. She had handlers.

Interestingly, this family of hers was, in every area outside of pet ownership, an uptight, buttoned-down group of people. Their home and yard were tidy, pristine. Their voices were never raised; indeed, they were emblematic Midwesterners when it came to tightness of emotional expression. They rarely interacted with us or each other. Mostly, they drove up, marched sullenly into the house carrying their bags from the mall, and sat inside, in front of the flickering glow of the television. They were nothing remarkable.

Except that damn dog. Remarkable understates her ability to yap loudly, continually, and relentlessly at 7 a.m. She was equally gifted at 11:00 p.m.

Dog had pipes.

And as she sat in the yard, tethered to the swingset all day, her sharp barks were like leeetle needles pelting into my skin. For the most part, I could ignore her during the colder months, when our house was shut up. However, during the warmer months, there was no shutting up–of our windows, of Zoe the Dog, or of my complaints about her blood-pressure-raising ruckus. On the rare occasion that I’d forget about Zoe, I would invariably also be pushing my children in a stroller down the sidewalk next to her house. Zoe, leashed, would rush us, unleashing a cacophony of aggressive snarls and yips and snertles and choler and froth. Startled out of my gourd, I’d leap three feet into the air and scream loudly; the formerly-blissed-out children would wail with fear.

Dog was a bitch.

On the really bad days, when my muttered complaints turned into out-and-out anger, I pondered how best to deal with this interpersonal issue. Sure, I could have tried addressing it directly with the owners. But I expected, at best, a reaction of agitated and defensive marching into the house, bags from the mall in tow. Even further, the benign nothingness between us could have hardened and frozen into a new Cold War. Or, if they really wanted to push my buttons, they could have started putting Zoe out at 6 a.m. and keeping her there until midnight.

I saw no easy solution, outside of taking back the power: I entertained a Kramer-like plan to ‘nap the pooch and drive it, with my good pal Newman, over a state border, ditching her there.

But I didn’t have a delivery van, or a pal named Newman, and the nearest state border runs across a big bridge, which would mean, for purposes of high drama, I’d have to dump Zoe out of the vehicle from a fifty-foot bridge and let her free fall into Lake Superior.

On some level, that didn’t seem fair retribution for a vastly-annoying dog who had unfortunately fallen into the care of owners who were indifferent about her effect on the neighborhood.

So I fretted. I complained. I tutted. I plotted. No matter what tack my brain took, the whole dilemma always degenerated into an unsolvable moral issue.

Ultimately, I peered into my heart and realized I needed to turn this question over to a Higher Power.

Thus, I found myself, cranky and too-wide-awake one summer morning at 6:45 a.m., cursing the beast that woke me, ruminating:

What would Scooby do?

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Blast Off

 

As we tick down to the autumnal equinox, I am left reflecting on what this most-recent summer has dished up.

For one: hecka lotta togetherness. Mostly, I like it, but I’ll be the bold parent here who admits that I live for the hours without kids. Groom? Now he can always be around. His presence is no work for me; he just busies himself with a crossword, marinates some flank steak, and paints the light post out front. In between activities, he conversates with me and kisses me and laughs in all the right places.

But the kids? They don’t always know when to laugh. And they certainly don’t always know when to hesh up. Yea, yea, yea: I adore them. I like them better than any other kids anywhere. But sometimes I have to admit that I’m a parent who’s really, really cut out for “the school years,” when they will go away for a few hours during the day. We’re still on kindergarten-countdown with the Niblet, though, so daytime hours sans both kids remains but a misty dream. In the meantime, as we count out twelve more months until Girl and Niblet hop onto a bus together in the morning, and I sob uncontrollably over the steering wheel in the mini-van as I follow their bus to the school, well, we will do a lot of science “conspiriments” with Niblet, a four-year-old who maintains that Einstein is clearly the best scientist ever because of his bold hair, but who also gives Galileo some props for a cool name and bringing the telescope into use. Niblet does savor a good telescope.

This week, Groom and Niblet made lenses out of jello jigglers. If you pour and congeal the jello into anything curved, like a ladel, it can be really nifty to look through once it’s sprung free. I know this because I inserted two jello-jiggler lenses into my glasses, and the world is suddenly teeming with magic. I never saw the elves before now. But there they are, dancing around my new navy-blue Born wedge slides.

Last week, the boys made guitars out of shoe boxes and rubber bands (good job putting to rest the notion that hillbilly is limited to the South, fellas).

At any rate, we still have like 11.5 months until kindergarten.

Not that I’m counting.

At least most of the neighborhood kids have been off to school these last couple of weeks…

…speaking of too much togetherness this summer.

Love the neighborhood gang. Love the constant playdates. But, three months into the daily free-for-all of a hoard of kids at loose ends, I’m of the mind that they now should all go away for some hours each day. Indeed, now that it’s September, I am reveling in stepping out the front door without being accosted by Young Master from across the street, he who seemed, all summer, to rely upon our family’s presence, plans, and actions for his sensory input. Young Master’s beleagured father generally followed in his son’s wake, hoping, too, that we could help them find ways to pass the hours.

I’m all for 2nd grade helping Young Master with his need for attention and a daily plan. Don’t miss your bus, Young Master! Chase it! Sprint, lad!
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Secondly, this summer offered up some chances for us to bring the world to our kids, a part of parenthood that is most gratifying. A major piece of my personality is run by a manic lady named Hostess; Hostess does so like to bring people together or to match someone with a resource or to lay out a platter of pita chips and hummus. I like to take all those little threads out there in the world and knit a shaggy tam o’ shanter from them.

Taking the kiddles places and exposing them to a variety of realities pleases Hostess Jociepashmina.

To that end, this summer, that meant we had a three-week trip around Colorado, Wyoming, and Montana.


I tossed the Little Tugboat into a river in Yellowstone Park. He refused to let me set him on the back of a wild bison for a photo (great shot for the Xmas letter and all!), and a consequence was called for.

Additionally, the kiddles got to work at a farmer’s market, weighing tomatoes, and go to the Minnesota State Fair for the first time.


As they viewed the butterheads there, whole new vistas beckoned. Holy Land O’ Lakes, if sculpting a beauty queen’s likeness out of churned cream is possible, what isn’t?

As well, they ran and kicked balls. Some organized sport or ‘uther.


Even more, Girl experienced for the first time the utter joy of cranking on two wheels–no training wheels!–which, seriously, is life-altering in ways I’d not completely fathomed. Riding a bike independently means that our girl child can now go nearly anywhere in the world and get around. She is not bound by gas or license. I was floored by the unexpected feeling of her having become more of a global citizen, just by mastering this skill.

Of course, as I played around with these profound musings, I was nursing a cocktail we like to call The Humidor, so it’s an eensy bit possible that the shot of rum in it might have lubricated my thrum of harmonic convergence.


Moreover, by dipping canoe and paddles into the water, we showed the kids how easily perspective and rhythm can shift, how the town they are accustomed to seeing from car can appear new again from the water, from an angle out and away. They also noted how the malt shop is still easy to get to by boat.

Good information, that.
Of course, we made Girl jump and swim for her malt, if she was so set on having one. Actions prove depth of desire is our household motto.

It’s not really. I made that up. Curses on the truth serum that controls me.

We don’t have a household motto, outside of “Duck! It’s Young Master! He’s trolling! Not a sound, children! Not a damn sound. If you have to sneeze, stick your head in the begonia! But remember: stealth…stealth is the order of the day as we try to get to the car without detection!

At any rate, from ducking and covering, to riding the two wheeler, to not capsizing the boat, the summer saw us engaging and attempting and mastering.
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Thirdly, and probably most importantly, this nearly-finished summer reminded us how the kids will bring the world right back to us. Their interests are already leading me to places I had never thought to venture.

I love the fact that all of the intentions and statements and thoughts I had for my kids before I humped them out have dissipated. In many ways, it’s not so much for me to prescribe who they will be but rather to recognize where they’re going and see what I can do to tag along.

Pokemon has pounded this home.

Wholly and entirely, our summer has been about Pokemon.

I hear ya. Your groans are audible, you know.

I didn’t really know what Pokemon was, myself, three months ago. Vaguely, I knew it was something I would never, ever have an interest in, and Manga Forbid my kids would ever take an interest in those little weird Japanese cartoony characters who did dueling or needed training or something. Dumb, dumb, DUM was such stuff.

Then Niblet caught the fever. Girl followed suit, along with all the other kids in the neighborhood.

As it turns out, I really like to talk to Niblet and Girl about what excites them; I like to see how every little thing that catches their fire can expand the family vibe. If they think something is cool, I can suspend my disbelief.

Thus, we have become a happy family of purposeful Geekdom here on the edge of Lake Superior. ‘Cause, honey? My kids currently have three-ring binders full plastic sleeves that organize their constantly-evolving collection of Pokemon cards. They carry these binders everywhere. When their little arms get tired, I help them carry their binders. I would buy them wheelbarrows for their binders.

And I’m a little tempted to get my own binder.

I kind of want to start trading cards and all. What if I could strong-arm the seven-year-old down the street (“Cough it up, or I’ll tell your mother”) to obtain the ultra-rare Flying Pikachu card, after all?

If I could manage such a coup, then the summer would have real meaning for me–it would have been about something lasting, something special.

Otherwise, when all else falls away, and the kids have grown up and come out of the closet and are on their meds and have found good therapists, what will I be left with?

It’ll be just me and Groom and a crossword puzzle and a blunt pencil with no eraser.

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So as the summer of 2007 gasps its last, and the Girl heads off to school each day, and Groom and Niblet pass an hour by MacGuyvering an air rocket out of the bicycle pump and a plastic bottle full of water, and my blogging countdown of summers past rounds out,

I realize that I don’t really need anything,

so long as I have my three-ring binder with my Flying Pikachu card

And that’s it and that’s the only thing I need.

I don’t need one single thing else–

except my crocheted poncho
and my floppy hat
and my bus pass
and my half-eaten pack of Wacky Wafers
and my remote control

…and this ashtray and this paddle game. That’s all I need.

All I need are my binder and my card and my poncho and my hat and my bus pass and my Wacky Wafers and my remote control and this ashtray and this paddle game. I don’t need anything else–

except these matches and this chair. But that’s all I need.

Oh, and this lamp. But I don’t need anything else. These are the only things I need, are these.

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Tight

 

I’m cheap.

It’s not that I want to be; rather, it’s that I’ve never had heaps of money, and I do so like stuff. The marriage of these realities means that I live for a bargain.

Don’t get me wrong: I inherently have expensive tastes, and I would love to be flush enough to shell out $400 for a pair of shoes, or a couple of weeks’ salary for that there Alberta Ferretti suit, or a prince’s ransom for a leather bag (in Minnesota, incidentally, if you pay Prince’s ransom, it’s comprised of Sheila E’s cast-off chandelier earrings, a purple electric guitar, and a stack of raspberry berets). Truly, I’m all for having and spending money, if that’s what one enjoys.

I could very much enjoy.

However, while I make a healthy-enough income, we are a family of four that lives on one teacher’s salary, so, resultingly, I’m cheap. Indeed, I’m cut-rate to the point that my most-panted-after rendezvous is an intimate tete-a-tete at an outdoor cafe with a flirtatious cad named “Free.”

I could sit down with Free for hours and explore his every angle. I am not above making him stand and bend over. Indeed, Free needs to touch his toes and do a couple cherry pickers for me, as I cock my head to the side and analyze his subtleties, considering how to get him to come home with me.

I’ve hooked up with Free at a few clubs–when I was younger, and occasionally someone would buy me a drink. I’ve met him at the grocery store, in the produce aisle, where my kids get one of his apples to eat (FREE!) while we shop. I’ve bumped into him at my college, in a dark corridor; I smelled him first. There he loitered, on a table outside the daycare, lounging. In that case, he took the form of outgrown children’s clothes which were being passed on to random passers-by who might need them in their own lives. Free has dressed my children.

And last summer, Free and I wassailed in our biggest dalliance yet.

I scoped him out for some time, this particularly fine specimen of Free. I admired his tight corners and hard body before making my move. It was on one of my customary running routes that I first spotted him–dejected, alone, looking neglected in the corner. I felt for him. Quite obviously, he wanted to be of use; his good intent was clear. This was a Free with potential, if I could work a little Svengali magic on him.

Subsequent to that sighting–when I first began to have feelings for him–I began a concerted stalking of Free. Twice a week sometimes, I’d jog past his house, my eyes skimming, scanning, on the lookout for Free’s soon-to-be-ex.

Then, one day…there she was, way back in the far reaches of her property: Her. Her owned Free, but not for long, if I was given any license at all to work my wiles.

Calling out ahead of me, “Em, excuuuuuse me…I don’t mean to alarm you, but I just was wondering…”

Within minutes, I had made my case: Her had a playset on Her property. The grass around the playset was long, untrampled; ergo, the playset seemed unused. And if the playset wasn’t being used, it should come home with me. It should be the latest notch on my Free headboard.

Luckily, Her responded well to my overtures. As it turned out, Her son was 12, past the age of swinging and sliding (except in the clubs, wid his posse). She and her husband had just, three days earlier, been despairing–what is it one does with a large playset when the family has grown up?

One finds a Jocelyn and gives her the Free.

In quick order, I had permission to use their trailer, to call upon her husband for help with the dismantling, to tuck this Free unto my proverbial bosom (which, despite being proverbial, is also prodigious). I ran home, this time with pep in my step–for that’s what Free does to me–and breathlessly asked Groom,

“Say, you’ve always wanted a marriage of three, right? ‘Cause I’ve found a new paramour, a new Free, and he wants to move in.”

Groom, who only wished he’d been old enough in the ’70s to participate in a key party (mostly for the hors d’oevres, in truth), was game. He willingly invited Free into our household–in fact, Sweet Swingin’ Seventies, he went on the hunt, seeking out this Free and dragging him to our home, where he, then, with no help at all, got Free set up and set Free’s joint a’jumpin’.


In due time, of course, we got greedy. We loved our new Free. But we wanted more.

More.

More.

Like, for example, food.

Fer Free.

As luck would have it, the local grocery store (I like to imply we have just one, what with our town of 90,000 being such a remote outpost and all) was running a contest last summer: using one or more of the store’s paper grocery bags, competitors were urged to create a figure, artwork, or diarama representing the spirit and feeling of Duluth.

Clearly, most of the Melvins entering this contest would go for the obvious: Duluth’s landmark lift bridge:

But we did not want to be Melvins. We aspired to be something more original.

We aspired to be Jaspers. Or Agamemnons. Or Frejas.

And since the reward for winning this contest was a big bevy of Free (a year of costless groceries), Groom took the assignment seriously; he was gunning for our biggest-ever windfall of Free. He had the Eye of the Tiger (purchased at the dollar store with a 20% off coupon).

I’ll put it this way: by the time he was done, Groom had collected gravel and baked it in the oven, drying it out so that the hot-glue gun could do its best magic.

We don’t bake gravel for just anything at our house, either. Just for contests.

And dinner sometimes.

Occasionally lunch.

But never breakfast. Never breakfast.

In the conceptual stages, Groom pondered. What is Duluth? (check out this little slideshow of his thoughts…only the newest technology could capture his musings):

Damn if it ain’t greenspaces and canyons and water and runners and creeks and bridges and such.

Groom could capture that in the medium of brown paper bag. Mos’ def. Even more, he could capture it all AND still have the grocery store’s logo showing, per contest rules.

This is what he, some scissors, and the hot-glue gun came up with:


Groom is very cute when he gets all nerdy about the Free.

As it turned out, he didn’t win the regional contest nor advance to the state level (and the year’s worth of free groceries). Instead, he came in a rousing third place. Second place was a paper-mache gnome holding a bouquet. First place was a giant mosquito whose body was paper bags wrapped around a garbage can.

There is indignity in losing to a gnome.

But you can’t begrudge a giant mosquito much. Props to the mosquito.

We had to settle, therefore, for a $25 certificate for free groceries at the store.

You feel it? That’s $25 of Free. With our mad Free skillz, that translated in to a hundred gumballs.
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Later that summer, we had to work The Free even further. Seems the sun was getting into the kids’ eyes and all.


Of the glasses you see here, I only paid cash money for one pair.

Dig the Free, Chachi.

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