Friday, April 30, 2010

"You Can Tell Rough and Final Drafts of Research Papers are Hitting When I Start Vlogging Due to Limited Hours in the Day, But What I Really Mean to SaSay is 'The Calla Lilies Are In Bloom Again'"

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

"May All Your Nothings Hold Up Something and Sing"

As an agnostic, I’m open to possibility, skeptical of surety, and don’t feel too judgmental about anyone’s version of what happens after death. Sudden blackness? I am blinded by the idea of it. Transcendence to Heaven? The notion transports me. Limbo? My opinion hangs in the balance. Reincarnation? I’ll get back to you next time on that one.

All I know for certain is that something happens when the animating life force exits the body. That “something” might be as straightforward as An End resulting in a corpse. It might be as complicated as the spirit pinning on a bib and noshing on a platter of babyback ribs before swirling out into the Milky Way, where it melts into all other former and future energies in a tie-dyed time warp of smoosh.

I dunno. To pretend that I do know would feel presumptuous, over-reaching, arrogant.

What I can concede easily is that I’m taken with the idea of a Heaven, and not in a religious way, not as a payoff for following edicts that are, at best, contradictory and exclusionary. But I am warmed by the possibility of an alternate plane where consciousness can cavort. Without attaching the caveat that demands acceptance of a prescribed Lord and Savior, let’s call this place—for ease of reference—Heaven.

Play along with me now, lest you force me to hurl my toys out of the pram in an unattractive display of temper.

Because I am essentially a testy toddler—or, on a good day, an arrested juvenile--my post-death play place for consciousness, this Heaven, is a place of wish fulfillment, a place that starts with a tall glass of beer and ends with a deep tissue massage.

My pal Pammy, who is a Christian, also hopes for a Heaven where dreams are the reality. In her case, Heaven will be a front porch with a good view and a soft rocking chair, where she’ll sit and relive the most profound moments of her life: nursing each of her babies one more time, feeling their pudgy hands knead at her neck, running their toes through her fingers, blowing softly through their downy hair, connecting with her boys again in one of Nature’s most finely-attuned and heart-stopping relationships.

For me, in Jocelyn’s Customized Heaven, I would hope to sit in a darkened theater and watch, in minute detail, a replay of everything that’s ever happened on planet Earth since the beginning of all life…

from the first cell combining with another, to a clump of cells somersaulting out of the ooze, to a reptile slithering across the forest floor, to the first monkey discovering its thumb, to the second monkey discovering a bone in the jungle shaped ominously like, er, Adam’s rib, to the third monkey popping a napkin on his head and calling himself “Pope,”

right down to every second of every life of every last human being,

up to and including Simon Cowell standing in a dressing room deciding—wrongly!--that, yes, the black t-shirt does successfully camouflage his man-boobs.

I want to see it all, as it happened, in slow motion when there’s a particularly complicated shoot-out.

Incidentally, as this modest vision of Heaven might suggest,

I’m a bitch to buy for on my birthday.

And if the universe can accommodate various versions of Heaven, can accept that all eventualities are possible, can allow for individual feeling to affect outcome,

then I just might be able to keep my dollie in the pram after all.

Some, like my husband’s grandmother, Bestemor, ascribed to a traditional religious view of Heaven. Her entire life, which ended last Tuesday at the age of 91, drew energy from a step-by-step movement through worship and liturgy. At her funeral today, the words read and spoken will celebrate her beliefs, will comfort her like-thinking 96-year-old husband as he realizes the end of their 65-year marriage and applies the scriptures to an anticipation of seeing his wife again in the near future.

As a fan of alternate approaches, however, I would like to take one small moment to commemorate this solid, curious, appreciative woman’s life without religious words,

for many who loved her deeply, who continue to live on as Bestemor’s legacy, nourish their spirits through art, asparagus, humor, wild flowers, conversation, irreverence, sunlight…

rather than a prayerbook.

In a quiet memorial, then, where no one wears black, no one stands on shaky legs, and no one cries into an already-damp hankie,

but where everyone gathered communes through a shared perspective of humanity

and joy at the host of possibilities,

I give you this, to honor Bestemor and to honor those exhausted survivors who love her still

in their own, secular fashion:

And the Cantilevered Inference Shall Hold the Day
by Michael Blumenthal

Things are not as they seem: the innuendo of everything makes
itself felt and trembles towards meanings we never intuited
or dreamed. Take, for example, how the warbler, perched on a

mere branch, can kidnap the day from its tediums and send us
heavenwards, or how, held up by nothing we really see, our
spirits soar and then, in a mysterious series of twists and turns,

come to a safe landing in a field, encircled by greenery. Nothing
I can say to you here can possibly convince you that a man
as unreliable as I have been can smuggle in truths between tercets

and quatrains on scraps of paper, but the world as we know
is full of surprises, and the likelihood that here, in the shape
of this very bird, redemption awaits us should not be dismissed

so easily. Each year, days swivel and diminish along their inscrutable
axes, then lengthen again until we are bathed in light we were not
prepared for. Last night, lying in bed with nothing to hold onto

but myself, I gazed at the emptiness beside me and saw there, in the
shape of absence, something so sweet and deliberate I called it darling.
No one who encrusticates (I made that up!) his silliness in a bowl,

waiting for sanctity, can ever know how lovely playfulness can be,
and, that said, let me wish you a Merry One (or Chanukah if you
prefer), and may whatever holds you up stay forever beneath you,

and may the robin find many a worm, and our cruelties abate,
and may you be well and happy and full of mischief as I am,
and may all your nothings, too, hold something up and sing.

Friday, April 23, 2010

"Police Files"

There's the famous Nick Nolte mug shot, taken after a particularly fine night of driving under the influence:

And then there's the photo Groom took of me yesterday when he was setting up a backdrop and stool for his latest digital photography class assignment of "taking portraits." Trust me, I wasn't his true subject. Before the real guy showed up, I was simply helping him take some sample shots so he could judge the lighting. We quickly realized that my glasses were creating a glare, so I dropped those.

The rest of the "My, my, but it looks as though Jocelyn's been driving under the influence" shot, however, comes from a crazy week of being here-and-there (woefully all too sober) topped by Paco getting a virulent case of strep throat that had him up in the night, rounded out by Groom's grandmother passing away. Death in the family + lack of sleep + sick kid + husband who has a kajillion projects due in his classes next week =

Jocelyn as Nick Nolte

Unlike Nolte, though, I have a partner in crime

And suffer from lunacy more than booze abuse

Suddenly, I'm realizing this is more of a Bonnie and Clyde thing than a Noltean caper. 

Since my Clyde is still home from school today, I have to bid you a slightly-slurred Adieu and stagger over to the fridge to prep his next dose of amoxycillin,

looking longingly at the bottle of Riesling in the door as I do.

At least I know, deep in my greasy, unwashed, sleep-deprived heart,

that somewhere, in the early-morning hours, near the sound of waves crashing onto a beach,

Nick is tossing back a shot for me.

Monday, April 19, 2010

"It's Not Br'er Rabbit, I'll Tell You That Much"

Gracious, but I'm having Race Around the State for Work week here! I spent last Thursday through Saturday in Minneapolis, attending the faculty union State Delegate Assembly, which is always a hoot (as we say here in the Midwest when we're not busy stabbing each other with niceness); at this Delegate Assembly, for several hours, I got to watch the members of a Good Ole Boys' Club enjoy center stage as they ruled each others' motions out of order...

if you know what I mean.

Honestly, the energy of any Good Ole Boys' Club gathering does seem to spin around a fair amount of ruling. And rubbing. Of motions. ALL IN A VERY HETEROSEXUAL WAY, I'm sure.

Anyhow, I sat in a room and listened to resolutions and votes and pretty much chuckled at how Robert's Rules of Order is, to middle-aged set, what dropping some Ecstasy and heading off to a rave is to those in their twenties. Whatever gets you throwing your hands in the air, my friends.

Then, in a few minutes here, I'm dashing off to an Online Evaluation Task Force meeting, which is also, I sense, supposed to make me feel like a contributing member of my academic community,

but mostly it makes me feel like there went another hour of my life I'll never get back.

Further, tomorrow night I'm heading back down to the Twin Cities to attend an awards banquet dealie, which is the kind of event that is helpful in that it recalibrates my personal vision of Hell and makes me more appreciative than ever to breathe real air when I stumble out of the hotel, gasping for any small evidence of Real People in a Real World, at the end of four hours.

But, you know, I'm our family's income earner, so these are the things I do. At the end of all this driving around and biting my tongue, I have to admit this stuff is hella good people watching.

In the absence of more time for typing in the next few days, I share with you one of Groom's latest Digital Photography class assignments. The task was to create a collage, wherein the composite is comprised of a variety of photos. The other parameters were to use Photoshop to alter some bits and, get this for fun, to create an illustration for a classic children's or folk tale.

All right, geniuses: what story is he illustrating with this collage of photos?

Thursday, April 15, 2010

"Every New Beginning Comes from Some Other Beginning's End"

So we have the possibility of Prague on the horizon. The family is interested in exchanging but would need a local university to "invite" the father, who will be on sabbatical too, to come here under its umbrella. Thus far, one local economics department has turned him down. He doesn't require any pay--just the invitation so that he can more easily get a long-term visa. In return, they are willing to help me get just such an invitation from a Czech university. Thus, if we can convince administrators to sponsor invitations, then the Prague plan will be a go. If not, our family will turn to Plan C, which may entail us eying Eurail passes and autonomous choices.

While we exchange emails across the ocean, here at home Paco has had a tough week at swimming lessons.  Having just been moved up to the next level (The Minnows!), he went to his first lesson Tuesday night and came out feeling woeful and non-talkative.  Only after much hand holding and an hour at home did he finally burst into the kind of shuddering sobs where speech is hard to choke out.  It seems that his swim teacher (who has been warned before that he needs to drop the macho energy when poolside) gave Paco the cue of "Go" to start a lap...and when Paco took a second to adjust his swim cap (ear infections and all) and goggles, the teacher then hollered, "I. SAID. GO!"  For a sensitive kid like our Paco, that was devastating.  He soldiered through the class before coming home to sob and sob.  Because I was just that kind of kid myself, feeling sick in the gut at any minor correction, I was all over making it better.  Put another way:  YOU DON'T YELL AT MY KID, BUCKO, OR I WILL SHOVE A SCREAM DOWN YOUR THROAT THAT WILL ECHO 'TIL SUNDAY.  Starting next week, he'll swim with a different group and a trusted teacher.  Harrumph.

Then last night, Girl spent her pre-bedtime hour sobbing and sobbing because, as she put it "I was mad at you and Dad because I was angry with myself, and I didn't want to be mad at myself, so I decided to be mad at you."  My head spinning a bit, I lobbed a few questions and discovered it all comes down to the fact that she doesn't have a best friend, and because she hangs with a group of seven girls, when they all pair off, she is the seventh, left hanging on the line when it's time to choose partners in the classroom.  I offered her inadequate words like "that just sucks" and "friendships between girls are always painful, but I can promise you they will change and keep on changing for your whole life" and "you do know that they all adore you, though...", to which she replied, "I know.  I know.  But I still don't have a best friend, and I have to live through this Right Now before the changes happen."  Finally, after I kissed her goodnight, her eyes started welling up again, and she whispered, "You're my best friend, Mom.  That's who it is.  You're my best friend."  Assuring her that I will try to be just the right kind of friend to her, however she needs one throughout her life, I whispered back, "I promise will always go on roller coasters with you.  And if you need someone to go roller skating, I can give that a whirl, too, but please promise to take me to the doctor when I break my wrist."  In response, she gave me a watery smile and a "But can we have sleepovers?"  "Oh, yes, my dear Girl.  We can.  I can also promise that when you fall asleep first, I'm going to put your hand in a dish of warm water so that you wet your sleeping bag.  But, to get me back, you can totally steal my underwear and freeze it in a block of ice."  With that, I backed out of the room; for the next ten minutes, there was only the sound of turning pages.  Then the light clicked off.

At the same time that we wade through travel possibilities and kid anxieties, Groom's sister has announced that she is pregnant. (Erin and her partner Ben--who own and run an organic farm and CSA--married themselves to each other on the Winter Solstice and then had Groom, who is certified thanks to an ad in the back of Rolling Stone, do the official paperwork a few months later.  And now...this terrific news!)

(a wedding photo of Ben, Erin, Groom, off to the right my mother-in-law, and Girl acting as official Signing Desk)

Parallel to Erin and Ben announcing their exciting news, Erin and Groom's parents, my in-laws, are wading through the dark, murky, exhausting process of putting not just one, but as of yesterday, all three of their surviving parents into hospice.  First, Groom's 96-year-old grandpa, Bestefar, began getting around-the-clock help and pain relief a couple weeks ago, and yesterday, just as Bestefar was finally being moved out of the apartment they share and taken to a new facility, Bestefar's wife, whom we call Bestemor (and who suffers from dementia but is still quite cognizant of being separated from her husband and of his declining health), fell in the bathroom and was wedged behind the door until EMT's and police could get to her.  Both grandparents were transferred to a new hospice facility yesterday; however, they are not assigned to the same room, which is perhaps the most awful and unjust aspect of these lives' endings that anyone can imagine.  Nearly simultaneously, Groom's other grandfather, who suffers from Alzheimer's and has been in a memory care facility the last few years, was also transferred to hospice.

Ultimately, it's all just eversomuch...

sadness and possibility and pain and anticipation and fatigue and ennervation and, well, life.

In the midst of all this growth and diminishment, the milestones of daily life feel like the happiest of respites:

Monday, April 12, 2010

"Bless Me and Keep Me"

When I first had kids, exercise became the Sole Protected Hour in my day.  Although I was on call around the clock with breastfeeding, peek-a-booing, and tushie wiping,

when I was out for a run or at the gym, my time was my own, uninterrupted by others' needs. 

I became so vehement about not disrupting the integrity of Exercise Hour that I hid from friends who would call and leave messages like, "Hey, do you want to go for a run tomorrow?" or "We should get together and go canoeing!"  Even when I did return the messages, I hemmed and hawed my way into an excuse, like how my hands and feet had fallen off.  Temporarily.

No matter what I said out loud, my unspoken answer to them went, "I like you very, very much.  And I haven't seen you in ages.  Oh, yes, we should get together.  But I have zero, zip, zilch interest in having my one personal hour of the day hijacked by socializing with you.  I can't tell you how tired I am; I can't tell you how much I covet the time to explore my own psyche while my feet are moving.  So. back. off. Mortimer."

Even now that the kids are older, and I have more and more hours for myself, it's still never enough.  I still don't have an urge to hook up with a pack of friends for a big trail run.  In fact, if I'm out for a trail run and encounter someone I know, my gut reaction is a thundering, "Ah, damn.  Here I was, in the midst of a perfectly good restoration, and now I have to ask about your doggie."

Admittedly, I am a cretin.  I yuvs the peoples, but not when they get near Jocelyn's Head Time.

What's more, I would argue that any forward thinking I've done in the last decade has happened with body in motion.  When I return home from sweating, my husband knows enough to grab the counter and push his feet into the floor firmly, creating a solid anchor, before asking, "So. What'd you think about on your run?"  The ensuing flood of ideas and plans could drown a less-experienced sailor.  On an easy day, my post-run storm consists of a menu plan for the week.  On a whopper of a day, I rain down evaluations of why human beings do what they do and how $20,000 a month for senior care is unconscionable and how I've figured out a way to position my brain so that I can get through 25 more years of career and why Kenyans are such master strategists at marathoning and how life in an urban center probably has more bonuses than drawbacks and how I never can figure out how to get a bike onto the front of the city bus and how the renters behind us have really done well with neighborhood etiquette but they do seem to be smoking more and more out back and...

some other stuff.

Certainly, I grab at  Exercise Hour (or two) every single day.  My mental health--and the wellbeing of my family--depend on it.  Some days, though, I need the hour more than others.  Some days, getting outside and letting my brain cross-connect with itself and flow upwards, outwards, under and through, is like, well,

like going to church.  It's my time of mulling, of questioning, of stepping back to see larger meanings.  It's my time of prayer.

This past weekend, my innards demanded a visit to the church.

And, yes, I realize that last sounds like a strange euphemism for needing to void my bowels. If you must know, though, I've recently gotten the family using a different euphemism for that act.  We say, "I need to go visit Dr. Daniel P. Dock now."  The origin of this euphemism is convoluted, but it stems back to the kids and me walking home from brunch the other week and one of us suddenly needing to do some voiding just as we were in front of a chiropractor's office.  You might be able to guess the name of the chiropractor.  If you guessed something that rhymes with Octer Faniel D. Crock, I recommend you drive down to headquarters and register yourself with Savants 'R Us exactly right now.

Anyhow, last weekend, after months of laborious, tedious, patient, watchful, diplomatic, carefully-worded, cautious, enthusiastic communication with the family in Sicily with whom we have intended to exchange homes next year...

and after sitting quiet for over two weeks, waiting for the next deeply-deliberated message from their end, hoping to hear even one response to the four questions I'd sent to them in March...

I realized I'd hit at the point where patience was starting to feel foolhardy.  Certainly, with each contact we've had, we have felt increasingly convinced the family is working from their end and plodding through their own process.  Despite the long silences, it has felt like a good faith agreement.  It's just that, well, I've been needing a bit more assurance--maybe the occasional check-in about what they've been doing to get the exchange moving forward.

See, with the visa process on our end, I have been needing to get a plane ticket so I can go to Chicago so I can get my visa so I can give a Power of Attorney to the Sicilian father so he can go to a police station and get me declared a resident so I can invite my husband and children to accompany me so they can start their own visa process, which takes up to 90 days, just for their piece.

To get a plane ticket, I've needed at least a ballpark for when we'd like to travel so's I could book a ticket.  That was one of my four questions, a question I'd asked the Sicilians two months ago, as well.

In the face of my query, there were weeks of silence.  Then a "Oh, we hadn't realized you needed to take in a ticket to get your visa; our visas will take about 3 days here, so we haven't been worried."  Fair enough.  Then we learned that they've been trying to hammer out details of having their teenaged son do a semester in the U.S. and then return to live with an aunt for the rest of the school year. 

This past weekend, my innards felt distinct discomfort.  Not the Imodium AD kind, either.

Rather, my innards felt like it was time to get things moving or reconsider the whole plan.  I believe, in Dr. Daniel P. Dock Imodium terms, we call that "time to shit or get off the pot."  Clearly, the Dr. doesn't shy away from frank language; he became inured to it in medical school during the semester when he dissected a human corpse (which he named Humbert Humbert).

My thought, then, was that I would take into my own hands the pieces of this sabbatical journey that I could.  I'd book a refundable ticket for, um, er, July 8th, and I'd plan to head to Chicago next week, if I could get an appointment through the consulate booking line ($2.49 per minute!).  I was resolved to push the plan to action.

Twelve seconds after this resolution, an email hit our Inbox.  It was from a family in Prague.  Who is


Yes.  Well.

How attractive that suddenly seemed.  But how much time and effort we'd invested into good relations with the Sicilian family, which, themselves, had put in time and effort.  We did feel like something was happening there, with them, and that it wouldn't be right to jump ship.

Muddle, muddle, muddle.

By the end of that day, I knew only two things with conviction :  I needed good beer, and I needed a good long walk.  Strapping a backpack on, I marched for 62 minutes to the liquor store and aimed by body towards the Surly Beer shelf.  Surly is made in Minnesota by gifted brewing angels (a splinter sect from the bread-baking angels) who are also, in their Midwestern fashion, able to turn out a respectable tuna casserole littered with potato chips.

The best of the Surly brews is one called Furious.  For that one, the angels cut off their wings and shred them into a vat, where they decompose for four months, ultimately morphing into a richly-hopped beer that serves as the cornerstone of my Personal Communion.

After walking 62 minutes, however, and aiming my self towards the Surly shelf, I had a wonderfully ridiculous moment of staring into a long, empty tunnel inside the freezer case. 

The Furious was sold out.

Fortunately, these last months of communicating with Italians have trained me in "Now that we know what we don't have, let's take stock of what we do have" thinking.  Looking to either side of Furious Alley, I noted that Surly's other fine beers, the Cynic and the Bender, were rep-reee-senting.

Grabbing a four-pack of pint cans of each, I checked out, loaded up my backpack, and started the walk home, this time accompanied by the clanking of several pounds of liquid comfort.

While I walked, the light of the day fell away, as did my agitations.  Listening to a podcast of "Fresh Air," I swooned to the articulate intelligence of historian Tony Judt, a man who's been living with ALS for the last few years.  During my time of evening worship, he delivered the sermon.

He described, in concert with the sound of the respirator that helps him breathe, that although his body feels locked in a coffin, although he fights through every darkened night wide awake, alone, wishing he could scratch his itches, although he wishes to die when he can no longer speak,

he has much to live for.  He writes through dictation; he spends time with his wife and children; he has created a Swiss chalet in his mind, and through the long hours of enforced solitude that govern his days, he deposits his thoughts on the imaginary living room the kitchen the bed upstairs, where they await his return and retrieval.

Judt's cement life met with my moving life in the dusk, under a cathedral of birches, and I felt my insides re-align.

I walked; he talked; I listened; he taught me.  I felt elevated by prayer.

Indeed, I would call the Italian Consulate appointment line on Monday.  I would email the Sicilians one more time, to pin down their thinking.

But in that moment, with cold beer marking a spot on my lower back, with a few deer jumping across the path in front of me, with a vastly wise voice filling my ears, I inhaled a deep breath of pine

and took the next step towards home.

Monday afternoon post-script:  we received an email today from the Sicilian father, explaining that the meeting with their teenaged son's school didn't go at all well and that he will receive no credit for any work done in the U.S.  They are frustrated and confused and have urged us to explore any other options we may have.  Two minutes after reading this news, I hit reply to the Prague family and may have scared them all the way to Ukraine with my enthusiasm about a possible exchange.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

"The Kids Are on Spring Break This Week, Which Means I've Been Playing with Clay and Moon Sand and Building Towers out of Blocks and All Sorts of Other Things That Aren't Blogging--Which Pretty Much Explains Why This Post Is Heavy on Pictures"

This punkin' right here had a sleepover birthday party last Friday night. As of this writing (the Thursday following the party), I've almost recovered.  I'll also attribute my slow recovery to the fact that Groom was out of town for a couple of days after the party, and during his absence I took the kids to see Diary of a Wimpy Kid, and, well, Paco processes stimuli pretty deeply, so he was up four times that night "because I just keep seeing bad pictures in my head."  I was seriously sympathetic, as nothing plants bad pictures in one's head as effectively as a film about the horrors of middle school.  By 2 a.m., the night of the movie, Paco and I were laying in bed, clutching each other, whimpering sleepily to the universe, "No more mean kids.  Stop teasing us.  I'm sorry my bike is dumb, and my clothes aren't cool.  I won't ever try to sit by you at lunch again.  Why can't we all be friends?"

At any rate, after a couple nights of getting four hours of sleep, and since I'm no Margaret Thatcher or Octomom (both avowed "just give me a couple hours of nod, and I'm ready to rule the kingdom" types), my All Kinds of Everything were a bit out of whack.

However, Punkin' Girl's sleepover party was worth the resultant foggy head.  Not only was it terrific fun for her and her friends, but the occasion of the party helped me put more time into a burgeoning friendship myself.

And honestly, once the School Years are over, doesn't it become increasingly hard to make deep, lasting, meaningful friendships?  Sure, there's the bar.  You know, where you meet people whose charms become translucent in the daylight when all beer has evaporated from the skull.  And I guess it's possible to make friends at work, but, frankly, I recoil from that idea--simply because we share an employer doesn't mean I don't want to slap you for asserting that homeless people are on the streets by conscious choice, O Righteous Colleague.  Oh, and there is always the possiblity of befriending a neighbor, as has happened in my adult life, but the honest truth is that a conversation with the neighbor often starts with Her Nice Self admitting, "I'm pretty obsessive about doing laundry" to which my only rejoinder is, "Uh, I'm pretty obsessive about Philip Roth and the heroic work of genius that is Fun Home by Alison Bechdel."  After that, we lapse into confused silence, her craving her fabric softener, me craving my bookies. 

Thus, when a new, adult girlfriendship comes galloping out of the mist, it's a rare treat.  Over the last few months, this has been happening for me.  Her name is Kirsten, and she's married to my Great Life Pal Virginia.  You can probably see already how much we have in common:  we both love lesbians.  Kirsten is one, and I am an admirer of many--and not only for their cleverness in finding a life that gives them double the wardrobe for half the cost.  I also admire that they have found a life that assures them of a tampon in every cupboard.

Anyhoodle, Virginia is 73, and Kirsten is 37, and their May/December relationship is beautiful.  I've known for 14 years that Virginia is one of my bosom besties, but it's only recently that I'm getting to spend enough time with Kirsten to love her, too.  Girl's sleepover party cemented it.

...because, a few months ago, when Girl was first begging to have seven of her closest friends sleep over for her birthday, I had to cover my eyes with cucumber slices and say, "If I can't see you, I can't hear you!"  Internally, I knew I could probably go up to four girls without losing sanity.  But seven

Thank you, no.

However, Kirsten overheard this conversation and commented, "A bunch of ten-year-old girls?  Sleeping over?  That is SOOOO up my alley."

Kirsten works in a high school for a program that aims to keep teens off drugs and booze.  For her, a sleepover with a passle of 'tweens is like putting training wheels back on the bike.

Hearing Kirsten's comment, I turned to her and said, "If you come do the party, then, it's a go."

I. had. no. idea. what. we. were. getting. into.

In a good way.

Kirsten, em, has lots of how it should be a lip smackers (think kid lip gloss) themed party, and how she'd make a pinata that looked like a tube of smackers, and how she could set up her Wii with a projector, and how fun it would be to make and laminate a stack of lip smacker-Bingo cards, and how, once Girl said she wanted to host her party at The Lip Smackers Hotel, Kirsten would put together complimentary shampoos and conditioners and facial soaps for each girl's gift bag...

and so on.

Plus more.

Kirsten doesn't live in our fair burg, so she drove to Duluth a few days before the party, which was good, because it gave her time to learn how to use fondant when icing cakes that are designed to look like round lip smacker tins (in various flavors!).  It also gave us time to eat out, go for walks, buy shoes, and share stories of life traumas.

Because Girl wanted to celebrate with her friends, I got to make a new one.

So here are a few shots of the party:

The event began with guests being asked to check in and sign the registry at the Lip Smackers Hotel.  Once each guest had been issued her room key (which Girl made weeks beforehand), she was invited to partake in some resort games in the lobby.

The girls, when they've come over in smaller packs at other times, have often brought their instruments.  To them, playing together is the height of fun.  It is at this juncture that I'd like to shake my fist at the sky and curse the Duluth School District, an entity which recently announced that it is cutting all "magnet" programs in the public schools, such as the music enrichment program at my kids' school.  We got Girl on a waiting list for this school when she was 18 months old.  The fact that most of the music will be cut starting next year makes me triply glad we're pulling our kids from the district and booking out of here for a year.  I'm not ready to think about what we'll do upon our return, but it might involve shoving a viola bow up a superintendent's heinie.

Spontaneous ensembles surfaced throughout the evening.  You should hear their "Theme from Star Wars."

For Girl, there in the orange and white (did I forget to mention that each girl came dressed in a lip smacker flavor, and then everyone had to guess what type of num she was?  Girl was Orange Creme), playing instruments with friends was her dream gift.

Pinata time out back...moments after this photo was taken, the skies unleashed torrents of rain and Berry Berry Burst lip smackers.

Paco takes a whack at the pinata.  Kirsten made it out of two Quaker Oats containers duct-taped together. 

That right there explains why I like her, ja?

Paco is remarkably supportive during gift opening.

All of you scary stalker pree-vert Interwebs types need to NOT see the name on these cakes...but they're just so fabulous, and I'm so bad at Photoshop, that I had to put up this unedited photo of them.  Isn't fondant rockin'?

Here's what I want to shout, "Look, Kirsten, how happy you made our Girl! You own a piece of her now!"

Kirsten was worried about managing to break through the protective cake shield that is fondant...but the slicing went easy as pie.  Er, cake.

Girl wanted to play a packing game during which a blindfolded packer has one minute to fill a suitcase as fully and neatly as possible.  We went through multiple heats and got startling insights into some characters.  Just a heads-up to the world:  there's a ten-year-old named Kiana whom you should hire for any precision work you might ever have.  However, as her employer you might also have to pay a substantial amount towards her anti-anxiety medication, as well.  Fair warning.

And of course, what did the audience do in between heats of the packing game? They diddled out a little "French Folk Song."

In fact--and I was about to type here that "they went on to diddle until 3:30 in the morning," but realizing the various ways that phrase can be construed, I refrained--the crew of them didn't go quiet until 3:30 a.m.

They were aiming for 6 a.m., but since two of them were being picked up at 7:30 in the morning to go play in a basketball game, we insisted on some sleep.

At 2 a.m., I started getting threatening. And tired. Really tired. The kind of tired that makes one wonder where she'll find the assertiveness to rein in a flock of giggling 4th graders.

Ah, yes.

In the form of a new friend. Kirsten drew upon her theater experiences and, sitting right outside the girls' bedroom door, acted The Enforcer. Using a deep, strong, scary teacher voice, she called out "GIRLS! YOU NEED TO QUIET DOWN NOW!" every few minutes. Eventually, after 3 a.m., when the whole thing was distintegrating, she gave them:


With that, the place fell silent, the cadre of friends abashed enough to allow sleep to overtake them.

And with that, my new friend and I, laying on our bellies in the hallway, collapsed into giggles

worthy of 4th graders.

Saturday, April 03, 2010

"One of Twenty-Three Student Emails in My Inbox"

Really, unedited does it best:


I do not know if you check the pager, but I have had a really awful three weeks. Without much detail, I think you would understand that I have missed a quiz due to misreading the due date as the 31st contributing much of my recent confusion to the stressor of 1: mother broken hip 2: Perp who attempted to kill me released from prison and calling to harass me, now waiting for him to be rearrested, etc. My mind has been literally gone...

On a happier note, a publisher has requested I submit a collection of 50 pieces of my poetry for review!! Bonus...

If you could see it in your heart to open the quiz for me I would be forever greatful and might even send you a sample of my work! (signed of course)

Charlene The Student