Thursday, September 27, 2007

Clifford, the Big Red God

Not too far from where we live there is a costume store. Even though they are in business year round, it is only during these festive months at the onset of Halloween that they dress people up like Frankenstein and Cher and throw them out on the street to promote their business and scare new move-ins.

But today I drove several miles away to take Drew to baseball practice and out of nowhere on the street corner was someone dressed up as Clifford . I looked around for some kind of strip mall that might have a costume store, but the only thing on this street corner was the "Peace With Christ" Lutheran Church. I looked across the street; nothing but single family homes. I looked on the other side of the church; condos. So I can't say what kind of dire situation might have caused Clifford to leave his sanctuary on Birdwell Island, but it must have been for a good reason. I figure with Barney being loathable despite his peppy songs and the Teletubbies orientation being in question, at least we can rest assured knowing that Clifford is apparently a Christian.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Our little girl is growing up

I believe a car can say a lot about a person.

I drove a Suburban in college. It was 15 years old, had a thick orange stripe down the side that was once touched up with acrylic paint after a minor accident, and my Dad was constantly reminding me to “check the oil”. It was awesome. On my 20th birthday my Dad installed a horn in my dash that played over 22 different songs. It took a while before people realized that I did not in fact sell ice cream. My Suburban earned a nickname during those years. Two in fact. Its primary term of endearment was “The Beast”, but since it also took a long time for the heater to warm up in the winter months, my friend Jon liked to call it “The Fridge”. The Beast was a really fun college car. I still remember putting 17 people in it with my 6’7” friend Shawn lying on the hood, posing as a hood ornament and driving through Taco Bell to order a water with 17 straws. Ahhh…college life. It’s startling to think we actually thought we were hysterical (*wink*wink* to my new friend Randi).

You see, I was the kind of person in college who loved the cars that had been converted from a hearse to a painted cow. I thought that people who drove cars like that must have had tremendous personality. And when I drove down 700 East playing "The Yellow Rose of Texas" for all the neighbors to hear, I too felt like one with character. The only other car I wished I could have had during that time was a Jeep. I imagined that the kind of people who drove Jeeps wore jeans and t-shirts and went hiking and ate Odwalla Bars under pine trees and roasted s’mores every weekend, and that seemed like a good life. Anyway, I always wanted a car like that. After I graduated college I had to surrender the Beast back to my parents, then Cory and I got married and we shared his Nissan Sentra. We moved to Colorado, put ski racks on the top and drove it to the mountains in our early married life as if to say, “We are young and sporty.” Samantha was born, and I believe that this is when all my minivan issues started.

There seemed to be this notion that when the sperm connects with the egg, one should go out and sign a contract for a Dodge Caravan. Well, I wouldn’t have it. I couldn’t bear to be one of 129 minivans in the church parking lot on a given Sunday. To me, buying a minivan was like becoming inoculated with a Stepford injection of the Mormon kind and that the side effects involved the denim jumper becoming my constant companion and wood crafts becoming an at-home business. We bought a Honda Accord.

Shortly after Drew came along, the pressure to become minivan-ized intensified. “They’re so roomy”, “It’s so easy to get kids in and out”, “You can drive other kids”, blah blah blah. First of all, since when did “driving other kids” around ever serve as suitable motivation for anything? Oh, so you mean to tell me that not only can I fit MY kids in there, but I can drive YOURS to school too??? How could I have overlooked all of these perks?? We bought a Ford Explorer. Its maiden voyage on I-225 blasting Depeche Mode’s "I Just Can’t Get Enough" on my new 6-CD changer was an epic journey. My sunroof was open, my windows were down, I sang along and bobbed my head to the beat. There was plenty of room, I had no problem getting my kids in and out, and I wasn’t carting along other children that didn’t belong to me. It was the car I had always wanted, and it not only fit my family but it fit my personality.

The car is now 10-years-old and starting to fade in its glory. A few months ago we were taking my family to the Renaissance Festival and my kids were each bringing a friend. It didn’t even occur to me that we didn’t have seats for everybody until the day before. My friends were on vacation in Florida, and I knew their minivan was sitting in their garage. I called their cell phone and asked if they would mind if we borrowed their van for the day. They graciously agreed.

We got in and I thought, “Wow, it’s really roomy.” We drove the hour or so to the festival and when we arrived I noted, “Hey, the kids sure got out of there with ease”. And finally, “The kids had so much more fun here with their friends. It’s a good thing we were able to borrow the van so we could take them along.”

This last weekend was good. Friday we took the Explorer to do exactly what its title suggests and we went 4-wheeling in the mountains:

Then we went hiking at 10,000 feet above timberline to this:

And on Saturday, we went and bought this:

Not quite so different from an Explorer, an Odyssey also bears a connotation of adventure, right? Ithaca, here we come.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Everything I need to know about jogging in the park I learned from Kristy's blog

As I’ve mentioned, I like to exercise in the park near my home. The paved path loops around in a respectable half-mile loop, which means it requires multiple laps to get a proper workout. What this also means is that you might repeatedly pass an oncoming jogger who is out doing the same thing you are. And this presents the question, what is the proper interaction etiquette for multiple encounters with the same person in a short period of time? I don’t believe a list of appropriate behavior exists, so I came up with my own set of rules and I am passing them along to you in case you ever find yourself in a similar quandary.

Passing an oncoming park-goer the 1st time – I believe it’s polite and right to issue a quick hello. Who knows? They might live down the street from me. I make exceptions for inclement weather, however, as no one is interested in talking when snow is being inhaled through their nostrils.

2nd pass – A quick acknowledging nod is acceptable, no words are necessary. A tight pursing of the lips would also be fitting. Not a smile, yet not a complete dismissal.

3rd pass – I am no longer interested in being polite, but I also don’t want to feel like a jerk. At this point I employ a few strategies. First is a method I call the B.H.S. or the Back-Hand-Swipe. At the moment where eye contact feels obligatory, simply raise the back of your hand to your forehead and swipe your brow as if the workout is really starting to get tough. Second is an avoidance strategy I call “All of the sudden I need to change the song on my iPod”. Third, look at your watch and then grasp it between your fingers as if you are pressing the side buttons. They will think you are timing yourself, which not only serves the purpose of avoiding eye contact, but also makes you appear really goal oriented.

It should be noted that many of these tactics are only necessary when exercising alone. Walking or jogging with a friend is a strategy in itself because you can always appear to be engrossed in conversation. Also, if you happen to be on a path where you are not likely to pass the same people over and over again, I have a game I like to play. It doesn’t have a name, but it’s highly entertaining. Last summer my friend and I were tracing a path that winds around the lake across the street from where I live. I saw an approaching jogger; I waited for the right moment when they were within earshot and just about to pass us when I said, “So, what exactly does gonorrhea feel like?” Another jogger approached, and I went for it again, “I guess it’s the best you can hope for when you’ve only got one ovary.”

Remember: these are exercising tactics, not a list for making your parents proud. Doesn’t it just make you want to go running?

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

What I Know For Sure - Volume I

"I know for sure that what we dwell on is who we become."
Oprah Winfrey

I subscribe to the Oprah Magazine, and in the back of her magazine every month she concludes with a section she calls: "What I Know For Sure". The tone is normally introspective and thoughtful, such as the quote I listed at the top of this post. I've decided that Oprah Winfrey is not the only one who knows so much, and so not to be outdone by one who makes more money than I can fathom I have created my own list. So here it goes: my first Top 10 List of WHAT I KNOW FOR SURE:

1. Ben and Jerry’s was made for PMS and cats were made for…other people
2. There’s a book called “Chicken Soup for the Scrapbooker’s Soul” and while I generally enjoy the chicken soup collection, and I’ve actually been known to scrapbook, this book is crossing the line
3. I don’t ever want 1-877-POOP-GUY to be my contact phone number or “The Pooper Scooper” to be my tag line. I don’t care how desperate I am for work.
4. Anyone who says we are all created equal has never met Richard Simmons or seen the balance in Bill Gates’ bank account
5. Pierce Brosnan is aging well
6. Animal puppets as part of a marketing strategy should be punishable by death (so help me if I could reach through my television and grab that little Bar None dog by the neck I would scare children everywhere, but it would be worth it)
7. Cory is a great kisser
8. People with cell phones in a bookstore discussing their therapy session with their friend while perusing the self-help section should use better judgment, because people like me reading up on the Photography literature are listening. Intently.
9. There’s no longer such a thing as a store without a frequent buyer card. Even my pharmacy issued me one the other day. Do liquor stores have them too? Because I don’t think anyone should be rewarded for drinking too much, or at all for that matter. I guess I don’t know for sure about that one.
10. Cleaning the bathroom by flashlight is even less effective than you might think.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Not a laughing matter

The conversation with my sister included a long, drawn out story about a pre-adolescent breakdown that had occurred in my home the night before. “I just don’t have the tolerance for these meltdowns, especially when…” and that’s when she started to laugh. And didn’t stop. The pitch began to rise, the emphasis gained momentum, and the frequency increased. Harder and harder she laughed, until I finally caught on and said, “Aaaaaargh…I know!” Sensing my ultimate understanding of the situation her volume amplified, and she laughed even harder. “I’m hanging up on you now,” I said in mock irritation with her and sincere irritation with myself. I clicked off the phone and quickly reflected on bits and pieces of my adolescence from whence the giggles of my elder sibling originated. I called her back shortly, her chuckling now reduced to simmering snickers of amusement, and she tried (ineffectively) to conjure up validating experiences to try to make me feel better.

The thing is, I was not a rebellious teenager. But I was a VERY moody teenager. I don’t know how they managed to keep letting me in the door at the end of the day back then, and frankly I’m a little surprised that I’ve turned out to be such a delightful character. What I do know is that my mom eventually ran out of ideas and that’s when she would send my sister to try and figure out what the hell was wrong with me how she could help. It’s why she knows so much, and why her laughter might have been warranted.

“I’m just worried that she has an anxiety problem,” I tried to explain. She chuckled at the irony of my assertion and encouraged me to write it down for posterity. I gave up on our topic of conversation, making a mental note of all parental hypocrisy instilled since the day my first child was born and called a trophy store to have "Do as I say, not as I do (did)" engraved on a plaque. It should be here in a couple of weeks.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Photo of the day

My friend came over with her new baby this morning so we could take some pictures. We tried all morning to get him to sleep and it took a while, but as you can see, it was worth the wait.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Your cheerleader for the day

There's a park in the middle of my neighborhood that I love. I call it my breathing space. The paved walkway takes you through a scenic loop that boasts a sweeping view of city buildings nestled at the base of the Rocky Mountains. I frequently walk or jog in this park where many people come to exercise, walk their animals, or bring their kids to play. One day I was out on a walk when I took particular notice of a young girl slowly approaching. She was tall, slender, and with a backpback slung over her shoulder I assumed she was on her way home from school.

It wasn't so much the girl who got my attention, but my interpretation of the girl. When I looked at her I didn't see any visible, obvious flaws, but her body language seemed to be screaming defeat. Hands in her pockets, head down, shoulders sagging, I believed I was approaching a young woman who faced some sort of difficulty in her day, or perhaps her life; I wasn't sure. I had no way of knowing the source of her sobriety, but I sensed it. Did she do poorly on a test at school? Have an argument with someone she loved? Does she hate going home because it's not a happy place? Was she shunned by her peers? Or was I just experimenting with my imagination? Regardless, I had this intense desire to walk up to her, straighten her shoulders, and look her in the eye and say, "Hey, you're beautiful, talented, and one of a kind. Whatever is bringing you down, don't let it. You are outstanding!" I quieted the voices in my head by imagining Neighborhood Watch posters with my picture on it, and I let her pass without comment.

Not long ago I sat across the table from a teenage girl whom I had invited out for lunch. She wears her defeat and insecurity differently than the girl I met in the park. She displays it with an unwritten invitation for all boys to treat her like crap, because any attention is better than none. She is tall and slender and beautiful but can't see anything other than the girls who are prettier than she is. She has been dealt more than her fair share of life's challenges, and after realizing that she can't cut those challenges out (literally) has decided to try partying them out instead.

I wanted to scream in her face, "You're beautiful, talented, and one of a kind! Don't screw up your life! You are outstanding!" But it was our first real meeting, and I wanted her to come back. I worry sometimes that I let down that girl in the park, even if she doesn't know it. Stranger or not, maybe those words would have done her some good and I was just a big chicken. But since I can't change that, I'd like to offer this to all of you who might be struggling and reading this today:

You are beautiful, talented, and one of a kind. You are OUTSTANDING!

Don't let anyone else (including YOU) tell you otherwise.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Memo to me

Samantha talks to herself all the time. In the bathroom, outside, in her bed, you name it. It seems to be her method for working out whatever's on her mind.

"Why does Samantha do that? And where does she get it?" I wondered to myself...out loud.

Six years ago today...

...Samantha was a morning Kindergartner, and Drew was a baby. Our morning ritual at the time was that when Samantha woke up she would come in my room and watch "Arthur" until I got up with Drew. This morning had started out like all the others, except that when Samantha came in to turn on the TV she had to fiddle to get it on the right channel, and spent enough time pausing on channel 9 for me to hear Katie Couric announce that another plane had just crashed into the World Trade Center. Another plane? I bolted up in my bed and ordered Samantha to leave it there.
That's when I first heard.
A few weeks later I felt encouraged to write down my thoughts at that time; here are some of them:

* One of the first things I did was call my sister whose husband worked in downtown NYC. To my relief, he was involved in off-site meetings that day, but they were seriously worried about many of their friends. After informing me of his safety she had to go - her phone was ringing off the hook.
* I kept Samantha home from school that morning, unsure of what the day would bring. Was it over yet? I heard of a crash in the middle of Pennsylvania - we all assumed a correlation, but had no details to confirm it. Samantha was angry with me for missing school after she found out that she had missed making sheep with cotton. She came home wondering if all people who fly planes are bad guys.
* I wondered if we would go to war. I speculated about Cory losing his job. I thought about my nephew who had just left for a 2-year church mission in Brazil and wondered if he would have to come back to fight in a war. I remember looking around my house at all of our belongings and thinking, "this is just stuff".
* I felt like a snob. I became increasingly aware of how we must have looked to other countries who already lived this kind of reality EVERY SINGLE DAY. Like a bully who suddenly meets his match or a philanthropist who suddenly loses everything. I decided I didn't like being on the other side.
* Albeit in an unfortunate way, I felt like America got her patriotism back. Flags flew everywhere from small towns to downtown office buildings and people were generally nicer to each other.
* Feeling completely vulnerable and helpless, I tried to focus on having faith. Faith that God would keep his promises. Faith that what He says is true, and that good will ultimately triumph over evil.

Six years later, I'm still trying to focus on that.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Food! Games! Entertainment!

Two Tamagotchis, 23 teddy grahams, 7 puzzle pieces, and lots of m&m's were only a few of the gems I walked away with. I even took home some prize money! One quarter, two nickels, several pennies, and a Bahamian coin. You see, it's not really necessary to waste one's time at a carnival. All you gotta do is clean out your car.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Track Meet

Samantha had her first track meet today. Since there are ONE HUNDRED AND SEVENTY-FIVE kids on the track team, the events are starting out as being somewhat randomly assigned. Ever since track has started Samantha has talked about her preference for sprinting over the longer runs, but we simply weren't sure where they would put her.

Weighing in at sixty pounds with 2/3 of it being legs, I thought she had a fitting physique for a track athlete and believed it a reasonable possibility that she could end up where she wanted to be. I've been very proud of her willingness to try something new, and I trusted in the experience of the coaches to find a suitable event to fit her abilities. Which, in my mind, did not include any kind of title involving the words "shot" or "put".


Call me crazy(or judgmental), but when I envision a girl who does the shot put I imagine a stocky build, short hair, a slight mustache, and names like "Edna". You know, the kind that you try to avoid running into in the bathroom and that you don't like to make angry. I do not visualize petite frames with bulging blue eyes whose shoe size is the same as "Edna's" thumb.

But Samantha was on the list for Shot Put and the 800 Meter run. She nearly cried in the car as she announced her fate, but she showed up and did both events today to the best of her ability and did great. She may not have a particularly bright future throwing balls that weigh more than she does, but she's definitely a champ.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007


Read for twenty minutes, write a sentence. That was the homework. It's part of the homework every night for my 2nd grader. I should clarify that it does NOT say, read for twenty minutes, then ask your mother what to write, and freak out when she doesn't tell you. She may give you several hints, which the homework also does not specify as being necessary, but she loves you and is trying to help without making it too easy. The homework also does NOT say that writing three sentences should take three hours, and nowhere does it specify that the flapping of arms with paper and pencil in hand will help to coerce a "gimme" from your mom. However, after the third hour of desperate pleas such as, "IIIII dooooon't knoooow whaaaat tooo wriiiite..." while contorting your body the way of the rubberband, your mother might have to leave the house for a breath of fresh air to avoid a situation that might land one in foster care.

I'm not sure of the reason he wants to kill me exactly, or why he's chosen this method, but it's proving highly effective so far.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

The Seventh Day

We try to make Sundays at our house just a little different than the other days of the week, a small attempt at taking a break from our regular activities to recharge our batteries. We have a few DO’S and DON’TS for Sundays that are pretty steadfast rules, and the kids are so used to them that when a neighbor shows up for hopeful spontaneous play they don’t even hesitate to respectfully turn them down. Lately, however, I feel we’ve become a bit lax in our quest for one peaceful day of the week, and I wonder if we need to reassess our unwritten policy.

For example, noticeably absent on our list of DON’TS is the order to avoid the VH1 series “Scott Baio is 45 and Single”. It’s an egregious assault on my personal character to revel in the fact that Charles is no longer in Charge, and yet here I sit: guilty. I also neglected to specify to my kids that there should be “no steamrolling each other while wrapped in the area rug”. Gotta remember to write that one down. And though it seems fanatical to pen out a rule for “no lip syncing to Bon Jovi or Elvis while Dad is taking an extremely rare and deserved nap”, there does come a time where it would be helpful to have that in writing.

Then again, there’s no other day where my kids interact with each other the way they do on Sundays. In addition to using a music stand as a microphone and our window seat as a stage, today they have played games together, practiced math facts, and taken turns wowing each other with new tricks off the back of the couch. But finally, near the end of the day Samantha collapsed on the couch as a way of saying, “Party’s over,” to which Drew appropriately responded with a body slam on her lap. He then looked up at her, fluttered his eyelashes, and in a mocking tone asked, “Momma? Read me a story?” He thought he was hilarious, but Samantha moaned in disapproval and pushed him off. I staved off a fight and distracted them with two spoons and a bowl of cake batter.

Sunday. Our day of rest. Maybe one day we’ll be good at it.