Daytime Pain and Nighttime Soap

“Daytime Pain and Nighttime Soap”
Call me predictable, even stereotypical: I dread going to the dentist. Sure, Dentist Person may be a very nice individual, well-qualified, and gentle of touch, but I still don’t like him/her. Me no want to see Dentist Person.The deal is that Dentist Person has tools–tiny pickaxes, long needles, shrill drills, and that weird Mr. Thirsty, who tries to suck my tongue right out of my head. All I will say is that, as a rule, I don’t need tools inserted into my skull.

What’s that, you say? Oh, yea, the drugs. Why do I dread Dentist Person when there are so many nice gasses and shots I can get there to dull my pain? Well, #1, I don’t like needles stuck into my dainty pink gums; and #2, I can still hear and smell what’s going on, even when I can’t feel it, and trust me, the mere sound of the drill, coupled with–get this–the SMELL of burn coming out of my mouth (what are they burning in there, when smoke comes out? This has happened the last couple of times I’ve gone to the dentist, and it makes me rip at my cuticles with great vigor)…well, my senses get overwhelmed, and I’m forced to resort to deep yoga-like breathing to get through the appointment.

So you can imagine the trauma when, last year, I had my first–and, knock enamel, LAST–root canal. To give him his props, I will say that Dentist Person and his Minions tried to make my experience pleasant; they covered me with a fleece blankie and gave me a polka-dot kneck pillow. Dentist Person even told me a heart-warming story of how he is such a chicken in the dental chair that when he needs work done, he literally wears Depends. The thing about empathy, though, is that it feels hollow when one’s jaw is being cranked open for almost four hours by a metallic claw. Dentist Person needed to stop telling me about his “I’m-with-you-sista-undergarments” and just set me free, so I could spiral off into the night and go ice skating at Rockefeller Center with renewed joy in my heart, like Britney did this week after she filed for divorce from her personal root canal, The Federdud.

But he didn’t set me free at all.

In fact, the D.P. strapped on his tool belt and started sharpening nutcrackers and nunchucks and screwdrivers and ice axes on a whet stone, and I started breathing shallowly and rapidly, alternately closing my eyes and opening them to let my eyeballs roll around, unable to find distraction in the understated humor of the Dilbert sticker that had been applied to the bright light above me.

What I would have given for a “this last season of Dallas was actually all a dream” escape hatch right about then–COME AND CONVINCE ME IT’S NOT REALLY HAPPENING, BOBBY EWING! But Bobby was out romancing his new wife, that Pollyannaish Pamela Barnes, not caring one whit that she was the daughter of his father Jock’s archenemy Digger Barnes or that I was squirming in a reclining chair, panic-stricken. No, he left me there to suffer. But there is justice, I can say, now that I see Patrick Duffy’s recent resume features stints on Reba and The Bold and the Beautiful. How far you have fallen, you multi-talented actor, since your triumphant run on Step by Step with the luminous Suzanne Sommers!

Three and a half hours later, heartened by the knowledge that Bobby Ewing was just as much a cad as his brother, JR, I emerged from Dentist Person’s office, my wallet much lighter (a little Texas gold would have helped right then), my jaw aching like a sledgehammer had been pounded into it, my face still numb from all those drugs. Four days later, I was still sipping soups and eating overboiled beets in an effort to stop my stomach from growling…just waiting for the day I could again rip into a big ole chunk of longhorn with gusto.

In fact, my tooth was so tender from all Dentist Person’s ministrations that it throbbed with a steady beat for several days, much like JR Ewing’s oozing chest at the end of Season 3, when his mistress (and wife’s sister) Kristin shot him and tried to frame poor, drunk Sue Ellen. The thumping in my tooth, and his heart, was palpable, visceral, yet I knew my misfortune came from genetics more than my decision to sleep with and impregnate my wife’s sister. If only Dentist Person wore a big Stetson and some Justin Roper boots along with his Depends! Ah, then I would have felt justified in driving him away from my personal toothy Southfork that day, forcing him into a sanitorium with Sue Ellen…while I remained behind at the ranch, drinking soothing mint teas on the veranda with Miss Ellie and playing Marco Polo in the pool with Lucy and my new boyfriend Kit (who will NOT turn out, next season, to be gay).

If you care to share, click a square:

Twenty-Eight First Graders, the Lone Teacher, a Slew of Specialists, and One Shy Girl

 Anne Lamott once wrote of a type of situation so taxing it could “…make Jesus drink gin from the dog dish.” This is how I often feel, as the parent of a school-aged child. It’s surprisingly hard to let my kid go off all day to be manhandled by the world. It makes me want to go hit six-year-olds who might say even one mean thing to my Wee Nibben of a girl. It makes me want to creep down corridors wearing a locker costume as camouflage, just in case she needs a pencil sharpened and can’t do it herself. It makes me want to hop in the mini-van and follow the school bus all the way into the parking lot (sheepish confession: I’ve actually done at least one of these. I could probably hook you up with a really novel costume for Halloween next year, by the way).

Frankly, though, when I first had kids and sussed how intense the early years are–from quirky newbornhood to colicky infanthood to irrational toddlerhood to no-separation-at-all-costs preschoolerhood to how-can-you-be-an-adolescent-already kindergartenhood–I couldn’t wait for them to start going to school full time. Yea, that’s right: I was counting the years until my kids would go away for a large part of the day. This is not an uncommon sentiment among parents, either, I’m here to tell you. Anything that can reap huge, awe-inspiring amazement has to suck in equal measure. It just does. Ask the guy who carved out Mount Rushmore. Giving birth to, and raising, those heads pretty much killed him. But they were worth every minute of his sweat. He created a masterpiece, but he was probably pretty flippin’ happy on those days he didn’t even see or think about whether Roosevelt’s mustache was overshadowing Lincoln’s nose. It was okay for the heads to go away from his head for awhile.

Such is the case with kids. Hence, when our first kid headed off to full-time school this year, I was astonished that it actually, gulp, hurt. All those hours of freedom we’d been anticipating in a state of mental high-kickery (sing the song “One” from A CHORUS LINE here)–you know, time to sit down while drinking coffee instead of slurping from the mug while trudging back upstairs to find size 5T pants that were “softier, like fleecier, for my tenderyish leg skin, not scratchy like these“–well, they also meant that we’d just lost the best hours of the day with our girl.

Now, she gets off the bus at 4:30 p.m., when it’s already getting dark, and she’s ravenous and needy and wired. And some days, when our attempts to sit down communally at the kitchen table and help out with her homework have degenerated into her sobbing and yelling because she doesn’t understand contractions or what an apostrophe looks like, we end up in retreat, in the basement, cowering behind the dryer. Around nine p.m. we then stick out a tentative ear, listening for any rustling sounds up at the table in the kitchen. If we hear only muffled snores, then the coast is clear–we can stop snacking on the Bounce sheets sprinkled with Tide crystals and creep back upstairs, careful not to wake the Exhausted Scholar.

In short, having a kid go off to school for eight hours each day hasn’t delivered the anticipated bliss. Even worse, we’re now wracked with the concerns and questions about her education that mark us definitively as middle-class-white-overly-educated-liberals: “What curriculum are they using? How many times will she be pulled from class for assessments during the year? What’s the average class size?”

This last question has created the most discussion for us, as we hover behind the dryer, night after night (on the plus side, we’ve figured we can accept pizza deliveries through the dryer vent; the delivery dude just shoves the pie down through the bendy tube). The dilemma is that we have not sent the Wee Gel to our neighborhood school but instead, she attends a public “magnet” school further from home, one that offers intensified music opportunities. And, because I was raised in a musical household, with a father who was a voice professor and a mother who was the Executive Director of the city’s symphony, I value what music education can do for any kid, whether or not she is gifted in that area. Cripes, I just want a child who can read music and who stands a chance at identifying Mozart when it plays on public radio. Modest goals, right?

Because this school is considered a “good” one, I actually had to scramble around like a Manhattan parent four years ago, when our daughter was not yet two, and call the school to get her on a waiting list. At that time, when she was 18 months old, she was twelfth on the waiting list. Thus, we were jubilant when she reached kindergarten age, and we received the call from The School, saying they had an opening for her. It was, as those youngsters these days say, the bomb diggity.

Kindergarten passed without a hitch; she painted and cut and counted in her class of 17 kids. The fact that she is a very reserved child (often mistaken as shy…but she’s more, as my friend from Texas put it some years back, “a no bullshit baby.” She’s quite confident and actually sees no reason to open up to someone who’s never invested in her–it’s the old “you get what you pay for” with our lass, which I quite respect) made no difference; it simply meant that our parent/teacher conferences would open with an exclaimed, “I would like to have twelve of your daughter in this class!”

And first grade now is going swimmingly for her, except that we worry. We do. You see, her class has twenty-eight students in it. That’s a lot. Especially when we have a kid who doesn’t really ask for help. This is the kid who fell off a dock into a lake two summers ago, caught in the chest-high water, buffeted between a pontoon boat and the dock itself, and she just stood there, no peep made, until someone looked down a few minutes later and saw her holding silent court there with the lily pads. So trust me, I was not a whit surprised this year, in school, when her homework–diligently completed within two hours of it being assigned and carefully put into her special folder in her backpack, ready to return to the classroom the next day–accumulated because she didn’t know where she was supposed to turn it in. So the completed homework kept coming back home with her, day after day, until it had worn a groove into that special folder. “Did you take it out and show it to Mrs. A and ask her where you should turn it in?” The answer was no, a woeful no, because “Mrs. A is always so busy with the other kids around her desk, and I didn’t know how to get in there.”

This reality of too-many-kids-on-one-teacher stands in stark contrast to the pretend classroom that this same daughter has been overseeing in our living room for the last three years–she has 26 dolls as students, and every one gets her individual attention, from Astrid, who made the Principal’s List for being able to sit upright unassisted, to Kobe, whose mom sometimes drops him off late because she had to go to a meeting at a factory in China.

(The “art specialist” demonstrates the dolls’ weekly project. The kid in the front row wearing yellow, Kiki, is a bully and a troublemaker and can’t follow directions for anything.)

The difference between our living room and the real-life classroom, however, is that the unengaged dolls remain benign and passive, but in the real world, the unengaged kids either clamor around the teacher even harder, looking for attention, or else they start sticking washable markers in the pencil sharpener, or else they, like our girl, sit quietly at their desks, clutching a homework folder.

Once I realized that homework–in the first month of first grade–was becoming an emotional issue, and once my husband and I remembered the frozen feeling of being painfully shy in elementary school, I chose to hop into this particular issue. Even though I want my child to learn to cope, to be self-sufficient, to figure things out in the world, I stopped by the classroom, casually, one day (“I was just, er, here in the school because, em, I needed to get fitted for my new camouflage locker costume…and so I thought I’d pop in”), and mentioned to the teacher that at least one of her students was feeling confused about the process of submitting homework. This was news to the teacher, and she easily and gratefully handled the problem. Girl’s homework is now handed in where it’s supposed to be, when it’s due.

But the behind-the-dryer discussion about “do we keep Girl in the class of 28 at this good school with a fine teacher, or do we pull her and enroll her in the neighborhood school that has 18 students in the first grade classes?” took on steam. I ended up emailing my sister, a kindergarten/first grade/second grade teacher herself (and who isn’t a fan of the Shift key on her keyboard), someone who has handled anywhere from 18 to 31 students in a class, and her pragmatic reply calmed my gut:

“and honestly, with a class over 25, no, you really don’t get to spend individualized time with every kid or really get to know them. especially the quiet ones. you’re just thankful they’re not being a pain and can stay on-task by themselves while you deal with the “big” personalities…which is why i’ve loved looping, by spending more than a year with the same kids i feel like i do get to really get to know the kids better, personalities and strengths and weaknesses…so i think you have to weigh what you want for Girl’s education. if she’s making the academic and social progress you want for her, then she might be fine or more than fine where she is. plus being exposed to the variety of cultures available at her present school prepares her for the real world… if you want the opportunity for her to receive more individualized attention so that she can move faster in all areas, then maybe the smaller class school…BUT i’d strongly recommend visiting all the classes for a min. of 30 miutes each at the new school to see how the teachers are…you might end up swapping a big class, good teacher, for a smaller class, not as good teacher…i think it’s great great that the teacher realizes she needs parent involvement AND help with a large class. i know many teachers who do not like to have parents in the room for extended lengths of time, so plough through everything on their own…with that many kids,you do need regular help. i’ve had classes with 27+kids and no aide and it can be killer at times…depending on the day, the kids, you, the activity…oh, and here’s something i realized in denver, the kids in my smaller classes had a harder time learning to work independently and where to find information if it wasn’t available cuz i was always available. i really noticed that the kids in my larger classes HAD to learn to work on their own and wait their turn and learn to ask friends who were experts for help if i was busy, where with the smaller classes, i was always available to help them…which is not a bad thing, but when i needed them to work independently, they seriously couldn’t cuz i hadn’t had to train them from day one how to…weird, huh?”

Yea. Weird. Huh.

The issue is settled for us for this year: good teacher, large class, Girl who copes. She luuurrrves her school and teacher and hordes of classmates and computer time and the Christmas and Spring concerts and Boost-Up gym time and art and choir and music and field trips to the Children’s Museum and class visits to the school’s cultural center and…………

So the cost may be her never having a teacher who has the time or energy to sit one-on-one with her and unlock her talents, character, personality. I guess that’s up to everybody else in her life, starting and ending with her parents, who currently find themselves on their knees, crouching behind the dryer, eating “stuffed” pizza, drinking gin out of the dog dish.

If you care to share, click a square:

No So Much My Saviour After All: The Pompous Lord

“Not So Much My Saviour After All: The Pompous Lord”
I feel it. Pulsing towards me through cyberspace, I sense your desire to read more of my rambling adventures in other countries. Or maybe what I sense is just my computer trying to stream this week’s episode of Ugly Betty to me, but I’m choosing instead to read this communication from abc.com as a psychic connection that you and I share. And either abc.com or someone else out there is telling me that more travel stories would be okay. Yes?
I’ll take your silence as a hearty and resounding “yes!!!”

Now, I know you want to read about when I was 17 and attended a weekend biker ralley in Denmark (all the hardcore bikers from around Europe converged on a farm for the weekend), but since some of my unmentionables went missing that weekend and later showed up nailed to a clubhouse wall, I shan’t relate that story, lest I blush and find myself unable to make eye contact with you in the future when we bump into each other near the holiday hams at Cub Foods.

And I could regale you with a story about camping around Iceland for ten days, my body sucking up around-the-clock arctic light; upon return to the States, my body’s internal clock was so confused that I ended up with a surprise pregnancy–a daughter now six!–out of the deal. A quick summary of that part of my life goes: “Whee. Whoa. Wow. Whoops.” But again, if you’d read a detailed account of such a happy, but personal, mistake, how could we chat superficially at the Cub Foods after running in to each other in the cereal aisle? We’d be fake-smiling, trying to come up with things to say, mindlessly loading our carts with heaps of unneeded Quaker Oats, while your brain would be spinning: “Oh, man, I know way too much about this lady to even pretend to care about the weather. But just keep smiling, Skeeter. Just keep smiling. And nodding. And making those affirmative noises in your throat.”

Or I could tell you a story about being in the airport in Chisinau, Moldova, when I tried to crack a joke about how I was visiting the country with the intent of drinking lots of their famous wine and then standing on the corners to sell Levi jeans for a huge profit (hey, it was after the Iron Curtain had fallen, so I thought the place might have lightened up. Who knew 70 years of Soviet influence wouldn’t just melt away into good humor and that I would be pulled out of the baggage area and made to stand aside and be scowled at while my passport was “taken to another room”?). But again, if I told you this story, there you and I would be, standing stiffly in the Cub Foods cookie aisle after we reached out simultaneously for a package of Keebler Merry Mints, taking turns retreating and saying, “No, really, you go first” and then lurching out again at the same time and clunking hands, making you think to yourself, “Honestly, I swear this woman is the type of annoying person who would think making jokes to uniformed officials in crumbling countries is appropriate. And she probably plans to serve these cookies at a neighborhood party, passing them off as homemade. ‘Oooh, look at me: I worked for hours, trying to get the icing just so!'”

So I guess I’m left telling you another story about Ireland, where even poor behavior seems only “naughty” at worst, and it’s the uniformed officials themselves who are cracking the jokes at the airport.

When last you left me in Ireland, I was cursing at a pony and muttering “Never again…Never again…” The good news is that I hitched up my chaps, tucked my spurs into my backpack, and got over my pony trauma before deciding the next thing to do was explore, on foot and by car, Co. Donegal–a remote place with sparse bus service, which left me asking my B & B hostess, “You’re really sure it’s safe for single women to hitch-hike around here?” Assured that hitch-hiking was common practice in the area, I began relying upon it to get me around the county.

After warming up my thumb the first day with an intricate exercise involving balancing jelly beans on my thumbnail and then flipping them into my mouth (repeatedly), I set off for the coastal mountain/hiking area of Slieve League, scoring four rides whilst to-ing and fro-ing.

The first guy was a handyman who hollered, “Ya don’t mind sitting in back with the tools, do ya?” Not at all. I made off with his monkey wrench.

The next husband and wife were very prim, venturing so far as to ask me if, indeed, everyone in the United States carries a gun. Upon exiting the car, I blasted them with my Supersoaker.

After my muddy, awe-inspiring, 3-hour hike at Slieve League, I was picked up by Liam, who asked me to sit up front and cradle his Sunday paper on my lap. Sensing a fetishist, I obliged, but I managed to steal the crossword puzzle and leave him, undoubtedly, bereft of the sense of accomplishment that comes with knowing which 1970’s rock group performed “Mr. Blue Sky” and filling in the accompanying three-letter answer.

Finally, I hitched a ride with an enthusiastic 19-year-old who was incredibly happy to see me–or anyone else, for that matter. This lad never met anyone or anything he didn’t like…especially MacGuyver, with whom he was obsessed. “Lawse, but that man can do anything! Give him a rubberband, a spatula, and some brown sugar, and he can make a bomb! And what about his hair? Isn’t it cool? Didya notice my hair? I had it cut and bleached to look just like his–you know, that actor Richard Dean Anderson. Doncha think I look like him?” Not having the heart to tell him that highlighted mullets had gone out of style, well, before there ever was style, I remained mum. But I did show him how to make chewing gum out of tree sap, a match, and tire tread before he dropped me off.

Heady with the power of The Hitch, I set out again the next day, this time walking to the local strand (aka “beach”), where I intended to take artistic photos of fog and throw rocks at seagulls. On my way back to the B & B, as I walked the narrow road, I was almost body slammed by a careening Mercedes Benz, driven by a buck-toothed weasel named Justy, who looked and acted like Dr. Frankenstein’s sidekick, Igor (“Yessssss, Master…”). Next to him, in the Seat of Command, was a 63-year-old florid man named…

“Lord Hamilton, my dear, and so nice to have you aboard. Do sit in the back, and I’ll tell you about myself.” This he proceeded to do for 20 minutes, detailing his family’s pedigree, handing me a gold business card that had the weight and heft of a credit card, inviting me to stay at “the manor” next time I was visiting, and cautioning me off “the natives,” saying, “They’re animals and gypsies, every one of them.” Speechless in the backseat, and not by choice but because I couldn’t get a word in edgewise, I mentally reviewed the history of the Republic of Ireland: English landlords driving the native peasants to destitution and starvation…and there I was, sitting with one such modern “landlord” who’d not had the good sense to update his thinking or to really look at the substance of the native inhabitants of the town of Killybegs. Later, after he dropped me off with a shouted warning not to socialize with a soul in the town, I recounted his monologue to my B & B hostess, a native herself, who laughed herself silly and dismissed him with, “Ah, you were in a car with Himself! He’s quite a toff, eh?”

I still have that gold business card, and I still think often of how Lord Hamilton prided himself on being above the reality of the people who surrounded him. His pomposity created in him a crisis of character, one of which he’d never be aware–such was the state of his arrogance.

Even now, eight years later, I feel confident that if I ever run into him in the coffee aisle at Cub Foods, I will crack open a bottle of Torani’s Hazelnut syrup on his head and dump its contents into his declaiming maw, just to make him cease babbling about his importance. (You can hover down by the tea bags, gawking and assuring your fellow bystanders, “Trust me, I’ve read her blog, and I can tell you this is just like her.”)

And I guess I won’t be staying at the manor.

If you care to share, click a square:

Scoundrel Cabbies: So Unfare

“Scoundrel Cabbies: So Unfare”This past weekend, I had to don a big mohair sweater of The Happies, as I spent four days in the mountains of Colorado, celebrating past, present, and future with two of my best galpals from college. To even divulge how long it’s been since I first met these women requires that I sit down and put my head between my knees for at least four breaths before I can gasp out, “Twenty-one years.” I am examining my crow’s feet in a magnifying mirror as I type those words, remembering how unlined and dewy we all were when we first encountered each other on 4th Goodhue (our dorm freshman year) at a floor meeting, where one of these friends stopped the show by announcing, “And I have this new thing called a CD player in my room, so if any of you want to stop by to listen to a little Peter Gabriel, that’d be so rad.”

In the ensuing four years, we drank a wheelbarrow full of Long Island Iced Teas, danced to The Gear Daddies and The Wallets and Modern English until sunrise, and occasionally even stayed up all night writing papers about “Meritocracy and Hegemony as Evidenced by Thomas Pynchon.” Them’s ageing activities, folks, and we might have engaged in them more sparingly, had we known that the real wrinkle-causers (committing to love, having children, and weathering dithering Demoncrats and a bellicose Republican administration) were still to come.

At any rate, this past weekend was our second official galpal weekend, wherein just the three of us gather together, away from kids and partners, to gab, eat, drink, reflect, and review. I have to say, my life ends up feeling completely inventoried by the time we’re done, and I have a renewed appreciation for all the mundane things in my daily life that seem blase without the benefit of such an external processing. By the time we’re done with our weekends together, I’m again awed that my husband has a chai tea waiting for me by the back door every morning as I dash out to work; that the shoes I bought last week are versatile and cute, simultaneously; that I live in just the right house for me; that I live with someone who reads and likes to talk about it. I get all oogie about my life, thanks to these benchmark weekends.

Even further, when The Ladies and I headed out for the weekend’s big splurge dinner at a place called Samplings, I had cause to appreciate how the idea of “crisis” is a state of mind and mood more than an incontrovertible reality.

Here’s what happened: we had a reservation for Samplings on Friday night, but then those wacky Colorado skies decided to dump snow for almost three days straight (someone should capitalize on that and build up some sort of skiing culture around the place, really; then developers could come along and clear cut all the beautiful trees on the mountains, making room for fifty thousand high-priced condos–you know, paving paradise and putting up a parking lot and all. Just an idea for any entreprenuers who spend their weekdays perusing this blog), so Friday night featured snowplows on the road and cars getting chains put on. This was not the right night to head out for a few bottles of wine and general gustatory celebration; rather, we decided to stay in and drink margueritas and eat a homemade chile with a mole sauce (“What, so the recipe tells us to add chocolate to our pork? It’s so rare one has permission to act out one’s most private dreams in a public arena!”) .

Happily ensconced in the–you guessed it–condo, we moved the reservation at Samplings to the next night, when it was still snowing, but much more lightly. But the issue of driving coupled with bottles of wine still reared itself. It was time to tap into cab culture. After about eight phone calls, my pal Hoo learned that there are two companies that run in the area, each with roughly ONE taxi. The rates they quoted varied dramatically, so we decided to go with Cheap Guy Cab Company instead of Twice the Fare Cab Company.

But when we tried to nail the Cheap Guys down about a pick-up time, they slithered through an actual committment, giving us the “Call us back in 45 minutes, and we’ll let you know.” Eventually, we decided taking the free shuttle into Frisco would be the best idea, even if it did take an hour to traverse the ten miles from condo to restaurant. After dinner, now that’s when we’d need a taxi, when it was late, and when we didn’t feel like transferring from free shuttle to free shuttle back up the mountain.

The restaurant was terrific–just the right combination of relaxed and chi-chi. True to its name, the place offers either a tasting menu or the option of ordering multiple “small plate” dishes to share at the table. We went with nine small-plate choices–(get this, you foodies out there: roasted garlic and leek soup with fois gras butter; butternut and apple soup with pepitas; organice baby lettuce salad [with a Roaring ’40s blue cheese]; roasted shiitake mushrooms with truffle oil; bruschetta with an eggplant spread on olive bread; duck confit ravioli with butternut squash and brown butter vinaigrette; top sirloin with roasted garlic and pearl onions in a red wine reduction; duck confit on a bed of wild rice risotto; and venison on a fig-laced quinoa over top of a roasted orange slice…all of which was followed by the Chef’s choice dessert platter, including an espresso panna cotta that had me leaping into the mug to bathe in the velvety grounds…now this was my kind of all-body exfoliant)–and let the sommelier hook us up with a terrific chardonnay and pinot grigio. There was talk, a toasty fire, and the usual Colorado “dude” vibe, provided by our snowboarding waiter who “got in 80 days last year on the hill.”

Thus, when we finally staggered out of Samplings and into the snowstorm, the world was softly lit with pleasure and very tiny belches. We’d called a half an hour earlier and talked to Cheap Guy, who promised to pick us up at 9 p.m. When he didn’t arrive, we just kept talking, ate snowflakes, and eventually started shivering. The toasty glow was threatening to wear off.

And half an hour after that, a feeling of crisis threatened to show up when Cheap Guy still didn’t. Further attempts to reach him and discover his whereabouts resulted only in a rude busy signal. Feeling strung along, wondering how we’d ever back to our Aveda haircare products and leftover mole chile, we allowed a smidgen of “So what the hootenany are we gonna do?” to enter our minds and conversation. Eventually, we decided to show him who was boss and call the rival company, Twice the Fare Price Gougers.

TtFPG listened to our tale of stranditude with great interest and then assured us that, although they were currently on a call, and it might take them some time to get to us, they definitely would eventually show up, unlike the “scoundrels” over at Cheap Guy who would promise us the world, only to leave us standing decked out in winter white at the Samplings altar.

As the Cold War between cab companies gained heat, we glanced down the street and saw, emerging from the flakes, swaying and creaking towards us, the free shuttle. Hollering a quick “thanks for the update on mountaintop transportation relations” into the phone, we hoofed it to the bus stop and gratefully hopped aboard the shuttle, realizing that it only takes one solid option (and two bottles of wine) to neutralize a potential crisis…

…especially when that option, as it lurches up a mountainside for an hour and a half, covering its trusty ten miles in that time, blares from its speakers tunes-for-39-year-old-women-on-reunion. We had a group singalong to Four Non-Blondes (“And I say hey/yay/yay…What’s goin’ on?”) while the weary bus driver announced each imminent stop: “Library.” “Elementary school.” “Wal-Mart.”

It occurred to us to protest the need for stopping at the elementary school at 11 p.m. on a Saturday night (you’d have to get busted for doing more than simply giving little Skeeter Bejeesus a wedgie before you’d be kept that long in detention, right? Being kept after school for an extra day and a half would demand, at the very least, some serious cheating and fouling in the tetherball tournament. And then you probably wouldn’t need to catch the bus home, as your mom would be waiting outside in the two-tone station wagon, spewing out at the sight of you and your Nikes dragging towards the wagon: “So you think cheating is fun? Let me tell you what’s fun: laboring for 24 hours in sweat and agony, only to have the fruit of those labors, ten years later, turn into a big cheaterpants who’s kept after school for a day and a half. Yea, that’s really, really fun. Now get in the car. We’re going to Grandma’s for tuna casserole. And you better not have forgotten your homework.”).

Yet we didn’t need to protest unnecessary stops. Instead, we remembered:

We were safe.
We were moving.
The snow was lovely.
And we were together.

If you care to share, click a square:

Metallic Love

“Metallic Love”

I guess it started the night I met my husband, a very dreamy evening. It wasn’t meant to be dreamy, for we were set up, meeting each other “blindly,” as the rhetoric goes. But we were matched by my cousin, who had asked each of us if he could serve as our “agent in the field.” Feeling agreeable, we met over a 5-hour dinner in a log cabin (my cousin’s house), with the aforementioned cousin, his wife, and their two daughters present. We definitely weren’t dealing with the nerves that accompany meeting a stranger in an intimate, romantic place. Tripping over Sleeping Beauty slippers while asking, “And you went to college where?” kept things light-hearted.

However, in one quick moment, things took on weight. Because Blind Date (aka My-Groom-of-Seven-Years) is of Norwegian descent, he does enigmatic pretty well, so it definitely struck me dumb–a rarity–when he announced, after a discussion of his love of cooking, “I’ve decided I’d like to get married so that I can get a KitchenAid mixer.”

Frankly, I had to pause for a beat or two, just to be sure that he wasn’t actually proposing something there. But then I realized he was making a general comment–wanting to highlight that the best way he saw to afford such a big-ticket purchase was through a wedding registry. Hey, wait a minute, he might be funny, methought!

Fast forward some months, and you’ll see us, fresh after our wedding reception, opening gifts at a brunch the next day. Jehosephat, but there it was: the KitchenAid mixer. A large group of friends had each pitched in some bucks, coming up with enough for not only the mixer but for a few attachments, as well. My Groom’s machinations had paid off; sure, he had to take me as part of the bargain, but he got his mixer, and leavened and unleavened breads alike would be his! Ha-ha-ha!!!

Keep your fast forward going, now, to Wednesday of this past week, when Groom-Cum-Stay-At-Home-Dad was feeling very tra-la-la at the prospect of a morning in the house alone (we’d sent both kids to a kibbutz or something, to learn the value of hard work). First, he would corral some of the dust bunnies, scour out the small family of five living in our toilet bowl, and do the bi-yearly changing of the sheets. After that, he’d read some gossip on the Web and prepare for a lurvely Fall run. Oh, and somewhere in the middle there, he’d make a couple loaves of foccacia, his donation to a friend’s birthday party later that evening.

Because he’s well aware that we’re living in the “oughts” now (those antiquated 1990’s are over…it’s a new millenium), he was multitasking, but instead of listening to his I-Pod while IM-ing his ten best friends and updating his MySpace “friends” list, he was hoovering, scrubbing, and letting his beloved KitchenAid knead. When an enormous crash echoed from the main floor, Groom knew it was too much to hope that our crusty, old, dark kitchen had just hatched itself off the back of the house and finally slid into Lake Superior.

Rather, the KitchenAid had developed feet during the kneading and walked itself right off the counter. I posit that its actions were snit-based, and it had seen its chance to take out all of its main competitors on its way to the floor. You see, a year-and-a-half ago, we invested in Miss Silvia–a sleek bombshell straight from Italy who happens to be an espresso maker (my love for her made me realize I am open to a marriage of three). Her paid companion is the burr coffee grinder, who lives next to the glass cookie jar (home of more love), who is neighbors with the snooty and smug French Press (that minx!), who, suprisingly, tolerates the O.G. of the countertop: the bashbox for the coffee grounds.

Actually, I should have used past tense verbs in my listing of some of those countertop residents, as Walking KitchenAid and her travelling cord cut them down in their prime. RIP, French Press.

Indeed, the KitchenAid cut an impressive swathe that day, using her long tail to tip over Miss Silvia, who then emptied her reservoir of water onto the floor, where it formed the base of a coffee grounds/broken glass/cookie jar/foccacia dough slurry.

True to her workmanship, though, KitchenAid held on, her cord remaining married to the socket, even as she dangled there over the slurry, realizing she’d gone too far in her spite. When Groom spied K.A. hanging there, looking a little overwhelmed by her work, he rushed to her side, pulling her from danger, taking her vitals.

Woefully, K.A. was out of commission; even Groom could not turn her on. At this moment, even in the retelling, I fear for my marriage–if the basis of our marriage is broken, well, then, what do we really have together?

After taking an hour to clean up K.A.’s temper tantrum, intrepid Groom gently pried K.A. apart, fiddled with some sprockety-knobby things, and had her back to humming in no time. She, and I, would not need replacing.

For me, I can’t help but think that KitchenAid was sending us a health-conscious message that day, protesting the best she could, telegraphing her message of love: “Get rid of the caffeine. You don’t need carbs. Spend your years watching me twirl, and get rid of these other bimbos.”

Perhaps the most inspirational part of this mini-crisis is the fortitude of the coffee-grounds-encrusted Foccacia That Almost Was. Even after it was tossed in the trash, it continued its yeasty imperative and grew, grew, grew into the evening. We’d stop by the garbage can occasionally, opening it up and hollering encouragement down the hole: “Way to go, FTAW! You’re getting really plump down in there, Junior!!”

If you care to share, click a square:

“But We Don’t Wanna Go Out For Sushi”: What To Do When the Kids Aren’t Game

“But We Don’t Wanna Go Out For Sushi”:

What To Do When the Kids Aren’t Game

Short answer? Yank them along anyhow. It’s a lesson in character building, right? But then they make that event–whatever it is–miserable: “I want to go home now.” “When can we be done?” “Do they have any toys for me here?” “I don’t like this food. And I’m hungry and thirsty.” Many times, I would rather have kids with no character who just stay heshed up.

The more devious approach taken by many of us clever Big People when we want to do something that will result in whining protestations? Fool, fake, bribe, strategize. There is a small window in their lives when we parents are actually smarter–or at least more in power–than the kneebiters. We can use our adult-type smarts (albeit smarts that are riddled with brain holes due to three decades of drinking aspartame and Nutra-sweetened beverages…) to make the kiddles participate in our desired activities.

We took a low-key approach to this conundrum during this past summer, when we went on a family vacation to Canada–putting on toques and riffing on our favorite Mackenzie-Brothers-on-SCTV lines after the border crossing.

Thunder Bay as a city was a miss for all of us (after an hour of driving in circles, looking for an interesting restaurant, we conceded that McDonald’s, indeed, was the best the city could do), but things looked up during our days camping at Sleeping Giant Provincial Park. The kids were thrilled with the sandy beach and relatively warm water (being Northerners, we rate water according to a three-star “How Big Are Your Goosebumps” system: one star: minor, low bumps…they feel a little like the bottom of our bathtub mat but not much more; two stars: moderate bumps…we could put a piece of paper over them and rub a crayon sideways to make a fine transferred picture of the bumps; and three stars: big-old-hoary bumps…we could shave them off the body with a cheese grater), and we had caribou in the campsite during the night, sniffing the fatty remnants of our grilled steaks in the fire pit (who knew caribou were carnivore wannabes?), which thrilled the wee ones. Spirits were good, and we didn’t need to wrangle them into anything.

…until we wanted to go canoeing. Now, our kids do enjoy canoeing, certainly, and have been known to kick into a pacific, mellow mood, mesmerized by the whooshing noises. But for my husband and me, an afternoon in a canoe is a good time. For the kids, fifteen minutes is more than enough time for them to size up the adventure of it all–the water, the sky, the rhythm of the strokes–and then be ready for the next thing (“Is it time to practice somersaults yet? And when can you hide in the tent and then jump out and yell ‘Boo’ to scare us? And could we put a sleeping bag over the picnic table and make a fort now?”).

So how to keep them entertained enough to satisfy our efforts of driving the canoe to another country and then hauling it into the lake? In other words, how could we get 20 minutes out of them? Distraction was the answer.

We excitedly pointed out some Great Blue Herons…and, whoa, looksie-loo, a beaver dam! And not far away, lily pads! And cattails! This is way better than BLUES CLUES, right?

Yes and no. We kept their brains off the idea of boredom for 29 whole minutes, getting an added three minutes out of the deal by singing “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Lake” at the end. By the time we got back to shore, each of us was at least tepidly satisfied with the outing. Sweet Snoopy on a Cracker, but we had canoed.

Since that outing, we’ve become even more organized in our “we’ll get you guys out there and make you have fun without your ever knowing it, and Mom and Dad will be doing The Running Man with glee when you’re not looking” efforts. This Fall, as the leaves have reached a fevered pitch before dropping, and as the kids have shown signs of sensing the oncoming winter weather by becoming rammy, we’ve lured them out on mini-hikes by packaging these expeditions as “scavenger hunt adventures.” I bag up a few cookies, fill each kid a canteen, and then grab other sundry items (i.e., a dog leash, not that we have a dog [see earlier post about dogs off leashes for more insight], a spider made out of pipe cleaners, and a plastic horse) from the house on the way out the door.

When we get up to the Superior Hiking Trail at Hawk Ridge, one of us takes a turn running ahead and hiding the various items along the path. The kids then haul their motivated selves through the Route of Hidden Temptations, looking for toys and goodies, all the while actually covering ground on a hiking trail. Once they’ve found all the treasures, they then want a turn to do the hiding, and so on. Before we know it, an hour or two has passed, and we’ve managed something that might be called, in greehorn circles at least, “a hike.”

And I fully expect that one day my kids will head off to college (if we can fool them into going by hiding a dog leash in their dorm room and urging them to “Go find it!”) and write papers for their Freshman Comp class entitled “My Parents Thought They Were Sneaky and Tricking Us, But In Fact We Knew What They Were Up To and Figured Out That There’d Be Cookies Involved If We Pretended to Rebel.”

If you care to share, click a square:

Trail Cam

Trail Cam:

Earlier this week, I sucked up the remnant warmth of Summer, as Fall starts to turn rainy and colder. I went for a longish run on the Korkki Ski Trails, reveling in the ankle-deep leaves that made for a surprisingly-loud run. Quite simply, I was in heaven, from the smells of pine needles to my views of the beaver dam. In the last few years, a good trail run has been enough to sustain me through days of no sleep, personality conflicts, and general world weirdness. Me lurrrrve me trail runs.

But I fear, to look at me from the outside, that might not have been apparent the other day. If I had been followed by a “Trail Cam,” the footage, when reviewed later over a Summit Bitter Ale, would have revealed a shrieking and hopping runner, someone who seemed distressed more than blissed out. No, it had nothing to do with shrew corpses, faithful readers. Rather, at one point, as I concentrated on the exposed tree roots and the upcoming whopper of a hill, I felt a raking across the back of my leg. And it hurt.

Oh, lawsy, a badger had just clawed the back of my calf, leaving deep, bloody cuts that would later scar up impressively. And badgers must have really dirty claws, right? Which meant that I was probably infected with badger.coli and would eventually need a kidney transplant.

Of all this, I was certain.

But after I gave my best eeeeek and then turned to spy the wiley beast, I discovered only a downed tree branch, which I had stepped on, causing it to rear up and scrape my leg.

At this point, the Trail Cam should have faded to black, but if it had continued, it would have seen me, mere minutes later, gasping and clutching my chest as I narrowly missed bisecting a garter snake on the path (I had to take a quick moment to assure myself that there are no asps in Northern Minnesota, so my fate and Cleopatra’s would not be parallel) with my shoe.

Thereafter, Trail Cam kept filming, only to see me inhaling rapidly and sucking desperately for unencumbered air as I fought off an enormous gnat/mosquito/dragonfly thingy that decided to offer itself up as a sacrifice to my mouth. I had to stop in the middle of my “patoohies” and actually scrape it off of my tongue–and this was a three-finger jobbie, the thing was so huge.

At this juncture, the Trail Cam holder would be thinking to himself, “Man, do I have a lot of fine footage to edit together and send in to ‘America’s Funniest Home Videos’!”Other observers might be thinking, “Why, again, is trail running ‘fun’?”

All I know is that it’s worth it. If a badger had attacked my leg, that would be the cocktail party story to end all cocktail party stories, and if I had bisected that garter snake, I could have informed my snake-fearing mother that there was one less slitherdude on the planet to scare her, along with having good reason to finally clean my crudified running shoes. And as for the bug, well, heck, I was really, really hungry right then, almost getting bonky, so his protein offering helped me get back to the car. Or would have, if I’d swallowed it.

More philosophically, though, I have to say that yesterday’s trail run restored me as all such runs do: they afford me at least one hour every day when my feet are literally in touch with dirt (the Earth, if you will), and in an age where most people go through their days perching their soles solely upon human-made surfaces, touching dirt is a gift. It’s a daily sustenance, to have my feet not on linoleum or carpet or wood or asphalt for at least that hour. I get back to something more raw and less processed–I mean, really, everything our feet touch in a day is representative of someone else’s intentions, right? Someone else proclaimed, “This dirt should be covered over for this reason, in this way!”

I like my feet touching something more fundamental, at least for a brief time each day. I can see how doing that affects my mental state and puts a big case of the happies on me. Then I look at our neighbor, a dour, angry woman whose marriage is strained and who lives either at work or in the mall, and I see her carefully making her way from her concrete driveway, up the paved sidewalk, into her plush carpeting, her pumps actively avoiding the grass on her lawn, and I realize: there’s a reason she’s like she is. She oughtta get dirty.

Attack if you will, badgers of the world. I’m there for you.

Trail Cam: out.

If you care to share, click a square:

Dear Mr. President

I’m not really “political,” in the traditional sense of that term; in fact, I can just hear your cries of outrage if you knew how old I was before I voted for the first time. And to tell you the truth, I’m not sure if or when I’ll vote again (I have a little side-rant here about how I’d vote if I actually could be voting FOR someone and not just against the possibility of someone else). On some level, I’m not always convinced of the “my one vote can make a difference” attitude that runs through our republic.

Despite that, I can never swear completely that I’m not political–I mean, anyone with a voice or an opinion or a thought in his/her head has to be political in some way. If you hold a value, that’s politics, right? My love of running trails links me to politics, as I will support any idea that protects greenspaces. My interest in my children’s health leads me to value organic foods over processed foods. I don’t ever want either of my kids to go off to war. That’s politics, folks.

So, despite my skepticism about the political establishment, I have to say that I am, today, all about the protest song. When music and politics meet up, I can actually get stirred. And that’s exactly what’s happening today, as I sit in my windowless office (a student came in today and said, “Wow, I like the tapestry on your wall. It’s almost like you have something to look at. Hey, maybe you could hang a plasma tv on that wall and then just broadcast images of the out of doors, like birds flying by”), I am enjoying the efforts of another student, one from last year (sidenote: see how much you crazy students affect me?). She has been working her way through college and life by working as a stripper…er, exotic dancer. Over the course of several semesters, this student moved me through her writings; thus, when she cut a Pink CD for me and dropped it off, I was so grateful for a further glimpse into her thinking.

That leads me to today, when I’m cranking Pink’s “Dear Mr. President” here in my windowless box. Not only does she have pipes, she has something to say. And the point here isn’t that we agree with Pink’s politics but more that we appreciate that a popular voice is using her influence to send out a message of protest. You-Tube offers up a video of her singing this goose-bumpy song. Check it out: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9eDJ3cuXKV4

Pink, you please me wildly at this moment.

If you care to share, click a square:

I Am Yours, and You Are Mine

“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.

If you care to share, click a square:

Oh, Honey


A crisis can be an ongoing frustration, and with our investment in an 88-ounce bottle of honey, my frustration was not only ongoing but also sticky.

Why did we buy a bottle of honey so ungodly big? Short answer: we’re cheap. The longer answer is something eco-concious, wherein we’re trying to save on the energy and manufacturing going into buying multiple smaller bottles. At any rate, we ended up with a bottle of honey that, if filled with gasoline, could have topped off a lawn mower’s tank. No whimsical teddy bears for us! Nay, our household had a bottle so big that I could have cut the top off of it and used it as a gift bag, come Christmas…just dropping a v-neck sweater for Aunt Nancy right into the thing.

But I have to give the bottle its due: the thing held its honey and held it for a long, long time. I’m not sure our three-year-old son has ever experienced a different bottle of honey during his lifetime, in fact (and it’s big enough that he gets to do his time-outs inside of it, too! “You broke Mommy’s diamond tiara? Into the honey jar with you, son.”) The downside, of course, to our long-term investment in the bottle is that the honey aged, not like a fine Merlot, but like ice cream in the deep freeze. It became crystallized.

Towards the end, there, the bottle lived upside down in the cupboard (we’re just that clever!), but that made no difference. I could open the spout and try to start a flow into my steaming travel mug of chai, but three minutes later, not even a drop would have touched the tea.

The bottle was constipated in a way that no Metamucil would ever help.

So then we had to get aggressive with the thing, unscrewing the cap and fishing around inside with spoons, clothespins, and finally even paper clips. After a few days, even these helpful tools could no longer pry out even a tidge. There was honey in there, but it was recalcitrant. We could not beg it out, bribe it out, or yank it out.

At one point, my husband circled the bottle with a pair of scissors, stabbing and jabbing at its weak points, but even that effort was rebuffed by the Fortress of Crystal. We couldn’t break into the thing.

Thus, after a loooooong, hot soak in the sink, the honey bottle now lays in our recycling, bracing itself for its imminent reincarnation….perhaps as a child’s little red wagon. Now that would be a worthy corporeal being for such a stubborn spirit.

Sigh.

If you care to share, click a square:
Translate »