Middle Aged Treehouse

I'm only mature in years.

Saturday, April 29, 2006

More stuff I like

For my devoted reading audience of three, these are a few of my newish favorite things (no warm woolen mittens or brown paper packages tied up with string):

Crystal Stick deodorant. My brother turned me on to this one. His darling hippie-chick girlfriend Adrienne (they are a perfect couple; he is an airline pilot, she is a bartender) recommended it. The Crystal, as we who are in the know call it, comes in lump or stick form but out here in the burbs, stick is the way we find it in the grocery or beauty supply stores. This thing looks like a tubular hunk of quartz, and David made me feel like a gullible marketing sucker when he explained to me that it's obviously factory-created and formed to look that way, as I thought perhaps it was mined from a quarry and sculpted just for me. Anyway, to use the Crystal stick you have to wet it slightly (no Lord of the Rings magic here, Jack discovered) and apply. Jack was the test subject. I figured any product that could work on a kid with a tendency to smell like a basket of onion rings left out in the sun would have my vote. When Onion Ring Boy became daisy fresh overnight, a Crystal appeared in every family member's cabinet. The only down side is that the rock-like form of Crystal makes it weigh considerably more than its competitors, so if you pack for a trip, it does feel like you stuck a rock in your overnight bag.

My other new favorite product is Gold Bond Ultimate Healing Lotion. I don't know why they even call it lotion, it's so thick you have you coax it out its bottle in lard-like, almost solid form. Since every trace of collagen my body once had has flown the coop, this stuff is a daily must!

Musical Postscript -- Kate and I love The Weepies. Their gentle folk harmonies are kind to the ear on a daily commute, and I just like to say their name.

You heard it here, folks. We'll return to Tracy's musings when we come back.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Found: my new favorite cyberspot

Go to www.foundmagazine.com and be entertained. I especially like the piece that started it all, the "Mario" note. (Siobhan, I think this will be right up your alley.)

I have a new favorite music diversion as well: the Ditty Bops. Cute tunes for those dreary days when the show tunes have worn thin.

More to come.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Winning isn't everything, but it sure is fun

I am so mad at our local paper. They have made me a loser. A loser!

I was a loser in the Star Telegram's "Beaster Bonnet" contest. Readers were asked to send in cute photos of their pets wearing homemade Easter hats. Well, all rightey. I was certain that my design/photo skills combined with my extra adorable dogs would make me a shoo-in for selection. In fact, it probably shouldn't be fair that I even enter, being a professional art person and all.

But of course I would enter.

Saturday afternoon found me picking through acres and acres of chenille chicks and silk flowers at the local Hobby Lobby. After spending about 25 bucks and an hour of hot-gluing half the gross national product of China to my custom built dog-sized caps I was ready to shoot. Allie was more than willing to model, and even though Charlie looked like he was humiliated beyond belief, he didn't move when I crowned him with his silly hat.

Using the trusty Nikon digital SLR I got for Christmas, I snapped a few dozen images, winnowed them down to four, PhotoShopped, cropped and sized until I had what I thought was the perfect folio of cuteness and cleverness. I proudly emailed my entries a full three days before the deadline, and then shared them electronically with friends and coworkers so that when Easter morning arrived, they would all open their papers and exclaim, "Look! That's Tracy's dog!" or, "Oh my gosh, aren't both of these Tracy's dogs? I don't know which is cuter! And just look at those hats!"

Why did this matter to me? There wasn't even a prize offered. Why would a 47-year-old person with a busy, full life get up at sunrise on Easter morning and run out to fetch the newspaper as though it were a basket of cash left by the Big Bunny himself?

Hey, I thought as I flipped the colored pages, which contained several dozen photos of animals in hats. Where are my photos? Where are my precious pets in clever hats? What could have happened? Okay, some of these are cute. For amateurs. This one's not that great. Yuck, too much flash on this one. Oh, jeez, the dog is so black, there's no detail. Hmmm. Mine. Aren't. In. Here. Damn. I dejectedly went back to bad, scowling at the now-useless canine chapeau on the dresser.

Later, over coffee, Dave laughed warmly over the cover winner, a bug-eyed chihuahua in a mini Minnie Pearl number. "Awww! Did you see this? he asked.

"Yeah, I saw it," I growled, downing my coffee in one violent gulp like a frat boy with 50-cent beer. "A chihuahua is such a cheap laugh."

Dave either pretended not to know I was surly or wasn't concerned.

"Hey, Kate! my traitor husband yelled cheerily to our sleepy daughter. "You gotta see some of these pictures!"He was chortling. Chortling!

How could he flaunt his enjoyment so brazenly? How could my own spouse be so cavalier about my defeat?

My darling hubby and I have a great many things in common, but not this: I married the nicest, most laid back guy on the planet. Dave has the rare ability to play a game just for the enjoyment and fellowship. He doesn't enter contests from magazines, newspapers or the radio. He has no need to one-up anyone, or prove himself to anyone else. He has no need to be famous or call any attention to himself.

I, on the other hand, love to enter and love to win. The phrase, "Many will enter, few will win," isn't daunting to me at all. I'm in.

I readily admit that I'm competitive. Which sadly extends to that toxic byproduct of competiveness, being a Bad Sport. There, I said it.

But I'm working on it. I really am. When I have more time I'll post the story of why Dave and I have never been invited back to play Trivial Pursuit at a certain couple's home.

But for right now, I'd like to get some mileage out of my recent competitive efforts. I'm just looking for a bit of love. So please humor me when I post my LOSING photos!

Sunday, April 16, 2006

The writing on the wall, and other places

It must have been obvious to my parents by the time I was in second grade that I was destined to become a graphic designer. I emphatically asked my mother to please NOT write my name on my paper lunch sacks any longer.

I privately cringed whenever I viewed my mom's slanted scrawl. Proud of my own newfound meticulous penmanship, I hated the way Mom would hastily scratch out my name with a cheap 19 cent Bic blue ballpoint and then go over each letter several times in a feeble attempt to create a heavier line (juicy, evocative Sharpies were not household items in those days). Sure, I was an overly precocious child, but I remember thinking that a Rhesus monkey had a better hand that my mother. What had happened? My grandmother and great aunts had beautiful handwriting; swirling, fanciful curliques and swooping, parallel, ordered letters graced their postcards and the family bibles. Mom's sub-par handwriting wasn't a problem as far as she was concerned, but her smart-ass little seven-year-old was, so she shrugged and continued to torment me with her tiny, bent letters, beating me to the chance to personalize my thermos, Girl Scout sit-upon, and dance shoe bag.

Over the years, Mom would finally admit that when it came to good looking penmanship, she was sorely lacking, so she would ask my neat-nic dad or me to put the finishing touch on notes or inscriptions of importance to the family.

It's been at least forty years since I informed my mother of my wish to personalize items in my own hand. Today was Easter Sunday, and as tradition dictated, my family gathered around my mom's huge formal dinner table for the annual holiday feast. But this year was very different; this would be the first family holiday dinner since Mom's cancer diagnosis just after Christmas.

What Mom lacks in handwriting talent she more than makes up for with her amazing culinary gifts. Even wracked with fatique and nausea from chemotherapy, she managed to put together an only slightly abbreviated version of one of her usual holiday food extravaganzas: Honey ham with pecan praline mustard sauce; chilled asparagus with sea salt, sesame and hollandaise; curried deviled eggs; scalloped potatoes; buttered, grilled sourdough; and various stuffings, vegetables, salads and desserts. We had all begged Mom not to trouble herself, but she was insistant. Looking more gaunt and worn than I have ever seen her, she feebly managed to get through dinner, nibbling not more than two bites of food. Chemotherapy has robbed her of so much more than her hair, her pink cheeks and energy. She can no longer stand the smell or taste of anything edible, the cruelest blow imaginable to a woman who takes such joy in creating extraordinary meals for the people she loves. As I helped her stir the sauces, my heart broke to see her season and taste one of her trademark dishes and then discreetly spit it out into the kitchen sink.

To lift everyone's spirits after dinner we decided to watch old Easter videos of the kids, both now teenagers and too old to do anything involving Easter eggs. Mom slumped in her chair while we laughed and wiped our eyes watching year after year of Kate and Jack in their pastel colored sissy suits taunting each other in competitive egg hunting.

As I packed up our things to return home, I saw the envelope to Jack's birthday card (he turned thirteen yesterday), left behind on the counter. I studied my mother's shaky writing, still done in cheap ballpoint: Jack's name, in wobbly cursive, surounded by two poorly placed, childish hearts. I stared at the envelope for a moment before putting the treasure in my purse to be enjoyed later.

Mom's writing has never looked so beautiful.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

It's a dog's life. For us, anyway.

Yesterday my beautiful neighbor Tina dropped by to inquire about Kate doing some summer babysitting for her two beautiful children, beautifully named Peyton and Miles. (Peyton's the girl. I am not making these names up.)

Because we have three very excitable dogs, my normal method of answering the front door is much like the mustachioed Emerald City doorman in the film version of The Wizard of Oz. The one who screeches, "Who rang that bell?" I open the door just enough to accommodate the upper portion of my face, while using one hand and one foot to keep the frenzy of furiously barking canines at bay. Since Tina is a bona fide "dog person" — the owner of one very large Chesapeake Bay retriever, she is granted admittance to the dogs' frenzied "hello dance" involving plenty of leaping up/getting underfoot/crotch sniffing. I kick, pull and restrain wriggling dog bodies from my guest and usher her to the tattered couch surrounded by swirling eddies of multi-colored dog hair. After a few minutes the dogs finally settle down from their greeting ritual.

Whew, I think, we made it. If our home was the theme of a video game, this would be the toughest portal to get through.

"Oh, did you guys stain your concrete floor?" Tina asks politely.

I use my foot to clear away a cleanish spot. "Yeah, we had to. The carpet was becoming a simmering sachet of dog, um, smell."

Even though I know Beautiful Tina has two small children and a dog the size of a pony, I suddenly become painfully aware that virtually everything within sight has been altered in some way by our destructive trio of pooches. The Oriental screen concealing the computer is patched with several shades of mismatched paper, the result of having been knocked over a dozen times during indoor dog recreation. Even Kate notices this. She sticks a finger through a hole in the screen. "Aren't dogs great?" she grins.

Sweet, perfect Tina surveys the hedge-like border of wet nose smears on the front bay window and the loose lower panes dangling from duct tape. She kindly shifts in her seat to cover the chewed corner of a throw pillow. "Oh, yeah, we know. Nothing you can do about it. Until they D-I-E," she laughs.

DIE? What?

I haven't spent much time thinking about the demise of my four-legged family members, I'm so busy cursing them for ruining my once-cute house. As crazy as Charlie, Allie and Sean Connery make me, as much as they steal countless ongoing hours from my life as I attempt to clean and repair our home, I cannot imagine a life without them. I fast forward in my mind to scenes of nearly blind, toothless, even more flatulent versions of our overly energetic housemates. Wow. This is as good as it gets, I realize. I vow to enjoy them a bit more in the here and now.

I am reminded of another friend, Julie. Every night, she and her husband Paul would hoist their aged 140-pound walrus of a Labrador upstairs to let her sleep in their room, and hand carry her down again in the morning. They did this for the last year of that dog's life, Julie told me tearfully.

Why do we love our dogs so much? I often joke that dogs are the best actors on the planet. Watch a dog's expression as you hold a piece of food. Every muscle on that dog's face will work together to create the most heartbreaking look worthly of an Oscar. Russell Crowe has nothing on a dog watching you eat a corn dog.

Dogs are also the only animal that smiles with the back end. That tail is a emotion-meter that can wag furiously with delight, twitch tentatively with hope, or tuck forlornly between the legs in utter shame. And dogs are the only beasts capable of immediate grace and forgiveness. Step on a dog's foot by accident and he will instantly swish his amazing communication device of a tail to let you know, "I'm alright! It's okay. Don't worry about it." Try that with a cat, cat people!

Last night Kate and I watched late movies from the couch. Sean was curled asleep on his back in his favorite oversized chair, his hind legs akimbo in the air, his pink tongue sticking out slightly.

"Awww, Mom, look. He's smiling." Kate whispered like a proud parent hovering over a crib.