Sunday, July 17, 2011

My New Nickname

I was at a film festival the other day wearing a lanyard nametag on a string.  The wind started blowing, twisting the nametag into a sort of noose.  Batting the thing around like a cat, I walked into the door (and I mean INTO the door) of the festival venue, bruising my knee and dropping my purse in the process. 

A lot of stuff went everywhere.  Classic.

The festival people saw me.  They tried to look away, but how can you ignore a trainwreck?  Especially when she is screening her film momentarily for your brand-new festival that you hope goes over well in the community.  And she's wearing heels on your stage.

I'd like to say that this kind of thing is a rarity, but the truth is, friends, I do not ooze grace.  And while I'd like to think that people view me as a Jackie O archetype, the truth is closer to Junior Samples.  If he had a purse that he dropped a lot, that is.

Keeping that preface in mind, let me tell you about my new friend.  We'll call her Geneva.  If you know Geneva, you'll know that this is really her awesome nickname.  And if you don't, well, she'll just be Geneva from here on out.

Geneva and I met here in my small town.  Like me, she's an artist.  Like me, she bakes bread.  Like me, she likes Steel Magnolias and can quote liberally from the script. 

This was looking like an answer to my "Dear-God-why-can't-I-find-a-friend-who-will-not-wince-when-I-want-to-mainline-cookie-dough" prayers in recent days.

When I told her of my battle with weight and ongoing desire to look like a Kardashian while retaining my brain and maintaining residence at Toll House, she sympathized. 

"I go to Weight Watchers," Geneva said.  "You should come."

Weight Watchers.  Ugh.  I had always envisioned this concept as a place where multi-level marketing meets a tent revival.  With fat girls who sigh a lot.

"Oh, I just go for the weigh-in," said Geneva.  "I have discovered that I have to pay $13 a week to hear someone tell me how fat I am.  It motivates me."

See why I liked her instantly?  She's snarky.  I like that in a broad.

So I decided to join Geneva in what I now refer to as the 'shame-based weigh-in.'  And it's been pretty good so far.  One week, I gained a pound, however, and the next week, I made sure I peed twice and removed my nail polish before stepping onto the scale.

We just go for the weigh-in, and then we stand outside and talk.  I wear the same thing every week to make sure that my clothes are not factored into the weigh-in -- a little sundress that I wish were littler, but you get the idea. 

This past Thursday, Geneva stood by my mini-van while we shunned the meeting part of Weight Watchers and caught up on the various goings-on in our community.

While we were chatting and avoiding such platitudes as 'It's not the minutes that you spend at the table that make you fat; it's the seconds" and going over the exact points value of a 3-inch-by-3-inch piece of cornbread, I got stung.  In the middle of my back.  By a bee. 

And as luck (or Weight Watchers karma) would have it, I failed to have an epi-pen.  Because I had changed purses.  Because everything falls out of my old purse when I get rattled.  Which is often. 

I'm pretty allergic to bee stings.  Once my hand swelled up the size of a baseball glove.  No kidding.  And sometimes I wheeze.  It's very sexy.

Geneva saw me wince.  Her maternal instincts kicked in, which upped her ante on my BFF scorecard.  "Are you okay?"

No, God, no.  I was just stung by a bee.

"A bee?  Are you sure?"

This part is where I shunned all new friend decorum.  You really aren't supposed to show too much skin until you've at least peed together in a one-throne ladies' restroom. 

I hitched up my dress and invited dear, sweet Geneva to take a look.

"Oh, I see," she said.

I told her I was very allergic.

"Do you want me to drive you to the hospital?" 

No, just ride with me.  I would drive myself.

In the course of sixty seconds, I had not only created a situation where my new best friend had to trust what would probably be impaired driving skills, I had flashed her.  In the parking lot of a church where we go for Weight Watchers meetings. 

But, in true best friend style, Geneva ignored my uncouth and accompanied me to the Emergency Room.  I think she rather enjoyed watching me become sedated on Benadryl. 

I couldn't believe I wasn't swelling more.  Apparently we had gotten there just in time.

"Maybe it was just a little bee," she postulated.

And then she laughed.  "That is what I am going to start calling you.  Little Bee."

Like me, she also gives people nicknames or uses existing ones.  Geneva's a keeper.  A Little Bee Keeper.  Thank God she swore to never mention me whipping up my dress in front of God and several fellow small-town Watchers of Weight to anyone.      

But I suspect that she will call me Little Bee until I die.  And that brings me great comfort.

Now if she ever get strangled by a lanyard, we're in big trouble. 

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

The Smells of Summer

Ah, summer.  Things are heating up. 

When temperatures rise, the inside of my minivan needs a good scrubbin'.  And scrub as I might, there's just an aroma that lingers.

Some people can distinguish the delicate mix of flavors in a piquant bouquet of fine wine just by sniffing a cork. 

Me?  I can tell what's been in my van over the past year just by opening up a hot car door and inhaling deeply.

I read wine descriptions for fun.  Here's my description of the scent that emanates from what I affectionately refer to as "The Mom-Bomb":

Andie's Minivan '11 -- "Acetic overtones of adolescent perspiration from ripening soccer cleats are balanced by the clean character of common Goldfish crackers.  The overall austerity is sturdied slightly by a petillant yet vigorous accent of baggied Pull-Up..."

Despite my best cleaning efforts, The Man and I decided that until we can afford a new minivan, we're going to introduce bright, new scents to hopefully reduce toxicity levels.  The goal is to bring about a higher degree of  pleasantness to daily travel while raising awareness about the need for daily trash removal.

It's a goal, anyway.  We have to strive for betterment.

"You know what might work," said The Man (before a recent expedition to places unknown to park our behinds in canvas chairs to encourage our children to get exercise and failing to see the irony), "what might work is to buy an air freshener."

So as a thoughtful gift, The Man purchased some strong-smelling gels that hang from the windshield for our chariot.  He hung them up on our recent expedition.  "Your favorite scent," he beamed. 

I leaned forward and took a whiff.  "Vanilla Diaper?"

"No, Key Lime Pie."

It was a sweet gesture, but if anything like this ever showed up on a restaurant plate of mine, I'd call the authorities.

Leaning forward, I sniffed again.  I wrinkled my nose and suppressed a gag reflex.  "Has the lime been composted?"  One kid hit another with a pillow.

The Man whipped around to the back. "Okay...which one of you clowns passed gas?"

A kid raised his hand in the backseat.  "Guilty."

The Man swiftly hit the back air vent button so that the occupants of said minivan would not asphyxiate.  The littlest children stopped choking.

We travelled on for a few more miles in silence.  Then The Man chuckled to himself.  "That would be an interesting air freshener...Vanilla Diaper...what about Fresh Cut Cheese?"

"That's a good one," I said.  I paused for inspiration.  "What about Dumpster Spice?"

He smiled. "Country Cowpie?"

"Landfill Breeze," I answered.  "How about Honeydipper?  No, wait, Island Outhouse.  No, no, I've got it:  Dingleberry Cobbler!"

Inspired, The Man said, "We should start a know, as gag gifts?  We'd make a killing."

He paused to count his imaginary earnings for a moment.  Then he spoke again. "Some of the newer models of minivan don't have carpets.  You can just hose out the rubber floors once in a while."

I smirked.  "Yeah, but what do those owners do for fun?"

Another trumpet blast and a fit of giggles and gagging from the backseat.  The Man immediately hit the power windows, and we experienced another collective fresh air of salvation.

I put my hand on The Man's shoulder.  "I love our life," I said to him. 

He smiled and drove on, inhaling deeply, shaking his head.  "You're going to write about this, aren't you?"

"Oh, heavens no," I dabbed at my eyes, welling up at the fumes. "I have an image to uphold!"

The Man smirked.  "Let me know when you publish it."

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Happy Doomsday!

This morning, I posted this piece at -- thought I'd repost it here.

Well, here we are. May 21, 2011.

Turned on CNN. Nothing mentioned about a rapture in New Zealand or the Pacific Rim. Business as usual. Lots of greetings of Happy Doomsday between commentators, but not much else.

Congratulations on your fifteen minutes of fame, Harold Camping. This has been quite a media spectacle. Although $72 million dollars manipulated out of the hands of people looking for answers does buy a lot of media.

I’ve been pretty vocal about my distaste for narcissists like Harold Camping. There are undoubtedly little children who belong to Camping’s followers who are waiting for the sky to open up and for Jesus to take them away.

It isn’t going to happen.

And when it doesn’t, these little children aren’t going to be given the answer that it is because Harold Camping is a charlatan who fooled their parents.

The answer isn’t going to be that Camping is a false prophet who doesn’t represent God.

The answer isn’t going to be that the sacrifices that your family made to raise that $72 million were all in vain. Sorry.

No. If we are to look historically at other cult leaders using the principles of thought reform, it will be because these little children did something wrong.

That Jesus Christ didn’t come back today was because, well, these poor people didn’t work hard enough to get Camping’s message out to the whole world.

I hurt for Camping’s followers.

We’ve all had moments in our lives when we have been vulnerable.

When we wanted black and white answers and easy understanding to hard questions.

We may not be attracted to a message like Camping’s. But there might be another person with easy answers that would work better in terms of what we already believe. And we’ll listen. And believe. And get sucked in.

And then we start opening up our wallets.

I am reminded of a man who chased moneychangers out of the temple with a bullwhip. Who claimed that we cannot serve both God and money. I share his sentiments. Instead of a bullwhip, we grabbed the modern-day equivalent – a camera.

This man also used to tell stories. Again, following precedent, we told a story.
That guy was pretty smart.

The fact that Harold Camping is on the radar of every major media outlet in the world tells us that the cult problem is indeed big. We’re all a little nervous about doomsday preachers.
As we all should be.

Sure, it’s fun to laugh at folks like Camping. We’ve all done our share of giggling around here. It helps us cope with a larger fact. That there are a lot of people spouting off spiritually sounding stuff that lead people down very dangerous paths.

So if you are the praying type, say one for those kids that have been born and raised in Camping’s group or other groups like his. There are many of them. It isn’t their fault.

Camping and his ilk won’t suffer a bit, but these people will suffer for the rest of their lives.

If you need help, or you know someone that needs help, we’ve come up with a list of resources of people that are trustworthy. They aren’t going to try to convert you to their brand of faith. They are going to listen and care. Most of them have been there.

These organizations and good people operate on a shoestring budget with giant hearts. Their books are available at your public library or through interlibrary loan, or you can support their work and buy a couple.

Thanks for reading. Now go and have an amazing weekend!

If you enjoyed this blogpost, you might like "So What Happens On May 22nd?"  And you might like a film that I created with my friend Storme Wood called Paradise Recovered.  We're currently seeking distribution and have some good prospects.  Will keep you posted.

Friday, April 22, 2011

On Earth Day As It Is In Heaven...

'You are my friends if you do what I command. This is my command: Love each other.' – Jesus

I just left my daughter’s kindergarten classroom.  They had a Spring party today.  It was lovely, and the children had a wonderful time.  So did the parents. 

We live in a small, rural community that has one of the best elementary schools on the planet, public or private. 

With a shoestring budget, these dedicated teachers have created an environment of love and peace where every student, regardless of income or social status, has an opportunity to learn good things. 

Great things, even.

At this school, and with the help of the community, they have created an outdoor classroom designed to teach children about the wonders of our amazing planet.

I love that my children have the opportunity to learn about the world in a hands-on way from people who care about them.

This year, Good Friday and Earth Day happened to fall on the same day.  Which is today.

This morning, while reading my Twitter feed, I learned that a very outspoken right-wing demagogue had decided to burn styrofoam in honor of Earth Day.  He’s also allowing his car to idle and lighting his entire studio for no good reason.  In the past, he has chopped down trees to celebrate Earth Day.  He decries any sort of “public school indoctrination” of what he feels are bad environmentalist policies.

It’s also worthy to note that this man recently became a vegan for health reasons. 

But I digress.

Turns out he and a bunch of other folks are kind of upset about what they feel is Earth Day usurping Good Friday.  They think that it takes away from the significance of the crucifixion.  They think that it is indicative of a shift from America as a Christian nation to a nation that worships, well, trees.

It made me sad that people could make this kind of a leap.

So.  Public school with an emphasis on conservation, Good Friday, and political demagoguery all sort of swirled together for me this afternoon.

I pay attention when this kind of thing happens in my brain.  I get quiet and wait for what happens next.

The Easter season illustrates the power of resurrection, a power that I cannot deny in my own life.  It makes me think about times when I thought that all was indeed lost…only to be surprised by a still, small inaudible voice, light for the darkness, and ironed out circumstances.

If I blink or can’t be still, I miss these moments.

I have learned that there is nothing that can’t be fixed.  It may not look the same as it did before it became broken, but it can be fixed.  Sometimes for an even greater purpose.

After some reflection, I don’t think that Good Friday and Earth Day are incompatible.

Earth Day was created by environmentalists who wanted to see some redemption on this
planet.  I thought that Christians were all about redeeming that which was lost.  And wanting things to be on earth as they are in heaven.

There’s nothing in the Holy Writ that indicates that God’s notion of heaven involves burning plastics.

Can’t Earth Day be a holiday where Christians and humanists can find some common ground?  I mean, we’re all kind of unified in the fact that no one wants to die from chemical exposure.  We all want to drink clean water and breathe good air and eat food that isn’t sprayed with something we can’t pronounce.

Part of this means living with fewer resources and being content.  I’m working on this in my own life.  I struggle with churches that do not share this point of view with me, opting for giant buildings that require a great deal of fiscal resources while caring little about a carbon footprint.

Weren’t we to sell all that we possessed in order to better follow?  Wasn’t simplicity a part of the lifestyle of the Lord?

I love Jesus, but the fan club disappoints me a lot. 

So, mocking conservation?   Really?  Can we use our short time here on earth more wisely?
I self-identify as a follower of the teachings of Jesus.  I pretty much fail epically as a student every day.  I like stuff.  It sucks, but I really do like stuff.  Sometimes I like stuff more than people. 
Sometimes I just want to satisfy every whim that I have.

What kind of lifestyle does my desire for the lowest prices and the most toys create for those who aren’t as fortunate?  You know…like the people who make my coveted stuff for a dime an hour.  Those people that Jesus loves.

Which is why I look at this bloody cross with wonder and amazement. 

I fail.  I am dreadfully inconsistent.  Sometimes, I actively resist loving others so that I can be more comfortable and less involved.

And I am still and always loved by God.  Regardless of what I have done, what I am doing, and what I am about to do.  And regardless of whether those things are 'good' or 'bad'.

Because of this love, shame and guilt were taken care of on my behalf a long time ago.  Huge price paid. 

Having shame and guilt taken away leaves me with an enormous sense of gratitude.
It is out of that gratitude that freedom flows. 

I am now free to love with wild abandon and to care and to give and to champion and to embrace.  Without any reservation or guilt or belief that I am unworthy.

I want that kind of freedom for everyone.  Including those who wish to put God in a box, administering entrance exams and litmus tests before awarding the status of ‘believer’.  A status, by the way, that can be revoked at any time. 

I want these people to be free to stop judging.

Even that guy who gloats about his freedom to trash the earth on television.  I want freedom for that guy too. 

Because the reality is that he and I have a lot in common.  I can be just as terrible, given the right issue and the right circumstances.

It’s just not my responsibility to decide who is in and who is out.  Jesus himself said that he had sheep that his followers knew nothing about.  I take him seriously on this point and assume something that I learned long ago in kindergarten:  Andie needs to take care of Andie.

As a result, I am relieved of the responsibility of judgment and can now embrace those things which bring about redemption and resurrection for everyone.

I am an environmentalist.  I am passionate about Jesus.  I believe in the power of love.  I want to participate in community with others.

None of these statements are mutually exclusive.  Nor need they ever be.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Virtuous Women

Last Friday night, I was proud to be a woman.
On April 8, ABC aired a 20/20 Investigation by Elizabeth Vargas of a Christian denomination called the Independent Fundamentalist Baptists (IFB).  Not to be confused with American Baptists or even Southern Baptists, the IFB claims that they aren’t connected to one another, though all of their pastors train at the same colleges and universities here in America and are taught the same doctrines.
But that hardly matters.  What does matter is that there are women speaking out against physical and sexual abuse that they allege happened with the full knowledge of the IFB. 
It took one woman to start asking questions, and, because of her bravery, thousands of women and men are coming forward to tell their stories.  Abusers are being called to account, and this rigid denomination is on notice.
I love Jesus for a lot of reasons.  I love him mainly because he took down a religious establishment who claimed to have all of the answers.  The Pharisees taught that God is only pleased when you follow a series of rules.  And, as luck would have it, only this particular sect of Judaism knew exactly the right way to keep these rules. 
It was all pretty convenient for the Pharisees.  It kept money in the coffers, it kept the people in line, and it made the leaders feel, well, important.
It wasn’t very convenient for a woman who had been hemorrhaging for years. 
The rules stated that if you were on your period, you couldn’t have contact with the rest of the camp.  To be fair, Moses instituted this rule, I believe, to give women a break one a month so that they could rest.  Remember, this was an ancient culture where women had no rights at all, so it could be argued that Moses was a bit of a feminist.
But over time, the rule became a demand for holiness.  A ‘thou shalt stay away from people during your cycle’ or, well, God won’t forgive your sins and embrace you.
And if you bleed too much, well, your faith is called into question.  And as such, a woman who bled a lot wasn’t allowed into her faith community.  And since the Pharisees had a monopoly on how to follow God perfectly and correctly, she was barred from any kind of contact with God.

She was considered to be a sinner.
The woman I am referring to is recorded in the gospel according to St. Luke.  For me, it is the most powerful story in the entirety of the New Testament. 
This poor gal had consulted doctors for over twelve years and likely had tried every remedy offered.  I can imagine that in the ancient world, the remedies might have been worse than the bleeding.  Why?  Well, I am sure that she wanted to stop bleeding for better physical comfort, but I suspect that twelve years of being ostracized by those who claimed to know God had taken its toll as well.
So she hears of this Jesus character, and she has a dilemma.  She heard that he heals people, but she can’t touch him because that would make him unclean.  She doesn’t want to hurt him because she believes that the teaching of the Pharisees was accurate.
So she sneaks around, and one day she sees Jesus, surrounded by his usual crowds (they didn’t have television or the Internet).  He’s in a hurry.  He’s off to heal a very sick child.  His handlers are moving him through the crowd.
He has no time for her.
She decides to risk it.
She covers herself with a blanket so as not to touch the rest of the crowd, and she gets as close to him as she dares.  “If I can only touch his robe,” she says, “I just know I’ll be well.”
He walks past her, and she reaches out and touches his hem.  Sighing, she is thankful she wasn’t noticed.
But she was noticed.  He wheels around and asks, “Who touched me?”
The men around him are trying to hustle Jesus off to more important, pressing matters.  A little girl is about to die.  The crowd is impatient.  They want to see a miracle.

But Jesus waits for this quivering woman, shaking before the entire crowd, believing that she had done something horribly, horribly wrong.
I thought about this woman when I heard Tina Anderson tell her story on 20/20.  She had been raped as a teenager by a man in her church…twice.  The rape resulted in a pregnancy.  She told no one, until she was four months pregnant.
She was forced to stand in front of the entire congregation to confess her sin.  By her pastor. 
She isn’t the only woman to have stood in front of a congregation to confess a sin, real or imagined.   

The only thing here is that Tina never sinned.  But she was ostracized by her community of faith anyway.  They told her that as a fifteen year old, she could consent to sex.  They told her that she had seduced this rapist.  The pastor locked her in an apartment at his house and then moved her out of state.
There was never a prosecution of the rapist.  Just a casting of invisible stones at an innocent young girl who felt every strike.
No matter how a pastor or sect attempts to spin this story, what happened to Tina Anderson was wrong. She was forced to confess a sin that doesn't exist.  It was not loving.  It was not helpful.  It was not of Jesus. 
What did Jesus do?  
In Luke’s gospel, instead of shunning this suffering woman, he elevated her.  He called her ‘daughter.’  He made her family.  He told her that she was healed.  And he told her to go in peace. 
And by doing so, he told the entire community that was shunning her that they were wrong.
In writing the script for the film Paradise Recovered, I talked to over 100 women and men from eighteen different cult groups, and I read hundreds of online testimonials, books, and chat room posts, alleging abuse and cover up by those who label themselves as Christian.  What happened to them and what happened to Tina was anything but Christ-like.
In an update to the 20/20 Special, Elizabeth Vargas announced that Jocelyn Zichterman, one of the women who served as a whistleblower to a number of these scandals in the IFB, including her own, had received over 12,000 emails from people alleging stories similar to Tina’s.
Tina isn’t alone.  By coming forward, she has been crucified online by those more interested in protecting their denomination and doctrine than giving grace and comfort and seeking justice for the oppressed.
Tina and Jocelyn and the other women in the 20/20 piece are my personal heroes in the faith.  They have exemplified virtue and character by standing up alone to combat a system that is neither loving nor Christian.  They have created a community of people in need of healing and understanding, and I join them in their cause.
As to their decision to take down a faith community who claims to have all of the answers and be above the questions?  I know someone else who did the same thing, and it is my honor and privilege to call him Lord.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Matchmaker, Matchmaker, Make Me A Match

About a year ago, one of my best girlfriends (we’ll call her Miranda) sent me some pictures of men that she had been matched with through an online dating service. 

I am generally not one to judge solely by appearance, but bless their hearts.  Most of them looked like they needed baths more than dates.    My favorite of the lot was bare-chested and beer-bellied with low-cut jeans, a trucker hat, a pronounced overbite and a giant largemouth bass.  He boasted that he still lived in his mother’s basement.

To her credit, she cancelled the online service with this flourish of a memorandum: 

“I am cancelling my subscription because the dating pool has started to resemble the arts and crafts room at a maximum security prison facility for violent offenders. I'm not saying that anyone has necessarily become violent and/or inappropriate with me. Sometimes, poor grammar and photos of wild game "trophies" can really speak volumes.  I'm just sayin’.”

Miranda is quite the comic.  She actually sent them this letter. 

I thought of Miranda this afternoon while I was dealing with my mismatched sock basket.  With six people in our household and visitors in and out, I have quite a collection of odd socks in a two bushel laundry basket. 

Some are distinguished looking dress socks, quite a few athletic socks, a few cheerleaders with pom poms, a few of our more spiritual stockings (they are hole-y – couldn’t resist, sorry), and an old tired stripey knee sock who has been there since 1998.

They’re all looking for a soulmate.  One without too many holes that isn’t too faded or stretched out.  Someone with a little life.  A little spunk.  A little decency and self-respect.

About once a month or so, I dig out the basket and try to find mates for lonely socks.  It’s a ritual that I take comfort in.  I put on some good music, pray a prayer to St. Jude (the saint of hopeless causes), and pull out Old Stripey as the Helen Thomas of this monthly hosiery conference.

“What are you doing?” my husband will inquire.

“Changing lives,” I respond.  “Just call me Yenta.”

I clearly need to get out more. 

But today, I folded socks, and I thought about Miranda and finding that perfect match.  The online service was, if you’ll forgive the analogy, a bit like my laundry basket.  Throwing all of the singletons into a pile and sorting through them to help them find one another. 

They make a lot of promises, these dating sites.  The commercials advertise falsely.  I should know.  I’ve seen the real pictures and not the airbrushed actors with perfect hair, cut abs, and come-hither gleam.
As I was pondering the problems of finding forever love in the modern world, I picked up what I thought was a match.  Both white, low-cut athletic socks.  I started to fold them together until I noticed that one had pink toe stitching while the other had gold.  No one would know but me.  But then, I would know.  Back to the basket.

Sighing, I thought again of Miranda, whose online hopes had been dashed time and time again by some man who seemed charming on the first date, but who generally had some sort of character flaw that became quite apparent as the weeks went by.  Okay, I am underestimating: alcoholic schizophrenic is not quite what you want to bring home to the folks.

And then I thought of my own dating life.  As you might guess, it was not only interesting but highly entertaining.  My general rule was that I’d go out with anybody once just out of sheer curiosity.  This proved to be a brilliant strategy for my career as a writer:  95% of these jokers provided excellent future material. 

Some men appeared to be a fit at first, and then I would see some gaping hole in the heel.  I tried the emotional equivalent of darning socks, which no one does anymore and for good reason.  Turns out that darning can make for some nasty blisters, and it isn’t worth the time or heartache. 

Old Stripey is a constant in my life, a confirmed Old Maid who used to attend raves and wild nights on the river in St. Louis in her youth.  I can’t part with her.  She’s a tough old broad who has been to the puppet show and seen the strings.  Old Stripey has seen many a sock come and go, get mated, leave the basket, only to end right back there a few years later.

I know that the analogy is breaking down.  Please cut me some slack.  I match socks as a hobby.  This alone could be grounds for psychiatric treatment. 

The good news for me is that Miranda is now a constant again after a bit of a hiatus after high school.  I hadn’t seen her in over a decade, but we found each other again through the miracle of Facebook a few years ago.  It was like I was stuck in a basket, and she was under a bed somewhere, lost to the known universe until someone decided to move the furniture. 

We picked up where we left off.

I’m thinking of making a lot of sock puppets this summer with some of these confirmed bachelors in my basket.  The baby socks.  The too small soccer socks.  The beige dress sock.  They have been just taking up space for way too long. 

Maybe with this new calling, they’ll find some new friends that don’t seem to mind holes, wear and tear, or differences in toe stitching.  A little makeover with some felt, yarn, and googly eyes.  They’ll laugh more, probably, and cry less.

Old Stripey is staying just as she is, if only to remind me at how hard this matchmaking thing is.  And how nice it was to find my forever fit – who believed that the dryer had long since eaten any possibilities for him. 

Turns out that my guy and I look nothing alike in terms of color, size, or utility.  The great American actor, comedian and genius Steven Wright once quipped that he matched socks by thickness.  That’s what I think I did in life.  I found my match by thickness.  We go together in our own way.  We will never be found swinging in a hammock in a commercial for dating ecstasy and eternal pleasure, but we’ll never need two separate bathtubs either.  So there’s that.

I’m happy to report that Miranda now has a sweetheart that we all really like.  In her words to the online dating service, “he did not appear to be a homicidal maniac, although he did point out that homicidal maniacs look just like you and me. He was kind to me and didn't try to get to second base, even though I did wear something kind of low cut. Not that I'm that kind of girl. I just like to keep my options open is all.”

Most importantly, she really likes him.  He gets her.  They play a lot.  She doesn’t even have to explain herself to him.  He just knows.  And she knows.  So they know together.

I like that in a pair.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

The State Of The Minivan

Once a year, generally in January, the President of the United States offers up a speech meant to secure his base, silence his scoffers, and reassure Americans and the rest of the world that he knows what he is doing. 
I always watch this speech.  I mist up a little bit, regardless of who is in office.  I love my country, and I will always feel a sense of pride when I hear our president speak to the nation.  
I’ve decided that as a way of introducing myself and my new blog, I’ll present the text of my State of The Minivan address.  No illusions of grandeur here; it’s just that it has been a difficult day and it is either this or hard liquor.  I’ve decided to be sensible, as it isn’t yet the weekend.
So, without further adieu (and with a special thanks to our current President for the framework of this speech), I give you…me. 
Mr. Husband, Members of my Household, Distinguished Canines, and Fellow Parents:
Tonight, I come to you because I am alone in this house. Mr. Husband loaded up the vehicle known affectionately to me as the 'Mom Bomb' and took the entirety of the unwashed, unfed hoard to soccer practice. 
It’s no secret that today was a difficult day.  Since the time the school bus arrived at three PM, the debates have been contentious, and all sides have fought viciously for their beliefs.  While a robust populace demands this level of vigorous debate, it was not a pleasant day for this mother, who yearned for a more perfect union. 
Amid all the chaos, including my favorite candle which somehow made its way outside today for the dog to chew and the toilets that somehow never seem to get flushed by anyone but me, we are a family.  We believe that we are bound together by love and affection as one albeit quirky unit.
Simply recognizing this fact will not usher in a new era of recognizing that clean clothes do not magically appear in drawers.  It will not automatically foster a spirit of goodwill at the dinner table or keep children from kicking their siblings. 
Respect for oneself involves respect for one's parents and one's family.  While this is not a democracy, I generally find your observations amusing, unless the decibel level is overly heightened.  Today was not a stellar day, but with the intervention of Mr. Husband, life got decidedly better for all parties.  And arguably quieter.
Choosing to respect me is not an option.  Might I remind you that I was not voted into office?  Mr. Husband and I developed a close partnership over many late nights of coffee, which turned into wine, which turned into making out on his bachelor couch.  And love was never a challenge in those early days.  We liked other, we enjoyed each other, and we committed ourselves to one another in front of our friends and family for a lifetime of what we believed would be peace and tranquility.
We have pictures to prove it.
I hear the gagging noises from the members of my household, and I readily admit that I am not amused.  I now address you directly.  The people generally seated at our dining table did not create our love, but you were certainly added to this table because of it.  Learn to accept it, as we have learned to love and accept you.
We have never measured your progress by standardized testing or by your ability to perform, but by your quality of life and the quality of life that you bring to us. 
That being said, all of us must do our part to sacrifice for the common good.  For the members of this household, this means as a bare minimum picking up your toys, doing your homework without being reminded, feeding animals, and taking out trash.  The completion of these tasks brings about a sense of peace for all parties concerned. 
But we have to do more.  We also ask that you would use your indoor voices and seek peaceful means of resolving discord.  We ask that you would stop looking at each other and making faces at one another, lest you incite riot.
We're looking forward.  To win the future, you’ll need to take on challenges that have been decades in the making.  (Just because you weren’t there or don’t remember doesn’t mean it didn’t happen.)  In short, you are going to college.  End of discussion.  We’ll help you pay for it, but we’re not paying for a four year party.  (Unless it is for us.)
We understand that your lives have been difficult in recent days, as we would not go through junior high school or high school again for all of the cake pops at Starbucks. 
But understand that we are investing in you in the hopes that you will have a brighter future than ours.  There are four of you, so we’re spreading out this investment, hoping that one of you makes it so that we get the good nursing home.  The one with the heated, indoor pool.
As Robert Kennedy told us, “The future is not a gift; it is an achievement.”  In other words, we aren’t giving you everything you want.  Your future involves work, effort, and a commitment to yourself. 
We provide you with educational, social, and travel opportunities, a vast network of friends and family members, health care, clean water, and peer-supported apparel.  That we make you ride around in a seven year old minivan and hug you in public are tradeoffs.  We would prefer a classier car, but you happen to be wearing it in your mouths.
And know this.  Despite your whining and bickering, your wet towels on the bathroom floor, your pestering and your scowls, we believe in you.  You are the future, and you are the pride of our lives.
We are the story of an ordinary couple who dared to dream big.  And our dream is that one day, your gifts and talents should be used to make the world a better place.  That one day, you will find someone to love and with whom to share your hopes and dreams.  And that you also might have children for whom we will buy noisy, battery-operated toys in our old age.
As we raise you, we also seek to love and remember other children who, despite hardship and toil and super-human effort, do not have access to the gifts that you have been given.  We remember them this night, and we seek to make their lives better through community effort and personal involvement.  As you grow up, please do not forget them and remember to give out of your abundance to them.
Our family, in short, rocks and will continue to rock.  To quote our current president, “our destiny remains our choice.  And it’s because of our children that our future is hopeful, that our journey moves forward, and that the state of our union is strong.”
The state of the minivan is another story; someone needs to get a trash bag and get busy.  It is like driving around in a dumpster.
Thank you, God bless you, and may God continue to bless families and children everywhere.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Good Morning Guilt And Shame

Why do educated, liberated women wake up to television morning programs? 
Highly paid pundits fluctuating between grim and giggly in the course of fifteen seconds – is this the first thing I want in the morning?  Blizzards, flooding, death, despair, and destruction -- and it isn't even 7 am.  I have to avoid the top of the hour until at least noon.  That's where all of life's tragedy is.  It's too much for any of us to drink in. 
I start feeling hopeless before I even start.  Why must I wake up and learn all about the bad things that happened overnight while I blissfully slept with an eight year old’s knee in my kidney?
Thankfully, it's not all news.  Besides, I have this suspicion that the rest of the hour exists to make we women feel guilty.  I’ll admit I want this commentator’s life, complete with a makeup and hair person and someone who picks out my clothes and Spanx.
I’ll share another secret.  I have never had much fashion sense.  After many years of fighting and trying to convince people otherwise, I now accept this.  My sense of style dictates that sweatpants, sneakers, and a t-shirt reading “Where Are We Going And What Am I Doing In This Handbasket?” might be considered business casual, depending upon the business that you are in.  (I write from home.) 
Thus, a haute couture fashion show first thing in the morning by women as thin as pencils makes my ankles swell.  So much for those knee boots she’s wearing that are ‘back’ and ‘in’ this Spring.  If I bought those $5000 boots, my husband would have me buried in them.  My tombstone would read, “She died with her boots on.”  He’d see to that.
There is always a food segment, where something I’ve been doing since I was five years old with the women in my family is now considered ‘novel’ and ‘chic’.  Pie crust, for example.  Or noodles that you roll out and cut yourself.  Or using a leftover to chop up in a salad to save money.  Riveting.  No one has ever thought of doing any of this before.
The commentators gush at the food presenter before taking bites from the same plate and sometimes they use the same fork.  (This always makes me a little squeamish.) Generally, one of the commentators makes a big scene of taking the plate from the others, giggling while calling this her “breakfast.”  She then sets the plate down as another novelty is presented, like making your own from scratch soup. 
It is in this moment that I want to jump through the screen, grab her abandoned plate, and feed those skinny waifs from the fashion segment. 
But instead of exploding, I am haunted by a question.
How can two bites be ‘breakfast’?
Interestingly, the food segment is generally followed by the weight loss segment.  I’ll let you draw your own conclusions here.
Lest we become too depressed by the middle age spread, we get to hear all about how last evening, our leaders spotted the latest celebrity at the latest club in New York.  It was a divine night.  All the stars were out and wearing their favorite designers.  The drinks were divine, the uneaten food amazing, the dancing, the glitter and glamour. 
I’m usually matching long lost socks at this point, watching my daughter lick oatmeal from her forearm.  I run a comb through my hair and sit up a little straighter. 
The medical segment inevitably gives me hypochondria.  After learning about rapid-cycling bi-polar manic depression with episodes of attention deficit and seasonal effective disorders and how 300 million Americans suffer in silence, I decide to start a round of self-medication with Little Debbies and Diet Coke.  (Of course, this is only after my vitamin regimen rich in Omega-3 oils and antioxidants.  I strive to be heart healthy.)
There is always a segment on parenting.  The gist involves packaging your infant in bubble wrap until they are eleven, then letting them have whatever they want.   
Nothing is safe enough.  And no lengths are too long to go to make sure a child will never suffer.  Anything less is considered child abuse.  But then, at the magical moment of junior high, kids are to be completely free to explore their passions while you become a virtual ATM.
No wonder my girlfriends with kids all twitch a little.
Stupid questions are asked in this segment. 
“Should you monitor your child’s cell phone usage?”  Really?  I’ve actually considered bringing Peter Falk out of retirement for this very task. 
“When should girls shave their legs?”  Um, when the boy next door refers to her as Sasquatch? 
"Is there a perfect way to diaper?”  CYA.  Well, theirs, not yours.  Get the right bum, and that’s pretty much all there is to it.
Then there is the woman who spends $3.67 on $6000 worth of groceries a week.  They trot her out on the set as a hero.  I fluctuate between pity (this woman clearly needs a hobby beyond her ‘coupon caddy’) and green-eyed envy at her racket.  She only spends about twenty-six hours a week clipping coupons, and “it isn’t much of a bother at all.” 
My coupons are always stuffed into the bottom in my purse, used to catch some kid’s gum or even a stray booger in a pinch.  Again, I’m deflated.
Before I am completely undone, I notice that this woman’s ankles are a bit thick.  Even though with her $654,834.75 that she saved last year, the Jimmy Choo boots from the fashion segment (and she could afford them with her OCD penny pinching) do not allow for girth.  Trust me on this one.  Jimmy doesn’t understand cankles.  I brighten up a little.
So I’ve given them up, these morning wake up shows.  If there is traffic, I’ll know it when I get there.  If it’s going to snow, again, much like my ancestors before me, I will look up at the sky.  If my kids are texting Thailand in the name of education, we’ll figure that out when we go through their texts every night.  Yes, you read that right.  Texting at our house isn’t private until one pays one’s phone bill, and no one has yet signed up for that plan.
And, let’s face it, my thigh-high boots days are over.  Heck, who am I fooling?  They never existed.  Besides, they’d never go with my sweatpants.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Raising Modern-Day Connivers

“Mom?  Can you help me write a paragraph?”
I glance at the microwave clock.  “It’s 10:30 at night.  You should have been in bed an hour ago.”
“Dad let me stay up.”
“He did?”
“Yeah, he said it was because I had a lot of homework.”
“You had a lot of homework?  What were you doing kicking a soccer ball around earlier?”
“You weren’t around to help me.  You were busy, remember?”
“I don’t.”  I truly didn’t.  The afternoon was a blur. 
“You were.  Trust me, Mom.  You’ve seemed kind of tired lately.  Is everything okay?”
“I’m fine.  It’s…a lot of things, really.  Where’s your dad?”
“It’s really 10:30?”
“It’s okay, Mom.  Your mind wanders.”
“Good thing I have you.  What are you writing about?”
“The challenges of Athenian democracy for the citizen-initiator.”
“Let me guess?  It’s due tomorrow.”
“It was only assigned today.”
He’s lying.  “You’re lying.”
He concedes.  “A little.”
“Have you done any research?”
“No.  I figured you knew about it.  You studied this stuff once.”
“What do I look like?  Freakin’ Wikipedia?  Look it up.  Did you bring your textbook home?”
“Hunter has it.”
“Hunter?  Why does he have your textbook?”
“Because he didn’t bring his home.”
“So you gave him yours?”
“You’ve always taught me to share.”
I sigh.  “So why didn’t you look this Athenian thing up online this afternoon?”
“Dad was on the computer.”
“We have three.”
“Steven was doing his homework on his, and the girls were on the other one.”
“ The girls?  What were they doing?”
“Playing Zoo Tycoon.”
“Where was I?”
“You had a headache.  And then you took that phone call.”
“Homework trumps games.  You know that.”
“Oh, I know, but you told them to find something to do since it was raining outside.”
“It wasn’t raining!”
“Yes, it was.  You yelled at me to come in from outside because I was juggling the ball in the rain.”
“I did?”
“Yeah, you spent an hour getting the mud and grass stains out of my new jeans.  Are you okay?”
“I guess.  I don’t remember any of this.”
He pats me on the shoulder.  “Let’s just get to this paragraph and get you off to bed.”
“Right.  They study the Athenians in junior high school now?”
“School has come a long way since you were a kid.”
I pause.  “I don’t remember talking city-states until high school.”
“I’m in the advanced class.”
“So why do you need help writing a paragraph?”
“I need the help of a professional.  You always say if you are going to do something, do it right.”
“I say a lot of things.”
“And I am taking them to heart.”
“Clearly.  Well, as I remember it, Athenian democracy…”
“Do we have any leftovers?  I’m pretty hungry still.”
“You just had a bowl of cereal!” 
“I know, but you’re just not making enough dinner these days.  Better step it up.”
“What did I make for dinner?”
“We had that white bean pasta again…not that I’m complaining.  It’s good and all, but you’re not making enough.”
“Should I be screened for Alzheimer’s?”
“No, but you really need to do something with your mind.  Keep yourself sharp.  Like more reading.”
“I read plenty!”
“Sure, but just short blogs.”  He reaches into his backpack and pulls out a book entitled “The Classical Origins of Western Civilization.”
“This?  In junior high school?” 
He smiles at me warmly.  “I got it from the library.  Thought you would enjoy it.”
“There’s something in there about the beginnings of democracy.”
I flip through the book while he stirs chocolate syrup into a glass of milk.  “This is pretty fascinating.”
“Told you you’d like it.  Now, should we get down to that paragraph?”
I glance up at the microwave clock.  “It’s almost 11!  What are we doing?”
“Oh, hey, did I tell you that Hunter was telling me that his mom was talking about how great you look since you got your new haircut?”
“Hunter’s mom said that?”
“Yep.  Says it makes you look 25.”
“Well, bless her heart for saying that!”
“Right.  So what do you remember about the Athenians again?”
“Well, it’s right here in this book…”
“I think I need an eye exam.  I can barely see the board at school anymore.”
“Really?  Oh, my God!  You never said that before.”
“I know.  I didn’t want to bother you.”
“Well, here, let me read it to you.  ‘In the Greek city-state of Athens…”
He hands me and a notebook pen.  “Do you mind jotting down a few notes while you read?”
I beam at him.  “Not at all.  Did the milk help,  or are you still hungry?”
“A little.  I’m going to make a sandwich while you read.”
I sigh as he opens the refrigerator.  What did I do to raise such an independent kid?