“Talent Will Tell”

Most nights, I watch only the first three minutes of the evening news. Everyone knows the first three minutes are where it’s at, and the other twenty-seven minutes are all weather teasers; superficial overviews of happenings nationally and internationally; the weather guy in an outside-the-studio weather garden ringing a bell because the night is, er, “clear as a bell”; hockey highlights; regional weather reports; weather-across-the-nation summaries; stories about how Gordy at Gordy’s High-Hat Diner has been pleasing crowds for three decades with his well-fried hamburgers; and weather predictions for the following day, all capped off with some stilted banter between faux-jovial anchors (“That cold weather, Steve, that’s kind of like ‘brrrr, why do we live here, isn’t it?'” “Don’t you know it, Seth! I couldn’t have said it better.”)

Okay, I have to be honest here. I don’t even think the first three minutes are worth tuning into, much less the other twenty-seven agonizing minutes. Local evening news–any evening news–is a bunch of overpackaged blather (Gordy and his burgers notwithstanding).

But sometimes I tune in, just to see if Dick Cheney’s shot anyone that day.

And occasionally, even if Cheney has kept his finger off the trigger and his hands off George Bush’s marionette strings, the evening news coughs up a goodie. For the last four years here in Duluth, those goodies have come from one source, a baby-faced newbie reporter-cum-anchor named Edward Moody.

My relationship with Edward started when he, a fresh graduate from some Kansas university, landed a job “here in the Northland.” For his first assignment, his mettle was tested when studio heads packaged his lithe frame into a huge parka and stationed him, in the middle of a severe ice storm with hurricane-force winds, out on the most blustery corner in our beloved hamlet of Frigidville. For many greenhorn reporters, this would have been a moment with which they would not have reckoned at all well. Many unseasoned reporters would have watched their frozen fingers snap off, one by one, blowing away in the tempest, and decided, “Mom, Dad, I’m coming home to live in the basement. My blogging will keep me out of trouble; I promise.”

But not Edward. Nae, Edward fluffed his parka, clung to the microphone with every frozen finger still dangling from his paw, and shouted to the camera with an enthusiasm bordering on glee: “This is Edward Moody, coming to you from the Coppertop Church, where small children are flying by my head, their bodies encased in ice! You can hear faint splashes as their bodies reach the lake and are tossed in!! Even better, cars all around me are skidding into light poles, but luckily their frames are buffered by the two inches of ice coating their exteriors. Indeed, this is no night for man, beast, or daycare to venture out!!!!”

Then he winked, turned a cartwheel right there in the church parking lot, and wrapped it all up by doing jazz hands after tossing a baton twenty feet into the air (not that he caught it; the baton was found the next day embedded into the side of the Positively Third Street Bakery, where it had narrowly missed decapitating a worker who was rolling out challah dough).

In short, Edward breathed passion and fire into that ice storm, melting hearts around the city.

The next day, I sent in my registration and dues for the as-yet-nonexistent Edward Moody Fan Club. It’s a great club to be a part of, since there are no meetings or officers. We do nothing but tune into the universal vibe that is Edward. And we don’t even have to watch the news to feel that. It just thrums amongst the stars.

After such an auspicious start, his natural talent and boyish enthusiasm fast-tracked him to a job as weekend and morning anchor. More than anything, the populace of Duluth has been eager to see him grow facial hair and hear his voice change. We’ve folded the lad unto our bosom, and isn’t he turning out nicely?

So you can imagine how exponentially my affection grew a few months ago when I staggered down to the television one morning at 6:15, turning it on as I grappled about for a Backyardigans DVD that might sedate the Wee Niblet and tamp down his natural energies until at least sunrise, only to find Edward already in the studio, dapper in his usual sartorial splendor, presiding over the morning news.

I stood up a little straighter and ran a hand through my tousled hair, discreetly testing my breath in the palm of my hand (Verdict? Nasty.). Averting my mouth from the television, I watched peripherally, as Edward put his own stamp on morning anchoring.

At the end of the broadcast, Edward suddenly departed from reading the teleprompter, acting initially as though he was launching into some wooden repartee with the weather guy:

“It was my birthday yesterday, you know, Todd.”

“Oh, well, happ–“

“And you know, Todd, I was feeling a little down…” [editor’s note: It’s hard to be a person of color here in Honkeytown, not to mention young and, I speculate, gay…so don’t go getting the idea that feeling depressed is a usual thing for Edward. Don’t. He’s fine. He just had ONE hard day, all right?]

“Geez, Edward, that’s too bad. But you know, we at the station all wish you a happ–“

“And so here’s the thing, Todd. I went up to the mall…” [another editor’s note: Bad idea, Edward. The mall never made anyone feel better, even if they got a Cinnabon. That thing goes to the hips for a lifetime and is the stuff of regret.]

“Wow, that’s great, Edward. The mall is a great place to see some weather, which we now need to wrap up…”

“And after I’d walked around for awhile–feeling a little mopey, I’ll admit–I headed out to the parking lot.”

“Wow. Now we really do need to just recap the weather. Tomorrow we’ll see…”

“And when I was in the parking lot, a woman drove by and recognized me. She stopped and rolled down her window to tell me that she’s a fan and how much she likes the broadcast…” [editor’s note: How could she not? It’s EDWARD, and he is possessed of a natural charisma the likes of which Bill Clinton only aspires to] “…and then she started telling me about how watching our show has really helped get her through some hard times.”

“Sure enough, people have hard times in all kinds of weather, don’t they, Edward? And if I could just go into some of that NOW…”

“So I listened to her tell me about her thirteen-month-old son and how he’d been really having a really hard time because he’d needed a series of eye surgeries…” [editor’s note: I don’t have a thirteen-month-old, already. And no eye surgeries. I wasn’t at the mall that day. Sure, one time I ran into Edward at the grocery store and mauled him near the butter, asking him, “So who *does* choose your on-air clothes? Because you are always so turned out.” But, swearsies, that was not me at the mall that day.] “…and she was just telling me how difficult the last year has been for her and how she really appreciated the brightness I’d brought into her mornings…”

“That’s really interesting, Edward. We’re just about out of time here, so quickly, let me just warn…”

“And after I thanked her for her kind words, I really had a moment there. I know we’re about out of time, Todd, but it really hit me there in the parking lot that no matter how bad you think you’ve got it, there’s always someone else who has it worse….” [editor’s note: I’m sure the hard-times woman felt really good about herself when she watched you say that, Edward. But we can forgive you one gauche misstep. You’re young, after all, and compassion comes in baby steps.] “…and so I needed to buck up and realize that I should just be appreciating what I have. Now, Todd, I know I’ve used up your time here, but we’ve got to sign out now. This is Edward Moody, along with Todd Hansen, hoping you have a good day.”

As the cameras pulled back, Todd’s body language remained agitated–after all, he hadn’t finished off his broadcast with the much-needed thirteenth reminder to “grab an umbrella before heading out”–while Edward’s face softened into misty dreaminess as he further mused on the lessons of his birthday.

The following week, swear to Cronkite, Todd Nelson announced that he would be switching stations and becoming the weather dude for a new FOX nightly news broadcast.

My forecast for Todd in his new job? A cold front of completely scripted weather updates, sprinkled with showers of awkward banter alternating with deep sighs of opportunity-missed, topped off with patches of keening for the sunshine that is Edward “Keepin’ It Real” Moody.

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The Wisdom Is Not Actually IN the Teeth

The Wisdom Is Not Actually in the Teeth”

A couple of weeks ago, Groom, at age 36, had two wisdom teeth extracted. Since he’d had the bottom teeth taken out during college, he had only the top two with which to contend. One of his top buckers had emerged from the gum and, with no wisdom tooth on the lower jaw beneath it to grind against, this tooth had then continued to grow, unchecked. Basically, he had an inside-the-mouth fang, which, luckily, is just how all the Red Carpet Hollywood celebs are wearing their fangs this year. On the other side of his skull, Groom had an impacted wisdom tooth; the lily-livered thing was afraid to peer out into the light of day. Or the light of soft palate.

Except soft palates aren’t really renowned for their light.

So the tooth was afraid to peer out into the, er, moist, soft darkness of the mouth cave. Now *that’s* lily-livered, eh? I mean, what’s so scary about a moist, dark place, ya big Tooth Wussy?

Well, bats, for one. They’re found in moist, dark places (not so much mouths, though), and they’re scary. If you fall asleep in a cave, after a long day of spelunking, bats will crawl down your throat and suffocate you.

You maybe didn’t know that. I’m a regular font of little-known facts like that. If you ever need to know what to do with a shoelace and a bottle of lotion, just ask me. I’ve got the knowledge locked up.

So, to summarize this post so far: Groom had one too-big tooth that hurt and one no-show tooth that hurt, and bats are possessed of a rare evil.

On the day of his tooth extraction, Groomeo was nervous, fidgety even, which is a rarity. Normally, Groom is Walking Zen, all contented fluid control (he’s like the fog…everywhere at once so subtly that you can breathe him but not touch him). But that day, he was a little twitchy, scratchy, jerky.

To assuage his nerves, I tried making a dramatic show of complimenting him: “What a Big Boy you are! If it hurts when you wake up, I’ll have a Tootsie Pop and a Harry Potter sticker waiting for you, sweetie!!!! And you’re such a strong, fine lad that I’m sure you’ll be back on your skateboard, doing tricks outside the public library, in no time.”

Oddly, his twitching gained momentum.

The surgery went well–he didn’t have any psychological breaks due to the anaesthesia or provide me with any new material by waking up sobbing, “Beethoven…Beethoven…bound through the meadow towards me, my love! Embrace me!”–and a few hours later, we headed home where he began the long, slow process of recovery.

I was ready for the bloody gauze, the swollen chipmunk cheeks, and the unfocused Lortab pupils. But I hadn’t realized he would also need to rinse his mouth every half hour, for, well, let’s see how long it’s been now–um, TWO WEEKS. Basically, he’s been carrying around a Nalgene bottle full of a salt/baking soda potion, and no matter where we’re at, he faithfully does the swish and spit. Parking meters, the kids’ hair, tree trunks, and people waiting at the bus stop…all have felt the spray of his rinse.

Once or twice, when we’ve all been out somewhere together, I’ve forgotten about the All-Important Rinse Bottle and tried to give the kids a drink from it. As a result, my son has a new love for “savory water” and will no doubt dip a cup into the Pacific Ocean one day, when he visits the West Coast, raising his salty drink in a toast to Good Ole Pappy.

As the healing has progressed, there have been a few setbacks; for example, a stitch popped well before the date when it should have. After that, like the pearls falling off my heirloom choker when I snagged it on Laura Bush’s brooch at a State Dinner, the stitches began a steady plink, plink, plink of unraveling. And then, well, the smell began. (No, not at the State Dinner. The White House actually has a reasonably talented chef, one who uses shallots to great effect and who keeps bad smells to a minimum. Keep up with me here.)

The smell began inside Groom’s mouth. Personally, I stayed far enough away that I could just take his word for it–we wouldn’t want The Lurve to suffer, after all. But he spent several days shaking his head, noting, “Man, my mouth reeks.” Then he’d pick up his Nalgene bottle and do the swish ‘n rinse.

Shortly thereafter, The Flap became an issue. What with the stitches gone (and, er, our phone out of order so that he couldn’t call the oral surgeon’s office for aid), a flap of unhealed skin hung down. I envisioned it as a stage curtain that could be drawn when the bits of trapped rice and ham were ready to perform and then closed again after they took their bows. I considered buying tickets to see The Flap.

But then, one afternoon, Groom approached me rather tentatively and admitted, “I just swallowed The Flap. It sort of, well, fell off right when I was drinking, and down the hatch it went.”

R.I.P, Flap.

A consequence of The Flap’s demise was that there is now even less protection between Groom’s upper gum and his sinuses, where the impacted tooth was extracted. Only the thinnest of partitions separates these areas now, until new tissue grows to fill things in.

All of this leads me to the question that now occupies me most: Since the reek has gone away, and, thus, I now feel like getting near The Groom again, is it possible that I might try to lay a passionate kiss on him some night, only to have my tongue come out his nostril?

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Seven Years Since the Blue Moon

I got engaged and pregnant on the same day.

Even better, it was “Buck Night” at the local ball park, so I also got to drink a whole lot of cheap beer on a really humid July night while feigning interest in an All-American sport.

You might be trying to forge a connection between all that cheap beer and my getting knocked up. Damn your clever mind. Does it never rest?

Suffice it to say, though, that pretty much all of my days since then have been anticlimactic. They’re all “go to work, read to the kids, sweat through a run, fold some laundry” and ever-so-rarely are they “get engaged, drink beer, get pregnant” kinds of days. I suppose, though, that a girl can only have so many such splendid Whopper Days; otherwise, I’d have a whole lot of husbands, hangovers, and kids. And frankly, one or two of each is about all I can handle. Ask both my husbands. They’ll attest to my treating them with an air of benign neglect. Fortunately, they are a comfort to each other.

So, yes, from that sticky July day came good things. I still dote on my groom, and the issue of that pregnancy is just cresting seven years old (since I, personally, remember a lot from Age 7, this implies to me that I should start being nicer to Girl, now that her powers of recall are firmly in place).

It’s all good now, but the growth and arrival of our Girl weren’t as straightforward as her conception. In fact, Girl started out as two.

All I knew was that I was pregnant, and the hospital in our town would confirm that but would not have me see a doctor or midwife until the end of the first trimester. So I took some vitamins, ate a lot of Ben & Jerry’s, exercised, and dreamed an entire life for the child inside of me.

Until one night–the last night of that first trimester–when I got off the couch after watching some bad reality tv and went to the bathroom. After pulling down my shorts, I discovered the pregnant woman’s nightmare: blood. Lots of it. And when I sat down on the toilet, there was an explosion of more blood, along with many miscellaneous floating bits…of tissue.

My brain reeled, of course, and all I could think was, “This can’t be good. I’m pregnant, so this should stop.” At the time, Groom and I weren’t yet married, and he lived almost six-hours away. I called him; he packed and hopped in his car; then I called a Best Girlfriend, and she was at my house in minutes.

We went to the emergency room, where I spent a long, long time with my feet in stirrups. I heard words like “she’s dilated” and “tissue in the cervix” and “no heartbeat.” My friend stood by my side, crying quietly into a Kleenex. My own tears just dripped onto the sheets below me.

After some time, I was told that it looked as though I’d miscarried. But, they told me, I was young, so future pregnancy could happen. And, they told me, a miscarriage is Nature’s way of ending a nonviable pregnancy. It happened, they told me, all the time.

But here’s the thing: it hadn’t happened to me before, and so I was ill-equipped to handle the absolute, immediate grief of losing a life I had already planned. Sure, I’d heard of women having miscarriages, but no one had actually ever brought that experience alive for me; no one had shared their experience publicly–and if there’s one thing I do, it’s find ways to process the world by looking at the experiences of others. Yet miscarriage proved to be one of those last female taboos, one of the hidden subjects that no one acknowledged. So all I really knew was that I was in significant physical pain (I didn’t even know enough to realize a miscarriage is actually a mini-labor, with a contracting uterus and everything) and even more profound emotional pain.

When, at 4 a.m., Groom finally got to me, we just cried. And the next day, and the day after that, we cried. A baby isn’t real to the world until it’s born, but it had become real to us from the minute that stick turned pink.

Some days later, we went to see the midwife at the hospital, to have her check my uterus to see if all the tissue had been expelled that night in the emergency room, or if I’d need to undergo a D & C, to “clean things up.”

As I lay there, again on a table, she palpated my uterus, noting, “There’s still a fair amount of tissue in here. If you don’t mind, I’m going to roll over the mobile ultrasound machine to see how much we’re dealing with.”

I didn’t want to see the remains of the babe, so I stared at the wall as she worked, not registering her words of, “Hmmm. I see a heartbeat here.”

How cruel, I thought. Why is she taunting me?

But. Then. It. Sunk. In. A heartbeat?

My head whipped to look at the monitor, where I saw a most-contented-looking little figure, reclining in the tub of my belly, a strong and regular heartbeat emanating from its chest.

My memory of the next few minutes is the feeling of Groom’s tears hitting my face, as he stood above me, and the midwife exiting the room, saying, “I’m just going to give you guys a few minutes.”

So my grief had prayed for a miracle–for the miscarriage not to have been real, for that pregnancy to still be happening. Suddenly, it was. Gradually, we pieced together that I had been carrying twins, and one of them had not made it. This, according to one nurse, happens more frequently than we know, but it is still a “once in a blue moon” event.

For the rest of my pregnancy, we called the kid inside of me The Little Gripper; I pictured it hanging on to the walls of my uterus by its tiny, soft fingernails while its twin fell out of me. Assuredly, I will never stop missing The Kid Who Fell, but mostly I can only marvel at the child who hung in there.

Today, March 31st, it has been seven years since The Little Gripper became our Girl, seven years during which she has emerged as shy, smart, sweet, wry, amiable to a fault, Love Incarnate.

The Birth Day: Groom cries some more, as Girl greets the midwife. Under the white sheets, once again relegated to laying on a table, I wonder how long it will be before I can have a bowl of Peanut Butter Cup ice cream.

Girl Is One

And Then She Was Two

Same Dress at Age Three, But the Wheels Are New

Four is Fun

Five Becomes Her

She Grew to Six (Plus Two on the Lap)

And Today She Is Just Seven, Feeling Crafty

As the years tick by, I love her purity of character most of all. Get this:

Several nights ago, at bedtime, her overtired Brother Niblet cried in his bed, sobbing: “I don’t want to go to sleep, ever. I wake up in the night, and I am alone. I’m always alone. I’m never going to close my eyes because sleep is too lonely.”

We’ve already pushed the kids’ beds next to each other, strung the room with lights, played music on a CD player through the night, and tried everything to get him to appreciate sleep as an opportunity, not a burden. But no matter what I suggested that night, he cried even harder.

Then an almost-seven-year-old hand snaked its way across his bed and extended itself onto his torso. With all the compassion of two souls, Girl said, “Here, buddy. Just hold my hand while we fall asleep. And when you’re asleep, I’ll just keep holding on to you. You know I won’t ever leave you all alone.”

Happy birthday, toots. Thank heavens for that blue moon.

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“Before You Click Your Heels Three Times…Is There Really No Place Like Home?”

Last week, Oroneta tagged me with a meme about living the expatriate life.

Now, I know Duluth is far North, we all talk like Canadians here as we putter “aboot the hoose,” people do willingly eat herring, and we celebrate St. Urho’s Day, but I have to admit, however reluctantly, that I’m still technically in the United States, the country of my birth. And although I’ve traveled a fair amount in my FORTY long years–even living for four months in Dublin–I can’t say that I’ve really set up shop in another country long or deeply enough to have ever felt that my “real” life was taking place in another country. At best, I’ve only had that sensation the morning after a big night of drinking, when I’ve woken up bewildered, confused, and wondering where my shoes went.

Luckily, I will still answer Oroneta’s challenge, for I have an expat in my life, my sister, Kirsten (Yes, yes, you’re right! She was named after opera singer Kirsten Flagstad!) Some of you faithful readers might remember that my family spent two weeks in Guatemala over Christmastime; it was to visit Kirsten that we made the trip.

Okay, and because we needed some new tablecloths.

At any rate, since I’m in the midst of a particularly busy week–ever since I turned FORTY, it’s just go, go, go, what with the big job promotion, all of my community service, volunteering at the kids’ schools, retiling the playhouse floor, opening a free dental clinic, and, um, trying to get through the entire boxed set of Sports Night–I’m going to hand over the rest of this post to Guest Blogger Kirsten, who has much to say about her life as an expatriate (just for your edification, she’s also done stints in the Peace Corps in Belize and Moldova; in a few months, she’ll be leaving behind her current job in Guatemala City and heading back to her teaching position with Denver Public Schools, which she fled two years ago in the face of the strictures and penalties inherent in the No Child Left Behind act).

Yea, this this is Kirsten. Nice buckers, eh? Here she goes:

There are stages of grieving, stages of detoxifying
and stages of living and leaving a country…I’m in the
stage of “I can’t wait to get out of here and I’m
never, EVER coming back”…and you ask me to name things
I like, even love, about this place?? What? Are you
trying to make me reflective on this experience

Sigh….ok, here goes…

Name five things you love in your new country:
1. The textiles
2. The Mayan ruins
3. Being completely free and unmonitored in whatever I
do in my job
4. The couple of friends I’ve made who I think are
truly, deep-down good people
5. ???

Name four things that you miss from your native

1. Standards in education (and it was the strictness
of which I was running from by coming here!)
2. Friends who share a common understanding of
..things, life…
3. Driving a car
4. Air quality standards (especially, emissions
standards!! Egads!)

Name three things (I’m making it four!) that annoy you
a bit (or a lot) in your new country:

1. Pollution (air pollution, littering, snot wads on
the sidewalk…)
2. The idea that outright lying to someone is actually
being polite…
3. Lack of personal safety (there are machine guns at
every business, residence…)
4. The acceptance and promotion of class differences

Name two things that surprise you (or surprised you in
the beginning) in your new country:

1. The number of people who speak English really well
2. The level of wealth and luxury enjoyed by the 13
ruling families and the lack of shame they exhibit in
treating the “rest” of the people here as unworthy

Name one thing that you would miss terribly in your
new country, if you had to leave it:

IF I had to leave it? I AM leaving it! I’ve got a
countdown going! But, I’ll miss a teacher I work
with; she’s one of those truly, good people…I’ll
probably also miss the amount of free time I have here
to just read and watch TV. (I’m already calling my
Guatemala experience “my two years of TV watching…”)

Gracias, hermana, for the post. I daresay you might miss a few of the kiddles, too.

So how about the rest of y’all? When you’ve lived or traveled abroad, what have you loved and hated the most?

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“Happy Bir– Oh, Hell, Whatever”

(photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/38626538@N00/401568720/)

I’m turning forty on Sunday. My dad would have been seventy-two that same day, had he not passed away four years ago. Suddenly, four years ago, I stopped enjoying a shared birthday and now face a lifetime of solo celebration. Since 2003, even as I greet a new year for myself, I have mostly been thinking, “Dad would have been 68, 69, 70, 71, 7- today.”

In ten years, I’ll turn fifty, thinking, “Dad would have turned 82 today.”

But as much as I miss him, I’m also okay with the fact that he died. His body was exhausted, and it was time. I’ll not take on the circle of life. Loss is going to happen.

And as much as I feel like I should have a freak-out about reaching such a seminal age, the “Big 4-0,” I’m pretty much okay with that too. Thank The Goddess of Wishes Fulfilled, but I don’t feel any internal panic about my life; I’m immensely content.

Certainly, if I’d never met Groom, had his kids, moved to a city I love, found a career that allows me flexiblity and autonomy, well then I’d be a gooey, blubbering heap on the sidewalk right now. If I’d ever felt babe-alicious, I’m sure I’d be feeling some loss of my powers right about now, too, yearning for those days when I could put on stilettos and my tightest jeans and head out to pull at the bar. However, once I hit eleven years old, I pretty much had the body of a mother of three, so now, if I would just give birth to one more kid, my figure would actually make sense. In short, I’ve never experienced the heady thrill of being “hot,” so continuing my lifelong simmer seems doable.

All of this said, I do have to admit that I’m feeling this ageing thing. I still run everyday, but now my hamstrings ache around the clock. I just don’t recover like I used to. As well, I sit here, typing at my keyboard, and when I look down, I see my mother’s hands at work. When did that happen? Even more, I just don’t crave Mad Dog 20/20, Jagermeister, and Thunderbird like I used to. It’s all “Where’s my Riesling?” nowadays.

I know I’m growing older because I’m sore, wrinkled, and finicky.

If there were one thing I could change, it’d be the wrinkles. They’re just so present, everywhere, creating runways down my neck for French Onion soup to course to my chest; providing crevices for dirt to take up residence; causing all my tighter t-shirts to bunch up most unattractively. Wrinkles make me a mess.

But then.

But. Then. If I start to stare at them, at the cross-linked mountain of lines on each knuckle of my hand, I find myself fascinated. There’s a certain beauty to this emerging topography. I realize, as I continue to stare, that I would love looking at someone else who had my skin. I may dislike my own crow’s feet, as they signal a kind of breakdown or diminishment, but if I love them on others and note their

(photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/papernapkin/332067639/)



(photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/sylvialiu/247422633/)



(photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/gentletrouble/189118393/)



(photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/sengster/45837327/)



(photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/12241598@N00/33152877/)

ACK! creepiness

…well, you get the point. If I can love these crinkles on others–in fact, I don’t trust people over a certain age who are wrinkle-free (yes, I’m talking to you, Susan Lucci)–then maybe I can learn to love them on myself.

Hahahahahaha. Right.

But maybe I can take a carefully-lit black-and-white photo of myself and learn to look at it objectively, as though I am not me but rather some complex, enigmatic slice of beauty that can be hung on the wall. In a wonderful moment of irony, I’ve realized perhaps the key to self-love is to objectify myself.

Most of all, what I know, as my brain creaks forward–lubricated by Omega-3 gel caps everyday–covered by my crow’s feet (FedEX me anything with the word “Retinoid” on the label, woncha?) is this:

I’d give away all the pills, ungents, and facial peels in the world just to watch my dad’s mottled, veiny, wrinkled hand stroking the hair of one of my children. Funny how I never questioned his beauty.

(photo: mine)

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“A Pimped-Up Paddy’s Day”

my pimped pic! (thanks, Paintergirl, for the pikipimp hook-up!)

I’m an Irisher by heritage (that, combined with being a quarter Finnish, makes me strangely silent yet talkative, somber yet jovial, staid yet merry), so in honor of yet another mass-media-manufactured holiday, St. Patrick’s Day, I’m resurrecting a post containing one of my favorite Irish adventures. And it doesn’t involve green beer or a dumb green hat because those aren’t actually things Irish people drink or wear, for the love of Jigging Leprechauns.

Sorry, Choochoo, you’ve already read this one–you, and two of my students who were hoping to suck up by commenting on my blog a few months back.


“I am yours and you are mine”–Peter Shaffer, Equus

When I set foot on the West coast of Ireland, at the age of 20, I believed for the first time in reincarnation. Nothing had ever before felt so familiar and right.

Thus was launched a long-distance love affair, played out during my infrequent visits across the ocean.

However, that dewy, 40-shades-of-green country and I very nearly went into couples counseling when I made the mistake, some years later, of trying out an equine adventure on its misty shores. Those “lovely Irish ponies” that The Rough Guide raves about? Not so much. Nowadays, I won’t even say the word “saddle”at the same time that I look at the color green, lest the two come together in some freaky synergy and cast me again onto the back of a pony in Ireland.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Here’s the tale:

About seven years ago I was in Ireland (as we’ve established: the home of my heart), on the West Coast, staying in a little hamlet called Cleggan in the region of Connemara for a week, exploring the countryside, mostly on foot. I explored old dolmens (big rock gravesites), the ruins of abbeys, the local pubs. After a few days, I started hitch-hiking around the county and taking bus trips to nearby cities. But eventually, it was time to turn to a different form of transport: the renowned Irish pony.

Off I went, whistling and wide-eyed, to the the Cleggan Beach Riding Centre ; there I discovered that there were afternoon tour groups, wherein I and 15 other unsuspecting sods could rent horses and be taken on a jaunt around the area, particularly across the beach and out to a small island that is accessible by foot–or horse–only at low tide. Okay, cool. I was in.

Each client was then outfitted with his/her own horse. Why, I wondered, did the teenage workers snicker when they saddled up and mounted me on a horse called “Dino”? Was he really old and out-of-date like a dinosaur? No, the workers assured me, he was more like a camel than a dinosaur.

With that cryptic information given, they left me to figure out the reins. A camel, eh? I started musing about how he must have humps on his back or like to walk in rolling fashion across the sand, or maybe he’d deposit me at a rustic Bedouin campsite at the end of the day, where the natives would teach me how to make exotic bread that I would bake in the remnant heat of the desert sand. Little did I know he was a camel in that he had no need for or desire to be around water.

After a short training session (during which only one woman was thrown from her horse into a muddy corral at full gallop), we headed for the sea. That’s right, my water-hating steed and I were heading for the sea. The SEA.

For the first hour, it was all tra-la-la-do-re-me-fa-so-la-ti-do on my part. “Hey, look at that shrub! I’m in Ireland looking at a shrub! Ooh, and that cottage has a very picturesque thatched roof, doesn’t it? I can notice such things, even though my glutes are seizing up, because I’m in Ireland, and the sun is shining!”

Why, there, off in the distance, was Omey Island, our goal. The tide was low, so the sea had receded, laying bare a clear band of wet sand that we could saunter across to explore the island.

But the timing was off that day. As soon as we got out to the island, the tide began returning water to the shoreline. Bit by bit, the band of wet sand shrank down to nothingness, replaced by churning water. “Ah, pish posh,” said our guide. “The water isn’t so very high! We can just turn the horses into it and wade back over to the beach.”

It was at this juncture that I discovered hard-hooved horses are, in fact, good climbers. At my first attempt to get Dino to turn and wade into the water, he reared and clambered straight up a ten-foot mound of slippery rock, with my carcass dangling off his back. My strangled yelps brought over one, then two, then three guides, all with panic in their eyes. They could smell the lawsuit.

When the three of them couldn’t get him down or anywhere near the water, they bailed on me. As they scampered back to their own horses, they tossed out, over their shoulders, “Just keep trying. Really dig your heels into him.” And by Jehosephat, I did. Spurs were not necessary that day, as my London Underground hiking boots did the job. I felt up Dino’s internal organs with my treads and forced him into the water.

While the rest of the touring group tried to line up back on the island and make some sort of organized queue that could be led across to dry land, I gave Dino his head and made him keep trudging through the tide, now up to my knees, as I huddled on his back. My jaw was aching from being clenched, and I was ready to leap from his back and swim at the slightest provocation, leaving him to his fate with the mermaids and fishies. Have a happy life with Ariel and Flounder, you big dumb bruiser.

After what seemed like three hours–it was more like 8 minutes–I reached land. There, on the beach, was the owner of the Riding Centre, in his little van. Some of the panic he’d had on his face as he watched me subsided. When I announced, “Okay, someone else can ride this nag back to the stable. I’m getting in your van, and you can drive me back,” he was composed enough to say, “Ah, lass, it’s all right now. You’ve got the luck of the faeries on your side. Just think of pink stars and green clovers while you ride him back” before pulling out a bar of Irish Spring soap and rubbing it all over himself while humming “Frosted Lucky Charms: They’re Magically Delicious.”

I wanted to resist further, but then he pulled out a harp and started crooning “Danny Boy” in a lovely tenor as he drank a Guiness and ate a heap of potatoes; in the face of his Irish charm, I was defenseless. I stayed on Dino’s back to the bloody end. And that night, I assuaged my nerves and my glutes at the pub with, *cough cough*, several pints of hard cider.

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“Paradise White”

Look at them, those long, white, snowy lines of powder.

I spent all last weekend snorting them up.

It was quite a binge.

Two weeks ago, I was jonesing for snow.

But then I pawned my fishtank, sold some plasma, and scrounged for loose change in the sofa cushions. And whaddya know…I got me some, and after the flakes fell, I started frollicking in the stuff around the clock, neglecting sleep, friends, and work as I went on my spree.

In fact, I’m still coming down from a lost weekend of unrestrained, immoderate self-indulgence.

Some people looked at our newly-fallen gutter glitter and thought, “Well, iddn’t that purty?” In our household, however, we were like Aaron Sorkin with a new coke mirror, pack of razor blades, and rolled up Benji in his quivering hands: we went a little wacky on the junk.

We got amped on skijoring.

We got high from the howls of of sled dogs.

We ate weasel dust tossed onto our faces by a slew of runners at the start of the 2007 U.S. National Snowshoe Championships outside of Minneapolis (you rocked it, Groom!).

Seven kilometers into the race, Groom redefined “blow” as he whooshed past.

Because our addiction naturally translates into a cycle for the children, even Girl took off down the dusty roads.

A little later in the day, a friend and I (shout out to i-jim!) reveled in Lady Snow, as well, running the Citizens’ race at the championships; #102 suits me, doncha think? And note how my triumphant finish rallied the crowd, rousing them to a series of cheers and chants of “Jocelyn, Jocelyn, Jocelyn.” Either that, or they spurred me to the finish line through their passionate indifference.

After racing off our jitters, we spent the rest of the afternoon inner tubing down those long lanes of powder that started this post. At the end of each run, we’d stop and mist a little Ocean Spray up our nostrils, just to fool the bouncers.

Later, in the absence of any national championship, though, we still continued our toot through Mama Blanca, hefting the kids off the deck (There’s a sink or swim moral here, right? We’re really just giving the kids a lesson of the streets).

And now, at the end of my binge, I feel like I’ve been run over by an eighteen-wheeler, I’m shaking and wet, and I’m reconciled to taking about twelve steps towards Spring.

Time to look at green buds for a few months, drag out the flip-flops, and dim the snow lights.

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Get Off Your Knees, Stop Clasping Your Hands, and Read Some Aristotle, Ya Knucklesuckers

“Get Off Your Knees, Stop Clasping Your Hands, and Read Some Aristotle, Ya Knucklesuckers”

I am an English teacher, so I get to be crabby. That, along with wearing intimidating glasses, is part of my job.

What’s more, it’s not enough just to be crusty; fundamental to the profile of English Teacher is the need to wail like Ginsberg reading “The Howl,” pull at our restrictive French knots, and gnash our coffee-stained teeth when anyone *dares* to violate any of a myriad of complex, even unintelligible, rules.

A misused apostrophe elicits from us a snorted “harrumph.” My harrumphs have occasionally become so forceful that they have propelled my hand into my pocket, where a ballpoint pen awaits, ready to take corrective measures. Indeed, there is a small museum in Iowa that once drew my apostrophic ire when it had the gall to display a sign–to all the corn-fed public who could scrape together the $4.00 admission fee from that week’s pig sales–reading, “This tractor was removed from operation after mangling it’s owner’s hand one sweltering July when he reached down for a sip of lemonade out of his Mason jar, slipped, and was ground under the wheels.”

If you look closely enough at this sign, you will see that a ballpoint pen, wielded with rage, scratched out the offending apostrophe, leaving a more appropriate “its” in it’s (er, its) wake.

So, yea, I can get pissy about apostrophes. (one caveat: I don’t care what anyone does in casual writing; that’s the domain of exploration, willful sloppiness, and sentence boundary romps…I’m just referring to formal, for-scrutiny language here)

Don’t even get me started on comma splices, run-ons, and fragments: The Triad of Evil. If I had fewer students and didn’t read several thousand papers each year, I’m sure I wouldn’t be prostrate in my office three times a week, moaning as I lie under my rolling chair, “For the love of Strunk and White, use a friggin’ verb. ” My agony is so extensive that I once offered a student my father’s watch fob if only, if oooonly, she would use a noun. Just once. Having recently pawned her pocket watch, her counter offer was to cut off all her hair and ask me if I could purchase her a new set of tortoise shell hair combs instead. With the ironic stakes thusly agreed upon, she did, in fact, use a noun in one of her papers.

It was “brick.” How very disappointing. I was hoping for, at the least, “manta ray”…or maybe even “unicycle.” Or how about “indigence”? Give me something here, my dear knothead.

And if you really want to see me get revved up, try misusing “less” and “fewer.” Moreover, I’ve been known to pull out strands of hair over the confusion of nominative and objective forms of pronouns (he/him, she/her), especially when such confusion occurs at the end of a prepositional phrase, when the speaker or writer uses the nominative form in an effort to sound hyper-correct: “Just between you and I, the butler has been stealing the silver to finance his meth addiction.” Pullease, Madame Voyeur, give me a “just between you and me” before I toss your wallet, and your diamond chip earrings, into the butler’s homemade pipe.

Indeed, although my bathtub hasn’t had a scouring in four months, I am a stickler when it comes to linguistic correctness.

So you can imagine my distress over the burgeoning “Beg the Question” misuse trend. Here’s the deal: every time I attend some sort of professional training or pick up a magazine, I see this phrase used wrongly. The term “beg the question” refers to a logical fallacy–an error in creating an argument–wherein the arguer takes for granted the thing that he/she is attempting to prove. To wit: “Helen Mirren is clearly an attractive older woman because she’s so striking.” Um, yea. Got that. I saw her breasts at the Oscars. They still had attitude. Thus, if one “begs the question,” one puts out a circular argument, neatly sidestepping any true reasoning.

However, nowadays, in this age of drive-thrus and Blockbuster and cell phone family plans, many of our finer principles have been bastardized, including, tragically, “begging the question.” Several times each week, I hear or read this phrase being used in the sense of “raising the question.” For example, “Since we have no more Little Debbies in the house, it begs the question of when we’re going to go shopping.”

Snarl. Don’t. Even. Beg. Your. Damn. Question. That. Way. You. Poop. Chute.

My pathology runs so deep that last week I snapped at a student who, woe for him, raised his hand and uttered the words, “Beg your pardon, Jocelyn. I have a question.”

I heard those words in close proximity to each other and went, not “postal,” but “English Teacher” on him. It was bloody; it involved forty whacks; and when I regained my senses, I was holding a splintered ruler and an empty stapler.


Anyone have fifty cents so I can call my husband and have him come bail me out of this holding cell? That tough guy in the corner didn’t really cotton to me when I corrected the spelling of his “Bonz and Grillz” tattoo. In fact, he’s got a shiv (ooh, vocabulary enrichment!) held to my jugular right now.

All the unsplit infinitives in the world can’t save me now.

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Doctor, Lawyer, Indian Chief?

At loose ends this morning, Wee Niblet queried, “Dad, can we go down in the basement and find stuff we’re not using and tape it together?”

Hoppin’ sassafras, but that’s my kind of question.

After some basement diving and an hour of various tapings, the result was this:

Even more fun than the result, of course, is that initial question. It’s made me wonder all day if this glimpse into Niblet’s brain is any indicator of the direction his life may end up taking. Now, I know he’s only four, so there’s only so much we can predict (he’ll be tall, like his father, and he’ll probably always love a big ole garlic pickle with a side of croutons for breakfast). But if his unleashed brain naturally wanders down the path of “let’s see what’s down there and how we can hank it together,” then might that manner of thinking indicate a certain trajectory, even in these early years of life?

For example, he could end up a sociopath. Yea, I know, I’m not supposed to think dark thoughts about my own kid, but the truth is that Age 4 means all options are still open. And if he’s already thinking of taping stuff up down in the basement, near the chest freezer, well, you can take it from there. He could harbor an awesome criminal mind.

On the flip side, he could become an engineer for NASA, ja? Don’t they pretty much take a bunch of unused crap and apply duct tape to it?

Or maybe he could become our country’s leader. When I look at our current president’s approach to policy-making, foreign policy in particular, I’m convinced that it emerges from a dark place littered with Styrofoam cups and Scotch tape, a place where all products are created on impulse, out of a “loose ends” moment.

Ideally, he’ll end up a poor-as-buttons inventor, the neighborhood eccentric who gathers garbage can lids, chicken wire, used light bulbs, and broken clocks and then, once a year, applies for a patent for his Break-Dancing Refrigerator design.

And then there’s Girl. Her latest thing, in an unscheduled moment, is to take Post-it notes and write really long numbers on them in the form of dollar amounts. For example, she’ll take a half an hour to work feverishly on writing the number $60000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000 on a piece of paper:

This little exercise has evolved out of something other kids in her class at school are doing—something about who can cram the most zeros onto the paper, but she finds it important and meaningful work on her own time now, here at home. If this penchant is indicative of her future, what might we predict for her?

Well, for one, how about OCD? I’d say this is the “dark” interpretation of her future, but, heck, she’d be joining luminaries like Howie Mandel, Donald Trump, and Howard Hughes. Oh, wait, that *is* a pretty dark union to be a card-carrying member of. Ah, but if I add the likes of R. Crumb to the crowd, then the OCD reveals itself as having possible silver linings.

Alternatively, she could end up an accountant or a bookkeeper—someone whose enjoyment of number crunching means a livable wage…and a lifetime of stilted and painful office parties.

Or, since the point of her activity is to cram as much as possible into a small space, maybe she’ll find work smuggling illegal immigrants over the border: “We can fit another three into the back of the truck before sealing it up!”

Most likely, she’ll either end up as a Human Resources director (she loves organizing groups, even of zeros) or as the loader of an UPS truck during holiday season.

All of these predictions of the future make me think back to my own childhood, sifting through my pastimes to see if they have some how been borne out in my current career as an English instructor. Most certainly, I spent most of my hours reading, reading, reading, and then hiding in small closets furtively composing, at Age 10, short stories and books (most notable was my tale of Lucifer, an evil cat who clawed his owner to death; I remember writing this in Charlottesville, VA, the summer of 1976, as bicentennial fireworks shot off around me). During my fifth grade year, I read Gone With the Wind no less than 26 times and The Good Earth at least 11 times…um, speaking of OCD. So, yes, we can make a case that my career as an English teacher was in the cards.

And I look at my brother, who liked to take a butter knife out into the yard and throw it, for hours, into the grass, watching the shaft of it quiver as the blade stuck into the dirt. He also really liked watching reruns of The Beverly Hillbillies. And eventually, he really liked drinking beer. Indeed, it’s clear he was predestined to become the Major in the Air Force that he now is.

Clearly, too, my sister was always aimed directly at the kindergarten/first grade teaching career that she now rocks. From an early age, she was the babysitter of choice in our subdivision, raking in more bucks than my parents some weeks, it seemed. And there was only that once that one of her charges disappeared for about an hour, which would be fair odds now that she handles upwards of 25 rammy kids each day—one or two gone missing for a bit is nothing to blink at.

So how about you? Did the preferences of your youth end up parlaying into the job and interests you now have? Or did you always love taking care of the neighborhood dogs and cats, only to become a chef in a restaurant that gets its ingredients from suspicious sources?

With all these thoughts about childhood resonance steeping in my head, I was also forced to cast an eye back on my early-in-life endeavors earlier today while I was out for a snowshoe run; when I needed a pee break in the woods, keeping the snowshoes on seemed simplest, and I amazed myself with how nimble I was in the midst of that potentially-hairy process (translation: I didn’t pee on my self or my snowshoes). Could it be that I was potty-trained with tennis racquets strapped to my feet?

(photo credit: Jim Berg!)

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My Fantasy Island: Herve Villachez Is to Ricardo Montalban As…a Hawaii Getaway Is to My Snowy Weekend in Duluth

“My Fantasy Island: Herve Villachez Is to Ricardo Montalban As…a Hawaii Getaway Is to My Snowy Weekend in Duluth”

Some folks might argue that I am prone to excess. For example, I have been known to have more than 60 pairs of shoes loitering in my closet, mingling and sweating in there until I’m ready to take them out for a stroll. Also, at mealtime I never eat less than a full plate of food, and then I have seconds. Shortly thereafter, I have dessert. And then I have seconds.

As well, I have big hair–follicles able hold up a Bic lighter and wave it back and forth soulfully during life’s ballads.

However, I would like to make the case here and now that I am only superficially excessive; deep down, I am modest in desire and principle.Here is my case in point:

The Groom and I have been married for about 7 1/2 years now. This past Thursday night, from 5:30-6:30 p.m., we had our honeymoon.

It was cheap. It was unplanned. It was dreamy.

When we got married seven-non-itchy-years ago, we were quite pragmatic about our reasons for not going on a honeymoon: I had a lot of credit card debt, we were buying a new house, I was knocked up, and I had work on Monday. Luckily, I also had no desire for an engagement ring–quite frankly, it seemed a waste of money (to this day, I’d rather have a new wool coat than a $2,000 rock on my finger).So Groom proposed to me over a stack of pancakes–swoon!–with a Betsy Bowen woodcut in hand. And when it came to talk of a honeymoon, our attitude was, “Yea, someday when we have more money we’ll pack up our Speedos and hop a flight. But for now, let’s watch ‘Blind Date’ and eat huge bowls of popcorn.”

Not for a minute did I have pangs to go somewhere grand and romantic, to put the final punctuation on our marriage celebration. Grab a tissue now; here comes a soppy statement: I didn’t need a honeymoon because just being married to this dude is one continual Lurve Trip. The marriage pretty much has been the honeymoon.Go ahead. Dab at your eyes if you need to. Blow your nose. In an age fueled by road rage and text messaging, good, old-fashioned “Baby, I jes’ like you all the time, every day, face-to-face” is a rare commodity. We’ve got it good. And in seven years, we haven’t yet revisited that honeymoon discussion. The Speedos are moldering.

But then suddenly, blowing in out of the northwest last Thursday, came our honeymoon. On the wings of a blizzard–an epic storm (after no snow at all for months, we’ve had more than 30″ in the last week)–rode an experience we couldn’t have reserved, even had we dialed 1-800-HONEYMOON and requested a king-sized bed, in-room jacuzzi, and bottle of bubbly.

To illustrate to you the extent of this storm, consider these Before and After pictures of the scarecrow in our yard (he scares away roosters and young men in crisp white shirts carrying religious literature):

Let’s pretend that the storm was so powerful, it whipped the pumpkin head right off Scarecrowlicious. No way did the Jack-o-lantern head rot off and hit the compost some months back. Nae, I assure you that the storm’s winds were guillotine in strength.Due to the severity of this blizzard, our original plans for the weekend–quasi-romantic in their own right (I was to attend a conference in Minneapolis, and some friends had agreed to take the kids for a couple of nights so Groom could come along)–had to be scrapped. Ain’t no one done gone be goin’ nowheres that day. Yet Saintly Friends still insisted they were ready to wrassle the kids, even for a night, so Groom and I could enjoy a small corner of escape from daily duties.

Kids were dropped off.

Snow fell.

Visibility waned.

We stood in the kitchen and stared at each other. What is it we do when not occupied with work and family life, we wondered?

Well, we drink coffee. We take a nap. And we watch ELLEN.

And then we remembered there was an epic storm going on. We should be part of that action. For many people, the honeymoon involves some waxing, as was the case with us. But for us, the wax was blue, and it never touched our bodies.

Rather, it was time to strap on the skis and take advantage of the once-in-a-decade chance to glide out the front door and around our residential neighborhood, down the railroad tracks, over to the golf course.Thusly, our honeymoon went. For more than an hour, we skiied past sequestered neighbors and over empty streets. Down the middle of 43rd Avenue we went, across Robinson, up to Dodge, owning the roads. Within minutes, my glasses were so fogged I couldn’t see; the snow blowing in the wind felt like granules of sand, exfoliating my cheeks; eventually darkness set in, and Groom was often just a shadowy figure in front of me.

Yet every few hundred yards we would stop and bellow, “Dag, but this is amazing! All those poor sods in their houses wearing their warm, dry cranky pants don’t know what they’re missing!”
And then, while snow fell at a rate of 3 inches an hour, and winds reached hurricane proportions, a freakish phenomenon occurred (no, I don’t mean Salma Hayek wore a dress with no decolletage): a thunderstorm began, and suddenly we were dodging lightening bolts hurled out by Thor and hollering over bowling-alley-like thunder. All the humors of the universe were aligning quite remarkably, and the only person sharing it with me was my husband.
Jesus Marimba, the whole thing was so cool.
For a lot of people, the honeymoon digs are a resort somewhere warm, let’s say Oahu.

For us, our honeymoon base was our same-ole-everyday house, whitewashed with snow, draped with icicles.

For lots of folks, the honeymoon–that week of dedicated loving and focus on each other, often carried out because, well, that’s what people do–takes place under an umbrella, surrounded by strangers.

For us, an umbrella would have been little more than a lightning conductor. That storm shut down the world around us, making it so forbidding that we felt marooned together on our own island (albeit a ski-able one), surrounded by an ocean of snow.

Once the wind threatened to tear the very wedding rings off our fingers, we headed back home, where we broke into the booze and Scrabble.

As it turns out, the word “blizzard” on a Scrabble board intersects quite easily with “zowie.”

The next morning, when the rest of the world was ready to crack open their doors and venture towards their snowblowers, we saluted their efforts and then strapped on the skis one more time, ready to take another turn around the neighborhood before the plows cleaned things up.

The daily grind began anew, but the honeymoon continues.

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