Spin wheel, spin

It’s the last week of summer vacation, folks. Time to panic.

What? You are relaxing? Sipping iced tea on the veranda? Lucky you. I’m guessing you had the sense to schedule hair cuts and dental appointments and shop back-to-school sales well in advance of this week.

Me? I’m guzzling coffee, heck, pouring beans straight down my gullet and spitting out the pieces. I’m well on my way to a panic attack. Here’s a recent picture:

I’ve been driving all over the city like a woman who hasn’t been behind the wheel of a car in two months. (True.) And I’ve been conducting my life like someone who doesn’t have an appointment book or a phone or two children, one of whom starts high school next week.

It must be that.
The mark of time marching forward in the parenting continuum. I am now entering the unknown territory of the high school years. It’s melted my brain entirely. I have goop in my skull and it’s leaking out at a rapid rate. Soon my head will be filled with cobwebs. And then how will I find my way around to make up the forgotten doctor’s appointment, the missed orthodontic check-up, work my way through the 20-plus pages of Super-Duper Important Stuff to Know and Pay For before Sept. 2?

Spin wheel, spin.

It was a good time, really

I survived my date with Mother Nature. Oh, that girl has some sense of humor. Here I was showing up all repentant with bouquet of flowers and a box of chocolate, apparently stepping blindly into her trap. Do you know the sound of Mother Nature laughing? It’s similar to the sound of rain falling at a rate of 1-1/2 inches in 45 minutes.

And do you know what that does to a little tent pitched in the woods? Again, more laughter.

And do you know what the sound of my reaction was?  Tires spinning on the gravel, the clink of cash exchanging hands at the liquor barn, and the satisfying hiss of a bottle cap coming off a 12-ounce bottle of Mike’s Hard Lemonade.

And that, dear Internets, is how I made lemonade out of lemons.

Relationship Rx

Mother Nature has issued me an ultimatum: “Get yer ass outta the city this weekend or we are through!”
This came in the form of a shower of acorns pelting my skull as I stood in my yard the other night. I’m not an idiot. I can take a hint.
See, Mother Nature — or MN — and I have been drifting the last few summers. We’ve had a few uncomfortable dates that I thought made the appearance of love and devotion, but she saw right through my air kisses and empty gestures.
Staying in a cabin with a roof was cheating, she charged. A few hikes and an afternoon nap under the pines do not a relationship make, she warned.
MN looked the other way because we had a new baby and were insecure about laying her on the earth to sleep. But I knew, deep down, that MN was hurting. Why else would she have visited pestilence upon us in each of our last three trips away from home?
Once upon a time, MN and I were tight.

Backpacking the Absaroka/Beartooth Wilderness in Montana, 2000.

We spent so much time together; only the thin material of my tent separated us. I rode her rivers and streams, climbed her mountains and marveled her beauty from one end of this country to the other.
I thought our bond was solid when I went so far as to camp in January and withstood her bitter embrace.
But I drifted more than the snow that winter. Girl from the East came to us and kept us close to home.
I know this is my last chance. I am packing my tent and camp gear and going on a reconciliatory date. I’ll sleep on the forest floor, gather sticks to spark a cooking fire, walk barefoot on her soft skin and gaze up at her breathtaking night display. She really is a beauty.
This weekend, I offer endless devotion and penance.

Garden love

Today I decided I’m not going to write about the trials of overcoming a shattered friendship with an addict, the frustrations of raising a teen and a toddler, living with one car or whatever else is driving me to get back on “the happy pills.”

Today I am going to focus on something wonderful: our summer garden. While the rest of the world is watching the 2008 summer games in Beijing, relaxing by the shore or chasing Sasquatch through the bayou, we’re reaping the benefits of our best-ever summer garden. We’ve had a lot of rain this season, which has made our plants grow crazy-nuts huge.

Oh sure, our water bill will be high and the weeding is endless, but we’ve had some of the most amazing salads, fresh salsas and dishes with zucchini, squash, tomatoes, peppers and corn. I love love love having a big bowl of freshly picked vegetables on my kitchen counter. For those of you know at thing or two about me, fresh produce=sexytimes.

Here are some of the highlights.

The goods:

The good earth:

Good for the garden:

Good god:

**I found the praying mantis in our coneflowers. The biggest one I’ve ever seen. We took it inside to photograph. Left the room for a moment to get a new lens. When we returned, all I can say is, things got very strange. The weirdness isn’t all happening south of the Mason-Dixon line.**

Bye-bye, baby

When I dragged my carcass down the steps this morning (late night, friends, concert, etc.) I found four large white trash bags stuffed to the seams lined up in the front hallway.
To what do I owe this unsolicited gift? Christmas in August? One of the kids ran away but oops, forgot some of their stuff? Someone felt guilty and made up for all the forgotten birthdays?
Nah. Girl from the West decided since she’s starting high school in a few weeks that it’s time to remove ALL TRACES OF CHILDHOOD CHILDISHNESS from her bedroom. All of it. I’m envisioning something that took all of two minutes to complete.
Pull drawer out of dresser.
Turn drawer upside down over trash can.
Wait as flotsam and jetsam topple, pour and plummet to their death.
Upright freshly empty drawer.
All performed, no doubt, while texting three friends on her cell phone. All performed without a shred of nostalgia or remorse.
And why, do you ask, did Girl from the West not just deposit the trash bags in the trash receptacles in the garage? Good question, Internets.
Here’s the thing: There’s a track record here and it’s not good. There’s a history of finding things in the trash that shouldn’t have been tossed. Like entire packages of computer paper. Like brand-new clothes. And gifts.
So, Girl from the West knows better. She bags it up and I sort it out.
I begin unpacking and sorting contents into various piles.
Several times during this process, I stand up and stomp into her room.
“What the hell?” I shout, waving brand-new notebooks, bundles of pencils and pens and new books. Also, there are travel-size containers (full, never used) of shampoo, hand lotion and cotton swabs and jewelry.
“Mother,” I’m informed with cool distain, “I don’t want them. Chill out.”
“Chill out? I’ll tell you what I’ll chill out. The amount of money I spend on you,” I shout back. I’m losing it here now, because I know within a week or two will come the barrage of requests.
“I need new pens and pencils and notebooks and Q-tips and travel-size shampoo.”
But she won’t want what she threw out because the pens and pencils have flowers and smiley faces on them; the notebooks will be the wrong color or be “too sparkly”; and the shampoo and Q-tips will be the wrong brand for a high-school student.
I know it. I hate it. But it’s her and I have to deal.
I end up so worked up I have to take a brisk walk. Along the way I dissect the issue.
What is really bothering me?
Is it that she’s wasteful and doesn’t understand the value of things?
Yes. But there’s more.
How can she be so callous, throwing away jewelry and other items that were gifts? It’s not that I don’t understand her feelings about some things, but holy catfish, have a little discretion.
Then it hits me. (This is where you can imagine the sound of tires squealing on the pavement and me coming to a screeching halt in a wake of smoke and flames.)
I don’t want her to grow up.
All those bags of Junie B. Jones books remind me of the nights we don’t sit up reading before her bedtime anymore. All the little craft kits, the framed kitty-cat pictures, the bead sets, are all things we shopped for together, worked on during summer breaks. Haven’t done that in a few summers. The sparkly notebooks, the smiley faced pens? No big deal to me. But to a high school freshman, probably the kiss of death.
While I’ll forgive her for growing up, it may take more work coaxing my wallet to open up.

Pieces of China

Two years ago we were in Beijing and other parts of China, touring, soaking up culture and feeling like big, fat, pasty Westerners. We also were there to complete our family and make some kind of lasting connection. While we were taking away one of its daughters, we also left behind a part of ourselves.

So it has been with great interest that we approached the 2008 Olympic Summer Games in Beijing. We root for the United States. We root for China. We can’t help it.

In spite of all the charges of fireworks fakery and lip-syncing deception that have come out since the spectacular opening ceremony last week in Beijing, we’ve decided to hold onto the first breathtaking memory of watching it together.

We admired its grand scale, feats of athletic prowess and incredibly creative interpretations of Chinese history through dance and art. So many times we stared at the TV and asked: “How did they do that?” Most of all, we loved watching our Girl from the East point with glee at the TV and shout “China! China!”

Ultimately, she is too young to watch the games or gain anything through the special features. Her impression of China is firmly rooted in the bouquets of pyrotechnics coloring the night sky and the elaborately costumed characters.

Our visit to China took us to many tourist attractions, but it also led us down streets not highlighted in any official network feature — which seem to want to put a high polish on everything to keep international relations warm and fuzzy.

We walked away with many pieces of China. Some beautiful, some confusing, others haunting. You can’t walk through Tiananmen Square without thinking of the student protesters. You can’t walk among a sea of nearly homogenous people and not understand what it’s like to be a minority. You also can’t really know a place unless you’ve been there. Seeing the Great Wall on TV is no match for scaling its dizzying steps.

We realize there are many pieces to the China puzzle. We don’t know if all of our impressions are accurate, or if we’ve passed them through our American filter too many times. Will the Olympic exposure help us and others better understand China? If nothing else, it has sparked many conversations and debates.

We feel commited to learning the language, to studying the history and culture. We befriend Chinese people. Anything to hang onto that cultural thread, no matter how thin.
Yet China remains far away and largely a mystery to us.

Here is a picture sent to me by a shopkeeper I met in Nanchang, Jiangxi Province. Once a year I receive Chinese New Year greetings from “Tiffanie.” With a population of 4 million people, Nanchang is considered a small town by China standards. This image was taken during the Chinese New Year; it more closely depicts the China we saw. This picture is nearly the polar opposite of the BBC image at the top of this post. Both are pieces of China.

Internet is sketchy and I am random

Our Internet service has been hit and miss for the last three days.

On top of that, Girl from the East and I have come down with some freakish summer virus. Worst. Ever. Chills, aches and all that. On top of that, Mr. Husband is gone again for a conference. Do I have a day pass to whine?

The most I’ve done is park in front of the TV and watch the world go by through the fuzzy filter of NyQuil.

So, when the haze lifted, I realized I wasn’t hallucinating. Our mayor did spend a night in jail. Somehow this man, Mr. Kwame Kilpatrick, who won the Golden Ticket in 2002, now faces a handful of criminal charges, while the rallying cry for his resignation or at least temporary departure from office has risen to a fever pitch.

In light of all this, he was asked politely by the courts to seek permission before leaving the metropolitan area. Somehow he was spotted enjoying a water park in Canada with his family. He explained all this after the fact by saying that he raced across the international border to attend to some urgent city business. Business so urgent there was no time to consider contacting the court. Yet, enough time to grab swim trunks and goggles. 

Through my cold-medicine induced haze, I cannot help but think of Augustus Gloop, the pride of Dusselheim and special guest of Willy Wonka, who couldn’t control his urges either and ended up over his head in a pool of brown gunk, drowning in his own hubris.
It’s supposed to be chocolate, but you can do your own interpreting here.


U-tube, u-rule

In a world drowning in useless celebrity gossip, it’s always nice to find something useful in all that garbage to apply to everyday life. Take this little nugget:

“Can you imagine being 22 and having your parents know everything about you?” says Lauren Conrad of the TV show “The Hills.” “Literally, my mom can go on the Internet and find out where I went last night, who I was with. I mean, there are no secrets!”

Indeed. Earlier this summer, Girl from the West went away for a month as part of a musical ensemble. While she was gone I received a few e-mails that detailed some things about the host families with whom she was staying, a few random pictures of historic buildings, and kids in uniforms posed all sweet and proper in front of water fountains.
But I was dying to know: What really happened?
Once she returned, we received little in the way of trip summaries, observations or gossip.
We took advantage of jet lag to get her to show us her digital pictures (pre-edit, like I said “jet lag”). But once she was coherent, the lips were zipped and the files were deleted.
The most intriguing piece of news we gathered was that in all of Western Europe, there is not one jar of peanut butter.
Well that certainly justified the $5K price tag for her adventure.

I compared notes with other parents; they all said the same thing.

Recognizing my frustration, one Internet-savvy parent suggested I check Youtube for further details.
Lo and behold, after typing in the necessary search terms, I was suddenly staring at buried treasure. There were numerous concert clips, jam sessions and a few odd things I’m not sure what to make of. Nothing risque or awful, to be sure. But still …
This got me thinking. Youtube has changed everything. The Internet in general has changed everything, thanks to Al Gore, we all know this.
All this sharing of the good, the bad, and the ugly of today’s teens may make them more accessible to one another,  but it also leaves a pretty nice electronic paper trail for moms and dads who want to know: what’s my little girl/boy up to when he/she is out of the house?

So, moms and dads, check it out. Navigate your way around Youtube for some field research on your kids. It helps to know some of their nicknames, slang and code words for things, since much of it will not be listed under actual names and places. But then again, it never hurts to try.

For once, I’m glad I’m not any younger.

The L Word

“So, who are the losers here?” asked Girl from the West.
We were seated on a wooden picnic table decorated with balloons, under a narrow sliver of shade in an otherwise sun-soaked waterfront park. As we nibbled on submarine sandwiches and sipped ice water, we both scanned the crowd of beautiful people gathered for Mr. Husband’s class reunion.
Losers? Here? Why, we’d just learned that one of the group had invented a very popular electronic device owned by nearly everyone in the world. Invented. Translate: rich and famous.
But I felt I had to address Girl from the West’s pointed question.
I thought for a moment as I looked around at all the beautiful people: Each one a success story, with enviable addresses, youthful figures and faces, rows of brilliantly white teeth, gleaming diamond settings, and children gorgeous enough to grace the cover of J. Crew catalogs. Did I mention the clothes? Did I mention that one of them invented something amazing that has turned him into a millionaire?

“The losers? My dear, they are the ones who stayed home,” I replied, stuffing the rest of my sandwich into my mouth to prevent myself from saying more than I should.

You see, I don’t do reunions. I have not attended any of mine. I’ve come close, at the pleading and cajoling of friends and one former boyfriend, but ultimately I’ve chickened out at the last minute, feigning a sore throat or some such ailment.

Class reunions to me are the equivalent of beauty pageants: Strut your stuff and be judged. No, thank you. Reunions have me feeling like Mary Catherine Gallagher: hair and clothes all wrong, prone to awkward hand gestures and explosive high-pitch giggles at inappropriate moments, saying too much and overreacting to everything.
Renunions have me feeling like Mary Catherine Gallagher in a room full of these people:

Conjuring up memories of times like these:

And people like this:

Being the sharp tack that she is, Girl from the West asked the next logical question: “Why didn’t you go to your reunion, mom?”
This is the moment when an entire snack-sized bag of Lay’s potato chips found its way into my mouth.
“Well, partly because none of the people I wanted to see were going,” I said. Knowing this would only beg the next question: “Mom, were you a loser?”
Well, it was bound to come up. No one wants to be called The L Word. Those of us who lived on the fringe prefer to call ourselves rebels or non-conformists or artists.
Girl from the West doesn’t get this stuff. She’s pretty and popular and makes friends wherever she goes. She’s a people magnet. She’ll probably be a reunion organizer some day.
Her mommy dearest, a.k.a. MomZombie, was not like that at all in high school. I was more like Darlene Connor from “Roseanne”:

Some of it was not my fault: We were “from the wrong side of the tracks” according to those who made such designations. I was too moody and brooding. My mom didn’t believe in putting me on the medication that may have resolved that issue.
Some of it was my fault: I was too moody and brooding. I had issues of inadequacy and anger management problems. Rather than conform or try to conform, I just aspired to go as far in the other direction as possible. If Goth were a group when I was in high school, I’d have been Goth.

I conclude to Girl from the West that all we can do is be who we are. Some of us are so lovable we are embraced by hordes of people. Others of us are more of an enigma. It takes time to discover the wonderfulness of us. And maybe we’re pickier about who we share it with. Life isn’t high school and high school isn’t life.

I really believed all that until I discovered the Internet. And blogging.


Life in the city

I think that no matter how long I live, I’ll never understand certain human behaviors.

Take today’s experience. I had just left our downtown waterfront park after an enjoyable morning walking, dodging jets of water at the public fountain, and having my baby girl take her first-ever carousel ride.
I had just merged into expressway traffic heading home when I started seeing dark, roundish objects bouncing on the road ahead. I watched as a few cars swerved to avoid hitting the unknown items.
Before I had time to do anything I was upon one of them. I realized at closer range that this was an animal of some sort. At first I thought it was a dead squirrel. Then it looked like a rat, but it wasn’t dead, it was twisting around, legs flailing.
My mind was racing, trying to make sense of what I was seeing. I’ve seen rats many times, but never on the highway.
Then I heard it go under my wheel. I glanced in my rear-view mirror to confirm my worst fear. Suddenly the “rat” stopped rolling, upended itself and started sprinting toward the shoulder.
That’s when I realized in absolute horror that is wasn’t a rat* at all, but a month-old tabby kitten. It rolled a few more times, obviously mortally wounded, before making it to the shoulder.
I looked forward again to find more kittens on the highway. It struck me then that SOMEONE HAD DUMPED A LITTER OF KITTENS ONTO THE HIGHWAY. From an overpass? From a car? I couldn’t guess. I couldn’t even imagine the sick mind that could conjure up this as a solution to the pressing problem of what to do with an unwanted litter. Worse yet, I wondered if it was a sick prank.
By now, I was so distraught I had to pull over. I desperately wanted to get out of the car and chase after every one of those poor, doomed creatures. I wanted to scoop them up and wrap them all in blankets and nurse them back to health.
But I had Girl from the East in the backseat. I was alone. It was the inner-city. Traffic was fairly heavy and moving quickly. I couldn’t risk my daughter’s safety for this seemingly hopeless cause.
But I couldn’t bring myself to just drive away, either. Didn’t anyone else notice these animals in distress — in the middle of freakin’ 70 mph traffic?
Finally I got it together enough to call Mr. Husband to get the phone number for the Humane Society shelter in our area. I got through and reported the incident.
But my heart sank. What could they do? If they could even find the exact spot where I saw the kittens, I’m sure it would be too late, if they even had the resources to send someone out.
I took a deep breath and pulled back into traffic. The image of that gray furry kitten — I saw its face — as it tumbled toward my front grille — is not going to leave me for quite some time.
I’ll never understand the motivations behind abandonment of any living creature no matter how small or perceived as insignificant. I’ll never understand some people’s complete lack of conscience in dealing with the results of their own irresponsibility. I’ll never understand how others, upon witnessing these behaviors, will continue on their merry way without so much as a second thought.
It’s haunting me that I didn’t do more. I know life can be cruel. Life in the big city can be so heartless sometimes. Another day in the city.

*Edited to clarify: In no way am I suggesting that the lives of squirrels and rats are less significant than kittens. It’s only that rats and squirrels are wild animals. If they found their way onto a highway, it most likely was not at the hands of humans. I’d still feel horrible inside if a family of squirrels or rats were being knocked around like pinballs on the highway.