Middle Aged Treehouse

I'm only mature in years.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Ice ice, baby

Thank God the Olympics are over. Ice skating events are ruining my marriage.

My fascination with Olympic skaters has been as bad for my love life than the flannel sock monkey pajamas. The minute I hear commentator Dick Button's smug tones ("Very unattractive free leg!") mixed with classical standards streaming over a PA system, I drop whatever I'm doing to park myself before the television, and I don't move until I see three tearful, sequined skaters standing on their plastic guards on a podium. (That's why it's been days since my last blog entry.) I can't get enough ice skating.

Is it a girl thing? I think so. The menfolk in the family only spent about five minutes taking in the ice events. That was the night the Russian chick in the white fringed pasties came out looking like she would have been more at home going around a pole than a rink. After a few lewd comments suggesting names for some of the more provocative skating moves, my son Beavis and my husband Butthead busied themselves with other manly things.

Every night this week has been pretty much the same. Sometime after 10p.m. David mutters a grumpy goodnight and wearily kisses me on the head while I remain transfixed by the bugle-beaded, lacquered ponytailed skaters. I adored the swan hand puppet outfit worn by lighter-than-air Johnny Weir, who I pray won't be jumped and beaten by some beefy hockey players for his arrogant prancing. I admire everything about these people: their mega-thighs, their blur spins, the sheer lycra fabric panels holding their Vera Wang costume pieces together.

I thought the events were over yesterday, but nooooo — tonight was the greatest event of all: a gala of champions with ALL the skaters showing off their strength and artistry without the competitive pressure of having to land a triple salchow/triple toe-loop-combination followed by a triple lutz. And all in a shimmering array of never-before-seen scanty costumes! And while my snoring husband — who I have scarely seen for nearly a week — sleeps, I catch up on another guilty pleasure, writing in this blog.

Time for goodnight. Let the other games begin!

Lady sings the blues, sort of

Sing like Billie Holliday!

It's easier than you think.

After giggling hysterically at a recording of writer David Sedaris doing an amazing imitation of Lady Day herself, I wondered just how tricky it might be to create such a sound. I mean, Ms. Holliday's vocal quality bears an uncanny resemblance to Grover on Sesame Street, if you listen very closely. So earlier tonight, while stuck in crawling traffic along I-35 on my rainy commute home, I had nothing better to do than try it, if only for my own amusement. After about ten minutes I figured out how to get my voice on a little spot just between the back of my throat and the nasal passages. It worked! I cracked myself up. I hadn't had so much vocal fun since taking Kate to an audition for The Miracle Worker.

A few years ago, Kate was asked to audition for the role of Helen Keller in a local college production. The deal breaker was being able to make young Helen's hideous, guttural, primal vocal sound. (Who'd have though landing the part of Helen Keller would require a kid to nail one syllable?)

"Arghhhhhhh!" said my talented child.

"Mmmm, not quite there, dear," the prim, bearded director told her. "More from the chest, I think. Lower, with more bass."

"Urggggggggggg," said Kate, like a tiny Frankenstein.

"Hmmm. Not quite what I'm thinking, but that's very good."

Actually, poor Kate lost this part not because she couldn't vocalize like a deaf girl, but because although she was petite at 12, there was a new pipsqueak in town. Sadly, Kate was too big. The actress who had already been cast as Anne Sullivan came into the audition for the stage combat portion of the tryout. This woman was barely five feet tall in heels. She and Kate were asked to recreate the famous breakfast table incident, in which Helen is forced to eat her overturned scrambled eggs from the floor while being restrained by her new teacher.

Director to Kate: "Give me a real effort, sweetheart. Feel free to give Anne a true struggle. Let's see some anguish, no holds barred. And go —"

Well, Kate must have taken this to heart because she gave that adult actress something of a — well, an ass whooping. The scene ended with "Anne Sullivan" screaming "Yeeeeeoowwwww!," blinking back tears and massaging her wrist.

"That was amazing," she told Kate through clenched teeth, "but I think you broke my arm."

Anyway, after hearing the words "Thank you" in that lilting tone actors hear that means "Not this time," Kate wasn't in the best of moods as we drove home. Even at the tender age of 12, she had auditioned enough to know how to handle rejection, but on this occasion she seemed especially annoyed. The car was quiet.

"Nnnnnnnnngh," I said to myself, eyeing the road.


"Nnnnnnnnngh. That's the sound Helen Keller makes. No vowels."

Kate's hands flew to her ears. "MOM! Oh my gosh, PLEASE stop making that sound!"

"It's kind of fun. Try it! Nnnnnghhhh..."


To this day, if I ever want to make myself laugh and give my daughter a raving fit, all I have to do is make The Helen Keller Sound and she will do anything to get me to stop.

So tonight when I tried out my new Billie Holliday voice, the reaction was much the same.

"Straaaaange fruit...mmm mmm..."

"OH MY GOD, MOMMMMMM! That's even worse than your stupid Helen Keller sound!"

Who says it's hard to get a teenager's attention?

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Mouth of babes

Today I helped with the 3-year-old Sunday School class at our church. The only reason I did this was that my teenaged daughter — who adores and is adored by toddlers— wanted to help out and went to the head lady of the program. They allowed her to assist a teacher under the condition that I help too. So this morning Kate decided to skip her third-Sunday-of-the-month service obligation to attend her own youth group. Fine. I can handle a bunch of tiny hooligans, having had two of my own.

What my church calls "Sunday School" for this age group is actually a small, temporary penitentiary for a group of squirming little boys too spirited to sit nicely through a worship service. I suspect the main motivation for church attendance for the parents of these little twerps is to get a single hour's peace away from them. The wild card among them, the king of the tiny turds, is an exhausting child named Joshua.

Joshua is obviously very bright, but commands a huge amount of negative attention. After an hour that included breaking up several of Joshua's fights, wiping Joshua's dripping nose, arranging a little intervention with Joshua's parents who had to be summoned, diverting attention from Joshua's mantra, "tee-tee-poop-poop-butt-fart-fart-fart" and finally, pretending not to notice Joshua pleasuring himself on the corner of the Little Tykes work bench in a trance Paul Feig would call "the rope feeling," Joshua joined the little prayer circle on the floor. Five minutes before the end of class, after running out of victims to bully and finding no new audiences for his PG-13 material, he plopped into my lap to pray.

He squeezed his eyes closed and clasped his grubby little hands together.

"Dear Jesus, " he whined in a voice full of sweetness.

Aw, I thought. He leaned his head of curls against my sweater.

"Dear Jesus," he went on, "Pleeeeze help my sister Hannah."

How could it be that the little deliquent was so altruistic?

"Please help Hannah as she battles... the bad bugs... in her hair."


Now it's my turn to pray.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Pants on fire

Here is a little rant I threw this morning after a very uncharactistic night where I had over eight hours of sleep. (Trust me, it was an accident — I am a dyed-in-the-wool night owl and an avowed piddler.) The long winter's nap combined with my daily dose of caffeine and sugar fueled an energetic hissy fit at my office where I threw down today's newpaper in a snit. Over this (and I apologize if I seem high-handed here):

Radio Shack's CEO is under legal investigation for falsifying information on his resume. Dave Edmondson has been quoted as saying there were "clearly some misstatements" on his curriculum vitae. It seems he didn't get that degree he claimed to have received. In fact, he wasn't even close. In fact, the college didn't even offer the degree he "misstated" having. In fact, records show he was only at the college for less than a year.

Hmmm. I guess he was "mis-hired" and "mis-promoted."

Having spent a good portion of my adult life in the advertising business, I am no stranger to euphemisms. I have fluffed and puffed with the best of them. But let's call this "misstatement" what it is. A pre-schooler would call it a "story" or a "fib." But anyone over the age of five knows exactly what it is.

A lie. Plain and simple.

Or as my Georgia mama would say, "an out-and-out lie." A bald-faced lie. A blatant lie. Not a gross exaggeration. Or an embellishment.

As someone who works at a college, has a college degree, waited patiently for her future husband to finish college (another blog to come later, involving eight — count 'em — eight years of fraternity parties) and is faced with getting two children into college and will undoubtedly spend the next decade paying for college, I was just a little peeved at hearing that the head of a Fortune 500 company decided to just give himself a degree by sitting at a typewriter and creating a convincing work of fiction.

But the moral of this story, I suppose, is that if you're going to cross that line, eventually it's gonna come out. Just look at Martha Stewart.

Time wounds all heals. It's Karma. Kismet. JuJu.

I don't think Radio Shack should fire Mr. Edmondson.

But I think he would make a nice addition to their mailroom.

I'm not saying I've never told a lie. I have spared the tender feelings of many the mother of an ugly baby by oohing and aahing convincingly over their little squinty, blotchy, asymetrical-headed, simian-like offspring. I mean, that's the gentle sort of lie — the not-saying-what-you-really-think type of thing. But I pretty much gave up big full-out fabrications when I couldn't trick my mom into believing I hadn't eaten a corn dog and jelly donut for lunch in the junior high cafeteria.

So grow up, Mr. Ed. And own up.

And for heaven's sake, find a better word.

Monday, February 13, 2006

My foodie hubby

Since Dave started spending his evenings with Rachael Ray and Emeril Lagasse, our mainstay dinner menus have definitely taken a turn for the more exotic. Tonight Dave put carmelized Vidalia onions sauteed in butter in the Three-Cheese Hamburger Helper.

It was quite good. I'm not normally such a fan of Hamburglar Helper. I think all the flavor varieties taste exactly the same with that salty, powdered sauce that's a cross between orange and grey. But thanks to Chef Daveed, I may become a convert. I liked this version much better than the HH Beef Stroganoff with Fennel.

Going postal

I recently discovered I have something in common with one of my dear friends, Monette.

We are both stamp nerds.

Our husbands have been best friends since college, and Mo and I go back together well over 15 years. Upon discovering our shared obsession with philately, we howled with mirth, nodding our heads in understanding. We shrieked, we pointed at one another, and red wine sprayed from our laughing lips while our husbands stared us as though we were aliens.

"Do you wait in line and ask to see "the book?" I asked Mo, who is possibly the most detail-oriented human being I have ever known. (Mo is a petite and polished human resource expert in the banking industry. Her job is to go into firms who are "outsourcing" and lay the cards on the table for the unfortuate souls getting the axe. I have nicknamed Mo "the Prim Reaper.")

"Oh my gosh, yes!" Mo responded, knocking over her nine dollar glass of wine. I hadn't seen her this excited since the fourth season of Will and Grace was issued on DVD.

This realization leads to a spirited twenty-minute discussion of the joy we take in waiting in line at the post office (that right there should tell you we have a problem), and asking the clerk to show the book of new stamp designs. When the postal worker pulls the big flip book with plastic pages of gleaming stamp samples from behind the counter, I might as well be choosing diamond solitaires at Tiffany's, the way I ooh and aah as the pages are turned for me. Even when I know that standing behind me there are a dozen semi-pissed off people holding heavy packages, I'm sorry — I gotta see those stamps. ALL the pretty stamps!

Having been to a design conference where I met a lovely gentleman from California who is a graphic designer for the US Postal Service, I really linger over the designs now. I take an extra moment to appreciate the beauty of each tiny work of art, wondering if Carl may have created it.

"Is this one self-adhesive?" I'll ask. If the stamp is really lovely, I'll take the chance on paper-cutting my tongue and not think about that nasty, faux-mint flavored glue. Behind me, I know my package-holding haters are thinking, "Geez lady, stamps are stamps. Who gives a *bleep*? Why can't you use the vending machine stamps like everyone else? What's wrong with the good old American flag?"

Mo and decide that most of the world just doesn't understand the joy of finding the perfect stamp. Each of us can recall our personal favorites. Like the oversized lacemaking stamp I placed next to the traditional engraving of artist Mary Cassatt on my wedding invitations in 1988. I can't tell you the name of my wedding planner, but I could draw you a picture of those stamps. Or the Grant Wood painting for "Iowa" that sits in my drawer at work. It was so pretty, I just could't bear to use the last one. Of course, I'm not a serious stamp person, with books and first-issues and such. I just take a little time to admire and choose the little gems when I can.

"Do you hand pick which version of the stamp design you think would be most appreciated by the recipient?" I asked my friend.

"Every time," Mo assured me. "By the way, nice one on the Christmas card. It was my favorite of the four background colors."

"Thanks, honey, I loved yours too. The new Madonna was gorgeous this year."

I don't even mind when the postage rates go up. It means a whole new batch of designs, as exciting to me as the Paris fashions are to the fashionista.

It's probably only fitting that I have this thing for stamps, as I also am equally picky about the handwriting on the envelope. But that quirk is a whole other blog.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

My dog is smarter than, well, just about anything

I love our three dogs as though they are children, although owning them means a commitment to at least a decade of buying Febreze, deodorizing candles, antibacterial products of every format and about 2.3 extra hours of cleaning per week. Every few days, Dave and I can sweep or vacuum enough dog hair to create a wad roughly the size of a small dog. It also means that our vintage Ralph Lauren rug has had to be hosed down and machine washed twice in the past five days due to substances dispelled from each and every orifice of Sean Connery, our red border collie.

Despite his uber-sensitive, frequently backfiring digestive system, Sean is the family sweetheart, and bright in that kind of weird, quirky way typical of Border Collies. Sean is our listening dog. Every moment he is awake, his ears constantly swivel and pivot as though he is trying to pick up satellite signals from space. And he can spell. Sean lives for his twice-daily feedings, and is constantly tuned to hear anything resembling the happy sounds of "Who's hungry?," "Have the dogs been fed?,"or "Jack, did you F-E-E-D the D-O-Gs?" We can no longer casually utter ANY words that include the phonetic "ef" without Sean flying to the kitchen where he tap dances at his bowl, his tail swinging furiously while his licks his lips. If the food doesn't come right away, a puddle of drool will form at his feet, dripping from the cutest, most hopeful face you ever saw on a canine.

While I busy myself collecting the dog bowls to fill with expensive kibble, Sean's herding instincts kick in and he forms 1-3 large, perfect circles in our small kitchen, requiring him to trot under tables and chairs to maintain the neat roundness of the circle. We refer to these as his "Psycho-Circles" and out of respect for Sean's finely tuned mental state, the kids try to keep their backpacks and shoes clear from the path of this daily ritual. Usually Sean is satisfied with only one perfect loop, but on particularly stressful or hungry days, he makes up to three of the magic circles that he thinks will keep me on my feeding task.

Precisely half an hour after the meal (gobbled down in several huge, choking bites) Sean will tell me he must go outside by staring at me, then swiveling his head abruptly toward the door, as if to say, "Look, you inferior human, over THERE; the door, you idiot!" If this doesn't work right away, he adds a musical whine, much like the one Lassie used to do in the old TV series, when telling little Timmie that someone had fallen down a ravine and was lying unconscious in the dirt, with a rattlesnake coiled just inches away.

Anyhow, on the downside of living with such a crazy-brilliant animal, we've had to hide an extra key outside the house because Sean can work the dead bolt with his paw. He's locked us out three times.

If Sean had opposable thumbs, we might let him so take the SAT for Kate. But alas, he is a savant. Why can't he figure out that we don't enjoy his relieving himself on the Ralph Lauren rug?

Thursday, February 09, 2006

What people with ADD think about at the symphony

Tonight I took Jack and his best buddy Michael to a fantastic concert that forever sealed us in the Official Book of Nerds. The Music of Star Wars, complete with dancing Storm Troopers. A wonderful time.

I adore watching a live orchestra. Especially when so many of the musicians are so deadpan. My thoughts wander to so many things, like:

Wow. Look at all the variations of wood colors in the cellos. I like the reddish brown one best.

Who dusts way up there?

Are these light effects sequenced by computer, or are there some fleet-footed janitors madly running around flipping switches in the back room?

Is that a man or a woman? So hard to tell when everyone wears pants. Okay, now I see the huge earring. Well, still not sure.

Do these guys look down upon playing for the Pops series patrons? Do they feel like they're "slumming it?"

What kind of vehicle must you have to transport a bass or a harp?

200 years from now, will someone play the music of John Williams and introduce the show with "And here are some lovely pieces created for something called FILM?"

Wouldn't it be cool if I could play that little triangle as a guest artist?

I love live music. So much to think about!

Hole in the tent

(Warning: this post contains sad stuff.)

My mom just called me at my office. She had no one to talk to because my dad is playing golf.

Over the past several weeks, Mom has undergone three surgeries for breast cancer. (God, I hate even typing that word. I'm like the character in the film Annie Hall that always whispers the name of ailments too horrible to say out loud.)

Anyway, the news is not good. Eight lymph nodes removed, all of them cancerous. Mom is more than a little freaked out and I'm writing this so that I can maintain my composure at my desk.

When people talk about a loss, they often liken it to a hole, or a void, or an empty space. I feel like there's a hole in my tent.

When I first learned of my mom's testing, I was driving home from work and I put my mind in neutral. I got a flashback of the summer I was nine years old, away at Girl Scout camp.

At camp, I loved the musty smell of the huge canvas tents we stayed in, huge shelters that became a cozy dormitory for eight little girls ready for the adventures of a four day sleepover. The canvas of the tent was so thick and heavy, it could hardly even be called fabric, designed to stave off whatever the extreme Texas weather could dish out. But the tents came with a warning issued by the leaders: Resist the urge to scratch the rough canvas with your poking little fidgety fingernails or you could make a hole. A horrid little hole that would compromise the integrity of the entire structure. Yes, one little hole followed by one good rain and you and your bunkmates would be in a world of trouble, because that huge waterlogged tent would come crashing down on the heads of any girls who made even the tiniest hole in the fabric.

So now I feel like my family has the dreaded little hole in our tent. And it just got bigger. It started out as a tiny pinprick, but the potential for devastation too huge to imagine is there, and we're all just holding our breath and waiting for it. And I just want the hole to get patched up so we can all get to back to having fun.

And I am praying that it's not going to rain.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Ah, youth

Kate is packing to go on an overnight choir trip. This created some raised eyebrows from her father and some questions about chaperones. "Oh, stop that, Dave," I scolded. "Not every boy these days is like you were in high school." Kate's boyfriend will also be going on this choir trip and I am convinced this fine young man is a perfect gentleman. I can't say the same for my testosterone charged, still-acts-like-an-adolescent hubby whose younger days were like a slightly more hillbilly version of Summer of '42, I'm sure.

I started thinking about my own high school days. The first experience that springs to mind is a Lutheran church retreat for middle and high schoolers in which (1) the pastor's son smoked an entire box of cigars while rowing a boat, lost an oar and became violently ill as the boat made small circles, and (2) a "snipe hunt" that involved a great deal of inappropriate groping in the bushes.

Just what was it about church-related activities and naughty teenage behavior?

I won't even go into what went on during a Young Life ski trip bus ride across three states. But these rites of passage weren't isolated to just my classmates. My friend Carol went pale at the mere mention of the phrase "Young Life Ski Trip" and emphatically swore (with a sly smile, nonetheless) that her daughter would "NEVER be going on one of those," based on her own similar experiences.

Kate peered over my shoulder as I was typing this. She gave a disgusted laugh.

"Ewwww, Mom! That was the sleazy 70s!"

Were we really sleazier? I don't know. You can't change the past, but you can look back on it with a mix of nostalgia, wonderment and revulsion. I'm finding you're never too old to outgrow the classically useful phrases, "Ewww" and "Whatever."

And the universal threats to our own kids that they'd BETTER NOT be up to the things we used to do!

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Actual conversation, 6:11 p.m.

Jack: Mom, I've been thinking, and I've decided to limit the number of hours I watch TV.

Me: Really? Wow. To how many?

Jack: Seven.

Me: Seven... a day? Or a week?

Jack: No, 7p.m.

Me: What about 7p.m.?

Jack: I won't watch any TV after 7p.m.

Me: Wow, Jack. That's very mature of you. Does this have anything to do with that lecture I gave you the other night?

Jack: No. Well, maybe a little. That and there's nothing good after the Simpsons.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Wicked web

“Oh what a tangled web we weave, When first we practice to deceive.” — Sir Walter Scott

“Oh what a tangled web we weave, When first we practice to deceive.
And so, my friends, it seems the fact is, all of us could use more practice." — perhaps Odgen Nash or Dorothy Parker, I don't know

(Note: this post is a sequel. For the full effect, read the post below first.)

My mom can sniff out deceit faster than a pig rooting for truffles.

Not 24 hours had passed from the moment my son Jack committed his musical fender bender on the very lovely trumpet my parents gave him for his twelfth birthday before my mother called an impromptu musical family reunion. Every now and then my mom likes to pretend her offspring are the Cowsills or the Partridge family. This is usually fueled by visits from my airline pilot brother, who is a drummer in a band when he's not inconvenienced by having to fly planes.

"Your brother's in town for only one night! We're re-stringing your dad's guitar. I'm calling from the music store right now. Tell Kate to bring her guitar and Jack to bring his trumpet! We want to hear the solo he played today."

"Uhhhh, okay, Mom, I'll see if we have room for all that. Um, Jack may be trumpeted out for one day."

"Just bring it. I promised your brother that Jack would play for him. Go pack it right now."

I swear, this was no coincidence. I know in my bones that some radar inside my mom was going off, "Alert! Alert! Have you checked that expensive trumpet you bought for your grandson lately? Something's going on and you need to know about it!"

I wearily packed the crumpled trumpet for the trip to Mom's. There was no use trying to come up with anything other than the horrible truth.

When I was in junior high, Mom would ask me what I had for lunch that day. As casually as possible, I'd say, "Oh, breaded veal cutlet, mashed potatoes, fruit cup and let's see...one of those mellorine bar things."

"Tracy, don't lie to your mother. You had a corn dog and a raspberry jelly roll. And two Dr. Peppers!"

How did she always know? And why did she only ask me on the days I ate the crappy stuff? Thirty five years later, I'm still terrified of her Truth-Seeking-Radar.

My mom loves to spend great gobs of money on my children. She also loves to remind me of that fact. ("Is Kate wearing that sweater I BOUGHT HER?") After the lengthy hoo-hah my folks went through in order to acquire the perfect trumpet for Jack— phone calls to music stores all over the country and finally their frenzied involvement in various Ebay auctions, I could not bear to think of their reaction when they discovered what had become of Jack's horn.

"Did you bring the trumpet?" Mom demanded shortly after I arrived at her house.

"Uh, yeah, I think so."

"Well, don't you know? Who packed it, you or Jack?"

"I think I did."

"Well, then, go get it! Your brother wants to see it!"

"Uhhh, Mom, about Jack's trumpet. I don't want to bring it out; I don't want Jack to be upset. Yesterday he put a dent in it and he feels so lousy about it, he was crying like crazy. Even though it plays fine, I've got to take it to be repaired. I don't want him to see you looking at it; he just feels terrible. You understand."

"Oh, okay. That poor baby! But I wouldn't have been mad!" (Oh yeah? Now who's fibbing, Mom?)

Shoot. I meant to ask her not to tell Dad.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Horn of plenty

Most of the time, I consider myself to be an excellent mother. But for those times when I'm consumed with guilt at my demanding nature and bad temper, I come here to blog and cool off. (Hmmm. This is the second time this week, and this blog's only a few days old!)

Jack has been practicing for several weeks for his trumpet solo in a UIL competition tomorrow. We've paid the fees, had him practice with the freelance piano accompanist, made a special trip to the music store for a new book, and marked the measures, as required, in faint pencil. We've even picked out his clothes.

When I say Jack has practiced, I use that term loosely. In fact, seventh grader Jack doesn't mind a LITTLE practice as long as it doesn't interfere with his regimen of watching television, playing PS2, or building with Legos. Which is fine. Jack enjoys the social aspects of middle school band but has made it pretty clear that he's not planning on becoming the next Chris Botti. Dave and I encourage him to practice, but exhange amused looks when he gets to the hard part of a song and decides he needs one more drink of water or that his toothbrush is suddenly calling him.

This week was expecially tough for my son. He seemed to dread playing his music much more than usual. I bought and learned the piano accompaniment to his song, offering to play with him for fun and practice, but that just seemed to add to his stress. As he got closer each day to playing for a judge, he became more tense and played even more poorly than the day before. I decided not to push him. But tonight I finally I had to tell him the time had come, he was simply going to have to work through the wobbly sounding middle section of the song.

From Jack's bedroom I heard this pattern no less than twenty times: Start/Squeak/Stop/Groan/Repeat. Finally, after a small spell of silence, I went into to check on him. What I saw made me physically sick and what I said to my son was pretty toxic as well.

The bell of Jack's beautiful Bach Stradivarious trumpet was crumpled, twisted and squashed into a hideous oval shape. I could not imagine how this had happened. Hot tears starting shooting out of Jack's eyes and two stalactites of snot dribbled over his fuzzy upper lip.

"It. Was. An. Accident," his voice cracked. "I. Just. DroppedItOnTheCarpet."

"ACCIDENT???" I shrieked, my jaw limp and hanging. "You just happened to pick twelve hours before UIL to have an accident?

I'm ashamed to say, I turned into Lee Ermey sometime during this part of the conversation.


For a minute, I didn't care that Jack was choking on his own sobs. I launched into a long speech about preparedness and maturity and commitment and carelessness, and I'm not competely sure what I said, except I'm certain my face was pink and distorted, and I do remember mentioning something about "getting off your ass" and "not watching marathons on Cartoon Network."

Then I felt so terrible for my stressed-out, sobbing little man-boy, I would have done anything to make him feel better. Once I was over my shock and horror at the disfigured trumpet, my speech took a turn along the lines of (1) It's only a thing; things aren't as important as people, (2) You are a great kid and a blessing and my greatest love, (3) I'm sure we can get it fixed somehow (gulp).

I sent Jack to the shower and told him to read until bedtime. We decided to get a fresh start in the morning and if his practicing didn't sound performance-ready, we would bow out of UIL this year. He seemed relieved at having options but said in a small voice that he wanted to try to make the competition. He stopped sniffling when I showed him seemingly miraculous before-and-after internet photos of repairs made to a mangled trumpet.

According to the trumpet repair websites I Googled, restoring the trumpet and renting a temporary new one is going to set us back about 400 bucks. About ten months of Jack's allowance, if we go that route. With some luck, we can get it looking normal again. But I think Jack will remember the night his mom turned into The Great Santini for a long time.

— Postscript to this story: On Saturday morning, Jack had the best practice session of his life and played beautifully for the judge, dents and all. I've got my happy guy back again.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Gimme some sugar

About a week ago I discovered two half-full boxes of a cereal called Smorz (apparently hip hop culture has changed even the way we name our breakfast foods; I'm sure the next thing is "Lucky CharmZ, Biatches!" ) in the cupboard. The boxes were identical except for my children's names scrawled across each in my husband's distinctively slanty capital letters and poor use of Sharpie pen.

"Has it come to this? Didn't they learn to share in kindergarten?" I asked David. Our children are 12 and 15 years old.

"I know, but it's the only way to break up the fights. I can't keep this stuff in the house!" My darling hubby does not mind going to the grocery store. In fact, Dave has recently become something of a born again "foodie" and prides himself on bringing exciting new items home from the store when he's not drinking red wine with his new TV buddies Emeril LaGasse and that damn perky Rachael Ray. (That is another story.)

Smorz describes itself on the box as such: "CRUNCHY GRAHAM CEREAL WRAPPED IN RICH CHOCOLATEY COATING WITH MARSHMALLOWS." Wow. What's not to like? I had to try it.

Admittedly, I have had a terrible sweet tooth my entire life. As an adult, I have eaten Easter Peeps for breakfast, chased with bacon and sweetened coffee. I can eat the icing and leave the cake. Pralines, Eagle Brand in a can, those sugary fruit slices that come in four colors — all have a special place in my heart. Just last week when out to lunch with our new associate, Mark, I became aware that not everyone pre-orders their coconut pie before their sandwich order out of fear the deli's supply will run out, eyeing the waitress suspiciously to make sure she really does reserve that slice of pie. But I sure do.

As a kid in the sixties, we didn't have the kind of indulgent mega-marketing treats my kids have access to now. Back in the day, Oreos were the king of the cookie but they only came in one basic format. With the help of a spoon and a trash can, I invented my own version of Double Stuf Oreos decades before someone at Nabisco decided maybe the concept wouldn't be too grotesque to present to a marketing focus group.

So when I tasted my first bowl of Smorz, I realized that at last, one of my childhood fantasies had come true. At last someone had created a cereal like tasted just like the marshmallow bits in Lucky Charms without the dry, tasteless, beige oat kibble. Sweet!

As kids, my brother and I would always eat only the crunchy, colored marshmallow bits out of the Lucky Charms, causing my mom to threaten never to buy them again until my brother and I would finally wear her down on the next shopping trip. I never understood why the folks at General Mills didn't just make an all-marshmallow bit cereal. Maybe because then the "charms" wouldn't be special. Maybe because 1960s parents wouldn't tolerate such a hedonistic, tooth-rotting product. Obviously, it would take another generation before consumers would start to feel like too much of a bad thing wasn't such a bad thing.

Yes, Smorz are sweet indeed. Where's my Sharpie pen?

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Monkeys are ruining my marriage

Sock monkeys, actually. Dozens of them artfully replicated on aqua flannel pajamas from Target.

For anyone not familiar with sock monkeys, they are hand-crafted folk art toys made from a pair of red heeled work socks. When pieced together, one red heel supplies a pair of huge lips, and the other creates a charmingly vulgar red bum. I still have the one my grandmother made for my father in the 1930s. Just last year I passed the torch to my daughter when we made several of them together using red heeled socks now found only on the internet. Kind of a cracker trash rite of passage.

Anyway, these Nick and Nora pajamas stopped me in my tracks back in October when my daughter and I were shopping. Now I have been obsessed with kitsch from an early age, so when I saw this rack of hilariously tacky flannel sleepwear, my heart soared. Besides the sock monkey pattern, good old Target offered several designs of interest: royal blue with a snow dome pattern (Double hooray for this design, as I have amassed well over 200 tacky plastic souvenir snow domes since 1986 — so this was of particular attraction), a yard gnome pattern, and a really eye-catching presentation of pink flamingos and airstream trailers. It was difficult to choose; of course I wanted them all, but, not one to be greedy, I finally settled on the sock monkeys and snow domes. I hinted to Kate that I would love to have them as a Christmas present. Well, actually, I demanded she allow me to buy them and hide them in her room until Christmas, "to help your dad out with the shopping." She complied, knowing we had hit the mother lode of gifts for her mother of unique tastes. "We'd better get these NOW," I emphasized, shoving them into Kate's basket,"They're sure to be gone if we wait."

Four months later the entire rack of comical pajamas still remains at Target, reduced for clearance. I guess few people share my affection for comfort and whimsy.

At the close of a harried day, nothing makes me happier than to slip into my soft, oversized brushed flannel PJs covered with merry little sock monkeys. The pictures are charming and varied: there are sock monkeys driving cars, sock monkeys bowling, sock monkeys watching television, sock monkeys reclining in hammocks, and — my favorite — a sock monkey slipping on a banana peel.

When I blissfully crawl into bed, my husband usually takes one look at the pajamas and makes a slightly pained face — like he smells something bad but is trying to hide his reaction — to be followed by a heavy sigh. It's simply not possible to find me alluring in my beloved monkey PJs.

Beauty is in the eye of the comfy. Hmmph, I think. Love me, love my monkeys.

But he cannot. So I must find a compromise.

I wonder if Target will ever issue a silky black nightie emblazoned with tiny sock monkeys or snow domes. Judging by the clearance rack, it seems doubtful.