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Monday, April 30, 2012

Pass The Peace Pipe

I've known my husband for more than a decade; we've been married almost 8 years.  And it's true what they say -- you are always learning something new about your spouse.

This weekend, I learned that if my husband were Native American, his name would be Sir Chips A Lot and his animal spirit would be a beaver.  Which I think would make him a member of the Passamaquoddy tribe, but I'm no expert.

Alas, he's Puerto Rican.  So I gave him a borinquen name, which is cabron, por que no puedes jugar al golf?  Roughly translated, that means "Hey Asshole, can't you just play golf?"

You know about his chicken mongering.  You know about his skunk trapping.  Someday I'll tell you about the rusted-out, 1960s Jeep truck he bought days before our son was born that sits at the top of our driveway.  Today's focus is on the wood-clearing efforts he has dedicated the past two weekends to.

Editor's Note:  Yes, our home is available for weddings.  No, I don't know when the next vacancy is.  Yes, if you want to use our livestock in your still shots, it's an extra cost.  No, I don't think you'll be able to use the truck for your drive-away.  It doesn't have seats.

This husband of mine has never met a hamper he likes to put laundry in.  The last time he made a bed was in this dream he had about military school.  He thinks wet towels dry best when they're lying on the floor.

This same husband was annoyed by all the sticks lying in the woods surrounding our house.  He thought they looked too messy, just lying there being sticks.  He wanted to clean out those grounds so that they boasted nothing more than plain old dirt.  Like God and tent-pitchers intended.

So last weekend he spent two days clearing out all the sticks.  He laid them in piles along the perimeter of our property.  Picture, if you will, our home as the scene of one of the obstacle course challenges the Hunger Games tributes had to tackle before earning their scores for sponsorship.  It was real homey.  If your home is a dam.

He spent last week like some pioneer man, drinking his coffee standing at the window, staring out at his piles of sticks, deep in thought.  As if he was going to reckon when the locusts were going to strike or if the weevil bugs were going to threaten the crops this year.  Only in his version, he was wondering how he was going to get rid of the woods he'd just removed from the woods.

His answer: a wood chipper.

Now, I know I live in Maine.  I even grew up in Maine.  But all that living has been done in the populated part, not the potato part.  So before this past weekend, I had no idea what a wood chipper even looked like.  It's not like we have BYOL (Bring Your Own Log) parties on Saturday nights where the kids get to decorate safety glasses with puffy paint and glitter.  Yet somehow my better half seemed to know about these contraptions, and he was confident it was just what we needed.  THEY EVEN RENT THEM AT THE HARDWARE STORE RIGHT DOWN THE STREET!  It's as if a wood chipper was our destiny.  We couldn't NOT rent it.  (Screw you, destiny.)

So on Saturday afternoon, my husband borrowed my father's truck and went to pick up our Hungry Hippo.  My children and I were frolicking in the lawn, just waiting for Norman Rockwell to come paint us.  All of a sudden, it got shady and the temperature dropped.  I looked up from the daisy chains we were making and saw a small tank making its way down the street.  I started leading the way to the bomb shelter, thinking surely we were under attack, when I saw a familiar looking arm waving gleefully out of what I slowly discerned to be the driver's side window.  It was my husband. Towing a large, lumbering, yellow thing I now know to be a wood chipper.  Into our driveway.

We spent the next five minutes just staring at each other.  He was grinning.  I was not.  We were each trying to figure out why the other was having the reaction he/she was.  Finally, we both gave up and the conversation returned to our relationship.

We had to figure out where to put this wood chipper.  It was currently behind the truck at the very end of our driveway, and if we agreed on anything that Saturday, it was that we could not send a spray of wood chips into the main public road.  My husband volunteered to back the entire rig out the driveway, and then back it into the driveway.  That way the chipper would be at the top and could then be angled to shoot wood chips along the side of our driveway and kind of back into the woods. 

Problem is, my husband had never driven a trailer before.  So he had a hard time figuring out how to maneuver the world's largest truck attached to a man-made mountain of metal.  For every two feet he backed up, the wood chipper only jack-knifed two feet more in the exact opposite direction we wanted it to.  At one point, the right front tire of the truck was perched precariously on the low stone wall lining one side of our driveway, and the chipper was about to take its first bath in the shallow creek that runs along the other.  It was at that very moment where I turned to my daughter and asked her "How do you think Papi is doing?".  Her answer: "Not very good."

The lesson here is that we should start letting our 3-year-old plan our weekends.

Finally I started shouting directions at my husband, which were of course very helpful and very precise.  They didn't compute, though.  Soon I was just standing expressionless in the middle of our driveway, stone-cold still except for my mouth, which was screaming "LEFT!!!  NO MY LEFT!!!  OKAY, YOUR RIGHT!!!  WATCH THE BIKER!"

At that point, my husband put the car in park and asked me why I was berating him so publicly.

I said I wasn't berating him, I was just giving directions.

He requested that I please do so in a more loving tone.

I responded that he was dangerously close to death-do-us-parting.

So we abandoned ship and decided that we would PUSH the wood chipper to its final resting place.  That effort turned out not to be so bad.  The chipper finally got to where we "wanted" it, and I got to squeeze my spleen out my ear.

With all systems go, my husband spent the next 36 hours chipping wood.  Feeding sticks and logs and tree limbs alike into the mouth of a digestive system that would make a champion hot-dog eater jealous.  It's moments like this that make a guy appreciate hanging on to that hard hat he lucked into during a company outing. 

Everything -- from our house to our cars to our 7-month-old -- soon became covered in a thin layer of saw dust, and our neighbors all brought over casseroles to thank us for the droning hum coming from our house.  It was busy.

At one point on Sunday, my aunt and two cousins stopped by for a visit.  They hadn't gotten the memo about our wood-chipping extravaganza.  They stepped out of the car, saw the activity, and looked at me.  I could tell they were trying to decide if they should greet me with a "hey!  how are you?" or a "we're so sorry for your loss."  They left soon after.

But eventually it ended.  The last bit of earth was cleared, the last stick was munched.  The wood chipper was returned to its rightful owners, and peace was ours again.

The sun was shining.  We had a late lunch.  We de-sand-blasted my husband's exposed body parts.  We bonfired his "work clothes."  We tossed his ear plugs. 

Then he looked at me and queried:

"Now what do we do with all those piles of wood chips?"

It's at times like that you really do wish you were Native American and that someone was passing you a pipe.  Both because they can weaponized and because you can smoke your husband normal.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Skinny Girl, Fat Head

It pains me to have to write this. 

Bethenny Frankel is driving me nuts.

For my OCD audience:  First, stop dusting the keyboard, it's clean.  Second, you're right.  I didn't watch a Bethenny show last night, so I'm kind of cheating at my own rules for Reality TV Week.  But see the part about "my own rules"?  Shut up.

Some of you may not know Bethenny.  Not that I "know" her.  She doesn't even answer my tweets.  It's probably just because I moved out of New York before she got famous.  Otherwise, I'm sure I'd know her because we'd be doing yoga together and vying for the same competitive play-date circles.  But I know about her because I have watched her show, I have visited her website, and I have even read one of her books.

For those of you that aren't enlightened, Bethenny started off as a natural foods chef -- a trade she picked up after looking for something to keep her occupied while her super-duper-rich fiance was super-duper-busy raking in the dough.  After she became runner-up on Martha Stuart's Apprentice, a/k/a Pity Party, she was cast on Real Housewives of New York.  (Even though she neither owned a house nor was a wife.)  I couldn't watch RHONY because my brain circuitry got all pissy when I even considered it, and would throw a hailstorm of eyelash twitches my way.  But apparently of the all the nitwits on that show, Bethenny was the least nitwittish and earned herself a loyal set of fans.  The Bravo network smelled potential, gave Bethenny her own show, and her popularity exploded right around the same time I told my brain circuitry to eff off, I was going to start tuning in.

Bethenny Ever After followed ...  well, Bethenny ... as she tied the knot at 40ish with her baby-daddy, Jason Hoppy.  It documented the birth of their baby, Bryn, and it rolled hours of tape on her steady and then meteoric ascent to global domination.  Bethenny started cropping up everywhere.  She "wrote" how-to books on everything from how to be "naturally thin" to how to succeed in business without even really trying.  Nope, the last part is a musical.  Bethenny's version was how to succeed in business while busting your hump and making sure everyone knows how much hump-busting you're doing.  Then she combined two of her life's passions -- being thin and being drunk -- and she came up with a line of cocktails she named Skinnygirl.  The low-calorie solution for getting a buzz without getting a bum.  The drink that makes the skinny girls feel self-righteous and the heavier girls appreciate that the product that makes them cry with shame also allows them to drown that shame in at-the-ready, artificially-sweetened liquor.  Beam, Inc. bought the line, kept Bethenny on as a consultant or something, and now she wears a diamond ring that has been classified as a lethal weapon and lives in an apartment in the same building as Jay-z, Beyonce, and their baby plant, Blue Ivy.

When Bethenny spun off from RHONY to do her own thing, she had me.  I thought she was witty and self-deprecating.  You know those "confessional" moments every reality show does now, where the star narrates or reflects on what we just saw them do in "real time"?  Hers were actually entertaining and usually pretty funny.  I admired how hard she worked.  I respected how she showed us that even though she was pretty, was doing quite well, and had the world's most good-natured boyfriend-then-husband, she had vulnerabilities and insecurities just like the rest of me-all-of-me.  And I REALLY LIKED that despite the weird version of the fame bubble she was living in, she didn't seem to take anything -- including herself -- too seriously.

Now she says shit like "building my brand" more often than I sneeze.

Now she is drunk on her own Kool-Aid.  Seriously, it's amazing what a sudden influx of millions of dollars will do to you. She is trying to get her veiny little hands into every market: shapewear, cleanses, body products, yoga DVDs, and of course the wines and the spirits.  She's even getting a talk show this summer, which Ellen DeGeneres is producing.  This season of her reality show has tracked her every apartment-renovation decision, and highlights big moments like the one where she wonders whether she really is THAT big-time that she's going to plunk down thousands of dollars on one silly little table.  This is her new version of a cliff-hanger.

Now she takes herself as seriously as monkey pox or a slow Internet connection.  She tweets like a maniac and it's always about how she works her butt off so that she can be with her "peanut" (Bryn, the baby).  Or it's about how she just wants to know what her fans want, so she can fight tooth and nail to hire someone to deliver it to them.  Or it's about how she's trying so darned hard to polish her penthouse so that we can all be jealous and wowed this season and not have to wait until next.  I honestly think she might believe she invented mothering, working, and maybe even indoor living.  Her new definition of sacrifice is just not expecting a thank-you for those inventions.

The moment that really pushed me over the edge was a tweet she had the balls to send yesterday.  Remember Madeleine McCann, the little six-year-old girl that disappeared from her family's hotel room in Portugal several years ago?  Well, police now seem to have a break in the case and think she may be alive.  This is what B-Frank tweeted yesterday in response to this news:

They're re-opening that case about madeleine (the girl missing from portugal). Breaks my heart now that I have a peanut.

NOW THAT YOU HAVE A PEANUT?!?  Pre-peanut, you couldn't be bothered to have emotions about some poor child crying for her mother and some poor mother crying for her child and the days, weeks, months, years they've spent worrying and wondering what the other was doing and thinking and feeling?  But now post-peanut, you've suddenly sprouted a heart and can fathom the depths of this tragedy?  And you want to tweet about it in a non-genuine way, because really you want the focus to be on YOU, your broken heart, and your peanut?  (Who, by the way, you named Bryn.  Rolls off the tongue pretty easy.)

I think that was the moment Bethenny jumped the shark on her own life.  She's lost all sense of scale, perspective, and humility.  I guess every empire-builder eventually does.  I mean, look at Donald Trump.  David Koresh.  Napoleon.  The Donald married a gal who doesn't even speak English and showed up at their wedding dressed as Carmen Miranda.  David Koresh ended up on the wrong side of a Branch Davidian bonfire sponsored by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.  Napoleon met Russia and then was exiled to the one island France could find that sounded unappealing: Elba.

Maybe Bethenny's talk show will flop because the only person she lets talk is herself.  Maybe she will be outed as a walking, talking skeleton that escaped from a 7th grade science classroom.  Maybe Bryn will go through her goth phase early. 

I don't know how it's going to happen, I just know that the demise of Bethenny is 'nigh.  She is walking a line that is as thin as the one around her waist.  And I'm not going to stand by and watch.  (Until the end gets very bitter.  Then it will be fun.)

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Win Some, Lose Some

I don't really think anyone needs me to explain the dog-and-pony show that is American Idol.  If you have been so out of touch with American pop culture for the last decade, you're probably someone who votes in actual elections and who has no idea about -- or real interest in -- blogs.  Unless of course the blog was a daily analysis of how the Diane Rehm Show on NPR still manages to book guests despite Diane's death-croak of a voice.  That you'd be all over.

Now all my readers are going WTF?  The Diane Rehm Show?  She's lost us.

Exactly.  (By the way, here.)

So we've established that you all know what American Idol is.  For those who missed last night's show and haven't had time to enjoy their DVR feed as of yet, let's review the bidding. There are six contestants left:

  • Jessica Sanchez. The girl who looks like she couldn't lift a cat but can sing the barn doors off. The Sanchez you would never dream of saying "Dirty Sanchez" around unless you were really just trying to get Jessica to take a shower and get the eye glitter off, already.
  • Skylar Laine.  Like Reba McEntire, just with a hair's breadth less twang and a lot more microphone pounding.   Reba before she left the Grand Ole Opry for the CW Network.  Reba if Reba also likes ATVs and guns (not on stage, at home).
  • Phillip Phillips. Son of normal-looking (I presume adoptive) parents with apparently sick and/or stupid senses of humor. Proof positive that Dave Matthews is the biological father of at least one child in Leesburg, GA and mated with a girl who does a nasty Funky Chicken dance.
  • Elise Testone. The only contestant that can go out drinking with PP.   Legally, anyway.  Complete with cigarette-soaked growl.
  • Joshua Ledet. Star of the next Tyler Perry movie, "Son of A Preacher Man."
  • Hollie Cavanagh. Inspiration for Polly Pocket.
To judge them on pure singing alone is to engage in a six-way Sophie's Choice. They are all good. Sometimes great. Even the judges, in all their wisdom, are stumped (more on that later). I have my favorite, you have yours, God has His.

So let's just leave last night's individual performances out of it.  In fact, let's ignore even more of the show's staples.  I mean, there are enough websites that provide what I'm going to call the standard fare of American Idol rewind:  Ryan Seacrest jokes.  Amateur critiques of amateur performances.  Feigned disgust that people actually watch this stuff, when the internal inconsistency is that in order to feign your disgust over what happened at last night's broadcast, you had to watch last night's broadcast.  And that deep down, in places you don't even like to think about, you enjoyed every second of those budding artists prancing around the stage doing vocal high-wire acts.

I'm not going to give you any of those things.  I'm not even going to feign disgust at the show's general premise or longevity.  I don't know how it's doing as compared to seasons past, and I don't care.  I think American Idol is entertaining as hell, in part because of all the insane things that happen and are said.  If there was an Idol flag, I'd wave it as proudly as Sarah Palin crowds her lapel with pins of the American flag and the view of Russia from her house.  Hate me for my taste (hypocrite), love me for my honesty.

Instead of all that blather, let's take a fresh perspective on last night's winners and losers, shall we?  In a nod to the six remaining contestants, we'll do six of each.

I'm a lady, so winners go first.


1.  Royalty.  During the first hour of last night's show, each contestant had to do a cover of a Queen song.  Seriously, when was the last time you saw a picture of Freddie Mercury and enjoyed a series of nightmares soon thereafter?  Queen has been off everyone's radar since maybe Wayne's World and the Bohemian Rhapsody head-banging by Wayne and Garth in that tiny little car.  But last night, two of the original members came on to give the remaining 6 a kind of coherent and seemingly genuine pep talk.  Then those of us over [ahem] were reminded of, and those of us still in high school were introduced to, how Queen's music can really help you navigate many of life's curveballs.  Butterflies in your tummy?  Listen, there's this Crazy Little Thing Called Love.  Need a motto for your turn with Cuba?  Fidel liked "I Want It All," so that could work.  The junk in your trunk got you down?  Well, honey, Fat Bottomed Girls have been known to make the rockin' world go 'round, so chin up.

But Queen wasn't the only one with a resurgeance last night.  Randy Jackson was given back his post as the Prince of Yo.  He was wearing the pin last night to prove it.  (No photo available as of press time.)  Good on you, Randy.  Good on you.

2.  Teenagers.  Some of the strongest singers, in that even my deaf 98-year-old aunt can hear them with the tv set at a reasonable volume, are not of legal dating age except in the states they're from.  For crying out loud, I don't even know if 16-year-old Jessica Sanchez is old enough to baby-sit my kids.  Hollie and Skylar are both 18, and Joshua turned 20 a couple weeks ago.  Another reason why college is waste, everyone. 

3.  Miley Cyrus.  This girl's recent press has focused on her vanishing waistline, her boyfriend, and her narcotics.  But last night Hollie ended the show with a Miley Cyrus classic, "The Climb."  And we all hearkened back to the old Miley, the one who couldn't sing and couldn't act but was famous anyway.  The old Miley, whose press team only had to worry about (a) how to cover up that little fling she had with Pops and (b) how to convince us that when she was gyrating on a stripper pole at the Teen Choice Awards, she was really rubbing against a pencil in a bid to convey her love of school.  It was a nice reunion, is what I am saying.  We miss you Miley.

4.  Star Wars.  Fans everywhere were thrilled to see that Jennifer Lopez and C-3PO share a closet.  Even more exciting, gold MC Hammer pants and gold UVA-UVB swim shirts are a major focus of JLo's next line for Kohl's.  Everyone wins here.

5.  Hyperbole.  The judging triumverate is really hitting its stride.  They can now look at a Cheez-It and declare it a square of French culinary delight that does things to the human tongue that taste buds weren't originally designed to recognize.  Last night they bandied about phrases like "transcendent," "100 million percent," and "you're just so ready."  Also, of course, "goosies" and "she's gotta have it."  Theater personnel were handing out tranquilizers just to keep the studio audience calm.  In case over-reaction is contagious.

6.  THAT KFC COMMERCIAL.  There was a commercial that was so genius I am formally launching my bid to rename Mensa.  So we can call it KFC.  Kid stands up at the family dining table during dinner.  He's all "Jane, I'd love to thank you for a lovely meal."  Jane's all, "It's mom, dufus."  Kid's all, "This dinner is so awesome" and some other stuff that didn't matter because his tone was so smarmy pitch-perfect and the parents' glances across the table were so spot-on.  I immediately rushed out and thought about buying some fried chicken legs until I remembered that I live in Maine and we only fry haddock.


1.  Simon Cowell.  Not only is an unauthorized biography about him coming out, but this was just another week where he had to think about how he is the real Biggest Loser.  Went off to start the American version of the X Factor and came back with F's instead.  His over-produced, over-hyped flop didn't dredge up one ounce of the talent Jessica Sanchez has in one of her 16 ounces.  Sorry, Cowell old chap.  Your gamble didn't work.  Sounds like you have gads of cash though, so you'll probably be just fine.

2.  Supporting Casts.  Remember when Idol tried to blend in some Tommy Hilfiger to give the contestants fashion advice?  Yeah, me neither.  Not even Jimmy Iovine got his usual screen time mentoring the kids.  There wasn't even a featured guest judge.  And for God's sweet sake, stop referencing Jason Derulo and the stupid song we're supposedly helping him "write" along with Coke.  I've never met Coke, and I don't want to help Jason with song lyrics.  Do you know how much time this blog takes up?  Stop crowding my plate, Idol.

3.  Hammocks.  Hammocks were innocently out there, strung between two trees and swinging in the breeze.  Then along comes Elise Testone and she fashions some part-wing, part-parachute do-hickey and attaches it to the back of her dress for song 2.  That's leisure abuse, Elise, and you've got La-z-Boys and snuggies everywhere running for cover. 

4.  Sign Language.  I hate how the contestants (most of them, anyway) hold up their fingers to show us what number they are.  We get it.  When Ryan Seacrest says that to vote for you, we can text 5701, you're the 1.  We don't need more help.  Concentrate on your song choice.  Leave the number deciphering to us.

5.  Logic.  The judges, for the life of them, couldn't pic favesies last night.  They loved everyone.  They even, to a person, announced that they hope they can all come back.  That no one has to go home. 

Uhhhh....guys?  You know how this show works, right?

6.  Me.  For Christ's sake, I just made a Winners-Losers list about Queen night on American Idol.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

I Love Loving Them

Last night was Night Two of Reality Television Week. Or what some call Every Week; This Week; or What Is A Week?  I Measure My Life in Jersey Shore Marathons.

I watched Giuliana and Bill.  It airs on the Style Network.  I tried not to think about that too much as I watched.

The "Giuliana" in question is Giuliana (DePandi) Rancic.  She is the host of E! News, one of the "judges" on Fashion Police, and a microphone-shover on red carpets everywhere.  I think she also wrote a dissertation titled Hemingway: How to Take a Floor Length Evening Gown and Make It A Cocktail Dress, and she is credited everywhere with jump-starting the name-mashing craze when she started calling Angelina and Billy Bob "Bang."

She wears lots of make-up.  Her super-hero name would be Sideways, because when she stands sideways you can't see her.  She is one of the few people in the country who would benefit from more time in Paula Deen's kitchen.  Preferably right near the deep fryer.  When she talks about all the delicious pasta her mother makes for her, you wonder how awfully long her tape worm is.

The "Bill" in question is Bill (no maiden name, he's a dude) Rancic.  This is the guy who won the first round of The Apprentice in 1974.  He has been not working for Donald Trump ever since.  Now he spends most of his time in Holiday Inns giving lectures about entrepreneurship to Baby Boomers who are more focused on why their scrambled eggs look blue than what Bill likes to call "thinking outside the box."

He wears lots of hair gel.  Every day he is photographed leaving somewhere or going into somewhere, and every day he looks like he's just dug deeper into Dapper Dandy's Dress-up Chest.  He is one gold chain away from a pocket watch.  I think I just saw him walk by my window swinging a cane and whistling "Singing in the Rain."

If you clicked on the link above, you'll see the Giuliana and the Bill entwined in a red silk sheet, pretend-nakey underneath, with the ever-creative slew of red roses thrown around them.  The theme song to the show is shorter than a Mel Gibson fan list, and includes nothing more than some gal warbling "I Love Loving You."

Now I know what you're thinking.  This girl wants us to think she hates these two poor people who only ever wanted to dominate the channels people DIY craft on.  She is spewing vitriol to mask her jealousy of a woman who can carbo-load and still have knees bigger than her thighs. 

You would be wrong.

Despite myself, I can't help loving GandB (#Twitter).  I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of my reality-television hour.  I laughed.  I cried.  I threw out my mommy jeans.

For all the schmaltz and "amazeballs" and gossip masquerading as "entertainment news," these two come across as very real on television.  And their show actually seems to portray something in the neighborhood of reality.  She is at once the girl you wish you could be (or at least have her closet) and the girlfriend you wish you had, and he comes across as a good guy who just happens to speak in cliches and truisms. 

Last night's episode was a whopper.  It began with Giuliana undergoing -- and documenting -- her double mastectomy, and ended with the couple finding out that their gestational carrier was pregnant with an embryo that was all Rancic.  You swung with them from that low to that high over the course of sixty minutes -- which was only a bit shorter than the 2.5 weeks they had in real life to ying-yang from a brush with mortality to an embrace of new life.

The double mastectomy was in response to the breast cancer doctors discovered during a screening related to Giuliana's treatments for infertility.  GandB filmed the scenes related to the surgery, from the drive to the hospital to the drive back home days later, with a handheld camera.  That added to the intimacy of the moments they captured, from Giuliana's parents' tearful admission that they were nervous for their daughter, to Bill's attempts at putting on a brave face for his wife, to the "drainage bags" Giuliana had to "wear" under her pajamas when she finally left the hospital. 

Giuliana talked repeatedly about her choice to find the positive, her love for her family, and her guilt at "putting them through this."  She showed sincere pluck and light-heartedness in her recovery, making fun of Bill with her mother and using a hosting gig for New Year's Eve Times Square as motivation for recuperating quickly (the surgery was just 18 or so days before NYE.)  She wasn't show-offy or martyr-like when she announced the goal of honoring the couple's commitment to host the event; she was nose-to-the-grindstone admirable.  And funny.  And awesome.

And successful.  GandB made it to New York and participated in a round of press for the NYE show.  During some lame interview with a dittering blond who asked how they were going to kiss at midnight, GandB received a call from the fertility clinic they'd been working with to freeze embryos and have those embryos implanted in a gestational carrier.  Having kept the procedure a secret, they nonchalantly escaped to their hotel room to take the call.

The moment they found out the carrier was pregnant gives me goosebumps even as I type this.  Giuliana burst into mascara-ravaging tears that not even a hotel napkin could staunch, and Bill was barely able to contain himself.  They both said "thank you" an average of 6 times a second, and repeated how happy they were and how much they appreciated what the carrier (who was also on the phone) was doing for them.

As anyone who has heard about the Rancics knows, this pregnancy was a long time coming.  They have been very up front about their struggle to have a baby, and have seemingly made the subject more kosher to talk about.  I always admired them for acknowledging the disappointments of no-pregnancy and a miscarriage, and for, again, their choice to focus on the positives and never lose hope (lines I think they got right out of one of Bill's speeches, but in this context, they reverberate).  Their willingness to expose themselves on this very sensitive subject, and the very genuine way they dealt with it, earned them legions of fans.  Now every single one of those fans is cheering the news of their baby on Facebook and Twitter.  I also heard A.C. Moore is out of yarn due to all the baby-blanket-knitting.

I think my favorite part about GandB is that they honestly seem down-to-earth.  They have a swanky pad and their own restaurant and their own show and several jobs apiece that have them criss-crossing the country, but they never brag or act like they're saving the world one designer frock at a time.  Their schedules are jam-packed but they never complain or act like they're only doing it to "keep the fans happy."  In other words, they're the exact opposite of Bethenny Frankel.  (I'll get to you and your "en" that should be an "a" some other day, Skinnygirl.)  What is more, they actually seem to love each other, and the curse of reality t.v. couples may not strike them divorced.  I don't think they're our Nick and Jessica.  Our Jon and Kate.  Our Ashton and Demi.

So I can honestly, proudly say I have never been happier for someone I don't know at all.  I am happy for Giuliana that her surgery is behind her, and I hope her cancer is too.  I am thrilled for GandB that someone with her strong cheekbones and his perfect hairline will make their crowd a three this summer.  They are taking a different route to get there, but it doesn't matter.  It is going to be one hell of a Birth Day.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Double D's

Parents try to, or at least pretend to try to, limit the amount of bad television their children watch.

  • "If I've told you once, I've told you 100 times.  No Mad Men until you're 10, Billy.  Now put down the martini shaker and go do a puzzle."
  • "Where did you learn to be so materialistic, Ashley Marie?  No Gossip Girl for you this week."
  • "If I hear one more breath of Yo Gabba Gabba or Blue's Clues, I swear to God I'm burning this place down.  You're going to watch Sesame Street, and you're going to frigging LOVE IT."
Programming note: the subject of parents who claim their 3-year-old has yet to see a single minute of two-dimensional entertainment will have to be reserved for a separate post due to space constraints.

We spend all this time policing our kids' t.v. line-ups, but once those Nick Jr. sponges are in their beds, we run to the nearest couch and, like moths to a flame, find the absolute worst programming we can this side of Saved By The Bell. 

  • We need to file our taxes?  But there's a Teen Mom marathon on! 
  • You want more "us" time?  Let's just watch Khloe and KLamar have their "them" time. 
  • That stack of the Hunger Games trilogy has been staring at me for weeks, but I can't go there until I know who the Bachelorette is going to choose to have a terrible 3-month relationship with and dump at the reunion.
It's no secret that when I sniff out a phenomenon with my cultural binoculars, I like to really dig deep and get to its root.  I've taken it upon myself to watch nothing but reality television this week and report back to you my findings as to how these shows so dominate our nights. 

You're welcome in advance.

Last night, I watched Dancing with The Stars.  Before last night, I am infinitely proud to report that I had watched a sum total of 15-20 minutes of this show.  But that was back when my husband was in charge of the remote and I forced him flip to DWTS for an eyeball cleanse during Storage Wars' commercial breaks.  So it didn't really even count.

Below is a recitation of my stream-of-consciousness from 8-10PM EST last night, edited down only to cull a Top 25.

1.  I need to go to the store and buy better stuff for dessert.

2. Okay, focus.  Dancing with The Stars.....First problem: who is the star here?  I recognize the names Derek Hough and Maksim Cheremorvskinoodleschmoodledoodle, but they spray-tanned the Caucasian off them.  Methinks they're among the dancing set.  So that means the other folks are the stars?  Wait, does this show consider "stars" to be the images someone saw after they got knocked out in a head-on collision?  I'm already confused.

3.  Sweet Christ, it's Motown Night.  They've got Martha Reeves, Smokey Robinson, and The Temptations wobbling around the stage.  Martha clearly needs her Vandellas back, Smokey looks like he took his name literally and got high on something 3 seconds before curtains-up, and The Temptations can't even clap in rhythm.  Now I'm seeing stars.

4.  They're introducing the couples and someone just said "television icon Melissa Gilbert."  Waaaaaahhhhh??  I gotta Google this broad....Oh, she's the chick that was on Little House on the Prairie.  Which last aired in 1983.  According to IMDb, she was in The Christmas Pageant in 2011.  Somehow I missed that. 

5.  By "television icon," do they mean one plastic surgery short of a Joan Rivers?

6.  The cast is lined up on the dance floor getting ready to get their dance on. Awesome that they know how to stand in a line.  Why is Derek Hough jogging in place?  Did someone tell him this is a track meet?

7.  Here goes some dancing.  Gladys Knight is an appropriate contestant tonight only because she sang during the Motown era.  Her partner's choice to wear big dorky glasses with his costume only has the creepy effect of accentuating their startling age difference and making me feel all the more uncomfortable about his hip-gyrating in the vicinity of Mrs. Knight's midsection.

8.  Every time the camera is on someone other than the dancing couple, you can find Maks and Derek doing their damnedest to get more face-time.  It's like an animated Where's Waldo.  There's Derek peering over the drum set!  There's Maks doing bunny ears over Tom Bergeron's head!  There's Derek AND Maks pretending they're Smokey's microphone.  And Smokey's buying it!

9. Derek, put your shirt on.

10.  Derek is now air-punching his way into his start position.  His partner is Maria Menounos.  I always thought she was cute.  But I guess cute can't buy smart.  Girlfriend is taking career advice from Mario Lopez.  Not a good idea.  Just ask Tiffani Amber Thiessen. 

11.  I wish Derek Hough would have an affair with Fergie so that I can kill two birds with one stone.

12.  Now there's some 5th grader named Roshon dancing with some blond.  According to the DWTS website, Roshon was in Camp Rock 1 AND 2.  Sorry Rosh - my bad!  Mad props to you.  Did your parents sign the consent form for you to act as a stripper pole for your partner to dirty dance on?  Note to self: call ABC's legal department tomorrow re: child endangerment. 

13.  Classical singer Katherine apparently just slayed her rumba.  I wouldn't know.  I missed those 3 minutes of glory because my husband caught another skunk.  I'm never telling anyone about this.  They're going to start wondering when I'm going to marry my cousin.

14.  Derek, put your shirt on.  And stop doing those goof-ball faces at me.  I think you should consider Ritalin.

15.  Wow, Brett Favre is a vengeful mo-fo.  Donald Driver says one teensy-weensy thing about preferring Aaron Rodgers over I'm-Retired-No-I'm-Not-Yes-I-Am and Favre's all "Hey, D.D., you know what would be so awesome for you to do as payback for dissing me?  Learn to cha-cha!"

16.  Why is it, every time a couple finishes and trots over to the judges for their comments, that couple smiles and waves like they've just saved Malia and Sasha Obama from a fire?

17.  Oh boy, here comes Maks and Melissa.  Maks is really working the hot-headed sex-fiend angle, huh?  He and Melissa can't keep their hands off each other.  Is Janet Jackson watching this?  She gets all sorts of guff for Nipple Gate and these two are fondling each other on live tv!

18.  I think Maks just got that girl in Row 3 pregnant.

19.  Holy shit, did Maks just get ME pregnant?

20.  This next guy looks familiar.  Those buggy eyes....that stupid smile....oh my God, it's Urkel!  He's dancing with the girl who's next up on George Clooney's Random Choices for Girlfriends!  When is she going to do a sit spin on a pair of suspenders and put this one in the books?!?

21.  ABC didn't get the first three letters of the alphabet for nothing.  They know how to keep their crowd around 'til the final over-embellished collar.  The last dance of the night goes to William Levy and his partner, Who Cares.  This Levy fellow is the one people call the Cuban Brad Pitt.  I already have several problems with this.  First, if he's Cuban, we know his real name is Guillermo LevLopez de Guadalajara, and he should embrace that.  Second, I can't tell if he's good looking because there are too many close-ups on his pecs and he is always wearing the bandanna he stole from Bret Michaels so that it covers much of his face.  Does his partner smell?

22.  More Where's Waldo: who are the people voting at the end of the show?  They are hiding in plain sight.  I think they should all be forced to wear red-and-white striped shirts so the rest of us can identify and then avoid them.  I should add that to my Presidential Platform list.

23.  This show should marry Kathy Griffins' "My Life on The D List" and be called "Dancing on the D List."  Actually, better name: Dignity Goes Divebombing.

24.  I should have had my daughter watch with me tonight.  Today's word of the day was desperation and I couldn't figure out how to use it in a sentence.  This little social experiment would have really driven the definition home.

25.  Shows like this aren't good for my emotional eating problem.  How many cookies did I just eat?  And I still feel sad inside!  IS IT BECAUSE I AM PREGNANT?!?  MAKS!!!!!!!!

Monday, April 23, 2012

Happy Birth Day

On Friday, a dear friend gave birth to her second child, a son.  Today's post is in their honor.

Ten months.  (Not nine - I don't know how/where/why that myth started, and I don't know how it's hung on for so long without someone blowing the lid off.  Bye bye, lid.  You've been blown.)

Ten months of anticipation.  Of waiting for the arrival of the creature you know will change your world.  The creature who will redivide your timeline into The Before and The After.  The creature who you are giving life to and who will, in turn, define yours.

Ten months to prepare.  To design a nursery and buy the onesies and go to check-ups and grow a belly and learn to waddle and sleep on your side.  Ten months to guess the sex and pick a name and form a birth plan.  Ten months to feel the kicks and see the sonograms and hear the heartbeat.

Ten months to wonder.  What color will his eyes be?  How do I feed him?  When will he sleep?  Am I going to know what to do when he cries?  Have I done everything I need to do?  Am I ready?  What does "ready" mean?  When will he come?  Why am I so nervous?  Or is that excited?  Have I ever felt so nervous and excited at the very same time?

Ten months of keeping a secret.  A secret that the person inside of you is someone you already know.  You know what foods make him kick.  You know what positions make him move.  You know what time of day he is quiet, and what time of night he decides to do somersaults.  You know that you talk to him, out loud and in your head and in your heart.  Conversations some can hear, but most they cannot.  Experiences you never have alone because he is always with you, your comrade and companion and friend.  Your baby.

Then someone decides your ten months are up.

You go to the hospital.  You get the plastic bracelet.  You put on the gown.  You try to walk.  Or bounce.  Or breathe.  You grab the bed rails or the extended hand or the sheets.  You watch the monitors and listen to the beeps.  You chart the progress and wait for the 7-8-9-10 and watch the clock.  He is coming, and you can't wait to meet him.  In person, that is.

And then you push.

There he is.  He is finally on your stomach, in your arms, under your lips.  He is cleaned and weighed and measured.  He is swaddled and capped.  He is back on your stomach and in your arms and under your lips.

You are happy.  Deliriously so.  Whatever pain or fatigue or frustration you had felt just minutes before becomes a distant memory, a story to tell, notes to compare.  Now you are more present in your present than you have ever been.  For the first time, you bear witness to a seismic shift in your life as that shift is taking place.  You don't need perspective or distance.  It is happening now, and you know it.  You feel it.

You get wheeled to your recovery room, and he comes with you.  You get put in a new bed, and he is next to you.  You feed him for the first time.  He lets you eat up his every detail.  You change him for the first time.  He changes you forever.

It's your favorite song being played loudly, your favorite book being read by your favorite actor in your favorite setting, your favorite meal being served inside of your favorite piece of art and eaten with your favorite friends...all at the very same time.  It's goosebumps on your arms and butterflies in your stomach and a fast-beating heart and flushed cheeks...all at the very same time.   It's your once-favorite memory becoming nothing more than a trifling afterthought.

It's the fruit of the decision you made ten months ago, and all the hoping and praying and trying tied up with it.

It's smiling so big and so hard your face might crack, your heart might burst, your eyes might forever be crying.

It's the day your anticipation and preparation and wonder and secrecy become the person you introduce to the world.  You'll share him, but he will always be yours.

Friday, April 20, 2012

To Don't List

We all know we shouldn't brag.  It comes across as rude, inconsiderate, and/or annoying.  While people might want to learn about your weight loss or your direct line to God or the boatloads of cash you've figured out how to make, they usually don't want to hear about it directly from you.  And unless you're on the cover of People magazine, a rapper, or a Wall Street executive, you remember that.  And you zip your lip.

Until, that is, you have a baby.

It's a phenomenon I've spent a lot of time studying.  New parents -- particularly new mothers -- welcome Junior into the world and say a simultaneous good-bye to all sense of propriety and decorum.  And I'm not talking about breast-feeding at the DMV.  I'm talking about how you can't have a conversation with them anymore because every time you ask for their thoughts on, say, the Keystone oil pipeline or how JLo's clothes continuously manage to trick gravity, they respond with a story whose moral is two-dimensional: (1) they are the best mother ever; and (2) their child was FedExed overnight from Heaven.  The person suffering from sleep deprivation quickly becomes you, because the constant stories about Junior lull you into a fatigue typically associated with a coma or an extended Easter homily. 

How it is these mothers don't recognize the multiple Emily Post laws they're breaking and the numbers of people they're sending into the loving arms of a zoloft prescription had me stumped for a long time.  I chanted with Buddhist monks, I tweeted with Ashton Kutcher, and I conferred with the authority on all things parenting, Angelina Jolie, all in a bid for clarity on the issue.  Finally, after a night of partying with Dina Lohan, it hit me. 

These poor women don't know that what they're doing is bragging.  They're so whacked out on hormones and have huffed so much Desitin that their neurons are no longer firing on all cylinders.

If I started this blog for any purpose, it was to provide a public service.  And if there's any public service I would most happily provide, it is helping moms to remain the interesting, well-rounded, sometimes self-effacing gals we all kind of liked pre-zygote. 

And thus I birthed the following To Don't List*

This list should be followed in public circumstances only.  By public, I mean anyone outside of you and your spouse/partner/sperm donor/surrogate/anyone else who may have contributed to the conception and delivery of your child(ren).  In the private circle of you and X, I wholeheartedly encourage you to marvel at the genius and wonder that is the specimen you have contributed to the world.  He/she is really awesome and you should love him/her above all others.  Just don't talk about it/do it in front of anyone else. 

A.  Don't talk about how your kid is such a wonderful sleeper.  If your poor listener has kids, they may not be good sleepers.  They may not sleep at all.  Hearing about how your little Junior has slept great since you wheeled him home from the hospital on a golden sleigh might meet the legal definition for justifiable homicide.  Even more hilariously, your poor listener's kids might beat the pants off Junior when it comes to their number of hours on snooze control, and then you look like even more of an idiot.  But if your poor listener does not have kids, they are just left to wonder why you won't shut up about something your poor listener does -- indeed, looks forward to -- for as long as he/she possibly can on a nightly basis.

B.  Don't talk about how your kid is such a great eater.  That just prompts your poor listener to think about Junior at your boob.  That's awkward for everyone.  Moreover, your poor listener might be on a diet and think that you are subliminally telling them the diet is a bust because they, too, are clearly still a great eater.  Finally, if your poor listener does not have kids, they are just left to wonder why you won't shut up about something your poor listener does -- indeed, looks forward to -- for as long as he/she possibly can on a daily basis.

C.  Don't talk about how your kid's bowel movements are so regular.  That's disgusting.  Only your kid's pediatrician needs to know that.

D.  Don't talk about how your kid is THIS CLOSE to crawling.  They're not.  They're just trying to worm themselves away from you because you're embarrassing even THEM with all the bowel movement stories.

E.  Don't talk about how your kid is so happy.  Again, they're not. They're crying inside.  It's hit them that they're stuck with you for life.  The smiles are a coping mechanism and an attempt to make themselves cute to potential adoptive parents. 

F.  Don't ascribe preferences or strong suits to them.  Babies can't recognize colors.  Their world is literally black and white.  So don't try to tell people that they're "Mama's little heartbreaker" or "so psyched to watched the playoffs with Daddy!" or "big zac Efron fans."  Your attempt to disguise your own need for love, companionship, or a date to The Lucky One is fooling all of no one.

G.  Don't ever say your baby is "just the best baby."  Every parent thinks that about their baby.  And regardless of who your poor listener is, in response to hyperbole such as this, that poor listener is now forced to make a mental Rolodex of all the ways your baby sucks.  So you're essentially prompting the exact opposite conclusion than the one you were trying to line-drive home.

I'm sure I'll refine this list over time, and expand it to encompass the toddler/pre-school years just as soon as I gain more perspective on them myself.  But if the above 7 rules are too much for your exclamation-addled brain to compute, let's boil it down to these two take-aways.

  • People have been having babies since the dawn of time.  That's how we all got here.  And there's a lot of us.  Look around you.  There's a baby.  There's a guy who used to be a baby.  Ad infinitum.  So by having a baby, you have actually not done anything really unique.  In fact, you'd join a more unique set if you could accurately identify, in order, the U.S. presidents.
  • There's an easy rule of thumb to all this.  My lucky followers on Twitter (it's a complicated application process) already know this.  Until your baby can do something a domesticated pet cannot, it is not news.
With that said, could you please, for God's sake, now tell me what you think about the Keystone oil pipeline?!?

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Coop, There It Is

When my husband isn't busy wrestling woodchucks and skunks, he has been occupying himself with building a chicken coop.  In our backyard.  That is going to house actual chickens.

We've come a long way from New York City, baby.

Our efforts to domesticate poultry begin on May 1st -- just in time for my birthday -- and I am sure I will have more to say about becoming a Mother Hen after I've done some late-night feedings and rocked Chicken Little back to sleep after a bad dream about sky-falling.

Today, I just want to talk about the chicken coop itself.

My feelings about having a chicken coop with real live chickens are lukewarm at best.  My grandfather was the ultimate Mainer/farmer/man's man, a guy whose idea of entertaining me and my sisters was to take us to the racetrack for some betting or enlist us to pull up buckets of water from the fresh-water spring he dug.  Even he would warn us, as we mucked out horse stalls, that chickens were the stinkiest animal you could find on a farm.  I'm a bit queasy at the thought of those odors greeting friend and Johnny Depp alike during a cook-out or drop-by visit.  Their little beaks also freak me out, and I have images of myself streaking across our backyard as my heels get nipped by a gang of crazy chickens who want their eggs back.  I hear those eggs are dirty when they are first laid (I imagined they'd come out as pristine as I find them at the grocery store), and I have enough to clean without "chicken eggs" being added to the list.  Finally, my daughter is paralyzed with fear in the face of any non-human living creature, from ants to water buffalo to cats and dogs.  In fact, before we go anywhere, she asks me "will there be a cat, dog, or any animal of the four-legged variety," and only if I swear on a bible that there will not be does she agree to come along.  Now we're introducing a flock of chickens into her own backyard.  A backyard I predict she avoids until she's 52 and we're dead and she has to come tie up the loose ends surrounding our estate because we forgot to add a provision in our will about who the chickens go to.

BUT, my feelings about my husband are several degrees above lukewarm most days, and he really wanted to Dr. Doolittle the place up.  So here we go.

Now, I must admit, as the days tick by, I'm pretty impressed by the whole chicken coop enterprise.  My husband grew up in a suburb of San Juan, Puerto Rico; he is an attorney; he can speak several languages; he has skin that has never known a blemish; he has eyebrows that today's runway-walkers would kill for.  This same guy has designed and constructed a chicken coop that would make Martha Stewart and Ty Pennington's love child blush.  It has glass-paned windows, a sky-light, a flower box, a hook for a hanging plant, doors that swing open on brushed-nickel hinges, trellised walls for "cross-ventilation," and a roof made of sticks he found in the woods behind our house and thatched together himself.  It is a chicken coop extraordinaire, situated at a just-right angle in the back corner of our house.  If the chickens don't like it, I might move in myself.

He is proud of it, and I am proud of him.  So proud that I am willing to risk our daughter's emotional stability and the ire of every guest ever to pull into our driveway.

Here's the problem.  Our lone adjacent neighbor is an asshole.

To be fair, the lady that actually lives next door to us, in the sense that she receives bills there and takes care of the lawn and when asked "where do you live" provides that street address, is the perfect neighbor.  She keeps to herself and lets us keep to ourselves.  It's her brother that's the asshole.

This guy lives in Texas (of course) and swoops in for visits with Sissy every quarter or so.  On his most recent trip home, the chicken coop was in its earliest stages.  Sensing something afoot, this genius moseyed over and, with the subtlety of a Secret Service agent looking for a good time in Colombia, interrogated my husband as to his intentions with said coop.  My husband was forth-coming, and even went so far as to give Asshole his business card should further communication about what we were doing on our damned property ever be necessary. 

Yesterday, it arrived.  The little emailed missive poorly disguised as a friendly request from neighbor to neighbor.  Asshole just wanted to know, if it wasn't too much trouble, could we please move the now-finished coop to the other side of the lawn.  Pretty please with a cherry on top but really he doesn't care what we prefer do it now or he's going to make our lives miserable with a Chinese water torture of his follow-up emails written in sickly-sweet idiot speak.  Asshole has the nerve to blame the request on his sister (whose only previous interaction with us was to pass along her congratulations, through my mother, on the birth of our son).  Asshole also thought it pertinent to "explain" that the reason for the request is that on their side of the privacy fence that divides our lawns is their "fire pit."  He left it for us to insinuate why that'd be a problem.  Maybe when Asshole and his sister roast marshmallows over the pit they feel badly that the chickens can't join in.  Maybe it's harder to get a fire to start when there are chickens nearby.  Maybe when chickens hear people say "let's go hang out at the pit," they hear "spit" instead and think they're about to get roasted, apple-in-pig-mouth style, and start making a fuss.  I don't know.

What I do know is that last summer, I never saw anyone at or within a stone's throw of the fire pit.  But now our chicken coop is cramping the style of that wasted space.

My husband was of course frustrated but resigned himself to the fact that he'll have to do some disassembling and cart the coop to the approved space.  I am frustrated but resigned myself to the fact that I'm going to have to start ticking through my list of Things to Do in Retaliation to A Prick:

1.  Gather signatures from all the people in his past and present who agree he's an idiot and present it to him at Christmas on a scroll like the one Santa keeps of naughty vs. nice.

2.  Fire blaze my initials onto his front lawn.

3.  Hire Ke$ha to give nightly performances of Tik-Tok in our backyard for the entire summer.

4.  Tell Octo-Mom he's looking for boarders.

5.  Make him live the rest of his life in Texas.

Feel free to chime in if you have other ideas.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Peter Pan Is My Co-Pilot

Last week, during my travels for work, something happened to me that seared my soul.  It was worse than my regular confrontations with a slip-in-slide, worse than sharing elevator rides with tweens jacked up on pop rocks, worse than the hours traveling on canoes gussied up as airplanes.  It was so jarring, in fact, that it's only now I can talk about it.

I spent an hour with sixty people lost on a tour bus.

The wind-up to this spiritual Armageddon was actually something bordering on euphoria.  My company had generously sponsored a night out for all conference attendees.  And it was not some rent-out-Olive-Garden type of breadstick bonanza.  This was the real deal.  They rented out the Dallas Cowboys' new stadium for a grown-up's evening of make-pretend: 

  • when we arrived our images were projected on the world's largest television screen that dominates mid-field (I wore a paper bag over my head and crawled in on my back, but I heard it was cool);
  • there was a huge bar-b-que buffet (I don't understand the fascination with bar-b-que but I couldn't get anyone to explain it to me because they were all brow-deep in sauce);
  • Emmitt Smith spoke to the crowd about his Super Bowl rings and Dancing With The Stars trophy (the fact he puts those two things in the same speech prompted me to sell my Emmitt Smith trading cards);
  • the Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders performed (yes, I was embarrassed when they asked me to join them but no, my high-kick did not disappoint); and
  • there was a pass, punt, catch competition (I don't want to brag.  Nailed it!).
By the time 8:30PM rolled around, I was starving, sore, and tired of all the attention, so I figured it was time to pack my act up and head back to my "hotel."  I also knew that there were 100 buses snaking around the bowels of the stadium, waiting to ferry us 2,500 visitors out of Never-Neverland.  Since I hate waiting in lines, especially when they are trying to be funneled into a mode of transportation, I was all the more motivated to concrete sail my way out of there. 

As I approached the door to my chariot, I overheard a disturbing conversation.  The driver of my particular bus was in deep consultation with one of the event coordinators on the subject of...directions.  To wit, the driver charged with delivering us from point A to point B wasn't exactly clear on where point B was, or on how to get there.  The event planner was obliging with seemingly detailed, turn-by-turn instructions, complete with lots of hand-waving and finger-diagramming.  As the driver appeared to have the faculty of hearing, seemed to at least understand the English language, and presumably was from the area, I told myself all would be fine and we would arrive safely at our destination.

But they must have laced the cornbread, because my decision-making capabilities were WAY OFF.

Just exiting the stadium took about ten minutes, and I think our bus clipped some of the poor catering staff on the way out.  When we finally saw the friendly lights of convenience stores and fast-food restaurants again, I knew we'd made it out and were back in the charming embrace of northeast Texas.  The highway our driver navigated us onto looked familiar, and the nagging voice in the back of my head that had been channeling worrying thoughts started to pipe down.

Soon, though, my lullaby was interrupted by a ferocious sight.  The driver had slowed the bus to a snail's pace and was doing something I'd never seen done to a tour bus: he managed to get it to shake its head like a dog sniffing out the right trail home.  Back and forth and back and forth - highway or exit, highway or exit?  The driver finally opted for the exit, but I quickly realized that was only because he thought the lights above the toll booths were pretty.

So now we were on some road running parallel to the highway, high-fiving all the folks strutting in for a late-night snack at Chili's, Waffle House, and/or Taco Bell. 

By now we'd been on the bus for about 30 minutes.  The entire ride back should have taken 15.  We'd seen the same line up of fast food restaurants so many times that I had already developed heart disease and diabetes.  Things were going downhill, fast.

I was sitting towards the front of the bus, so I heard it when one of my fellow doubters tremulously asked the driver if he knew where he was going.  The driver had the nerve to admit:

"Not really, but I think something will start to look familiar."

Oh really, Wendy?  Why did Peter Pan have to pick THIS bus to find his damned shadow?  Mr. Driver, you do know that the instruction "sixth strip mall to the right and straight on 'til morning" is not  a MapQuest-approved direction?  MOMMMMMMMYYYYYY!!!!!

We finally exited Bowel Barrier Boulevard, only to end up in residential development after residential development.  Round and round the cul-de-sacs we went.  I think I heard the driver say "weeeeeeee!" at one point, but that might have been the sound I made when I leapt off my seat to assume the fetal position on the floor.

In case it's not already clear, here is why this whole series of non-events drove me bonkers.  First, I hate being lost.  It necessarily means that you are wasting time and behind schedule.  It also means that you either didn't plan well enough, or you screwed up your pristine plans with some unidentified misstep that you must now identify so as to right your wrong.  Second, worse than being lost is being lost on someone else's watch.  In this case, I was not driving and could not drive the bus, so I had to leave it to the knuckle-head up front to figure his way out of the mess.  The same guy who goes into the night knowing he has to ferry dozens of people from a nationally recognized sporting venue to one of the world's largest conference centers, but who couldn't identify either one on a to-scale map and nevertheless figures he'll just wing it.  Third, I feel like ants are crawling all over me when I think about the dunces at the bus company that didn't think about sending their A-team out for this job.  And by A-team, I mean people that know the difference between "highway" and "paper route."

So here is what I did.  I prayed to Steve Jobs and asked him for guidance.  He told me to whip out my Genius Phone, plot where we were in relation to where we had to go, and baby-step the driver there.  And that's what I did. 

When we arrived, the driver turned to me and thanked me.  Then he had another doozy of a confession.  He told me that he'd never had any idea where he was supposed to have been going, and that the directions from the event planner back at the stadium had never really "clicked."  I had no response to that other than to punch him in the face.

I do hope, though, that someone or some phone was waiting for him when he got home to help him with the rest of his night - the unlocking of his front door, the removing of his shoes, the brushing of his teeth, etc.

Several psychiatrists, a couple of blood thinners, and one Long Island Iced Tea later, I've moved past the trauma of that night.  On the bright side, my daughter was thrilled when I told her about my adventure with a real life Disney character.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

I Smell Trouble, Part Dos

This morning my husband left for work really early.  While I was giving my son his wake-up bottle, I reviewed the emails I had received overnight.  I had gotten one from my husband at 6AM that caught my eye. 

Title: "Good news."

Content: "I caught the skunk."

Allow me to explain.

As some of you may remember, our home was recently invaded by a skunk attack.  We lived to tell the story, but it shook us to the core.  I started scanning the local real estate listings, but fortunately I am married to someone smarter and calmer than I.  Never one to back down in the face of adversity, my husband copped some serious Ace Ventura pet detective skills and got to sleuthing in our back-yard.  I would catch him just sitting out there, skunk-whisperer style, waiting for the grass to share the secrets of the lawn with him.  Eventually, it coughed up the following facts:

1.  A skunk is roaming our lawn on a nightly basis, foraging for food.

2.  When that skunk is tired and full, he takes a day-long nap under our shed.  The one connected to our house.  The one we walk by every time we exit and enter our house.

3.  That skunk has access to our shed all because my husband left a tiny gap between the foundation and the lawn that was enough for the little rascal to creep under.

4.  We need to start using fertilizer.

Now I am sorry, but other than a Middle Eastern dictator trying to outrun the Arab Spring, a skunk is among the very last creatures I would like to invite to live under our shed.  I don't know what it is about that place, but apparently it's cozy and there's a No Vacancy sign out front that our forest friends can read, because just last summer we had a woodchuck living under there, which my husband also had to catch.

(As an aside, for those of you reading this who don't live in Maine, I feel really great about all the free advertising I am doing about the joys of living in this state.  See you soon.)

Anywho, once my husband isolated the variables at work, he put his two elbows to the table, propped up his iPad, and got to studying.  If you have any questions about skunks -- their foraging habits, spraying tendencies, options for higher education -- just drop me a line and I will pass them along to him.  After sleepless nights of serious analysis, my better half decided on the solution to our problem:  shoot the skunk.

I think the real reason why this solution thrilled him so was that it meant (a) an excuse to go to Wal-Mart; (b) an excuse to wear a stupid hat (bought at Wal-Mart); (c) an excuse to buy a BB gun; and (d) an excuse to sit up all night patrolling the lawn for signs of life to shoot at.

The only problem is that I hate guns, and I especially hate the thought of a gun in my house.  But my husband convinced me we'd only keep it until we (he) killed the skunk and then he would return it.  Cross his heart and hope the skunk to die.

What happens next was a near-tragedy of epic proportions.  The skunk indeed emerged from his cocoon under our shed, and indeed began foraging for dinner, just two gun lengths from my husband's perch in our half-bathroom.  My husband, heart-racing and palms sweating, knew that this was his moment.  He aimed, shot, and hit that sucker....somewhere.  So he aimed, shot and hit that sucker....somewhere else.  The point is he hit him twice but the area of impact was unclear, and our furry striped friend managed to limp BACK UNDER OUR SHED!!!  To die a slow, smelly death right next to our porch furniture.  Lovely.

Deflated but not defeated, my husband brought out the big guns.  And by big guns I mean not an actual gun at all but the "Have a Heart" trap that had served him so well with the woodchuck.  He laid out a can of tuna -- because skunks are stupid enough to enjoy mercury-laden sea bait, I guess -- and waited.

And last night, Petunia got hungry.

Upon reading the announcement that our uninvited guest had finally been evicted, I was equal parts joyous and horrified.  Okay, mostly horrified.  I called my husband as soon as I finished reading his email.  Here are the funnest parts of our conversation.  I'll leave you to guess who is saying what.


"Um, nothing.  I will take it away when I get home from work tonight."


"I know.  In a trap.  It can't do anything to you.


"It can't.  It can't lift its tail.  And you don't have to go near it."


"Outside, near the bathroom.  You can go look at it."

"Go look at it???  Are you HIGH?  I DON'T WANT TO SEE IT!!!!"

"Then why did you ask where it is?"

I hate it when it talks to me like that.

Needless to say, I spent the morning hover-crafting around the house, yelling at the children anytime they went to the western wall of our house and commanding that we speak/gurgle in low voices so as not to alert the lurking beast .  I was just waiting for that skunk to knock on the door, accost me for marrying such a wily trapper, and spraying me for all he was worth.  I shuttled my children to the car like we were the von Trapp family fleeing Austria -- moving quietly but humming softly to keep our spirits up in the face of near-death. 

And we aren't going back to that House of Horrors until my husband has taken the skunk to Canada.  I pray to God he does not get sprayed in the process.  I hear divorce is expensive.

Monday, April 16, 2012


Today was a Monday morning like any other in my recent history.  Internal, fiery debate over whether and when to wake up.  Scrambling through laundry, dressing, breakfasting, packing lunches, and hustling out the door.  The only difference I was planning for this Monday was that I would be dropping my son off first, since my daughter is doing "vacation camp" at school while all the nice parents take their kids somewhere warm and whimsical for April vacation.  Vacation camp starts later than school, hence the reversal in drop-offs.  I would be traversing the same 4-mile strip about 6 times over the course of 20 minutes, but hey, it's vacation for some people - let's live it up!  Isn't Mami F-U-N!?!?

Imagine my surprise when I pulled into daycare and found.....nothing.  Not a car in the parking lot.  Not a human to be found.  Not a breath of wind other than the exhaust from my car and the sputtering breath I heaved as I realized what was going on.  Daycare was closed.  It's Patriot's Day.  Those asshats that I entrust with the care of my son can't be trusted with applying some perspective to their calendar.

This was mind-boggling to me on a number of levels.  Let me put this in perspective for you.

When I first started working at a NYC law firm, the place I worked didn't even give us Martin Luther King day off.  ("Off" in private practice is a relative term - they day may or may not be recognized as a holiday, but regardless, you probably still had to go into the office.  It just meant maybe you were there for 8 hours instead of 12.)  After a couple years of associate agitation, the firm changed course and decided that it, like the rest of America, would accord the day its due respect by adding it to the list of our paid holidays.

Now that I live in Maine, I'd been hearing grumblings about this thing called Patriot's Day, but they'd mostly gone something like this:

"Hey, Monday's Patriot's Day.  So they're running the Boston Marathon."

Or like this:

"Excuse me, what in the hell is Patriot's Day?"

Actually, that second question is the one I asked myself once I arrived home, down one daughter (vacation camp!  weeeeeee!), but up one son.  He and I sat down at the computer and I taught him about Google.  Together we learned that Patriot's Day is "celebrated" to recognize the battles at Lexington and Concord.  We looked at each other and smiled.  Ahhhh....the good old battles.  They just don't fight 'em like they used to, do they son?  Let me wedge you into the crook of my arm, shove a bottle into your mouth, and tell you all about the L&C Beatdowns so that you can understand why it is that your world and mine have been turned upside down this fine Monday morning.

Once upon a time....

Screw it.  Once upon a time, there was a beautiful princess named Snow White.  Have you heard this one?

I have no idea what the story is behind Lexington and Concord other than that they're in Massachusetts and Louisa May Alcott's family lived in Concord during their hippie commune spell.  Apparently whatever story there is hasn't really caught fire, as Google also told us that the only states in the union to recognize this day as a holiday are Massachusetts (okay)....and Maine.  The holiday even leap-frogged over New Hampshire, and they have a liquor store as soon as you enter the state from any direction, so you'd assume they're always up for an excuse to take a knee on a Monday.  But even THEY passed on Patriot's Day.  Good old Maine is taking the whole "vacationland"moniker a bit too far in this instance, if you ask me.  But lesson learned - I'm making a list of all the Canadian holidays so I can be prepared when our town goes into shut-down mode on Boxing Day or Canadian Thanksgiving.

The other aspect of this that fries my freckles is that one of the big attractions to having my son in daycare (as opposed to being with a nanny or fending for himself) is the notion of dependability.  I didn't have to worry about someone showing up on time or getting car trouble or falling ill.  Daycare was always there, always open.  Except, apparently, on Patriot's Day.  I'm a lawyer and I didn't read the damned fine print.

So here I am, "working from home."  I don't want my kids to feel like they've missed out, so later on they're going to don their red, white and blue track-suits for their 26.2 miler, and then they're going to watch their dad and me duke it out with bayonets in the back-yard.

Wishing you all the happiest of Patriot's Days!

Friday, April 13, 2012

Book Review: Zeitoun

The danger in not traveling for a long time is that you forget some of the tricks of the trade, and end up making costly rookie mistakes.  In my former life, I traveled a lot for work and could pack myself for days of depositions, client dinners, and travel comforts in less time than it now takes me to put out breakfast.  In preparing for this week's trip, I needed an Excel spreadsheet and a life coach to walk me through the process.  And even after that investment, I made the worst packing mistake I could have:

I brought only one book.  A book I was already halfway through by the time the taxi picked me up to head to the airport.

Silly, silly girl.  Know thyself.  Plan ahead.  Prepare for all possibilities. 

Including the possibility that no entertainment is offered on your flights, your iPod doesn't work and you forgot your earbuds anyway, you can't sleep, and the television in your hotel room (or "den," as the case may be) only offers "hotel channels" where you can see pictures of kids doing things you just saw kids doing when you entered the lobby and sprinted to the elevators. 

I've had to monitor and conserve the pages remaining to me like deer tracker protecting his beef jerky reserves.  I've scoured the surrounding territory for a place that will sell me another book, but unless I'm ready to cuddle up with "100 Ways to Rope Steer," I'm out of luck.  So I've read paragraphs here, sentences there, and the list of Guest Services in between to pass the time.

But today is travel day, and that means I'm headed to an airport.  If there's one thing I can count on an airport to provide, other than time-sucking and discomfort, its a bookstore.  I threw caution to the wind and finished the five pages remaining to me, and now I can report back to you on the book that got me through the past week.

That book is Zeitoun, by Dave Eggers.

Abdulrahman Zeitoun is a Syrian-American who lives in New Orleans with his Louisiana-born wife Kathy and their children.  Together, the husband and wife team run a successful general contractor/property management company.  August 2005 finds them living their lives -- business is going well, their children are beginning the school year, and Kathy's biggest concern is Zeitoun's grueling schedule. 

Then they start hearing news reports about a tame hurricane traveling up the Florida panhandle.  Accustomed to hurricanes and the manufactured hysteria that often accompanies an approaching storm, the two only half-monitor this hurricane's approach.  Soon, though, Hurricane Katrina becomes a force they can no longer ignore -- they listen to reports of its Category 5 strength and the brewing concerns about a storm surge and the strength of the levees.  Finally, Kathy decides to take the kids to weather the storm with her family in Baton Rouge.  Zeitoun decides to stay behind to take care of their house and the other properties they own and have projects at.

Eggers manages to portray the horrors that follow with simple prose and a direct story-line.  That feat is all the more impressive given the many layers of tragedy embodied in Hurricane Katrina.  There are the human triumphs, most notably Zeitoun's rescuing of strangers and neighbors who are stranded in their water-logged homes.  There is the human panic thanks to a disorganized evacuation process and misinformation about the scope of the storm.  And there are illusions to the mind-boggling atrocities at the Superdome that were broadcasted across the news.

For me, perhaps the most remarkable part of Zeitoun's story was his arrest in the days following the storm. A combination of local police and National Guards stormed a house Zeitoun and fellow survivors had taken refuge in (it had a working shower and telephone) and arrested all four men on the spot.  They were brutally treated, refused access to an attorney and a phone call, and jailed in make-shift cages set up outside a local Greyhound station.  The four men spent anywhere from weeks to months in an actual prison they were eventually transferred to, still without ever being charged with a crime, and continuously denied medical treatment, legal counsel, and even time outside of their packed jail cells.

This aspect of the book shed light on even more levels of corruption and failure that Hurricane Katrina managed to put in stark relief.  Police armed to the hilt who are themselves looting gas stations and stores arrest men who "look suspicious."  The false priorities of city officials, who managed to construct the cage system of jails in days while New Orleanians were starving, thirsty, and stranded just neighborhoods away.  A complete breakdown in the basic rights and preservation of human dignity that Americans provide themselves on championing and protecting above all else.

The book speaks on so many levels, and each will resonate on different levels for different readers.  It is a book we all owe the Zeitouns of the world to read.

Eggers also wrote a book called What Is The What, which I read a while ago.  While Zeitoun's story is compelling, I thought Eggers' writing made for a moving depiction in What Is The What.  So have yourself an Eggers weekend and read both.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Big Pimpin'

Today is a busy day of classes and a big sparkly event tonight.  So this post is less of a post and more of an unsolicited press release for some of my favorite places on the web.  Just don't like them better than you like me.  Remember we exchanged BFF necklaces and those are for keeps.

People I Want to Punch in The ThroatThat is seriously the title of this blog, written by a mom of 2 from Kansas who is absolutely hilarious.  She doesn't take the whole parenting thing too seriously, and she doesn't take her kids too seriously.  But you know she loves them, and she loves the unintentionally funny things they say and do.  She just doesn't love the over-achieving, judgey, show-offy people moms sometimesbecome/convince themselves they have to be, and she calls it likes she sees it.  Plus, she swears a lot.  And who doesn't like a swearer?  (Other than you, mum.)

STFU, Parents:  Again, that seriously is the title of this blog, written by a non-mom who is serving up parenting perspective on a daily basis.  She does so ingeniously: she receives submissions from readers who pass along amazing exchanges they see on Facebook, and she posts those exchanges and provides the commentary the rest of us would if we were that witty and that insightful.  For example, she coined the phrase "mommyjacking" by pointing out how Friend would post a status update trumpeting her job promotion, and Mommy would swoop in and leave a comment about her kid getting promoted from the plastic potty to the real deal.  Basically, this is the website that (a) calls some parents out for losing all social etiquette and consideration the moment Junior popped out; (b) serves as a pat-on-the-back for other parents who haven't so completely lost their minds; and (c) allows non-parents to let their voices be heard above the rattles and Dora theme song.

Grantland: Bill Simmons, a writer for ESPN (you might know him as the Sports Guy), recently launched this website as a warehouse for the type of posts he used to dedicate to Page 2 on They're a mix of in-depth sports opinion/analysis and pop culture reviews. You can read an article about NFL free agency and an article about the most recent Mad Men episode within just two clicks. I love Simmons' quirky, intelligent writing, and he's largely brought on writers that share a similar style. I am not 100% in love with the site because some of the writers are a bit....much. Their sentences are too long and their references are too obscure. But you can find some real gems here, so it's worth the repeated visits.

Carrots 'N Cake: This is a very approachable, very girl-next-door health blog written by Tina from Boston.  She started the blog after she realized that her after-work beers and candy-centric diet were catching up with her.  She overhauled her life, added in more exercise, and tried to make each meal as nutritious as possible.  By "possible," I mean within the realm of reason and economy, not "possible" as in all goji berries and all hemp granola, all the time.  She gives relatable ideas on how to bring a healthier you into being, and she shares easy recipe ideas along the way.  Her writing is very conversational, and she just starts to seem like the girlfriend you kind of already have, just in one-dimensional form.

Iowa Girl Eats:  This is another health/food/fitness blog, but the recipes are a bit more involved than those on Carrots 'N Cake.  In fact Kristin, the bloggess, is quite a little chef and baker, and she presents recipes in easy-to-manage steps with beautiful pictures to boot.  Plus, she shares cute stories about her life in perky, funny prose.  Actually, she makes things seem so easy and so fun that you almost want to hate her, but you can't help loving her.

What about you?  What are your favorite sites to visit?

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Getting to Know Me

The purpose of my current travels, other than preparing me for an eternity of hell-fire, is to attend a conference that the company I work for hosts for its customers.  Some of it is instructional, some is promotional, some is team-building.  Sprinkled in between are meals at round tables in a room the size of an airport hangar.  All this means that a lot of effort is required to be friendly, maintain conversation with complete strangers, and brush over awkward moments of painful silence with questions that spark more chit-chat. 

So about 150 people now know that I'm from Maine, have 2 kids, am staying at the waterpark hotel, like football but not baseball, and went to Georgetown.  Yeah, I loved it!  Do you know DC?  You're right, the summers are brutal!  [Insert knowing roll of the eyes and shrug of the shoulders.]

Some folks have really gotten saucy and rolled out the more personality questionnaire type questions.  I'm on a roll with these now, so I'm going to share with you what I've shared with Jolly Joe and Stern Sally (not a good pair). 

1.  When are you most alert: morning or night?

Unfair question.  It forces the responder to agree that at some point during a 24 hour span, he or she is "alert."  The only place "alert" has in my life is the "alert" that buzzes when I've set my calendar to remind me to brush my teeth or pay a bill.  So to the extent I can answer this question, I am most alert when I receive an alert and then I try to do the thing that alert was alerting me to do.

2.  What is your favorite thing to eat: vegetables, meat, or an equal combination of both?

Unfair question.  Why isn't sugar on this list?

But if I must play along with this false dilemma, then I go with vegetables.  Easily and in vastly greater amounts than meat.  I try to limit my intake of food that used to eat food.

3.  Do you prefer to be inside or outside?

It depends.  Where is everyone else?  Inside?  Then I like to be outside.  And vice versa.

4.  At what temperature are you most comfortable: hot, warm or cold?

Warm.  When I am hot the only thing I'm capable of doing is crying.  When I am cold the only thing I am capable of doing is yelling at my husband to turn up the darn heat.

5.  Do you like to get wet?

If it is in the shower and it is to get clean, yes.  If it is during a riot and the police are hosing me down, no.  If it is in a plane making an emergency water landing, no.  If it is because I fell out the driver's side door during a car wash, no.  If it is at a water park, absolutely not.

6.  Do you consider yourself a quiet, calm, or active person?

I am quietly thinking about how calmly I'd like to be able to explain to you how stupid this question is, and I would like to actively pursue removing myself from this exchange.  Does that count as an answer?

7.  Would you rather be by yourself or with lots of other people?

Do you seriously not know my response to that?  Moreover, do you seriously not yet have the strong preference that I keep to myself?  You're willing to give me the option of mingling?

8.  What do you do when you get nervous?

I put commas where there should be periods in my conversation.

9.  What do you do when you get angry?

I speak with caustic sarcasm so as to disguise the anger in the cloak of my every-day demeanor.

10.  What do you do when you are happy?

Extend the vacation.

11.  What do you do when you are sad?

Think about all the other things I do badly or don't like about myself so that I can get really settled in to the wallowing. 

12.  Do you have any interesting habits?

I worry.

As you can imagine, my cell phone has been ringing off the hook with dinner invitations.