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Friday, June 29, 2012

Dear Abby: Color Me Pretty

As we've established, I have a very strong nose for fashion, and a real eye for color.  Because of my undeniable knack in each of these departments, a reader has come to me for advice on this summer's color choices.

Wait, that's wrong.  (Sorry, I get some of my writing direction from CNN.) 

What we've actually established -- or rather, what I have established by directly telling you -- is that I am a hopeless fashion wreck.  I am Anne Hathaway's Andy in the Devil Wears Prada -- the duckling-before-the-swan Andy.  If I shop, I shop at the Gap because it feels safe and if I buy something, it's black because hopefully it will disguise me (camo is too loud and too busy).

Nevertheless, a reader -- one who knows me better than almost anyone -- has come to me for my thoughts on this summer's color schemes.  Particularly, the summer line-up for nail polish hues. 

What, she wants to know, do I think are the good summer colors for our fingers and toes?

Well, I'm going to put on my Sarah Palin hat and speak with authority I absolutely do not deserve on a subject I am wholly unqualified to opine on.  Because I, too, owe it to America.

Without further adieu, here are my picks for summer:

1.  Always the Bridesmaid:  this is the color of a pint of Ben & Jerry's Phish Food Frozen Yogurt, as diluted by mascara-streaked tears.

2.  Melanoma: a bright, flaming red substance that is painful to apply and blisters before it peels off a few days later.

3.  Sand in My Sandwich: imagine the white-beige color of tuna fish meat, sprinkled with gristle.

4.  Man The Grill: because every season needs its dark colors, this is summer's version of charcoal.  The only downside is that it takes forever to apply and never looks as good as you want it to.

5.  I'm Gonna Club Him: this is a vivid green, as a nod to both the golf course where your significant other spends all his free time, and the envy you have for grass that is apparently more entertaining and stimulating than your wit and loveliness.

6.  Bloodlust: a rusty red, for when the envy gets violent.

7.  Does This Chlorine Make My Eyes Red?:  in something of a surprise move, this option is not a veiny red, but is rather a foggy white to represent the swimmer's view of the world after emerging from 6.33 hours playing Marco Polo in the pool.

8.  Don't Look There:  a neon pink that sparkles and blinks so that all attention remains fixed on the wearer's fingers and/or toes, and never diverts to any of the "trouble spots" she didn't get around to tackling during the 3 seasons she is not encouraged to walk around half-naked in front of strangers.

9.  I Don't Feel So Good:  a putrid green-brown, because sometimes the boat ride is on waves that are a bit too choppy, and sometimes it's not a good idea to do 7 rides on the Gravitron after a dinner of corn dogs and funnel cake.

10.  The Wheels on The Bus: special edition for mothers of school-age children, this is a mustard yellow lined with black to remind those mothers that, someday soon, a rectangle on wheels will stop at the house to take the children away for 6-8 hours a day, five days a week.  (Competing titles for this shade were "Don't Lose the Faith" and "Light at The End of The Tunnel.")

Submit your idea or suggestion for a "Dear Abby" post by emailing me at All the other intricate details of this something-for-everyone are explained here.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Reading Rainbow

So, we've established what book I definitely will not ever, never ever ever never read. 

Let's flip this to the positive, though, and start talking about some books I have read recently.  I mean, I can't let negative book thoughts go lingering on the Internet for too long.  That's just disloyal.

The last month or so has been pretty productive for me, reading-wise.  I chalk it up to (1) more consistent mornings at the gym (the only way I stay on a cardio machine is if I have reading material in front of me); and (2) the abysmal offerings on television these days (abysmal for someone with no fancy channels like HBO or fancy devices like DVR). 

(By the way, what are my options for catching up on shows like Girls, Game of Thrones, Homeland, Veep, etc?  Acceptable responses do not include "get HBO.")

Join me on my reading rainbow, won't you?  Landing at a pot of gold is guaranteed.

1.  Ten Thousand Saints

This was my book club's assignment for our May meeting.  It is about 3 teenagers who are bound together by fate after the death of Teddy, who was Jude's best friend, Johnny's half brother, and Eliza's random hook-up.  Set in late 1987/early 1988, the story settles in the pot-smoking, heavy metal, aging hippy landscapes of Vermont and New York City.

Teddy's death -- caused by a drug overdose -- takes place early on in the book, and defines the rest of it.  Each character spends the remaining pages trying to come to grips with life minus Teddy.  To tell the paths each one takes would be to give too much of the plot away.  But as they try to make sense of themselves and their lives, they also try to understand their relationships with their parents.  Those parents are alternatively absent, chemically dependent, well-intentioned, or entirely aloof.

The story explores a period of time and a culture of counter-culturists that does not seem to have received much attention in popular fiction.  Because of its subject-matter, some portions of the book were achingly sad; reading about these kids, who seem so lost and so largely alone, sometimes made it hard to keep reading.  I am glad I kept going.  The book was engrossing, interesting in almost a historical sense, and ultimately redemptive.

Grade: B+

2.  A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

This is the first time I've ever read a book for a second time.  I'd read this one a couple years ago, and it finally gave me an answer to the "what's your favorite book?" question.  I decided to read it again.

I am so glad I did.  I love this book.  It's still my answer to that question.

The book takes place in the tenements of turn-of-the-century Brooklyn -- Williamsburg, to be more exact.  The heroine of the story is young Francie Nolan, the oldest of Johnny and Katie Nolan's three children.  Johnny is a dreamer, a singing waiter, and his daughter's hero.  He is also an alcoholic and an unreliable breadwinner for his struggling family.  Katie is a young mother and a tired janitress, uneducated but wise in the ways of the world.  Her goal is for her children to graduate from college -- essentially a fantasy.

But from birth, she reads to her children every night.  One chapter from the Bible; one chapter from the Complete Works of William Shakespeare.  Francie begins writing her own little stories and going to the library to take out -- and then read -- a book every day.  Perhaps you can see why I'm in love with her.

The book traces Francie's life from young childhood to her, yes, departure for college.  Along the way, we see what it meant to be a poor immigrant trying to hang on to a belief in the touted American dream.  We see the pure earnestness of a little girl, and wishes so simple they are heart-breaking.  We see what it means to be a mother, a sister, and a fighter.  Not in the boxing sense.  In the spirit sense.

They are big messages to convey.  Part of the wonder of the book is that those messages translate through straightforward writing and the observations of a young, hungry, generally-deprived little girl. 

Grade: A+ 

3.  The Fall of The House of Zeus

This is a memoir about Dickie Scruggs, a mass-tort trial lawyer from Mississippi who made millions and millions of dollars by figuring out how to bring huge class actions against the asbestos industry and the tobacco industry.  The book shows how he came to amass those riches, but the focus is on how he came to loose everything else:  his law practice, his reputation, his connections, and his chem-free lifestyle.

Part of the intrigue of the book is its detailing of how Scruggs' road to riches was paved with back-room deals, good old boy connections, and shady political figures.  Interestingly, his downfall was paved with those same elements.  It's a part fascinating, part nauseating glimpse into a world where results are supposed to be evidence of the truth and efforts are supposed to be the pursuit of it, but where everything ultimately boils down to money, self-interest, and self-preservation.  And money.  Also, money.

If you dislike plaintiffs' lawyers and/or politicians, this book will supplement your righteous indignation.  If you don't have any interest in either, this book is a pass for you.  To the extent you do decide to pick it up, be prepared for lots of names and titles.  I can't remember any of them and didn't even try to -- it was such a tangled web that I eventually just found myself glazing over them.

Grade: B-

4.  The Power of One

This is a book I picked up totally randomly because it was in the 2-for-1 bin at the bookstore.  I'm so glad I grabbed it.

It's set in pre-apartheid South Africa and tells the story of Peekay, a young boy sent off to a loathsome boarding school when his mother falls ill.  He is brutally bullied there, and seems destined for a life of sadness and disappointment.  In fact, the opening chapters of the book are so painful to read that, again, I almost had to put this one down.

But then Peekay gets sent to his grandfather's ranch, and must travel there by train.  The train conductor is a man named Hoppy who befriends Peekay and introduces him to the world of boxing.  He takes Peekay to a boxing match during a layover in their trip, and in the process convinces Peekay that he is to become the "next welterweight champion of the world."  It becomes Peekay's battle cry, along with Hoppy's mantra that a boxer has to fight "first with the head, then with the heart."

From that fateful encounter, Peekay's life takes a rapid upswing.  In Forrest Gumpian degrees, he becomes an exceptional student, chess-player and, of course, boxer.  He befriends aging scientists and pianists, prison wardens and inmates, librarians and household maids.  He remains just outstanding enough to be marveled, not so outstanding that he becomes a caricature and the book a joke.

Peekay's precocious voice tells the story of self-transformation and triumph, and it's a wonderful story.

Grade: A

5.  Behind The Beautiful Forevers

This is another memoir, and it earned Katherine Boo a Pulitzer Prize.  She spent years following inhabitants of a sprawling slum in Mumbai, India, and focuses her account around 3 of them.  Those three are all teenagers and all trying to support their poorer than poor and larger than large families by sorting garbage, collecting garbage, stealing garbage, or pretending they don't see the garbage.

The book is like a punch to the gut.  It's set in just the past couple years.  And yet still these families are living in tin huts, sleeping on rat-infested floors, and scavenging for food.  They are dying in the streets to no one's notice, they are getting high off discarded bottles of white-out, and they are getting lost in the corrupt bureaucracy of a city that's trying to pretend it's first-world.  They can see the glistening hotels and hear the 747s fly overhead, but they can't count on the fact they'll be eating dinner.

It's a wake-up call of the first degree, but (or should it be "and"?) it's also paralyzingly depressing.  In fact, the book doesn't even try to end on a positive, hopeful note.  Nor should it, I suppose.  The polarity between the upwardly mobile Indian society and the seemingly trapped millions living in its underbelly appears beyond righting. 

So on the one hand, the book is worth reading.  It's one of those books, really, that you feel duty-bound to read.  And it's seamlessly written -- you never feel as though you're reading a distillation of a journalist's notes.  But on the other hand, it's not for the faint of heart.  And it's most certainly not going to fall under the heading of "Summer Beach Read."

Grade: A-

6.  Defending Jacob

I read this book in about 2 days.  It's written by a lawyer, and it's about a lawyer.  Clearly, I was drawn.

The story is about Andy Barber, a successful DA in the Boston suburb of Newton.  The murder of a middle school boy rocks the community, and Andy is assigned to prosecute the case.  Until, that is, he's removed when his own son, Jacob, becomes the suspect.  And soon thereafter, the defendant on trial.

The book covers a lot of themes: bullying, a parent's protective instincts, a young teenager's confused approach to life, the propensity for violence, the court of public opinion, the pariah status of the accused.  It also spends a lot of time in the courtroom or in the investigation.  There are surprise plot twists, cliff hangers, and a unpredictable ending.

It's the type of book that could be formulaic to a fault and almost cheesy in its presentation.  It somehow manages to fall short of that -- a failure which in this sense is very much a positive.  While I sometimes found myself whispering "Oh come on," it was only occasionally and never with an eye-roll.  The lawyerly sections are spot-on, which is always refreshing.  You can tell the author was either a good lawyer or an excellent law student. 

I think most readers would really enjoy this book.  It's an easy read, but it's an engaging one, and it leaves you with a lot to think about at the end.

Grade: A-/B+

Do you have any good summer reads to share?  My Amazon "wish list" is dozens of books me add to it!

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The Case for Censorship

I know that book burnings are kind of the hallmark of narrow-minded thinking, but I'm considering hosting one.

Because the fewer copies of Rielle Hunter's memoir "What Really Happened: John Edwards, Our Daughter, and Me," that there are on this earth, the better.  Much better.

Rielle Hunter is the woman who had an affair with former presidential candidate and pretty boy wannabe, John Edwards.  The affair was exposed as Mr. Edwards' wife, Elizabeth, was dying from a recurring bout of cancer.  It produced a love child, a forced exit from the campaign trail, and a trial for misuse of campaign funds.

And now, it has produced a "tell all" book.

Like many would-be book burners, I have not read the book.  I never will.  But now that it's hit bookstands and Ms. Hunter is prattling into any microphone offered to her about her magnum opus, details of its contents have emerged.  Those details are flabbergasting.

I'm not sure there's any polite way to write a book about the affair you had with a national figure that tore apart his marriage and perhaps proved to be the final nail in the coffin his wife was trying to avoid.  But Ms. Hunter's book outline apparently had no place for "polite" or any of its cousins, like "dignified," "respectful," or even "thoughtful."  Because the book she has churned out might as well have been titled "How To Be Tasteless Without Really Trying."

The book includes steamy details about Ms. Hunter's trysts with Mr. Edwards, including an explanation for how she became pregnant with his child.  She preens about her pick-up line: a direct "You're so hot!" and she had him, as she's recounted, "jumping into her arms."  She tries to paint herself as something other than a homewrecker.

All of that is basically stomach-churning and enough of a general turn-off.  Ms. Hunter wasn't content to stop there, though.  She spends at least some portion of the book trashing Elizabeth Edwards.  The woman she deceived.  The woman who was standing by her husband's side during a presidential campaign just as she received news that her cancer had returned, more aggressively than before.  The woman who has since died, leaving behind 3 children.  The woman an entire nation got behind and largely adored. 

Ms. Hunter thinks we all were hood-winked.  According to her, John Edwards was not a demon for cheating on his wife.  According to her, she was not a mistress, despite the fact she was exactly that.  No, no.  According to her, Elizabeth was the bad apple in the love triangle Ms. Hunter created.  Indeed, Ms. Hunter says Elizabeth was "a witch on wheels," "venomous," "crazy" and given to fits of  "rage."  One of the reasons she wrote the book, Ms. Hunter claims, is to show the world that Elizabeth was not the saint we took her for.

It's hard for me to react to all of this because my brain just sputters.  Rielle Hunter has now placed herself in the pantheon of humans who have exhibited the least amount of awareness ever in the history of humans.  She lacks self-awareness, in that she does not seem to note the preposterousness of critizing the reaction of a woman who has just found out her husband has been wildly cheating on her  Hey, Ms. Hunter?  How was Elizabeth supposed to react when she found out that her smarmy husband had been porking you from North Carolina to North Dakota while she was at home raising his kids, attending his fundraisers, and listening to his puffy speeches?  Do tell.  To my mind, you're lucky she was nothing more than a "witch" on wheels.  If it'd been me, I'd have been a bitch saddled to an AK-47.

She also is entirely lacking in external awareness.  She does not seem to have read the pulse of the American public, which has already decided that the mistress (that'd be you, Rielle) is the witch lady, and the cancer-stricken wife (that'd be Elizabeth) is pretty close to a saint for presenting herself with dignity in the aftermath of the Hiroshima Rielle and John detonated in the waning months of her life.   She never publicly trashed either her husband or his mistress.  She had the forum to do so, but she declined.  Ms. Hunter, on the other hand, raced to the bully pulpit as soon as she learned what Microsoft Word is.  And she fails to recognize that the rest of us view that as uncomfortable, at the very best.  A better word is probably unseemly.  Or disgusting.

There's the addage that we're supposed to speak well of the dead.  Even if you come at this entire mess with the most objective of attitudes, Elizabeth Edwards should at least be accorded that respect.  But I guess if you don't respect a woman enough to keep your hands off her husband, you probably can't be expected to keep your griping about her to yourself after her early and tragic departure from the family you willingly destroyed.

Ms. Hunter says she undertook this effort to tell her side of the story.  Presumably, she thought that in so doing, she would emerge somewhat less tarnished.  Somehow better.  Instead, she comes out way, way worse.  As if that was even possible.  She shows herself to be a narcissitic and unfeeling weasel acting on a juvenile impulse: steal at least a piece of the sympathy, the heart, and the affection the other girl won.  

The problem for Ms. Hunter is that the other girl wasn't a girl, but a woman, a mother and a wife.  And she won our affections fair and square.

You, Rielle, should spend less time writing books and more time reading them.  The self-help section would be a good place to start. 

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Make New Friends, But Keep The Old

This weekend I got a bird's-eye view of three "friend duets" that began in high school or before and have continued through college graduations, first jobs in new cities, weddings, and now babies.  The six women that comprise these separate sets of solid friendships were each on the wiser and maturer end of the female spectrum, even in the midst of angst-ridden teenage girlhood.  So in a way, it's not really remarkable that they've remained the cool, calm and collected people that they were back when the rest of us were crying, as it were, over spilled milk.

Still, it was heartwarming to see these reunions of dear friends whose relationships now largely play out over electronic communication devices. 

I have been thinking a lot about women's relationships with other women since we moved back to Maine.  I think it is because I have been able to enjoy such a nice network of mostly new friends since that return.  Many of these evolved out of my daughter's preschool scene.  The mothers I met there have been refreshingly down-to-earth.  They take their children and their mothering seriously, but not too seriously.  And they don't take themselves very seriously at all.  They're warm, engaging, funny and not at all competitive about much of anything.  Except about maybe who has the most embarrassing temper tantrum story to share. 

The return to Maine also meant leaving behind the job that consumed my life.  Not only did that job distract me from my family time, it distracted me from the friendships I had going into the law firm world.  When there was hardly time to have a conversation with my husband or put my daughter to bed, you can be darned sure that it was hard to find time for a girls' hour out.

Now, it's not like I'm oozing free time.  It's nearly impossible to talk on the phone for more than 5 minutes, and meeting up usually involves children and the activities that entertain them.  But I do now have the ability to make plans and know that no "work emergency" is going to force me to cancel.  I can join a book club and go to New York City to meet my friend's newborn and host a play-date at my house.  And in the process, I can make a new friend out of an old one.

The great thing about making new friends and new-old friends at this stage in my life is that so much of the drama is gone.  The women in my circles are mostly settled in to who they are, and they require so much less validation of who that person is.  There is far less cattiness, no talking behind backs, no surface-level judgments.  In fact, most women I know embrace their quirks, and consider their unique perspectives to be the very things that make them attractive as a friend.  Making fun of yourself is basically the lead-in to every conversation I have with a girlfriend these days.

Of course, we're not all solid packages of self-confidence.  Everyone probably wishes something about them looked different, or that they made more money, or that their kids were better behaved, or that their husband stopped acquiring livestock.  (That last one might just be me.)  The great thing is that the degree of those insecurities has been toned way down from the years when saying the "wrong thing" could lead to cruel mockery and burning shame, and when wearing the "wrong thing" could lead to a feigned illness and an afternoon spent home from school.

If you've read about 1 of my previous posts, you can probably imagine that I was slightly off-center when it came to fitting in at school.  I was teased for being a bookworm, teased for my frizzy curly hair, teased for not going to parties, teased for not being more like my sisters.  While I finally made some friends -- even some great friends -- I never felt settled.  Not within myself, and not within my relationships.

Today, there is still a long list of things about myself I wish would improve, but I am basically okay with who I am.  And I am more than okay with the friendships I am lucky enough to have.  I have friends that I only see during drop-off or pick-up, but who are always good for a quick chat and easy laugh.  I have friends I see with somewhat more regularity, friends who I see only randomly but with whom I quickly and easily reconnect, and a small group of friends who are either my biological sisters or my close-enough ones.  I am so happy to have them all, and so relieved to have reached the stage of my life where I can peacefully enjoy each of them.

I now understand what Oprah and Today show contributors always love to talk about: the value of female friendships.  A grown-up girlfriend listens to your rambling, internal debate on whether you should get a nanny or send your child to daycare.  She helps you pick up the casserole you dropped on the floor and make it look presentable to the dinner guests you're about to feed.  She disciplines your kid without making it look like she just did that, and she still loves your kid almost as much as you do.  She reminds you that you are a fun, intelligent person whose title is not "Mommy."  She helps you shop for a dress for your rehearsal dinner because she knows you will otherwise show up in the colorblock shift dress you wore to your high school graduation.  She doesn't judge you when you cry for no reason you can identify.  She can tell something is off with you just by the state of your housework.  She makes you feel somewhat sane by acting somewhat insane, some of the time. 

She is awesome.  She makes the old struggle to "fit in" worth it. 

Unfortunately, that struggle is probably something all girls have to endure.

Fortunately, it's not something most women do. 

Monday, June 25, 2012

Where's The Off Switch?

Having now spent the weekend at home with my son, I have confirmed my worst fears:

My son has become a boy.

Up until recently, my son was "just" a baby.  He wanted what babies want, when they want them.  At somewhat predictable intervals to sleep, to be fed, to be changed, and to be mildly entertained.  That entertainment could come in the form of grasping almost any inanimate object, usually from a device he was strapped into or that otherwise restrained his movements.

I'd noticed along the way that he wasn't the cuddly type of creature my daughter was as an infant.  He would snuggle in to be fed a bottle, but as soon as the feeding was over, he didn't want to be rocked or held.  He wanted to be put in his bed.  "I'll take it from here, ma, and I'll see you on the flip side."

And as I've already mentioned, he's a terror to behold on a changing table

Now he's taken those tendencies -- which I chalk up to part-personality, part-gender -- and run with them.  With his crawling legs under him, he's scooching his way to new boy terrain.

He no longer sits still.  He is no longer easily distractible.  He is no longer peaceful.

At least one limb is in constant motion.  Something is always going into his mouth.  Nothing is safe from his exploring fingers.  His jaws are always chomping.  A sound -- usually a screech -- is always leaving his throat.  He shakes his head.  He claps his hands.  He kicks his feet.  He rolls this way.  He rolls that way.  He wants out of the swing.  He wants up the stairs.  He wants into the action.

He'll calm down if I pick him up, but only if I, in turn, get a move on.  To stand still is not an option.  And still, his pointer finger is either scraping my teeth, jamming into my eye, or clawing my ear.

I've concluded that the only time he isn't moving is when he is asleep. 

My husband agrees with my diagnosis of Boy to such an extent that I've started scoring hollow victories.  For a long time, I've been telling him how much our son loves the Johnny Jump Ups they have at day care.  These are the do-hickies you set up over a door frame or its equivalent, and a seat hangs down.  The baby sits in the seat and literally just jumps, at controlled heights.  For you visual learners:

My husband had always said he hated the contraptions.  I'm not sure exactly why he did, but it was an opinion he maintained and I let it go.

Well, after an hour of zone defense yesterday morning, my husband ran to Wal-Mart and came home with one of those suckers under his arm.  In the time it takes to yell "get that out of your mouth!", he had it set up.  And as soon as our son woke up from his morning nap, he was grinning contentedly as he jumped his heart out.

Which is great.  We have a new baby thing in our house that will buy us 5 minutes of diversion and hopeful-tiring.  But the Johnny Jump Up can't come to the grocery store or on a car ride or to the pool.  I'm either going to have to find an inflatable trampoline with walls or invest in one of those parachute things Olympic sprinters put on their back to train with added wind resistance.  Again, visual learners, picture this.  But with a baby.  Crawling.

The somewhat silver lining here is that my son's new dimension has single-handedly erased an entire repertoire of activities and options from my consideration.  Until he is ready for college, if he is involved, I don't think I will ever:

  • Travel by plane;
  • Sit down beside a body of water;
  • Purchase anything for my home that can't be fixed with glue, a needle and thread, or a dump truck;
  • Be near an open flame;
  • Stay awake past 9PM;
  • Leave a door open;
  • Leave a window open;
  • Go to places with parking lots;
  • Mock people that use child leashes.
Seriously, visual learners.  You haven't seen this at the mall to know immediately what I'm talking about?

Now if you'll excuse me, I've got to go buy noise reduction headphones.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Dear Abby: What About Us?

Yesterday, I wrote about Justin Bieber retweeting one of my sister's tweets about his NBC special.  One of the comments to that post is the ultimate subject of today's post.

But before I go there, let me just tell you something.  Justin Bieber is a force to be reckoned with. When I logged onto Blogger this morning to check my stats, the little chart that tracks daily tallies was off the page.  My semi-bland reporting of the Justin Bieber Event is now my second-most read post of all time.  ("All time" being since March 2012, but still.  Wow.) 

I'm flattered that I got so many readers.  At the same time, it's a bit demoralizing.  Between you and me, I kind of mailed it in yesterday.  It was a hectic day and I didn't have nearly enough time to sit down and really concentrate on polishing off a post.  So I just did a fairly journalistic summary of something someone else experienced.  I have spent hours on other posts, doing "research," editing, sitting at a blank screen trying to think of a more unique approach to a particular subject.  Sometimes those posts do well, sometimes they don't.  Sometimes the posts I spend the most time on and that I'm most personally proud of barely register a blip on my stats log.

Then along comes Justin Bieber and Blogger can hardly keep up with the traffic.  I think I could have just written "Justin Bieber" 4,000 times and the post would have been a statistical success.

So apparently there's a pretty simple equation: Justin Bieber + public forum = unparalleled attention.  Which I think means The Biebs should expand his brand beyond entertainment.  He should go into politics, banking, education reform, and world peace.  If something as silly as my blog can benefit from the mere mention of His Holy Justin's name, imagine what he could do for the likes of presidential nominees, Bank of America, homework, and Iran.  He should be featured in every campaign ad, every credit application, every take-home quiz, and every nuclear arms inspection.  It's a wonder Selena Gomez still has the capacity to blush; it seems as though everything Mr. Bieber touches turns to some form of solid gold.


A loyal reader, Ben, commented on yesterday's post and queried: "what is the dude equivalent of adult women geeking out over an arguably pubescent Canadian?"

Well, Ben, let's see.

Sticking strictly to the parameters you've erected around this exercise, here is my best extrapolation:

A RT from Sarah Hyland, who plays Haley Dunphy on Modern Family.  Technically, she's 21 but she looks 14.  Nonetheless, she was featured in Maxim's Hot 100.  In fact, she came in at #50 -- even beating out co-star Sophia Vergara, who clocked in at #71.  So apparently guys are into her.  And if there's any starlet in Hollywood who adult men should not be lusting after as much as Maxim claims they do, I'd have to say it's her.


Or maybe it's Justin Bieber.  Given what I've seen over the past 48 hours, it wouldn't surprise me if The Biebs has infiltrated the testosterone ranks and would cause the manliest of mans to squeak at the sight of a Biebs RT. 
But let's broaden our horizons, shall we?

To begin with, I think the premise of Ben's question may be flawed.  It assumes that guys geek out.  I am not sure I've ever seen a guy geek out.  Or maybe I have, and I just didn't know that was what I was witnessing. 

I've been in the room when I've seen some guys meet Tony Gonzalez, the future Hall of Fame tight end who currently plays for the Atlanta Falcons.  The guys I saw meeting him were mostly just craning their necks to look up at him and either not talking or saying really stupid things.  ("How many catches this year, big guy?"  "You should come up and go golfing with us!")  Is that a guy geek out?

I've also been in an elevator with my father when a member of the Boston Celtics happens to get on with us.  My father's reaction was similar to the Tony Gonzalez response.  Craned neck, inane comment.  ("Hey man.  [Offers handshake]  You guys lookin' good this ye-ah?  God damn right.")  Was that my dad geeking out?

Bringing this back to the Twitter context, the most I can see a guy doing in response to a remarkable RT is grunting.  Maybe passing their phone to whoever is sitting next to them so that person can see the RT with his own eyes and give a good grunt, too.

Putting aside the contained response I believe the average male would have to anything exciting -- be it a Twitter RT or a baby announcement -- I have to believe that there are other RTs that would somewhat elevate John Doe's blood pressure.  Here are some that I can think of:

1.  Having some comment about a game, a player, or a coach RT'd by Andy Katz, Bill Simmons, ESPN, etc. 

2.  Same scenario as #1, but the RT comes from Erin Andrews.  Then you've got the sports nod AND the hot girl nod.  (Perhaps in this situation, the grunt would be followed by a "DUDE!!!")

3.  Having a suggestion for a good morning workout RT'd by any pro athlete.

4.  Same scenario as #3, but the tweet includes a picture of John Doe's torso.  And it's RT'd by Erin Andrews.

5.  Having a list of people John Doe has dated RT'd by George Clooney.

6.  Having some obscure movie reference RT'd by whatever bad actor starred in that movie.

7.  Having a picture of the steaks John Doe is grilling RT'd by Anthony Bourdain or Peter Luger's Steakhouse. 

8.  Having a tweet -- any tweet -- worthy of a RT by Humblebrag.  (Said tweet could even be "That awkward moment when you realize Erin Andrews can't concentrate on the NHL Awards because she's RT'ing my LeBron dig.")

9.  Having a tweet -- any tweet -- RT'd by Blake Lively, Brooklyn Decker, or [INSERT OBJECT OF AFFECTION HERE].

10.  Having a tweet predicting likely rainfall/snowfall totals RT'd by Jim Cantore.  (This one might be of more limited applicability, but I'm pretty sure among the men in my extended family, that RT would be cause for champagne, cigars, and maybe early retirement.)

Add to the list!

Submit your idea or suggestion for a "Dear Abby" post by emailing me at All the other intricate details of this something-for-everyone are explained here.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

It's A Tweetiful Thing

In case you're like me and were stuck watching something about a magician that your significant other found on television, be advised: night one of a two-night special on Justin Bieber took place on NBC last night.  The special goes behind the scenes of a Justin tour, and is a part-documentary, part-performance showcase for the guy who doesn't need to be showcased.

Two of my sisters were watching the show and tweeting about it.  One sent out a relatively innocuous tweet about how she wished it were a 5-day special.  She did not mention Justin Bieber; she did not even include his "handle" (ie. his Twitter "address") in her tweet.

But I guess the Biebs follows this particular sister of mine (long story short, she met him -- I know) and he saw her tweet go out.  He realized she was talking about his special.  So he paid her the ultimate Twitter compliment. 

He retweeted her tweet.  (Mum, this takes your Twitter education to the next level.  A RT means that Justin copied her tweet and sent it around so that his bajillion followers could see that Sister Sister had said what she'd said about The Biebs.  You know what?  Never mind.)

My sister then proceeded to lose her shit.  I actually heard her do it through my phone.  I live in Maine and she lives in the South, but her screams were that piercing and her smile was that big.  I heard reports that air traffic controllers had to reroute several planes away from Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport because her shrieking messed up radar systems for a sustained 5 minutes.

Her husband then remarked, via Twitter of course, that he'd never seen her so happy.  Including on their wedding day.

Then something else happened.  After the Biebs retweeted her, his legions of fans started following suit.  Hundreds of them.  Like the hundreds near 1,000, not the hundreds near 100.  In the process, she became even more Twitter famous and added to her already solid base of followers.  (And as she received a notification of each RT, her smartphone must have checked its calendar for the "rattlesnake transformation" appointment and become confused at seeing nothing for 8:28PM on Wednesday, June 20 scheduling such a transformation.) 

The event demonstrates two things: the power of the Biebs and the power of Twitter.  I believe my brother-in-law when he says he's never seen my sister so happy.  Twitter is the exploitation of some of the most basic instincts we all feel.  (1) We want to feel connected to celebrity, especially to celebrity we care about; and (2) we want our thoughts and reactions and musings validated.  Any basic RT makes you feel pretty good about yourself -- someone thinks that something you sent out into the universe was worthy of sharing.  It was that funny, that poignant, that emblematic of whatever situation it was summarizing in 140 characters or less.  But being RT'd by the likes of a Justin Bieber?  Well, hot damn.  Now you're getting that affirmation from the type of super-person that the rest of the world has made somehow more special than the rest of us Twitter-addled peons.

Everyone who is even semi-engrossed with Twitter understands what my sister was feeling.  I know this to be true because this is a girl who's had her fair share of glory, met her fair share of celebs, and had her fair share of unparalleled life experiences.  And yet she will forever remember the night Justin Bieber retweeted her.

I provided my husband with a recap of this Bucket List event my sister just enjoyed.  He is not big into Twitter, but after some general explanation, he grasped the holy significance of what had just transpired.  Then he looked at me and, in a semi-serious tone, hypothesized: "Well, maybe you can use Twitter to get in touch with Johnny Depp and invite him to Maine."

It's moments like that where I am compelled to dust off the "Renew Our Vows" file folder I don't have.

Actually, though, Johnny Depp is my dream, but not my Twitter dream.  No, my Twitter dream is that someday, some blog post will do a lightning-take off and take this little enterprise of mine into the stratosphere. 

As that homeless guy at the end of Pretty Woman shouted, "What's your dream?  This is [Twitter].  Everybody got a dream."

Now you know my sister's.  And you know mine.

What's your dream?

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Here's Johnny!

Looks like I am going to need to add a new category to this.

That category is Paper Pushers.

Seems that if a couple protests too much that marriage is just some silly piece of paper that means nothing to them, that couple dost protest too much.

Following in the footsteps of Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins, for example, the world must bid au revoir to Johnny Depp and his "girlfriend" of 14 years, Vanessa Paradis.

People have their theories as to the source of the break-up.  The family's move to LA.  Johnny's Rum Diary co-star Amber Heard.  Vanessa's refusal to participate in a family meal.

Here's mine:  my self-promotion letter-writing campaign is finally starting to have some effect.

Hey, Johnny.

Call me.  Maybe?

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Just Add Water

My son has reached that age when he's realized what hands are for and how they're attached to his body.  He has further learned to crane his neck, twist his torso, kick his feet, and flap his arms.

In short, he has begun to squirm.  I think he's looking to go pro.

Changing his diaper is now an exercise in mixed martial arts, mind games, and reflexology.  Fortunately, I'm a dear friend of Jason Bourne's and he taught me some of his tricks, but even with that in my arsenal, it's a daily diaper doozie.

I am always thankful that the only people who witness the embarrassments that now come along with these encounters are people I have birthed.  And they're too young to know that I look like a complete idiot several times a day for five minutes a pop.

But, if Candid Camera decided that breaking and entering would be good for business, this is what they'd see.

Scene One: Son Throws Mother Off The Scent

In this opening scene, son is perched contentedly on mother's hip.  Sunlight is streaming through the new Home Depot blinds, and there's a soft breeze coming through the open window.  Chickens can be heard banging their beaks against the window of their chicken coop.  The creak of a swing set.  The purr of a leaf blower.

Son has thumb firmly wedged in mouth, his other hand twirling mother's hair.  His eyes are peaceful, his movements calm.

Scene Two:  The Approach

Son senses the changing table coming nearer.  He frees his thumb from his mouth and his hand from mother's hair, and proceeds to flap his arms like a bird learning to fly or a woman noticing the sign says 60% off.  He pitches his torso forward at a precarious 45 degree angle, as if dive-bombing for the changing pad.  Mother grips son's upper thighs in a death clutch, similar to a move you may have seen on Ultimate Fighter

Scene Three:  The Descent

Because the laws of physics leave her no other choice, mother guides son in a slow "fall" into the changing pad.  The process is reminiscent of a country fair event in which young children try to move a watermelon greased with Crisco from the bed of a pick-up truck to a wheelbarrow without dropping the watermelon.

Son lands somewhere on his side, and brings in an elbow out of nowhere to prop himself up.  This gives him a decided advantage over any wall art, which is now well within reach due to some poor planning and limited foresight on the part of his parents.  A large, wooden painting flaps in the breeze of son's harsh movements and exploring fingers.  Mother freezes.

Scene Four:  The Removal

Son tires of destroying artwork and looks for other items on the changing table with which to tempt child safety laws and mother's heart rate.  He first seizes on (1) a bottle of Infant's Advil; (2) a package of wipes; (3) nail clippers; and (4) a bottle of lotion.

Mother must do split-second cost-benefit analysis.  Clippers aren't opened, but lotion looks ready to spurt.  Remove lotion first, clippers second.  Bottle of Advil has child-resistant top, but reputation counts here, and babies should not be encouraged to play with medicine.  That leads to high-school dropouts and meth labs.  Remove Advil bottle.

Allow son to feel some level of 9-month-old person satisfaction and give him the pleasure of playing with a package of wipes.  Encourage him to really crinkle that plastic.  Pretend not to notice as he repeatedly swings the package in the direction of mother's face.  Hold back the stinging tears that result when the corner of the package nicks mother in the eye.

The point is, son is now at least lying on his back, with only the upper part of his body is in motion.  Time to capitalize.

In a one-handed maneuver worthy of Sports Center top plays, remove pants, unsnap onesie, and remove diaper.  The ultimate triple play.

Scene Five:  Working Against The Clock

Mother is now confronted by a pants-less, diaper-less time bomb.  Knowing that if she doesn't move quickly she, too, will require a change, she moves fast.  Left arm becomes safety restraint, lying across torso of son, who has already tired of the package of wipes and is now scavenging for nunchucks or lighter fluid.  Finding none within reach, he begins to squawk.

Mother now has squawking, squirming creature underneath her tired left arm.  Diapers are further out of reach than she remembered, and must be retrieved with big toe of her pointed left foot. 

Having ballerinaed a diaper to within right hand's reach, mother opens diaper with right hand, unsticks tape from the two tabs to close diaper, and goes in for her first attempt at affixing clean diaper.

Tape from diaper tabs sticks to underside of son's onesie.  In her frustration, mother's left hand slackens.  Smelling opportunity, son makes a go for it and flips like some kind of Olympic turtle onto his stomach.  Diaper is now lying vertically across son's torso and seems to be a willing participant in the plot to confound mother.

Mother must resort to calling in the big guns.  Daughter trots down the hall.  Daughter begins singing and waving her arms in a tribalistic fashion that causes son to laugh.

Mother pounces.  Flips son to back.  Unsticks clean diaper from onesie.  Places clean diaper in the appropriate anatomical region.  Fastens onesie.  Searches for pants.

Pants have fallen behind changing table and are wedged between table and wall in a pile of dust.  Mother extends left hand, Superman style, and plunges right hand into the dark recesses of behind-the-changing-table.  Right hand flings about wildly hoping to feel cotton.  Right hand locates cotton, pulls up pants, shakes pants to remove at least some dust, and coaxes them back onto son's body just as daughter is finishing final stanza of song and preparing to take her bow.

Scene Six:  The Recovery

Son is sitting on floor of his room.  Thumb is in mouth.  Eyes are placidly looking up.  Unmistakable "WHAT????" expression spreads across son's face.

Mother is sprawled in rocking chair.  Hair is extending directly away from her ears, creating a horizon line of horror away from her face.  Mascara is streaked and shirt has slight tear in left armpit region.

Daughter is singing a new song.

Son grunts.

It's time to change the diaper again.


Mother purchases bath tub of goldfish and trains from 8-10PM on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays in the art of bagging goldfish barehanded. 

After six weeks of practice and a highly unenjoyable low carb diet, mother is able to improve upon the diaper-changing process by finding discarded pants with pointer finger only.

Monday, June 18, 2012

The Best of Times, The Worst of Times

Oh, Charles Dickens.  You gave us an orphan named Pip, an orphan named Oliver, and an incredibly helpful literary ying-and-yang.

This Father's Day weekend was marked by a high and a low.  The peak-and-valley nature of the past 48 hours was put in even starker relief because so much of the weekend was calm and peaceful.  It was the perfect weather here in Maine -- bright blue skies, gentle sun, and about 70-degree temperatures.  We had nothing on our agenda, and so we could enjoy the first schedule-free weekend we have had in a long time.  There was no school week to prepare for, no one was battling a cold, and my son seems to have come out on the other side of his teething journey...for now. 

Against this backdrop of tranquility, the weekend's best was able to stand up all the more proudly, and its worst took on especially macabre undertones.

Unfortunately, we started off on the wrong foot.  And that foot stepped out to trip us on Thursday night.

That evening, my husband came home from work and decided to let our chickens out of the coop to "free range" in the back-yard.  They'd done this a handful of times before.  It literally consists of them milling around in front of their coop, pecking at the ground.  They stay relatively huddled together, in what looks like an unorganized conga line.  Minus the sombreros. 

My husband had never had an issue with this practice before.  Sometimes he'd done it in the morning and come in for breakfast while they explored; sometimes he'd done it in the evening and come in for dinner while they craned their necks to watch The Nightly News with Brian Williams through the neighbor's window.  Before Thursday, the only trick had been to get them back in the coop; once they tasted the freedom of grass and fresh air, they weren't always cooperative about being picked up and returned to their roost.  I might have pictures of my husband chasing them in circles around my daughter's swing set.  I just might.

But Thursday night was tragically different.  As we were eating dinner, we heard a chorus of crows cackling in the yard.  Normally, we only hear the murderous tones of crows in the morning, so this struck us as odd.  We did not go immediately rushing outside, though.  We thought the crows were just being annoying. 

And, we are dumb.

Because 5 minutes after we heard the crow hysteria, we went outside.  And didn't see anything in our yard.  Not a single chicken.

The expression on my husband's face was the same expression Obama wore when he was in the Situation Room and heard that one of the Apache helicopters went down during the raid on Osama's Pakistani compound:  barely-controlled panic with visions of a second term flying out the window.  I just stared at the blank space where once stood six chickens and unhelpfully asked "where'd the chickens go?"  My husband silently bounded down the porch steps and I unhelpfully returned to the house to turn on the Disney Channel. 

Soon thereafter, the door opened and my husband called out "we've lost the chickens."

You know how people facing into disaster say their life flashes before their eyes?  Well, I'm now one of those people.  Except my life didn't do the flashing -- our chickens' lives did.  Them in the small box in the dining room.  Them in the slightly larger box in the hallway.  Them in the large television box in the sunroom.  Them in the coop.  Them in the yard.

It was an unattractive, smelly flash, but it was a flash nonetheless.  I couldn't belief that our (ie. my husband's) seven weeks of work, and all the time we (ie. my husband) had spent getting them to the point that they could be outside on their own had ended in this.  Stolen from our (ie. my husband's) loving arms before we (ie. my husband) had really gotten to know them.

I went outside to help with the search and rescue efforts.  Fortunately, we found one of the chickens perched on a stump near the coop.  Our confidence slightly boosted, we continued searching.  Actually, my husband searched.  I kept my eyes open and just kept shouting "I don't see them yet.  I don't see them yet."  I also held a long stick, in case one of them returned so gleefully that they decided to be one half of a running embrace type deal.  The stick was to help shoo them towards my husband, who'd have been the much happier recipient of a chicken hug.

He found four of the other chickens hiding out in the underbrush near the coop.  So we were up to five chickens.  We just needed to find the sixth.

My husband spent the rest of the night -- taking periodic breaks to nap and ask himself what he was doing looking for a chicken at 3AM -- looking for that bird.  No luck.

The next morning, we told our concerned daughter that her grandmother was hosting the chicken for some fun in the sun in Puerto Rico.  We held out hope the vacation would be short-lived, and that we'd return from work to find the chicken pacing the coop and bearing souvenir mini bottles of rum.  Again, no such luck.

So the weekend began with the sad realization that the crows had either gone off with the missing chicken, or had heralded the arrival of some bigger bird of prey who'd swooped down, grabbed that one, and scared the others into hiding.

We've learned the hard way.  Not only should you not count your chickens before they are hatched, you should not count your chickens before they have hatched an egg. 

Also, losing a chicken to a hawk is a sad thing.  Even if you never really liked the chicken.

Fortunately, when God takes a chicken, he gives you a spark plug.

Nine months ago my husband bought a 1964 Jeep Truck.  I don't have a picture of our particular truck, but it looks almost exactly like this, minus the do-hickey attached to the front grill:

I would make you a list of all the things I love about that truck, but you can't have a list if there's nothing on it.  It's one of Newton's principles.

The truck has been sitting in our driveway since my husband bought it. The paint is rusted, the wheels are tired, and it doesn't have seats.  It hasn't been on the road in more than a decade

My husband -- who knows nothing about cars -- has decided to make this his project (because he doesn't have enough already).  The problem with projects like this truck, according to my husband, is that "they're hard to start, because you don't know where to begin

His new motto is baby steps, and baby step #1 has been to just get the darn thing to turn on.  He's talked to every auto mechanic south of Bangor, and visited every car repair website on the Internet.  It's all really very fun for everyone

On Saturday, though, while he was in mourning for his chicken, he tackled whatever parts of the car you tackle when you try to figure out how to turn it on.  My daughter and I were playing over by her swing set when we heard something start to roar.  At first, we thought it was a lion bringing back our chicken.  Then we realized we don't live in Africa, and no lion could make it from Puerto Rico to Maine in 24 hours.  We turned around, looked in the direction of the driveway, and saw my husband throwing some kind of wrench above his head and dancing the salsa.

The roar was coming from the front hood of the truck.  Because my husband had figured out how to turn the damned thing on.

We ran to him and joined in his dancing.  Passing cars started honking and our neighbors started blaring those vuvuzelas that everyone loved so much from the World Cup in South Africa.  It was a great moment.

Then I told my husband to turn the thing off since our son was trying to take his afternoon nap.

The point of this story is that you never know when hope will vanquish grief.  You never know what will lift your spirit when your spirit is sad.  You never know how your worst times will transform into your best times.

Sometimes, to put a chicken behind you, all you need to do is roar. 

Or get your old beat-up truck to do so.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Dear Abby: Have You Noticed?

One of my readers is highly distractible and/or highly observant.  He recently commented that the ads on the upper right-hand corners of my posts are pretty entertaining.

I don't think anyone much enjoys ads these days.  They're the stuff that takes up the first 50 pages of any self-respecting magazine, the fliers that Coupon Suzy tells us we should mine so as to pay only $1.80 for $200 worth of groceries, and the commercials that pushed everyone to DVR and satellite radio.  It's a good thing Mad Men is set during the Nixon and Kennedy administrations.  Back then, people were so excited to simply have a television, they'd gladly watch a dancing Wonderbread sandwich.

What I think my reader found interesting was how the ad correlated to the post it hitched a ride to. 

Sometimes the connection is impressively direct.  For example, in my post about my daughter's last day of school, there's an ad for "innovative preschools."  In my post on Bridezillas, there's an ad for rehearsal dinner favors.  And in my post about moving the baby chicks out of the house, there's an ad for backyard chicken coops.

Sometimes, the ad acts like a supporting cast member to the post.  In my post about LeBron James' ridiculous eyewear, there's an ad for  In my post about the dire state of my closet, there's an ad for JCPenney's.  In my post about the face-eating, bath-salting maniac in Miami, there's an ad for "Zombify yourself."  (Um, thanks, but I'm good.)

Sometimes, the ads are just mean and insulting.  I mean, in my post about the gym, there's an ad for gastric bypass surgery, and in my post about our morning routine, there's an ad for the top 3 asthmas symptoms.  Great.  Just great.  Now even my ads are mocking me.

Given this ad-post relationship, my reader seems to think my blog is magic.  Right you are, reader.  Right.  You.  Are!  It is Google magic!  My blog is hosted by Google and the ads are run by Google AdSense.  If you haven't heard of Google, well, it's this search engine that -- WTF?  You haven't heard of Google?  (Okay.  Mum & dad, I'll explain Google some other time.)

Is it mind-blowing to you, dear reader, that Google is as good at the ad game as it is at the search game?  You do realize that this is a company that's made a bajillion dollars by indexing the Internet, right?  I think if they can find you a massage therapist near Tajikstan and answer what Tiffani Amber Thiessen has been up to since Beverly Hills, 90210, they can hone in on my use of the word "bride" and pull out a wedding dress promotion from its rolodex.

If this is revelatory, hug your keyboard close.  I've got a few other things to hit you with.  Justin Timberlake is appealing to women.  That guy who keeps emailing you from Nigeria doesn't have $4 million for you from that lottery you never entered.  If you walk onto a plane waving a gun and polling for "favorite emergency landing spot," you will be escorted off.  Your vote doesn't count.    (Actually, Donald Trump has made a lot of money.  I know.  It's weird.)

Now that the educational portion of this blog post has concluded, let's have some fun.  I'm going to just type some of the random words that come into my head today, Friday June 15th at 11:47AM EST, and we'll see what, if anything, Google does with any of them.  This will be fun, guys.  Seriously.  Cancel your plans for tonight.  (Unless those plans include Justin Timberlake giving you $4 million to take a plane with him to Australia to cast a vote in The Voice: Australia.  In that case, you should go.)

1.  Lunch
2.  Father's Day
3.  Dial tone
4.  Post-it
5.  Paper towels
6.  Turbo vac
7.  Dust buster
8.  Paris
9.  Decadent chocolate-based dessert

(1.  Because it's almost time.  2.  Because it's coming up.  3.  Because that's all I hear when I pick up the phone.  4.  Because there's one in front of me with a list of to-do's.  5.  Because one of those to-do's is to buy paper towels.  6.  Because I need to clean my car.  7.  Because it would be handy to have one at home.  8.  Because I wish I was there.  9.  Because.  Just because.)

All right, Google.  Your move!

Submit your idea or suggestion for a "Dear Abby" post by emailing me at All the other intricate details of this something-for-everyone are explained here.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

I Am Proud

To My Daughter:

In your four years of life, you have given me lots to be proud of.  Today, your last day of preschool for the year, I am proud again.

I am proud that you did not cry when I said good-bye to you on your first day of school.

I am proud that, when you did cry every morning after that, you pulled yourself together by the time your feet hit your classroom door.

I am proud that when I ask you why you cry when we say good-bye, you say "Because I misted you, Mami."

I am proud that on the first Monday of your life with a little baby brother at home, you did not want to go to school.

I am proud that you went.

I am proud that you made friends -- with girls and with boys.

I am proud that you think your friends are the funniest people in the world.

I am proud that you've realized how much you love to laugh.

I am proud that every bracelet and necklace you accessorized with always made it home at the end of the day.

I am proud that you learned how to swing by yourself.

I am proud that you learned to write your name.

I am proud that you learned what your imagination is, and that it lets you do things like make a hair salon in a wagon, a castle at the top of a slide, and a fairy land in the sand.

I am proud that you love to hug your teachers.

I am proud that you know how sing "Allouette" in French and "It's Raining, It's Pouring" in sign language.

I am proud that when I asked you "What did you do at school today?" you always answered "I don't remember"...but then you remembered and told me all about it.

I am proud that when a new girl started in your classroom in the middle of the year, you greeted her with a hug and took her by the hand into circle time.

I am proud that you spent the day in a room with a pet hamster, even though you don't like animals.

I am proud that you spent so much time on the playground and in the woods, even though you don't like insects.

I am proud that you worried about the kids who were out sick one day.

I am proud that when you were out sick for four days, on the fifth day you told me "It's time for me to go back to school.  I can do it."

I am proud that you realized when someone was having a sad time, and it made you sad, too.

I am proud that when I ask you who you like to play with, you say "Everyone."

I am proud that sometimes when I came to pick you up, you were doing a puzzle by yourself.

I am proud that sometimes when I came to pick you up, you were playing chase with a gang of friends.

I am proud that you taught yourself to play "Mary Had A Little Lamb" on the piano.

I am proud that you are proud of yourself when you sound out a word.

I am proud that every time we drive by your school, you gleefully shout out "There's my school!"

I am proud that you love to introduce your brother to everyone, every morning during drop-off.

I am proud that you loved the day your dad spent the morning at school with you.

I am proud that sometimes, you ate the lunch I packed for you.

I am proud that when you started staying at school for the full day after I went back to work, you pretended not to notice.

I am proud that you did so many things without me, things that I will never know about, and you still make me feel like I'm an important part of your life.

I am proud that at the end of the day, I'm the one that gets to take you home.


Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Weight, What?

Sometimes life hands you lemons, so you make lemonade.

Sometimes life says obla-dee, obla-dah, so you go on.

Sometimes life gives you two options, so you take one and wonder why you were given such unappealing options in the first place.

One of the Option A versus Option B dichotomies that defines my journey in paradise is the following:

Wake up early, and be in "better" shape VERSUS wake up slightly less early, and be in much worse shape.

You see, my rooster son begins squawking at around 6AM.  From that moment on, the rest of my day is a whirling dervish of risk management, damage control, and nuclear containment.  It doesn't end until the last child's head hits the pillow around 8PM.  Right around the time my husband asks me to help him find the machete he misplaced.

So, if I want to go to the gym and "exercise," I have to do it either before 6AM or at 8PM when I'm running up and down the stairs chasing my husband with a weaponized stick of metal.  Because the latter option doesn't send the right message to our children or neighbors, I've resigned myself to the fact that, more days than not, I should try to wake up before the sun.

I have been, to put it extremely generously, mildly successful at hauling myself out of bed at such a sadistic hour.  Once I'm up and swilling mouthwash, momentum kind of takes over and the process doesn't feel quite so torturous.  But lying in bed, with my alarm going off around 4:30, I have to call upon reserves of motivation and willpower that I don't think I was ever actually blessed with in my DNA make-up.  My proficient procrastination wages an ugly battle with my theoretical desire to stop looking pregnant, and it's anybody's guess who will win out on a given day.

Today, I want to focus on the days I do make it up and out of the house to go the gym. 

That gym is technically not a gym.  It's the exercise room at my company.  Kind of like this, plus some treadmills and two televisions.

The best part about the gym (besides it's being free) is that it is conveniently located about a quarter of a mile from my house.  And my snazzy plastic building access card means I can go to the gym anytime.  Even if that time is the hour of the day when the roads are empty except for the guy delivering newspapers and the guy canvassing the neighborhood for his next ice cream truck route (at least, that's what he told me he was doing when he flagged me down from his windowless white van and asked how many kids live in the area).

Shockingly, I am usually not alone during these workouts.  There's a guy -- slightly younger than me, I'd guess -- who is there every morning, too.  It always shocks me that he is -- I don't think he's married, so I don't think he has children, so I can't for the life of me figure out why he is up and moving before Starbucks has even served its first latte. 

Regardless, there he is, with his black socks pulled up to his knees, his weird circular pacing routine in between sets, and his plastic water cup perched on the supply closet door handle. 

We've gotten into our own version of a routine.  It's pretty straightforward.  Put ESPN on both televisions.  Don't talk to each other.  Don't acknowledge each other at all.  Ever.  In any way.  Not even a little bit.

In fact, based on our morning sessions alone, I would not be surprised to learn that he only speaks Polish backwards and was born with invisible horse blinders attached to his temples.

Put differently, he is perfect.  In the sense that he's the perfect companion for an early morning sweat session.  When I show up bleary eyed and my hair in a bee hive, it doesn't matter.  I don't have to think about a different way to joke about the early hour, I don't have to ask him how work is going, and I don't have to think about what he is thinking about as I fall off a Swiss medicine ball when I try to do crunches.  Because I know he doesn't want to talk to me and I know he doesn't want to look at me.  Per-fect.

But recently, this perfect union has been tested.  On some mornings, it's been blown to smithereens.  All because some new dope has decided to wake up with the trash collectors and hit the Smith machine. 

The reason why this is devastating is that Dope is friends with Perfect.  And their friendship is not the good kind.  If they were 5, their parents would be scrambling for alternative play dates and requesting different kindergarten teachers.  If they lived in Hollywood, one would by Lindsay Lohan and the other would be Taylor Swift.  If they were athletes, one would be Tim Tebow and the other would be Rob Gronkowski circa pictures with strippers

Point is, Dope brings out the worst in Perfect.  As soon as Dope hits the rubber threshold of the exercise room, Perfect lets loose all the inane drivel he'd been holding in during our time together.  Dope and Perfect immediately start comparing fantasy baseball stats and talking about fake trade deadlines in the big fake game they play.  Comments about every single second of the ESPN broadcast get sling-shot from the free weights to the lat pulldown, and notes are traded about some boring meeting and the "dumb chick" that lead said meeting as they do a super set.  They talk about the sweet pizza they ate last night, how many beers they drank during the game, and whether or not they're going to go to the club softball game that night.  There's lots of high-fiving and chuckling involved, and their heads turn into big pieces of meat.

It's disturbing.  On the level of finding out that Santa isn't actually married to "Mrs." Claus and that Tom Cruise left his mind on the set of Top Gun. 

I have no choice but to unstick myself from the push-up I'm trying to do, reattach the vein in my forehead, and sprint out of the room with whatever I can gather into my arms during my mad-dash exit. 

I thought Perfect and I were made for each other.  That nothing could mess with the good gym thing we had going.  Boy, was I ever wrong.  Dope just proves there's always some dope, waiting in the wings to break up even the strongest of unions. 

So, Life, what are my options now?  Go to the gym even earlier?  I don't think that's physically possible.  I'm not even sure that it's possible to "wake up" for the gym if you haven't really had time to "be asleep."  Pass. 

Work out wearing earmuffs?  Come on.  Seriously?



Tuesday, June 12, 2012

What To Watch For

Tonight is Game 1 of the NBA finals.  The two remaining teams are the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Miami Heat.  Everywhere west of Hartford is in ecstasy, drowning in the hyperbole of hype.  The league MVP versus the league scoring champ.  This Big Three versus that Big Three.  This Little Coach That Could versus that Even Littler Coach That Could.  James Harden's beard versus Chris Bosh's goatee. 

(Everywhere east of Hartford?  Consumed with prep work for the next Boston Tea Party, where we throw the ashes of the dynasty-that-was into a pool of Kevin Garnett's sweat.)

In all the brouhaha and hoopla, a storyline has fallen by the wayside.  How commentators and analysts and statisticians and people with eyes could miss this is astounding.  I mean, someone somewhere took the time to write an ESPN teleprompter line stating that this is the first finals series in the history of all professional sporting events to include two teams whose names do not end with an "s."  With that kind of attention to detail, you'd think someone would have seen this by now.

Actually, maybe that's the underlying irony to this whole situation.  The army of press covering this finals can't see how well their favorite subjects are seeing.  They can't see that this, apparently, is the NBA finals brought to you by LensCrafters.  That now, to be a legit contender as a baller and a brawler, you have to dress like a hipster who's gone to law school.  That it no longer matters what's on your feet, it's what's perched on your nose that counts.

Have you seriously not noticed that THIS is how Dwayne Wade and LeBron show up for post-game interviews?

Those spectacles are a spectacle to behold!  It's a good thing the basket is as large as it is and that the other dudes on the court put the big and tall in Big & Tall, as otherwise it appears this tandem wouldn't even see them!  They are as blind as a referee! 

Lest you dismiss my observation as having caught these fellows on a flukey night when they happened to have stayed up late shopping at, I give you this:

and this:

It's kind of cute, really.  I like picturing these two going to the mall, maybe on a kid leash.  Walking up to the Sunglass Hut and getting confused when all they see are sunglasses.  Getting redirected to an Oliver Peoples or wherever it is rich people buy reading glasses.  Getting psyched when they see the big, moddish black frames and convincing each other they will each look original and fashion forward in nearly-matching frames that they wear when sitting directly next to each other. 

And the great news for them is that now they can see all the flashy clothes, large diamonds, and small women they wear or use as accessories.  Better yet, LeBron will now actually be able to read the print of those Hunger Games books he's tearing through before tip-off.  (I mean, who could have really crushed his fragile spirit during the Celtics series by telling him that books have words in them and you're not really "reading" if all you're doing is turning pages?  No 45-point game comes from that kind of humiliation.)

Mogul myopia is not limited to the Florida panhandle.  Au contraire, it has entered the plains states and none other than -- you guessed it -- Miami's new foe has been dealt a strong dose of the disease. 

Poor little Kevin Durant and his sidekick, Russell Westbrook, have both fallen victim.  They're not old enough to rent a car, but the lesson here is that degenerative eye diseases can strike even the heartiest among us.

Russell has at least taken his originality on the court into his ophthalmologist's office.  Because sometimes, a man needs a set of red specs to round out his Hawaiian shirt.

And sometimes his ophthalmologist has a really great hat he's happy to lend to all of his elite athlete clients.

So to all you fans out there, come for the game, but stay for the eyewear.  To all you non-fans, give these players another chance.  They're trying to expand their appeal to people like you, who couldn't care less about free throws or jumpers or the LeBron swagger, but can't say no to a nice array of monocles being sported by a group of guys who didn't read in college and/or didn't go to college.  Fashionistas of the world, unite!  The stars of the NBA are blazing new trails for you to bedazzle with large lenses only science teachers and multi-millionaires can make cool.  I mean, who knows what color scheme Russell will go with tonight!?!  The man is an enigma!

Well played, NBA.  WELL.  PLAYED.  It only took the likes of me, a blogging mother in her mid-thirties with a limited appetite for professional basketball and whining rich men, to notice the subtle efforts you were encouraging your players to take to get people to watch.

The NBA.  Where the players want you to watch so badly that they hurt themselves from watching too hard and require corrective lenswear.

The NBA.  Narrowly Bypassing Aneurysms (of the eye).

See you tonight, boys.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Suit Yourself

This weekend, my husband and I traveled to Cape Cod for a friend's wedding.  We left our daughter at home with a sitter, and brought our son along for the adventure.  We figured it would be a nice chance to have some one-on-one time with him, given that he's only ever known life in the shadow of his older sister.  I wanted to take him swimming for the first time.  We looked forward to watching him bang plastic cups, gnaw on plastic animals, and shake plastic rattles.  Basically, it was to be a weekend sponsored by the, the Olympics and BASF.   

Instead, the star of the weekend quickly became my husband.

The drive from Maine to the Cape took almost 3.5 hours.  Throughout the car trip, my husband kept remarking at how tired he was, and how it didn't feel like he was really "with it" that morning.  (Fortunately, I was driving.)  If this were a made-up story, that comment would be called "foreshadowing."  And if this were a movie, the soundtrack to that comment would be low drums and a frantic piccolo.

A bit after noon, we finally pulled into the hotel.  We were all tired and hungry.  We unloaded the car and went to check in.

The hotel we were staying at was a "resort" set up in a huge rectangle.  Inside the rectangle was a playground, a pool, an indoor wave pool, and a beach volleyball pit.  It was all very classy and fancy.  Especially the Mikey the Magician show at 7:30 next door to the Arcade Room.

The hotel itself was a low-lying affair, boasting only two stories.  We were on the second floor in the very back of the rectangle.  Which meant all the luggage we'd just unloaded had to get loaded back INTO our car so that we could drive around back to the entrance to our room.

As my husband put our suitcase back in the car, he yelled out to me "Hey, where'd you put my garment bag with my suit?"

Did your heart just sink into your stomach?  Good.  Now you know exactly how I felt as I heard those words make their way from the trunk of the car to my ear.

Because I hadn't touched his stupid garment bag or his suit.  In the decade-plus we have been together, I have learned that my adorable tendency to micromanage drives my husband nuts.  If I've heard "I'm a grown man!" once, I've heard it a hundred times.  Given my equally adorable tendency to be a fast learner, it only took me about 8 years to stop packing for my husband or giving him a list of things for him to pack himself.  These are the types of things that keep our marriage strong.

So my grown-up husband packed his grown-up clothes by his grown-up damned self.  He was also given the grown-up job of putting everything we needed for the weekend in the car.

Yet somewhere between the walk downstairs from our bedroom -- where he went for the specific purpose of retrieving the suit-filled garment bag just before we left -- and arriving at the door to exit our house, he had misplaced the garment bag.  He didn't realize that as he ambled for the passenger seat, and he didn't realize that during the 3.5 hours we sat in a car.  He didn't even realize that when he first unpacked the car during the unsuccessful check-in Mission #1.

But now, it was upon us.  We were in Cape Cod, but his suit wasn't.  And the wedding was going to start in 3 hours.

There was a lot going on inside my head.  There were questions, there were swears, there was triumphant fist-pumping and preening about the dangers of not letting me micromanage. 

I also went through a roller-coaster of imaging.  I had left Maine with the image that, at the wedding, my husband would look something like this:

Now the image of what he'd look like at the wedding was something like this:

I don't think trucker caps are smiled upon at Cape Cod weddings.

Despite the busy time my brain was having, my mouth was relatively still.  I was trying to control my various thoughts and pick only the closest-to-appropriate ones to let loose.  I managed to contain the fury and simply wonder aloud how he could have possibly forgotten his suit.  This was his answer:

"Abby!  I like to focus on the big picture!!"

I reminded him that when the picture is a wedding, as a gentleman, having a suit on hand is probably a big -- if not the biggest -- part of that picture.  He just exhaled loudly.

We took our Unholy Trinity to a lovely little restaurant where the waitress spoke primarily Russian and kept on asking if my 8-month-old son wanted crayons or needed a menu.  I slid my iPhone across the table and advised my husband to put Google to good use and search for "husbands who forget things" and "Cape Cod malls."  Fortunately, the second search was successful and he learned of a mall near our hotel.  I told him I wished him well and that he had to be back from his search and rescue mission by 3PM.  Past that hour, I would assume he'd forgotten he was a married father on his way to a wedding and I would issue a Where's Waldo Alert.

He gulped.  Even he didn't trust that he could complete this new mission on his own.  But then he said something about "crunch times being his shining moments."  I wasn't paying very close attention because he'd poked his eye out with the fork he forgot he was holding and I was trying to contain the blood.

To fortify himself for his crunch-time heroics, he got down to the business of ordering lunch.  He enjoyed a healthy pause in the ordering process as he considered his options and our Russian waitress asked our son to spell his name for her.  After taking the time to consider the grams of protein-versus-carbohydrates that would best carry him through the afternoon, my husband slammed his menu on the table, eyed our waitress, and proclaimed that he would like the "Double Dogger - WITH FRIES!"

That, my friends, is two hot dogs smothered in sauerkraut and a nice side of, well, fries. 

It was at that moment that I really began having concerns that I'd married a five-year-old with an affection for coronary artery disease.  He was thrilled with his selection, though, and happily went off in search of the mall with the balloon he received for cleaning his plate.

He returned to our hotel room around 3:15.  I told the cadaver dogs to stand down and helped him assemble a respectable, wedding-appropriate outfit from the pieces he'd bought at Macy's, Banana Republic, and I think the toy store.  In the nick of time, we walked out of the hotel room and he looked something along the lines of this:

We spent the rest of the night handling his fans.  Since it was a wedding attended by lots of family friends, a lot of the people there read this blog on occasion.  Apparently on the days when I write about my husband.  He was swarmed with high-fives for the wood-chipping success, hoisted on shoulders for bringing chickens into our back-yard, and bowed-down to for his skunk catching.  Somewhere during the night, I unwittingly signed on as his press agent and am now booking him at fairs throughout New England.

Then the music started.  Since people could no longer ask him for his opinion on annuals versus perennials, everyone hit the dance floor.  And my husband hit it too.  Hard.  I think he was on an adrenaline rush from all the adoration.

He sweat through his clothes.  He jumped.  He got low.  He broke a ladies foot.  He shook his money maker.  He pointed his fingers.  He whistled.  He kept on screaming at me to "put your hands in the air!" and "stop limiting me!"  It was all I could do to keep him from crowd-diving.

When we got to the car to drive back to the hotel, he was a sweaty, exhausted, very happy mess.  Off went the sports coat, the tie, the button-up shirt.  He hopped into the passenger seat again to regale me with the finer points of his "Moves Like Jagger."  I drove home in silence, wondering why he looked like a down-on-his-luck drug lord.  I snapped a picture of him just before he consumed his fourth bottle of water back in our hotel room:

Amazingly, we arrived back in Maine safe and sound, and with everything we were supposed to have.

And that is the weekend that was.  The one that was supposed to be about a wedding and our son, but instead was about my husband. 

Indeed, all weekend long, the common refrain, as my husband did the worm across the dance floor or showed the prep cooks how to feather a chicken, was "at least this is great for your blog!"

Like I married Benicio del Toro for the writing material.