Monday, June 30, 2008

Firefly, Revisited

"Mal," Inara said quietly, touching his shoulder, "You don't have to die alone."

He looked at her with quiet regret. "Everybody dies alone,"
he said.
These are my favorite lines from my favorite episode of my favorite TV show of all time, Firefly. Props to the president of the E. Peevie Fan Club, J-Bright, the giver of encouragement and the wearer of bright colors, who first urged me to tune in--on DVD, of course. The show only lasted 12 episodes, plus three more that never aired. Which I totally don't get. Firefly deserved a better fate than that.

Here's why I like it, why there's still an active fan club five years after the show ended (actually, according to this web ring, there are 19 active fan sites related to Firefly), and why you should rent, buy, or borrow the DVDs:

The writing. See above. And here's a link to many, many great quotes from the show. (Seriously--some of these people might need to look into getting a life.) After becoming a fan of Firefly, I decided that I would watch any TV show that Joss Whedon had a hand in.

The characters. Complex and flawed. Some smart, some not so much. These are the kind of characters that make you want to know more about them, and want to spend more time with them.

The actors. Firefly introduced me to some talented character actors, including Nathan Fillion, who's currently appearing as Dr. Adam Mayfair on Desperate Housewives. He's my newest Hollywood boyfriend. He doesn't seem to mind the age difference at all.

Firefly storylines cover some mature themes and situations, including torture and sexual situations--so it's not for young children.

But for you young adult and older Green Room fans (and you know who you're NOT), this show is a must-see. If you live within a hundred-mile radius, maybe we can even set up a date to watch it together.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Radio Debut

Question: What do the second amendment, the Chicago Police Superintendent, parental responsibility, and unreached people groups have in common?

Answer: They're all topics that Dave and I discussed on last Friday night's stirring episode of The Dave and Chris Show, brought to you live on The Internet. You would have known that if you had tuned in.

At one point we had upward of four listeners at one time. As a virgin substitute radio host, I have to say, it was exhilarating. Well, OK, not exhilarating. But definitely fun.

We even briefly spoke to my brother DeeDee in Buenos Aires. We called him to ask his opinion about the likelihood of the existence of dozens of tribes un-touched by modern civilization, mostly in South America. He's the closest thing to an expert that we could come up with on short notice.

Plus, when I got home, Mr. Peevie said I had a deep and sexy radio voice. "Your voice on the the radio was deep and sexy," he said, "I was like, 'Whoa!'"

And then I made him say it again. A girl can't get too many compliments like that, you know. I'm used to hearing my voice coming out kind of shrill, in a yelling-at-my-kids kind of way, so I was pleasantly surprised.

Dave is having technical difficulties with posting the recording, but I'm confident that it'll be up soon and you can squander a perfectly good hour and a half listening to my radio debut.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

The Lost Art of Tree Climbing

Do kids still climb trees?

I practically lived in trees when I was a kid. Our back yard abutted The Woods, which is what we called the one-acre-or-so property of our neighbor. To a small kid, The Woods was vast, dark, and mysterious; a forest of pines that laid a blanket of needles on the ground, dotted with pine cones and the occasional robin's egg, which we'd carry home gently and nest in a shoebox filled with grass, hoping to become adoptive parents of a tiny, soggy baby bird.

The trees were easy to climb (up, at least), with low-hanging branches that left your hands and clothes sticky with dark sap. Mom hated those sap-stained t-shirts, because the washer would loosen the sticky globs just enough to lift off a chunk and deposit it on one of Dad's dress shirts.

My brother and I and our friends would dare each other to climb higher and higher, to where the branches bent under our weight and we started to wonder in the back of our minds if we'd be able to get back down safely. We never did have to call the fire department, but I remember the fear that started to trickle down into my stomach when I reached down blindly with my foot and felt around for the next branch but didn't connect right away.

I still climbed the next day. We all did. It's what we did, before video games, when our moms got tired of our noise and sent us outside to play. We climbed trees.

(This reminds me of a line from The Princess Bride, when the Grandpa comes to read his Grandson a story. Grandson, skeptically: "A book?" Grandpa: "That's right. When I was your age, television was called books.")

My best friend Jane and I imagined ourselves a whole mansion in the weeping willow in her front yard. There were bedrooms, a bathroom, a kitchen, and our favorite, the living room. Each of these rooms had branches that, with the benefit of imagination, formed the requisite furniture of our willow chateau. The bedrooms had wide, horizontal branches: beds. The kitchen had a counter-branch where we chopped leaves and twigs for salad.

The exercise room featured a chin-up bar. I do remember a time, before my body weight exceeded my muscle capacity, being able to pull off 10 or 15 pull-ups and chin-ups in one session.

But, ahh, the weeping willow living room. A sturdy pair of parallel horizontal branches, one higher and about a foot behind the other, formed the couch. We could lean back in willow couch comfort, our feet resting on the willow ottoman, and watch TV through Jane's picture window. It was awesome.

Sometimes Jane's mom (my other mom, we used to say, because I spent so much time at their house) would give us snacks to bring out to our treehouse. A bowl of grapes, a PBJ, or a baggie of Oreos would keep us happy while we watched whatever one of Jane's four older brothers had turned on in the living room.

But back to my original question: do kids still climb trees? Maybe it's because I live in the city, and the tree-climbing options are somewhat limited--but I don't see kids climbing trees very often. In fact, if a kid starts to climb a tree, more often than not his mom or dad will tell him to get down so he doesn't get hurt. Also, many of our urban trees are replacements, still young, with skinny branches not yet ready for prime-time climbing.

Nowadays, tree climbing is an organized recreational activity with gear and rules. That's all fine, I guess--but I'm still a little sad that my kids are mostly missing out on a fun, imagination-fueling childhood activity.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Angelina Might Need to Rethink That

The world's most famous mommy, Angelina Jolie, has stepped on a few maternal toes, including mine, with her remarks in Vanity Fair about why the children of actors often become actors. It's not about nepotism, she claimed:
Artists raise their kids differently...We communicate to the point where we probably annoy our children. We have art around the house, we have books, we go to plays, we talk. Our focus is art and painting and dress-up and singing. It's what we love. So I think you can see how artists in some way raise other artists.

Whatever. I'm not here to join the indignant mob of non-acting parents who resent the sugggestion that they are not cultured enough to surround their children with books and music and art, and who are not artistically-minded enough to actually talk to their children. Nor do I care whether she wants to own up to Hollywood nepotism.

But what does intrigue me is that Angelina considers what she does for a living to be Art--and that, of course, makes me wonder: Is acting an art? or is it a craft? Does it depend on the production? What is Art? Is it different from Craft? Is blogging an art? Am I an artist?

This definition of art from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy is comprehensive and academic; the further I read in this article, the more I realized my own ignorance of philosophy and philosophical argument. For example, this little bit made me giggle:

Grasped perceptually, artworks present only an appearance of an appearance of what is really real.

I don't think Plato was aiming for housewife humor when he discussed the definition of art in his Republic.

This Wikipedia article discussing the philosophical concept of art is closer to my intellectual grasp. It covers various attempts to define art, as the Stanford article does, but with fewer syllables. It also covers the relationship between utility and art, and classification disputes--which is exactly where Angelina's comments bring us.

I don't know whether acting is art or not. I suspect that sometimes it is, and sometimes it isn't. This crafty blogger articulately suggests that art and craft cannot be separated, but that they are "specific aspects of all creative work." Craft, she suggests, has more to do with learned technique, whereas the emphasis of art is personal expression.

I'll give AJ credit for a certain amount of artistry in her field. But I submit that there is a continuum of artsiness, and all of us fall on the continuum somewhere. I don't buy the snobbish dichotomy that Angie posits between artists and non-artists. And I think its supremely arrogant to claim parenting superiority based on what you do for a living--especially when your success is due in large part to genetics.

It's acting, darling. Acting is somewhere on the artistic continuum, for sure--but let's be real. It's not writing Moby Dick. It's not painting the Sistine chapel, or sculpting The Thinker. So it's a stretch to presume that because you're an actor, you raise your kids differently than the rest of us.

OK, I guess I am joining the mob after all. Huh. I didn't see that coming.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Deep Thoughts with M. Peevie

The other day M. Peevie and I were driving along, having our usual conversations about random things. She loves driving with the windows open and hanging her head and arms (a few inches) out the window, like a dog. I looked at her in the rear-view mirror, and smiled, because she's so alive, so in-the-moment, so happy--and I get to be her mom.

At one point, she pulled her head back in, pushed her hair back, and said, "Mom, do blind people blink?"

Where does she come up with these things?

"Great question, M.P.," I said. "I don't know. What do you think?" That's my standard answer, because I know she's got some thinking going on behind the question, and that's always way more interesting than my answer.

"I don't know," she said, pondering. "We blink to keep too much light from going in to our eyes," she said confidently, "And blind people don't have any light going into their eyes, so they don't really need to blink."

"Are there other reasons that we blink?" I asked.

"Well, maybe," she said. "Oh, yes! We blink to keep things out of our eyes, and air and stuff! So blind people DO blink."

I think you're right, I told her. Our eyes blink automatically, to protect themselves, and to keep from getting dried out.

And then she stuck her head back out the car window, squinted and grinned into the wind, and started pondering her next Deep Thought. I looked at her in the rear-view mirror, and smiled.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Obama: More Patriotic Than George Washington

Certain individuals (and you know who you are; please, do comment!) enjoy forwarding conservative propaganda to me, such as an article by Ann Coulter on why she believes that W will go down in history as the greatest president the United States has ever seen.

I'll let that sink in for a minute.

Are we back? OK. I also often receive anti-Obama rants, articles from and the Media Research Center, and forwarded emails about Obama's unpatriotic behaviors and hidden agenda.

I totally respect my friends' and family members' right to believe what they believe, and even to engage in respectful debate about why they are one-issue voters, for example, or why we should not elect a president whose middle name is Hussein.

However. I can't sit idly by, when I have been given the austere responsibility of a powerful and influential tool, The Blog. I am compelled to get the word out about Obama's true spirit of national pride, his devout NON-MUSLIM faith, and his love for typical American pasttimes.

Here are some examples, reported by Slate magazine's Christopher Beam:
  • Barack Obama wears a FLAG PIN at all times. Even in the shower.
  • Barack Obama ends every sentence by saying, "WITH LIBERTY AND JUSTICE FOR ALL."
  • His favorite book is THE BIBLE, which he has memorized.
  • Every weekend, Barack and Michelle take their daughters HUNTING.

You can read the rest of the list here. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Fame and Glory

Jenny the Bloggess, my blogging hero, gave me a shout in her Good Mom/Bad Mom column on the Houston Chronicle website. How totally excellent is that, man?

Check out the other blogs she mentioned as well--some are beautiful, some hilarious, some touching. Like this little snippet from Debbie on her blog, I Obsess:

Lying cuddled together with my kiddo a minute ago, because he had come into the room, suddenly, demanding a hug, and upon returning him to his bed, I discovered
his playmates, some toys he's not allowed to go to sleep with - because he *doesn't sleep* when they're present - and then we sang some songs and snuggled. And I felt his length, even with legs curled all pretzel-like around my knees, feet stuck randomly between my knees and thighs, hand curled around mine, and my breath halted, quick, brief, because - it's all happening. So fast. Too fast. Blazes of light and *poof* and he's growing, growing, grown.

And then, get this: my friend Dave gave me a call from his live internet radio show, The Dave and Chris Show, and asked me to co-host next Friday, June 27, at 6 p.m. I'm not clear whether Dave's co-host, Chris, will be there, because the whole conversation was very confusing, and the internet telephone connection was echo-ey, time-delayed, and muted. Chris claimed he could hear everything fine, so it's possible he has bionic hearing, or perhaps he's psychic. I'll check it out.

So tune in next week, Green Room Fans, and invite your friends to tune in as well. And heck! Call in, why don't you? I'd post the phone number, but it's not on their web site, and I think it's Dave's home phone number, which I don't necessarily want to put on the Internet. So just click on the Dave and Chris Show link, which should--should!--make it easy for you to call in.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008


People. I have read a book that hits the mark in so many ways it makes me sweaty. You should go out and borrow it from the library or buy it from your favorite bookseller.

The book is Infidel, by Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a woman from a strict Muslim upbringing, with an unquenchable curiosity and a passion to bring justice to oppressed women and girls. Her story is both horrifying and inspiring, enlightening and provocative. It's the kind of memoir that makes you grateful for every little thing you have that you normally take for granted. Like genitals that aren't mutilated, for example, or the freedom to go in and out of your house whenever you want.

Born in Somalia, into a culture that values honor above all, Ali learned early on to protect and defend her family's honor by utter submission within the clan, and retaliation outside of it. When her grandmother called her stupid, and hit her, she was not permitted to talk back; but when a schoolmate struck her in the face, Ali's older cousin, supported by her family, ridiculed her for not retaliating, and forced her to fight until both girls were bloody.

Ali recalls that by the time she was ten, she had lived through three different political systems,

all of them failures. The police state in Mogadishu rationed people into hunger and
bombed them into obedience. Islamic law in Saudi Arabia treated half
its citizens like animals, with no rights or recourse, disposing of women
without regard. And the old Somali rule of the clan, which saved you
when you needed refuge, so easily broke down into suspicion, conspiracy and

Also during those early years, she endured the excruciating horror of genital excision, sometimes called female circumcision, which involved a home surgery so horrific that I can't describe it in a PG-rated blog. On the same day, her brother and sister underwent the "necessary and proper dignity of purification" as well, on a table in the bedroom. Ali remembers her brother's silent tears and her sister's screams as the itinerant circumciser wielded his scissors. She was five years old, her sister four, her brother six.

Besides experiencing the ritual abuse and cultural disregard for girls, Ali also contended with a mostly absent father and a hardened, bitter mother who dispensed affection frugally but fierce punishment and criticism liberally. In spite of all of this suffering and disappointment, the tone of Ali's memoir is astonishingly affable, matter-of-fact, and even forgiving.

Ali escapes to Holland to avoid an arranged marriage--and this becomes a place of enormous change, growth, and challenge for her. Three years after successfully seeking asylum, Ali finds herself translating for other asylum seekers. She obtains a degree in political science, and eventually--you might think this sounds like a fairy tale, but it really happened--becomes a member of the Dutch Parliament.

The memoir not only traces the author's travels across countries, continents, political systems, and cultures, but it also narrates her journey from Islam to atheism. This aspect of Ali's compelling life story accentuated the strength of her character, her courage, and her bright, questioning intellect. The destination of atheism, by the time Ali arrives there, more than three-quarters of the way through her narrative, seems almost inevitable.

Is that strange for me to say? I'm a person of deep Christian faith, with no inclination to ditch it. I suspect that one of my favorite atheists, Christopher Hitchens (who wrote the forward to Infidel, and who has become friends with the author), would argue that Ali's gradual intellectual abandonment of her faith logically applies to any faith, to believe in God in any form and by any name.

But that's only true if all faiths are fundamentally the same. I'm one of Richard Dawkins' deluded believers: Jesus teaches a counter-intuitive gospel (love your enemies; take up your cross) that rejects the do-it-yourself salvation of other faiths. I don't feel threatened by Ali's conversion from Islam to atheism; in fact, I think her truth-telling is brave and inspiring. Hitchens' forward asserts that you can't read Infidel "and expect to be confirmed in the rightness of your 'own' religion as against the 'other' one," and that's true. But "not confirming" does not equate with disproving or discrediting.

I recommend Infidel to my vast Green Room audience, and I'd like to know what you think about it.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Goodbye, innocence of childhood. Hello, awkward teen years.

Dearest C. Peevie,

When you were a tiny baby, I'd hold you in my arms, and I'd feel sorry for my friends whose children were no longer in this sweet infant stage. I'd look at their gigantic, clunky spawn, and I'd shake my head with sympathy. It must feel like a loss, I figured, every time they looked at someone else's baby, and knew that they'd never get that baby-time back.
But now, darling, I know better. What I've learned over the past 13 years while parenting you is that every stage is excellent, and has its own rewards. Some really, really hard stuff, too, don't get me wrong. But it's mostly great.

Before I had children, I was the best parent the world had ever known. I'd see other people parenting inadequately, and I'd know that I could do so much better. My friend ChefKat would tell me how frustrated she was with all the laundry created by her little daughter changing her outfit every 10 minutes, and I'd be all smug on the inside and think, "Well, just tell her she can have two outfits per day, and that's it!"

God is now laughing at me.

Other friends would pass on their parenting woes--their kids do this, their kids don't do that--and I'd think, "Well, give them a consequence!" Simple!
My friends are now laughing at me.
Now that I'm a parent, I know just one thing: that I know virtually nothing. My parenting methodology is based on best guesses or WAGs (wild-ass guesses), depending on the day and the situation. So chances are, as we interact with one another today, next week, in the coming months and years--I will make a mistake or two.
Be patient with me, sweetie, and I promise that I will do the best I can to protect you when you need to be protected; to give you freedom when it's the right time to do so; to not embarrass you; to listen to you.

I'm proud of you, C. Peevie. I think you're maturing nicely, as we used to say about your Uncle Mark. (Well, actually, we still do say it about him, but now that he's 40-something, you know, it's less of a compliment.) You're kind and thoughtful and sensitive. You have an emotional and spiritual sensibility that's deeper than most adults.

You're smart, and you're funny. We've been having great conversations ever since you said your first word ("noodle!"), and they keep on getting more interesting, complex, and sometimes hilarious.

And don't forget: I love you. I will always love you. I will never stop loving you. And there's nothing you can do that will make me stop loving you.
Happy birthday, C.P. Welcome to your teen years. I'm sure you'll do just fine.
Your mom.

Monday, June 9, 2008


I got a call from a woman I didn't know, asking me to write a eulogy for her brother, whom I'd never met. I've never written a eulogy before, but I knew that I could do it. The bigger question was, what do you charge for a eulogy? How do you charge for a eulogy?

I interviewed the woman about her brother; let's call him Stephen. It turns out he was really a great guy, and in writing his eulogy, I got to know him. You should know him, too. Here's the eulogy his sister gave at his funeral:

I miss my brother Stephen. I’m sure you miss him, too. I think the world is going to miss him, because Stephen was the kind of person that the world needs more of: the kind of guy who didn’t think that love was a weakness or that faith made you a sissy. He knew that generosity made him richer, and making someone laugh was one more way to give a gift.

Stephen, as you know, was a big guy, and in many ways, a tough guy. He served as a sergeant in the Korean War, and led men into battle. Not only did he take his own turn on the front line, but more than once he went to the front line in place of a friend who couldn’t move for fear of the battle around him. It reminds me of a verse in the Gospel of John, John 15:13—“Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”

Stephen was a tough guy, and a decorated soldier—but he wasn’t so tough that he couldn’t care deeply for his parents. He swore my cousins to secrecy when he was stationed right in the middle of a fierce fighting zone, because he knew mom and dad would lose sleep from worrying about him. When they found out, from a cousin who had missed the swearing-to-secrecy ritual, he reassured them as soon as he could that he’d be fine. And then he got wounded. Twice.

Stephen was married to his wife Annie for 54 years, and they had 10 beautiful children together. He instilled in his kids his own values of caring, giving, and respecting other people.

But even as he was being a father to his own kids, he was also sort of a father figure to my sister Kathy and me. When we’d have heavy hearts, we’d go to him, in private, and talk to him about our parents, or about whatever was bothering us. Stephen was a compassionate listener, and would always lift our spirits and help us feel better.

I admire how much Stephen loved and respected our parents. Even after he got married and started having children of his own, he’d still drive up to see them every two weeks. When Stephen was expected, the rest of us were chopped liver—“Stephen’s coming! We’ve got work to do. Let’s get cleaning! Let’s get cooking!” She’d cook—and all of us girls would help—all day Saturday and present a feast for Stephen and his family on Sunday. It was all about Stephen. Not that I ever resented him—I adored him, too.

And by the way, that was back when big families drove enormous station wagons, the kind with fake wood on the sides, and the kids all tumbling around in the back. It seemed like every time Stephen and Annie drove up, there’d be another little head popping up!

Later, after we grew up and moved away, he and Annie would come and visit us in Chicago. Kathy would introduce him to her friends and neighbors, and every one of them, without fail, would tell her later what a wonderful brother she had. Even Kathy's husband Andrew, who is as reticent as they come, always said he wished he had a brother like our brother Stephen. “He is going to be missed very much,” Andrew told me.

Stephen didn’t only care deeply about mom and dad. He loved every single one of his four brothers and five sisters, and none of us ever doubted it. He was the kind of guy who put family and friends ahead of most everything else. When his best friend Joe was getting married, Joe’s brother declined to be his best man because his fiance had the misfortune of not being Catholic. But Stephen stood by him, and stood up for him at the wedding.

Joe isn’t with us anymore either, but he told a story about how honest Stephen was. One time the two of them planned to skip school and go fishing. Joe wrote a note to tell the school that he was sick at home—and he forged his father’s signature. Stephen didn’t write a note, though, and the truant officer came to our house and busted them. What did Stephen say, what kind of an excuse did he make for not being in school? “We were going to go fishing,” he said. He couldn’t even tell a tall tale to the truant officer to get himself out of trouble.

There were thousands of stories—too many to count—that Stephen himself would tell about his youthful outdoor adventures. One time he led Joe and the other kids out to the woods. They were camping and being regular Daniel Boones, living off the land. It didn’t end well, though: Stephen and Joe had brought some bacon with them, cooked it over the campfire, and served it to their young woodsmen friends. I don’t know how you can cook bacon wrong—it’s already preserved, right?—but they all ended up getting violently ill.

Recently, Stephen’s friends and brothers and sisters have been coming from all over to support him, to try and help him heal just by being near him. “Why’d you come so far?” he said to us. “There was no need for that.”

But when our sister Corrie needed surgery, he had climbed in his beat-up hunting truck and drove non-stop across the country to California in order to be with her. You see, he had very high expectations for himself when it came to caring for other people—but he had very low expectations for what other people should do for him. He never gave a seminar on love, or wrote an article on friendship—but this is the way he lived, and as it turns out his life was an eloquent testimony about what love looks like.

I talked to our cousin Jack Bauer in Sydney, Australia last night. This is what he said about Stephen: “He was a true Bauer man, like the Last of the Mohicans: a tall man, a wide man, strong and honest, a man of principle and integrity, of heart and hard work.”

Stephen never complained—at least, not that I ever heard. He worked hard to provide for his family, because ten kids don’t feed themselves. He frequently worked double shifts as a tradesman in the tool and die business—but he never complained about hard work. Stephen would say that he worked himself fortunate.

Instead of complaining, he liked to tell stories and to make people laugh. When Stephen came into a room, you knew that you were about to hear a great story about a 10-point buck or a ridiculously stubborn Northern Pike.

He never lost this ability to make people laugh, even when he knew he was not going to get better. His family stayed close, and did what they could to keep him comfortable—but Stephen, who never missed an opportunity to make a joke, said, “You know what’s worse than dying? Having 10 women hovering around me, asking me can I get you this or can I get you that.”

The author and columnist Anna Quindlen published an essay in the New York Times almost exactly 14 years ago in which she said that her great journalistic contribution to her family is that she writes obituaries. She ponders death, and grief, and loss:

The landscapes of all our lives become as full of craters as the surface of the
moon…I write my obituaries carefully and think about how little the facts
suffice, not only to describe the dead, but to tell what they will mean to the
living all the rest of our lives. We are defined by who we have lost.

When someone we love dies, we grieve—but this is only the first part of our shared experience. This loss, Anna Quindlen says, is a “continuous presence of an absence.”

We have all been touched by Stephen’s excellent life. I think, now that we are sharing the experience of his loss, of the continuous presence of his absence, we should honor Stephen’s memory by being more like him: Complaining less, and laughing more. Giving more than we get. Choosing to do the loving thing, without expecting a payback. Allowing our faith to shape us into better, kinder people.

I’m going to close this with a verse that I think Stephen might have chosen as his final message to us, also from the Gospel of John, chapter 14, verse 27: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.”

We’re going to miss you, Stephen.

In the end, I charged my client a hundred bucks. I remembered that when we dealt with Tohle Funeral Home to have our tiny Caitlin cremated, the funeral director was so kind: he didn't charge us for his time, but only for the costs he incurred. I wanted to offer the same kindness to my client.

It turns out that writing a eulogy is, essentially, story-telling--just like a lot of other rhetorical forms. But I don't really want to add eulogies to my repertoire. It would be a little like ambulance chasing.

But for this once, it was actually an enjoyable assignment. The only downside was that somebody had to die for me to get it.

Saturday, June 7, 2008


Back in April, I wrote this post, but I never posted it to The Green Room. It's so hot today that I thought it might help us all keep things in perspective.

First of all, it's snowing today. Seriously. Does the universe not know that it is April 28?

Second, my kids, who have not even been out of school for one entire hour, are driving me completely bonkers. Is it too early to open a bottle of wine? Somewhere in the world it is 6 p.m., so I'm saying, no.

And third, did I mention that it's snowing? It's 33 degrees, and it's SNOWING. In late April. In Chicago.

And then, there's this: Just now my little boy came into my office and kissed my cheek.

"Why did you kiss me?" I asked him.

"Because you're the best mom ever," he said.

"Yeah, right," I said. "Because the best mom ALWAYS yells and screams at her kids."

"No," he said thoughtfully, "but nobody's perfect. And you're still the best mom ever."


Friday, June 6, 2008

Season of Repair

Everyone experiences Seasons of Repair: those times in your life when everything you own seems to break at the same time, or one thing after another. We're in one right now. Remind me, please, that this is just a season, and it won't last forever.

Awhile ago, Mr. Peevie broke the key off in the ancient deadbolt lock of the basement door. It wasn't a huge deal--we hardly ever use that door, except when we need to empty the laundry room trash, or in the event of being trapped in the basement by a fire. Which hasn't happened. Yet. So we didn't bother to get it fixed.

Several weeks ago we started having trouble getting the key to turn in the ignition of the minivan. We felt proud of our ingenuity--in light of our pathetic lack of mechanical skills--when we figured out that the problem seemed only to occur when we used the remote to lock the doors and set the alarm. So we avoided using the remote, and reverted to the primitive hand method of locking and unlocking the doors.

The day before we were scheduled to go out of town, the key started acting all finicky again, even when we hadn't set the alarm remotely. The next morning I called our mechanic, Mike. "It doesn't have anything to do with the alarm system," he said confidently. "It's probably the lock cylinder."

Also, "I wouldn't drive it when it's having that problem," Mike warned. "Especially not out of town. You'll get stranded somewhere."

"Can you fix it?" I asked. Of course he was super-busy, and had about 40 cars ahead of us. "I don't know," he said. "Let me make some calls."

Three hours and a $300 lock cylinder later--and an hour before we were scheduled to leave on our road trip--Mike called. "The car's ready," he said. I felt he should be canonized. I'm looking into it.

The next car issue we have to deal with, now that Chicago has, as usual, hopped briefly over spring and zoomed into 85+ degree summer temperatures, is to fix the dang air conditioner in the van. Today the outside temps were registering over 90 degrees Fahrenheit, and we were simmering in our own juices.

And last Friday, the clothes dryer stopped working. It was original equipment in the house when we moved in; it was probably 20 or 25 years old. But still. Timing is everything, and before we could accept delivery of a new dryer, we'd have to get the basement door lock fixed. Tuesday morning the locksmith came and replaced the ancient keyed deadbolt, which was a totally illegal fire hazard, anyway. Wallet, say goodbye to $168.

Saturday we bought a new dryer online--a cool one (and the fact that I'm calling a clothes dryer cool means that I am really, really old and about as uncool as a human being can be) that has a moisture sensor which shuts the dryer off when the clothes are dry. Smart! (BTW, thanks to Mr. BZ for all your dryer research!) It arrived on Tuesday afternoon, and promptly started earning its keep. I was secretly--well, until I wrote about it on my blog--excited about doing laundry that day.

So that's almost a cool grand in unbudgeted repair and replacement costs, plus whatever the ding-dang AC will run. I'm guessing it'll be another $300. That's usually what car repairs round out to.

Hmmmm. Somebody better dig up some new clients, mmmmmm?

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Random facts meme

Lilia has tagged me with a friendly little meme, so here's your opportunity to learn some random things about your Green Room host:

1) What was I doing 10 years ago? I was probably in the hospital with A. Peevie, who was born with complex congenital heart defects and spent a lot of time in the hospital during his first two years of life.

2) What are 5 things on my to-do list for today (not in any particular order)? Finish up a project for a client (I don't just write for free on my blog, you know. Sometimes I have to pimp my writing out to clients who will actually pay for it); laundry; dishes; blog; and spend too much money at Costco.

3) Snacks I enjoy: Almost anything salty and crunchy, plus most anything covered in chocolate.

4) Things I would do if I were a billionaire: The thought of being responsible for that much money makes me sick to my stomach. Seriously, it does. You can't just put it into a foundation, because then you have to hire people to run it, and make sure they're doing a good job.

I'd be happier with a million or two--enough that Mr. Peevie wouldn't have to worry about dipping into savings when my income is a bit too sporadic, and enough that I could help my friends and family when they get stuck. Oh, and enough so that I could get cable like every other household on the friggin' planet.

5) Places I have lived: Suburban Philadelphia. Broken Arrow, Oklahoma. Stillwater, Oklahoma. Pekin, Illinois. Chicago, Illinois. That's it.

5b) Places I would want to live: London. San Francisco. Sanibel Island, Florida. Bucks County, PA.

6) Jobs I have had: Babysitter. Waitress. House cleaner. (Oh, be quiet.) Newspaper proofreader and headline writer. Freshman composition instructor. English as a second language instructor. Fund raising (development officer). Marketing/PR professional. Publications coordinator. Freelance writer and consultant.

7) Six peeps I wanna know more about (and in no particular order): J. Ro, KTBZ, Cube, Hammerdad, TerriB and Alaska Bookworm.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Anti-Climactic? Not to me.

Do you feel the energy of this historic moment, when the first black candidate claims the nomination of a major party in a presidential election?

Or are you feeling blasè, because you've been hearing the predictions for months now? Here's what Slate's Today's Papers said this morning:
The papers all assure us this is a historic moment, but if
you're feeling like it's all rather anticlimactic, don't worry, because you're not alone. "That's the thing about today's prediction-driven media culture," writes the Post's Howard Kurtz. "If a thousand pundits declare that Hillary is toast, then by the time she is charred around the edges it hardly seems like news." There's been so much talk about Obama's delegate lead that when he finally claimed the nomination yesterday, the news seemed to be greeted with yawns. "We're not even limping," a media analyst said, "we're just dragging across the finish line, and everyone says, 'Oh, okay, whatever.' It feels redundant."

That is a hilarious line from Howard Kurtz about Hillary being charred around the edges--but I, for one, am not a bit indifferent or bored with this moment.

Maybe I'm naive in my expectations; perhaps I'll click back to this post in two or three years and feel embarrassed about my optimism. Maybe I'll come to regret it, like I did in the second half of the Clinton presidency. But it feels good to be behind a candidate because I actually think he'll be good for our country.

It's been a long time since I've voted for a candidate in a presidential election for a more optimistic reason than "he's the lesser of two evils." Know what I mean?

But now the question is, can Obama beat McCain? Put your preferences aside for a moment. What's your prediction for the outcome of the general election in November? Can an Obama ticket defeat a McCain ticket? Would the VP choice possibly change your mind about this?

I put up a poll to the right. Be a pal, and take a moment to vote, won't you?

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Insect Revenge

Remember last summer when we were having the intractable problem with the fruit flies?

Well. The insect world has apparently decided that it is time to exact revenge for the senseless slaughter of those tiny innocents. They sent a couple of battalions of carpenter ants to invade my kitchen, and I just about got eaten alive.

I walked out to the kitchen to see about getting some birthday lunch. I was considering a plate of leftover burgers and brats, when suddenly an ant as big as a hamster sauntered across the kitchen counter right in front of me. I am not normally one to take the Lord's name in vain, but I screamed, "OHMYGOD!" and knocked it on the floor and stomped on it with my faux-croc.

Then I saw two more big-ass ants advancing on me across the Pergo. "OHMYGOD!" I screeched again, and stomped them dead. As soon as I stomped, I saw more steroidal ants headed my way from the screen door, and as my gaze went up from the floor to the top of the screen door, the view started to look like an Alfred Hitchcock movie. Thousands of ants swarmed around the inside of the screen.

"OMIGOD, OMIGOD, OMIGOD!!" I said, calling on the Lord to take away this plague. I slammed the back door shut, trapping the ants between the screen door and the main door, that possibly was not strong enough to hold back the pullulating legion. I raced to the front door, ran around the house to the deck, and pulled open the screen door. There were so many winged creatures that lifted off the screen that the sky turned black for a minute. I felt like Pharoah arguing with Moses about Letting His People Go.

I ducked away from the swarm and ran back around the house. Back in the kitchen, I started to notice that ants had broken away from the herd before I slammed the door. They were crawling across the walls and floor, and I attacked them with the fly swatter. Almost all of them had wings, but none were flying, and they made slow-moving targets.

Eventually I had a pile of about 20 ant carcasses; and eventually, my heart stopped pounding at NASCAR speed.

Now comes the hard part: finding out where the nest is, destroying it, and fixing the problem that attracted the ants in the first place.

I love being a homeowner.

(Top photo credit: PCS Gulf Islands. If you're reading this from the southern Gulf islands, and you have a pest problem, give them a call.)

Monday, June 2, 2008

Happy Birthday to Me

Today I'm 47. I love my birthday.

I love attention and presents. I love it when people smile at me and tell me Happy Birthday! I love getting cards, especially those musical ones, and cards that make me laugh.

I love getting a free entree at Moretti's, which is where my little family is taking me for dinner.

I love the season of my birthday--almost the beginning of summer, it's finally starting to warm up enough for shirt sleeves and no jacket, and the big fluffy pink peonies are just starting to open up. You can still smell the perfume of lilac and lily-of-the-valley in the air, and the flower pots on my deck are busting out with color.

I don't mind getting older. To me, getting older means having more to be grateful for--more life, more friends, more experiences, more maturity. I know I'm a wiser, kinder and gentler person than I was when I was much younger.

This morning I prompted A. Peevie and M. Peevie to remember my Big Day:

"Hey guys," I said, "Anyone know what today is?"

"Monday," A. Peevie said morosely.

"June second!" M. Peevie piped up, all proud of herself because she's been tracking the dates until the very last day of school on June 6.

"Yeees," I said, nodding expectantly. "It's Monday, June 2. What else is it?" Geez, what a person has to go through just to get a simple "Happy Birthday!"!

"My field trip!" said M. Peevie happily. A. Peevie just shrugged his shoulders, and started to turn away.

"What's special about today, Monday, June 2?" I insisted.

"OH, IT'S YOUR BIRTHDAY!!" they screamed in unison. "HAPPY BIRTHDAY, MOMMY!" M. Peevie ran up and squeezed me around the waist. "Happy Birthday, Happy Birthday!" she sing-songed, while we jumped up and down happily.

That's all I needed to get my birthday jump-started: some birthday screams, some jumping, and a hug.