Wednesday, February 28, 2007

"Our House: In the Middle of the Week"

According to Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, "shelter" could fall somewhere between being a physiological and a safety need. What I know is I like all kinds of shelter--

from a bivy sack
to a Quinzee hut

to an RV

to a little white lie

("But I had to grab her, honey; she looked faint, and you've told me I need to be more caring. Frankly, now that I think about it, it's your fault.")

Outside of treehouses and ant tunnels, though, my current favorite shelter is our house. And within the house, this is my favorite room to stare at. Since I don't live at a primal substistence level, wherein I hide from predators in my smokey cave and proudly point to this new thing I've discovered called "wheel" while reclining on my sleeping furs and ripping at a mastodon leg with my three snaggly teeth, I have a house where things have been chosen for their aesthetic and emotional value. This is what we modern folk do, right? We surround ourselves with stuff that somehow feels loving?

This particular room feels like love to me because:

it has a bold pumpkinish color, accented by an even bolder spring-green trim. You don't have to like it, but you have to appreciate that we tore down the old wooden paneling, rehung some sheetrock, and threw our heads open to a new vista
it hosts the dining room table and chairs I grew up with; indeed, this brave table and its chair pals made the long journey across the plains from Montana here to Minnesota, stopping to view Mt. Rushmore along the way...and now they're back with me. I can never look at this table without envisioning my brother, at age 14, scarfing down 3 bowls of Raisin Bran every morning before school. He'd finish one bowl of flakes and then add a new heap into the remaining milk, all the while chuckling over the funnies and that crazy Andy Capp
the stained-glass floor lamp was my dad's before he died. I'm pretty sure he bought it at Sam's Club, and what ups the sentimental value of an object more than such a lofty provenance? The day he purchased this lamp, I'm sure my dad tried a sample of Little Smokies on a toothpick, followed by a small paper cup full of Nutty Granola
the houseplant on the table was sent to me after my lamp-loving dad died...sent to me by a college friend whom I see every three years if I'm lucky. But that plant showed up at the height of my grief, and it sent me a message of "Some things still live. And I know you hurt"
that little bench in front of the radiator is actually a piece from a bedroom set that was my grandmother's (she who was born in a sod house on the Montana prairie and never lived more than 10 miles from that birthplace). This set also includes a piece called a "chifforobe" (which is upstairs in our bedroom and houses Groom's wool socks) and I very much appreciate the opportunity to know that word. As with the dining furniture, the bedroom set also made the long, dusty journey past Wall Drug, from Montana to Minnesota. And now, 70 years after its birth, this little bench houses the rear ends of my kids as they play games on How far you've come, Little Bench! The stars (and moons) are your limit
the rug on the floor is one of two household items that remind me my husband and I are adults. While nearly everything else in the house is a hand-me-down, we actually chose this rug and paid adult-type money for it (not just the usual Monopoly bucks we try to pass off at the Dairy Queen)
the pirate ship under the table was Wee Niblet's Christmas present; it is Playmobil, and Playmobil sets are the toys I buy for my kids now and pretend they actually wanted them, when in fact 'tis I who gets lost in their glory--having never experienced them as a child. Within this ship, there are cannons, treasure chests, lanterns, and a hold for scurvy knaves. There is also a very small Johnny Depp who lives on the Crow's Nest. He creeps up to me at night and massages my feet, kissing my toes reverently
Most def, these few square feet of my house warm every one of my cockles. The rest of the joint, by the way, looks like the Abominable Snowman picked up a cargo jet--one carrying rubber duckies, jars of pickles, and 40 tons of Goldfish crackers--and tossed it, in a fit of pique, onto our lot.

Friday, February 23, 2007

"Birkebeiner, Redux"

Tomorrow, North America's largest cross-country ski race, The American Birkebeiner, will be held, despite--as I may have mentioned once or twice--a general lack of snow in the region. Race organizers have abbreviated the course, and only the elite athletes will actually be skiing a competitive, timed race, but, heck, such decisions have salvaged the thing.

Meteorological word has it, too, that The Big One is on the way, so all skiiers tomorrow, whether timed or not, may benefit from a dumpage of new snow.

For this big weekend, I'm going to recycle a post from some months back, when only one person read my blog instead of the large masses of seventeen who now do; it features my favorite Birkie story.

Here ya go:

Let me tell you the tale of an old college acquaintance--let's call him Joe-O. Now Joe-O is a character in and of himself; he's strident about leaving the smallest "footprint" he can on the planet, to the point that he only buys in bulk, composts everything, and, if he does create some small amount of garbage, he just burns it every few weeks. When he lived 30 miles from his job, that was not enough to make him drive a car...instead, he viewed the 60-mile daily bicycle commute as an opportunity for fitness. In addition to biking, Joe-O is a fan of all silent sports, cross-country skiing, in particular. For more than a decade now, he's been into ski racing, with his season capped off by racing the American Birkebeiner, held in the Cable/Hayward, Wisconsin, area every February.

Many of you are doubtlessly acquainted with the Birkie, and some of you may have skiied it yourselves. You would then know that upwards of 10,000 skiers participate, and because of the heaps of steaming humanity standing on slippery pointed boards with sharp sticks in their hands, the race start takes place in "waves." That means that it's not a mass start, but rather large groups (each one a wave) begin the race in staggered fashion, every few minutes. The waves are also seeded, which means that the elite American and international skiers are put into the First Wave, and then successive waves are populated by skiers who have achieved certain times in previous races. The sum effect of these waves is that the best skiers start first, the next best skiers start second, and so on, all the way back to the final wave, which is populated by 85-year-old-retired pastors, 8-year-old Boy Scouts, and women in labor.

For old Joe-O, the first year he entered the Birkie, he had no race record and, therefore, was seeded in the last wave. This was a bit frustrating to Joe-O because he had proven himself to be a gifted skier, but he knew he had to rack up a tremendous race time this first year, in order to improve his start position for the following year. With skill and strategy, he knew he would, with a good race, be starting in one of the first few waves in successive years.

So he took his place on the course, having been up late the night before waxing his skis perfectly for the conditions, and now he was primed, waiting for the starting gun, the Eye of the Tiger glinting in his gaze.

And then.



He, shall I say it discreetly? He felt a sudden, undeniable, overwhelming need to void his intestinal regions.And, naturally, with 9,999 other jittery and nervous racers feeling the same way, the line at the port-a-johns was not short. Suffice it to say, by the time Joe-O got back to the start line, his wave--the last wave--had already started. He could still begin the race, but his shot at a stellar time, one that would move him up in future years, had gone down the drain with his intestinal evacuation.

Here is the crux of my story, so stop slouching and pay attention: Joe-O took a moment to huff and stomp and mutter, and then he regrouped and came up with Plan B (this moment is also known as acceptance that Some Things Cannot Be Changed). His plan was this: since he was going to be the caboose in this train of 10,000 skiers, he would make the most of it--the sheer amount of detritus left behind by all those participants could be a windfall for Joe-O. He would, quite simply, forget about racing and, instead, pick up every discarded item he could find along the course: water bottles, ski poles, hats, mittens, fanny packs, and the like. Why, he'd never have to buy another cheap pair of UV-blocking sunglasses again, after this day! He'd never again have to invest in safety pins, or fleece neck gaiters, or half-eaten bags of gummy bears!

Hours later, after covering the 50K course as a lurching stop-and-start scavenger, Joe-O crossed the finish line; his one-piece lycra racing suit had been transformed into a bulging crap-carrier. Early on, he'd realized he couldn't carry all the loot in his hands, so he'd unzipped the front of his suit and started stuffing in every wayward item he encountered, until, at the end, he looked like a red Michelin Man staggering away from a particularly fruitful rummage sale (one that didn't happen to have any bags for customers).

What do we learn from Joe-O and his "let's make espresso out of chicory" approach to the race? First, it ain't over 'til it's over, so continue to hang in there until the bloody, or junk-filled, end. Second, even if the race isn't shaping up as you'd hoped, with the right attitude, you can reap unexpected rewards. Third, don't shove a broken sharp metal ski pole tip so far down into your ski suit that you nearly become a soprano (or, more correctly, a castrato).

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

"Cooling Our Jets"

In my last post, I pretty much took the piss out of winter--and February especially.

Time for true confessions: I actually adore winter.

It is one of my three favorite seasons, in fact. And when a winter overflows with snow, it makes the cut for Top Two.

But, damn, when there's no snow, that's when I start to look like Jack Nicholson at the end of The Shining. I sit at my typewriter, in an empty hotel, tapping over and over, "All winter and no snow makes Jocelyn a dull girl."

Maybe if I didn't revel in outdoor sports during the winter, I wouldn't miss the snow so much. Instead, I could recline happily on my chaise lounge, running my pearl necklace along my teeth, sipping chamomile tea with my pinky extended, sniffing, "Jeeves, I do so love dry feet. Why ev-a would those people willfully go out into those drifts of that white stuff?"

But me luuurves the cold and the snow. Two years ago, I went snowshoe running three or four times a week, to the point that I had trouble staying upright, even in the house, without crampons on the bottom of my feet. Last year was The Year of the River Ski, when I would hop onto my old skis and shuffle up and down a frozen creek, tracking snowshoe hares. At the waterfalls, unlike my groom of seven years, I would take off my skis and slide down, rather than kamikazi-ing it down the frozen slope. This year, I was looking forward to more of the same snow-fueled exploration.

But you know the icing on top of a Twinkie? We've had snow just that deep so far this year.


And then a little layer of chocolate icing on top of that Suck.

That's all we've had: one small stick of Suck with thin Suck frosting on top, rotting in the fridge.



We found this year's winter glory, and it's this amazing thing called--get this--ICE.

One little trip over to the lake just outside our door--you know, the really big, superior lake--and my face looked like this:

That first visit to the Big Ice was followed the next day by another few hours of sliding around the world's most fascinating playground, and the next day by another few hours, and the next day by another few hours.

Who needs wussy, only-for-faerie-folk, light-as-dust, softie snow when there's the real, hardcore, tectonic-plate-shifting, bone-crushing ICE two blocks from my house? As of last week, I'm all about throwing my and my children's bodies onto this junk:

There is a loveliness and grandeur to the pack ice that stops my breath.

And when we have visitors, such as my sister-in-law and her partner this past weekend, our best idea of "what to do to show the out-of-towners a good time" entails giving them only-slightly-lead-ridden popsicles:

On this killer-cool ice, a person can ponder. A person can stare at the horizon endlessly. A person can listen to the cracks and shifting of the ice, likening it to whales calling each other. The stuff is alive.

Niblet is enamored of the music in the ice; he uses the ice picks Groom made for him to whack away at the 'cicles, making different melodies each time a handful cascades down.

We've also played a form of bocce ball with rocks on the ice, taken hockey sticks out and bashed at the formations, made our own curling stones and slid them across vast expanses, and broken off huge slabs to use as twirly-sleds across the lake. I even carried one huge slice of ice home--4 inches thick--pretending all the way that I'd just come down from The Mount and had been handed new commandments ("Thou Shalt Not Wear Leggings"). Once we got that slab home, Groom fired up a blowtorchything and sculpted a lovely hole right through it. Ice, ice, baby? It's the fun that just keeps on giving.

Even more, toting home heavy pounds of frozen water reminded us of a hundred years ago, when we would have been cutting great blocks of the stuff to fill our homemade refrigerators--imagine how well the butter would keep...and how uncurdled our yogurt would remain, well into August!

(This photo has nothing to do with Lake Superior or ice, really. I had just paid 12 Sherpas $100,000 to haul me to the top of Everest. I took off my oxygen mask just long enough to snap this picture. Then they hauled me back to basecamp, where a pedicure awaited.)

Without snow so far this year, we'd not been able to use our homemade "digger" sled...but suddenly we realized we could enact a real-life version of our Polar Explorer board game. First musher to the South Pole gets the Queen's endless gratitude!

Girl, here, takes her new-found ice riding skills off the lake, up to the woods, where she toodles down a frozen flow from a broken cistern. She is Sister Cistern (one small step removed from Sister Christian, right?)

Ah. Now *this* is a chaise lounge.

And *this* is a playhouse...until it melts, and the children are crushed under the enchanting A-frame.

Remember Jack Nicholson's character in the final scene of The Shining--outside the hotel in the hedge maze, frozen into an eternal stasis?

Luckily, my stasis here doesn't involve scary twins or REDRUM kids. All I am is ECI YPPAH.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

"Yo, Brad Pitt: I've Got Your Arts & Crafts House Right Here"

We in Northern Minnesota are most definitely riding the hump of winter, one with particularly cold temps and very little snow. It's been dark for some months now, here on the pack ice, the sled dogs have been howling relentlessly, and we've just run out of hardtack and dried berries. Things are looking grim.

So how can we distract ourselves, especially now that all of the barrels down in the hold are emtpy, and we're starting to eye Girl's soft little earlobes as likely hors d'oeuvres? How to make 24-molasses-slow hours pass each day so that every time we check the calendar it doesn't still read "Middle of a Long, Icy February" (and the next day "Middle of a Long, Icy February +1")?

The kids' energy, with each -30 degree day, gets more manic, random, and punchy. They are jumping off the stairs, hurling stuffed animals, and leaping over stacks of cardboard bricks. Although they have enough energy to fill the universe and rearrange the stars, we can only offer them 1800 square feet of hardwood.

Certainly, for relief from the oppressively grey skies, we spend eleven minutes each day packing the kids into snowpants, wool socks, fleece hats, parkas, and lined boots. They obligingly run around the yard for four minutes before they begin to amuse themselves by snapping off their frozen fingers, one by one, making a little pile of digits.

Not one to lose spirit, I holler with great enthusiasm, "Look at you! You made your own Lincoln Logs! Good job! Now keep running, lest Recreational Director Julie McCoy comes along and spots you and takes you aboard the Love Boat to use as an ice sculpture at the dinner buffet."

Very shortly, after a few rousing games, such as "I Can Saw This Branch Off The Birch With My Nose Before You Can," "Excised Toes = Winter Marbles," and, of course, "Literal Freeze Tag," we're all aching to pick up the pieces of our bodies and carry them inside, to a place where the wind doesn't slice us in half.

After seventeen minutes of peeling off layers, we sit contentedly nursing warm mugs of chai. Within moments, we realize, though, that the groundhogs are still in their dens, all the chocolate hearts have been eaten, all the good presidents are still dead, and spring is still six weeks off. Thus, the question rears itself again: what to freaking do?

There is only one answer, and it entails construction paper, glitter glue, neon markers, and vision.

Gather 'round, Boys and Girls, Preschoolers and First Graders, Scouts and Bluebirds, Gymnasts and Swimmers, Former Members of the Zoom cast: it's arts & crafts time. Saddle up, and cover your privates: we're snipping and glueing 'til sunset.

Valentine's Day offered up a significant diversion, especially with class sizes being so big in the district; Girl and Niblet were kept busy cutting and decorating for days on end. Occasionally, as I stared blankly out the window over their busy heads, the sun would peep out.

And then there are the times we feel all oil pastelly inside, with a hint of watercolor thrown over the top for good measure. Nice job with the fishies, Girl! When I catch sight of this picture, I just about want to keep my head out of the oven.

Even Groom has contributed to the crafty feeling, having sculpted this turtle, who spends his days frantically swimming nowhere. I get so involved in his journey and its endless possibilities that I sometimes stop muttering, "O, Sweet Goddess of Spring, when shall you arrive?"

We've even gone so far as to copy the illustrations from our favorite books (if you don't know Mo Willems and his genius work, sled with great speed over to your nearest Barnes & Noble. Or, better yet, let a bus-driving pigeon drop you off there).

The pigeons' presence on our kitchen cabinets alleviates my need to moan, while holding my head, "Darkness, oh, the darkness."

Even more diverting is when our efforts reach the level of performance art, as in the case of one Ms. Hello Kitty being jettisoned from her stage; here, she illustrates the despair that results from the clash between internal and external selves in a modern world, particularly in terms of valuing the individual over society. Upon landing, she urinates on a crucifix to demonstrate the angst inherent in our current skepticism of traditional icons.

But perhaps my favorite creative moment happened last week, when Girl and Groom were out spearing a seal for dinner.

Wee Niblet and I stared at each other for some time in a state of thumb-twiddling before remembering that he had checked out a bag of plastic animals from the Polar Library that day. And suddenly, it was Rhino's Birthday. Attending his party on the kitchen floor were Gorilla, Giraffe, Elephant, Tiger, Lion, and Mommy. Before presents would be opened, we all needed to play some games. First up? Pin the Trunk on the Elephant.

Each animal's eyes were covered as it was spun three times in front of the elephant and then asked to pin on the trunk. As you might predict, hilarity ensued. Oh, the trumpeting and chattering when Gorilla pinned the trunk to elephant's tail!

But then Giraffe proved to be a ringer:

He taped the trunk spot on the elephant's face; surely, the prize (a mandarin orange) was his.

Even after Tiger took his turn, Giraffe remained clearly in the lead...until, that is, Tiger threw a hissy and threatened to snap the head off any fellow party attender who refused to vote him The Victor.

With little discussion, the animals voted "yea" for Tiger, all the while refusing to make eye contact.

Shortly after tiger accepted his prize (the orange plus a page of Tweety Bird stickers) for "winning" the game, we opened presents--I had hastened off to the tupperware cabinet for some impromtu "shopping"--having thoughtlessly brought Rhino nothing!--wherein I purchased a blue tupperware cover. I bestowed it on the Birthday Beast, telling him it was a new drinking pond, to compensate for the limited water on the drought-ridden savanna.

After eating pieces of a zoo-themed cake, we all lapped up some cool pond water, admired each other's gifts, and before I knew it, an entire hour had passed.

Groom and Girl were home, worn out from their battle with the seal. Niblet was tired, worn out from coddling Tiger's emotional needs.

And I, mentally crossing another day off the calendar, was sure I heard a chickadee trilling its spring song outside the window.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

"Crumbs and Poo: Making Martha Stewart Roll Over in Her Banana Bourbon Layer Cake"

(This is my attempt at heart-shaped red Snickerdoodles for a kids' neighborhood party: not so lovely. But excellent baked goods would be wasted on a crowd who thinks Blues Clues is high art, so I worry not)

Groom and I are gifted. We really are. He can run long distances, like 30 miles, and feel better at the end than at the start. I can fold laundry at 1 a.m. He can plan a weekly menu of meals so good that I proclaim each one fine enough to be "company food." I can cut a wriggling preschooler's fingernails without drawing blood. Together, we can just about finish a Sunday New York Times' crossword puzzle.

Obviously, we have our merits, and you'd be smart to want us as members of your tribe on Survivor.

However, when it comes to household precision and general domesticity, we are underwhelming. Sure, we fight the daily battle: heaving dirty clothes toward the basket in the corner, washing up the bowl that contained pesto noodles, rinsing the spit toothpaste down the drain. We do what's necessary to make sure Child Welfare Services doesn't have an excuse to confiscate the children.

But, while the place looks all right on the surface, and we can occasionally pass for "neat," we can rarely pass for "clean." No white glove should ever come knocking, lest it flee our house, dingy gray, choking back sobs and dusty coughs, mere moments later. For example, within an hour of one of us sweeping the kitchen floor, it will, predictably, look like this:

Indeed, I often am forced to admit, "We can be a lot of fun at a potluck, but otherwise, we're pigs."

Despite this reality, we do have one consistenly clean patch of floor, one upon which I would serve even Domestic Ballbuster Martha Stewart a heap of Baked Gemelli with Spinach, Ricotta, and Prosciutto; it is the two-foot patch of hardwood floor just in front of this glass of water:

You can see where this is going. Contrary to what psychologists might predict, I don't learn from my mistakes. Every night, I put my water glass just under the edge of the futon, where I can reach down at my convenience and have a sip while watching Weeds and commenting, "Gawd, if only we sold marijuana out of our house. Then we could afford a housekeeper."

And nearly every night, I invariably whack said water glass with my foot after getting up to retrieve yet another fleece blanket to warm me up in our frigid house (tv room thermostat reads 58 degrees). Natch, the water spreads immediately, sopping my wool socks, running into the cracks between the floorboards, causing me to scramble for a dishtowel--dirty, of course--to mop things up.

Even more invariably, I have to take a quiet moment after the mop up to gasp and admire: "My, my, doesn't this floor look spiffy after the application of water and scrubbing? Someone should market that idea. It could catch on."

In our household tiara adorned with old tires and crunched-up Bugles, we have this one shining jewel of floor space. It sparkles. It glows. It hums with cleanliness.

The rest of the place? The Clampett shack before striking black gold, Texas tea.

Thus, you can imagine the sheer pleasure with which I greeted our cheap toilet's overflow the other evening. I watched the water level rising and rising. Then it started to seep over the top edge. Marvelling, I stood rapt, torn between a desire to run for a plunger and a sense of possiblity.

The longer I let it overflow, the larger the patch of bathroom floor that would ultimately get cleaned.

I sat down and filed my nails.

Then I ran for the plunger and a stack of towels.


"Dear Martha Stewart:

I request the pleasure of your company for an intimate picnique underneath my toilet paper dispenser. Wear your best chinos, as you will be eating the Cucumber and Smoked Salmon Sandwiches, sided by Asparagus Panzanella, directly off the tile. "

Friday, February 09, 2007

"Does This Donut Make My Butt Look Big?"

Women are weird about their bodies. And by this, I mean about each other's bodies even more than their own.

Certainly, every woman I know has a hearty dose of bodily self-loathing:

"My belly shakes when the wind blows."

"This arm wattle? Stand back when I stir the pasta sauce, or you may get hurt."

"I can't even rest my martini glass on my breasts. They're just too small to be decorative or functional."

Really, the litany of body gripes is endless, from our naturally-dark roots to our disgustingly-gnarled toes.

Generally, the media receives the blame for this cultural phenomenon--supposedly, we see images of young, tucked, snipped, airbrushed celebs, and this makes us feel bad about ourselves. I suppose I buy that to a certain extent. But frankly, when I look at photos of Britney Spears or Paris Hilton in magazines, a rush of relief sweeps over me, and I feel profoundly grateful that such a life and style are not mine. What's more tragic than having every resource in the world at your feet (or at least in your Blackberry) and still being a mess?

Other people try to make the case that women loathe their appearances due to comments made by men. Again, okay, I'll sort of buy that. Men have said hurtful things to me about how I look. Decades later, I still remember their words. But mostly, I don't think heterosexual men care about women's appearances all that much. If their relationship with a woman is platonic, they really don't care. If their relationship with a woman is romantic or sexual, they probably care, but only to the extent of, "Okay, so at what point do I get to touch that stuff?"

In truth, I think the momentum of our bodily self-hatred comes from other women. Admit it, ladies: we are constantly sussing up other women's bodies. Usually, we keep our snarky thoughts to ourselves...or at the very least limited to a circle of our three best galpals: "The thing about Barb is that she's so short. If she were taller, she could pull off that denim patchwork skirt. It would be mod. But on her, it's just a tablecloth." But we do, all too often, take our opinions to the very last person who should hear them: the woman in question.

I remember walking down the hall some years ago at the university where I taught, and a student, whom I'd never seen before, came up behind me and said, "I love those pants on you. They're so fun. Now me, I'm too thin to pull off a look like that, but you wear it perfectly."

How quietly the claws can be unsheathed.

So we dames like to mess with each other. And we know that a cloaked attack can do wonders for our own self-esteem, strangely enough. But then there is a subcategory of Babes In Thinness Callowly Hollering Expletives in Society (BITCHES) that calls for a very different kind of behavior, which is a woman who is clearly "superior" physically (aka, a smaller size) loudly complimenting a physically "inferior" specimen (someone who is described as having a "great personality").

I witnessed this a couple of months ago in the kitchen area at my workplace. A kind faculty member--also a city councilman (no doubt out to garner goodwill)--had bought several dozen donuts and set them out for the taking. In front of the donut box, I witnessed an instructor, we'll call her Size 4, commenting to another woman, Size 8, who was helping herself to a raised and glazed, "I wish I could eat donuts and have a figure like yours."

Sounds sort of like a compliment, right? But the underlying point struck me as one of moral superiority, the subtext being, "You don't see me reaching into that box, now do you?" Even further--how ridiculous is this?--Size 4 *could* have a figure like Size 8's, if she just ate some freaking donuts. Size 8 responded, however, with a happy chuckle, just loving that someone was loving her figure. She responded with, "Well, the only way I keep this figure is to get up bright and early every morning and walk."

At that moment, I wanted to take two bricks and huck them at these women's heads. The whole interchange tapped into an inner exhaustion I have; I'm plain tired of women making their bodies the center of attention. Yawn. Snore.

If you're planning on kissing or stroking a person's body, it becomes part of your purview. But otherwise, hesh up already.

Excuse me, now, as I stomp off to a meeting that damn well better feature a large platter of cookies.


Monday, February 05, 2007

"Despite the Vomit, Why We Don't Send the Lad to Be Fostered at the Nearest Castle"

He could end up a page to some dashing knight if we did, you know. And he'd learn the ins and outs of keeping chain mail rust free, which is a skill I'd like at least one member of the family to have.

Yet we keep him.

I was reminded the other morning why that is.

At 7 a.m., he burst into our bedroom, hollering, "Can my night-time be done now? I'm a little sweaty."

I like the fact that he has his own, personal night-time. He really does. It often ends at 3 a.m., when he gets up and asks to look at books for a few hours in the office room, so as not to awake his sister, Model Sleeper Girl (aka "The One We Want to Keep"), whose bed is adjacent to his. But on this particular morning, he had actually slept through the night--well, largely, anyhow, only getting up three times for water, to announce he didn't like the dark, and for general morale-boosting conversation breaks.

So, okay, kiddle, your night can be done now. Just stop being sweaty before you leap into bed with us, ja? Go wipe yourself down with a ducky blankie or something, and then climb aboard.

Crawling under the covers and nuzzling into me, he was uncharacteristically quiet for a minute and a half. Then the newly-anointed-four-year-old threw out this day-opener: "In China, does it really rain cherry blossoms?"

#1, Child, where do you get your material? (Turns out it's in a Charlie and Lola episode. If you have kids in your life, or if you are a smart adult without kids, you might check into these books and videos. Lola proclaims she will not ever, never eat a tomato, and she has an invisible friend named Soren Lorenson. Lola drinks pink milk, and she rocks.)

#2, Well, yea, sorta. From the trees. Sometimes. Actually, even more in Japan, technically.

#3, Man, do I like a kid who genuinely wants to know the answer to that question. Even if it is 7 a.m., and a pall of darkness still hangs over my brain.

Then the Niblet fell quiet again. I could tell he was pondering, as he began stroking his fingers across his skin.

Breaking the silence, he observed, "My hands are very soft, like a very soft pillowcase."

And that, dear readers, is why the neighboring castle--despite having a dungeon that Niblet sometimes deserves to be tossed into--can't have this kid.
Do tell: What in your life have you considered jettisoning out the window, but then it's redeemed itself?

Thursday, February 01, 2007


Dorky Dad did it. I'm pointing a finger, and it's not my pointer finger.

At any rate, I jump here, in this post, fully into the life and times of Blogville. Make me mayor for a day, woncha? City keys and all?

So, yes, I've been tagged with a meme. And even though these memes feel like chain letters, I'm doing it, and not just to avert seven years of bad luck. I'm supposed to tell you Six Weird Things That Have Happened to Me. Since I consider every blog post thus far an account of something weird that's happened to me, I may find myself stretching for fresh material. Maybe I could turn this meme into Six Weird Vomit Stories, as those seem to be heaving themselves at me fast and furious in the last month.

However, I'll attempt to abide by the rules. Since I don't do that when I drive or converse (I speed and interrupt), this, too, may be a stretch.

Here are the parameters, according to Dorky Dad: "...each player starts by blogging about six weird things about themselves [sic]. Those tagged must also blog the rules in their blog while tagging a half a dozen people of their own. It's also important to inform the tagees that they've been tagged." He then went on to adjust the subject this particular meme, so that the topic is about six weird things that have happened to the blogger in question.
Here goes:

1) I received my first kiss as an adolescent when I was trick-or-treating. My pals and I rang a doorbell, and a drunken teen answered. His name was Randy. He propped himself against the doorframe, gave us all some Bottle Caps, and then swooned over how cute I was in my costume. Smelling of something Genuinely Drafty, he leaned in and whispered at me, spittle on his lips, "Can I give you a little kiss?" Because I had no self-esteem and couldn't believe that any male would *ever* want to kiss me for being cute (I was ten, and it already seemed like a drought), I nodded shyly. It was quick and, yup, spittle-ridden. My knees got soft, and suddenly my pillowcase of candy felt very heavy.

I was dressed that year as Pippi Longstocking. To aid my braids in standing straight out from my head, my mother had bent a wire hanger over my head and braided my hair around it.

Weird thing? The name Randy.

2. In high school, I was deeply into forensics. No, you CSI fans, you and your slow-motion bullets should sit back down and stop waving your remote controls in the air so excitedly. I mean competitive speech tournaments. Like "Hi, my original oratory today will expose how ludicrious contemporary advertising is, and I will refer to the commercial featuring figure skater Peggy Fleming throwing a pack of chewing gum into a swimming pool as evidence." Like, "I totally am advancing to finals in Lincoln-Douglas Debate this weekend!" Like, "I cannot even believe how unprofessional those poster boards looked for the extemporaneous speech on horror films. The blood on them was sooo obviously catsup. What judge would be fooled by that?"

At any rate, in 1984, on the way home from a speech tournament one weekend, our bus pulled over in Belgrade, Montana (this is still not the weird part), at about midnight, so's all of us hyper and hungry teens could up our blood sugar even further (after four or five in an hour, Pixie Stix start to lose their punch) with stacks of pancakes at an all-night diner. I was ten feet inside the door of the joint when I was frozen to the linoleum. There, in a vinyl booth, eating their own stacks, were the members of none other than...

Night Ranger.

I can hear your intake of breath as you read this, you know.

But you need to breathe. Exhale, already. Yes, I typed Night Ranger. You read me right.

They of "Sister Christian" fame. They were chillin'. They were eatin'. They were chattin'. They were motorin'. And what was their price for flight?

A diner full of MTV-struck forensics geeks, that's what.

After all lurching to a halt simultaneously, the 40 or so of us on the team quickly became overly casual--we sure as cattle rustlers weren't going to give those megastars a chance to think we were some dumb Western bohunks who'd never seen a metal hair band live and eating pancakes before. So we shuffled, en masse, to a group of booths, where we talked frantically of everything *except* the rockers in our midst. Animatedly, we ordered, dug our fingernails into each others' legs under the table, and hissed discreetly, "OMIGOD. OMIGOD. THEY ARE SO HOT. WHAT SHOULD WE DO? SHOULD WE DO ANYTHING?"

Eventually, my natural leadership emerged, and I decided to take charge of the moment and make it last forever, much like a newlywed who gifts his bride of three months with diamond tennis bracelet from Zales.

Grabbing my placemat, only slightly smeared with blueberry syrup, I marshaled two of my entourage and goosestepped us over to The Table of Ranger. Drawing upon all my speech training, I looked them firmly in the eye, gestured confidently from above the waist, and imbued my tone with a natural and conversational rhythm, squeaking oratorically, "Excuse me, Mr. Rangers of the Night, we all here [gesturing widely] think you are super--er, *immensely*--talented and are ever so very honored that you have come to our fair state of the big sky, so could I have your autograph on this placemat to commemorate this monumental happening?"

That placemat still lives in a box in my basement. After eight rounds of fisticuffs and team debate back out on the bus, I stepped in as the judge and decided I had won the autograph tournament. The trophy was mine.

3) One time when I was performing during the half-time show of the Super Bowl (*ahem*: Super Bowel), I was part of a really embarrassing 'wardrobe malfunction.' My costar and I had practiced and practiced our choreography for three whole minutes before the show, but then, in the heat of the floodlights, something went terribly wrong, and suddenly my fellow chanteur reached over and ripped the leather right off my potential-baby-nursing-equipment, leaving me exposed and feeling a rhythm-nationed loss of control.

I was so distraught I had to call up my nephew JerMajesty for a comforting chat about colonics.

4) In my junior year of college, I spent a whole lot of late-night hours playing cribbage and drinking from a keg-o-liter in the dorm room of my posse, which consisted of one guy named Rick. Oh, and sometimes a guy named Rolf. Everyone else was asleep at 3 a.m., as we pegged and nibs-ed and skunked and gulped and chugged.

One night, full of Leinenkugels, having suffered the blow of yet another great cribbage loss, I took a restorative break in the bathroom, an adjacent room that consisted of one stall and two sinks. As I sat relaxing and chanting "fifteen-two, fifteen-four, fifteen-six...," I heard the door open.

"Um, hi, I'm *in* here," announced me.

"Yea, Joce, I know, but I gotta go," said The Rickster.

"Well, you're going to need to wait a minute 'til I'm done," I countered.

"Naw, I'm already going right now," Rick assured me.

Bwah? Then he turned on the tap and gave the sink a quick swirl of cold water, kindly cleansing it of his urine before I would need to wash my hands.

Chivalry was not dead.

5. In 1993, in the mountains outside of Leadville, Colorado, I camped in the back of a Chevy Van with Then-Beau. At somewhere between 11,000 and 13,000 feet (oxygen deprivation fuddled my mind), the night air was chill, and I could not stop shivering, even under under a Mexican blanket and with my hood cinched around my face. My nose, in particular, was the temperature and consistency of frozen yogurt.

In a gesture of affection, Then-Beau formed an O shape with his thumb and fingers, placing the O over my yogurt-nose, to warm it up. Promptly, he fell into a deep sleep, as the men in my life do when laying next to me. My nose gradually warmed, and I, too, dozed off. Six hours later, I awoke, the O hand still clamped to my beak.

I was a little touched by his unconscious devotion to my schnoz. But mostly, the O-print that remained on my face for the next two weeks was, well, a little weird.

6. As I wrote recently, my dad was addicted to the tv game show Jeopardy; from my teens, I regarded Alex Trebec as a clipped and slightly-condescending uncle who visited our home every afternoon at 4:30. I didn't know what he was all about, but he seemed smart and as though a mojito might do wonders for his disposition.

As I got older, watching the show became more gratifying for me because I could actually answer some of the questions. And then, in college, I realized I could answer a lot of the questions. Tacitly, my dad and I came to the understanding that we were really good at this show. We could yell out answers at the tv and pretty much be right.

Certainly, this was not a phenomenon enjoyed by thousands, nay, millions of other fans across the nation. Surely, this armchair mastery of question asking in categories like "Bird Talk" and "Medieval Europe" was unique to us. We knew we were good, and our abilities were rare.

Thus, you can imagine our excitement when Jeopardy announced it was coming to our town for a contestant search. Clearly, we would go through the motions of taking their little test and jumping through whatever other hoops they'd hold up for us (demonstrating aptitude at clicking a button or enunciating, "I'll take 'Cheeses of the World' for $400, Alex"), but equally clearly, at least one of us would be taking a trip to a television studio in Culver City, California, where we would garner fame, money, and, ultimately, a return trip to the Tournament of Champions.

The day of the audition, we waited in line for hours, as the queue snaked around a downtown building. Eventually, we made it into the crowded testing room, feeling confident that the prescreening quiz was just a formality--a weeder--and soon we'd be in a much smaller room, with the real candidates, giving genuinely challenging questions to their advanced-level answers.

When the ten-answer pretest was handed out, I treated it like the SAT's, kicking back for some free-flowing brain-snapping fun. But, hmmmm, the first answer was not exactly one onto which I could mindlessly jot down, "What is malaria?" In fact, I couldn't think of anything to jot down. Skipping the ones I didn't know, I soon found myself on answer number five, which I *guessed* was, "What is saffron?"

Then again, it could have been cinnamon. I wasn't, technically, sure.

This test was actually kind of, um, hard.

At the end of the allotted time, our tests were collected, and then the correct questions were revealed.

As it turns out, I got two of the ten questions correct. This score was average, and only two people out of the room of hundreds were heading to the next round of testing. My dad and I, however, with our wide-open schedules, were heading to the Perkins to slurp soup served in breadbowls.

Harumph. How very weird the whole thing was: the one time Jeopardy administered an uncharacteristically difficult pre-screening test was when they held their search in my hometown. Any other time, I *know* we would have made the cut.

Why, later that very day, we were back in our lounge chairs at home, watching Alex quiz his contestants, and I'll be dadgummed if we didn't get every question right.

To continue the meme, I lay down the "Six Weird Things That Have Happened to Me" gauntlet at the feet of Rocco, Emily, Choochoo, Stepping Over the Junk, Lee, and Jazz.