Monday, June 29, 2009

Punishing Madoff

Does it serve the public good to put Bernard Madoff in prison for the rest of his life?

Madoff committed crimes for which he should be punished and for which he should pay reparations to his victims. Putting him in prison will accomplish the former, but not the latter.

There's gotta be a better way.

What if, instead of prison, Bernie got one of those leg things that doesn't let him go outside of a certain range, and has to live in a small apartment, and go to a 9-5 job, and turn all his assets over to be distributed to his victims? What if he works with the FBI to catch criminals like himself, like Frank Abagnale, Jr., did?

The courts have already ordered Madoff to forfeit $170 billion in assets. It would be great if the money could be distributed fairly (whatever that means) to his victims. I don't know if that means giving more to people who have less, or repaying victims based upon how much real money they lost. I'd be more than happy to help them figure this out. For a fee, of course.

I'm just saying, as I have said before: it makes sense to treat non-violent offenders differently than violent offenders. Restorative Justice emphasizes "repairing the harm caused by crime." Obviously, he will never be able to fully repair the financial harm he caused with his gigantic swindle. But he can repair some of it, and isn't some better than none?

And one more thing: people are talking about how Mr. Madoff "ruined the lives" of the people he swindled. I'm just wondering: did he really "ruin" their lives by taking their money? Yes, he cheated them and stole from them. Yes, he changed their lives, and probably made many of them face extremely difficult financial challenges.

But is this the same as "ruining" their lives? If experiencing the holocaust first hand did not ruin Elie Wiesel's life, can it really be said that being cheated out of his life savings ruined him? I'm sympathetic to Mr. Wiesel, and I agree with him that Mr. Madoff is "a thief, a scoundrel, a criminal"--but seriously. Elie Wiesel's life is not ruined, any more than anyone's life is ruined by a catastrophic financial investment.

It's only money. Mr. Wiesel, with all due respect, and all the others who lost money in the Great Madoff Ponzi Parade, still have their brains, their skills, their sources of income, their families, their lives. From the perspective of a person who struggles more than some, less than others, to make ends meet every month, especially in the last 10 months, I still say, "It's only money." They'll make more.

What Madoff ruined is people's expectations and hopes for the future. They hoped and expected that they'd have money for luxuries. They hoped and expected that they'd be able to take nice vacations, shop at Macy's, spoil their grandchildren, and generally live financially comfortable lives.

Expectations. If you depend on them too much, I'm sure it feels like you're life is ruined when they get shot to pieces.

That's a spiritual lesson right there.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Assault With A Deadly Cheeto

This might be a sign of the Apocalypse: A couple in Tennessee was arrested yesterday for assaulting each other with Cheetos. I can understand arguing, and I can understand assault; but wasting a perfectly good supply of Cheetos? That's just wrong.

It's not the first time Cheetos have been used as a weapon. People, listen: keep your Cheetos locked up so the kids cannot get to them. That way they won't be used as weapons, and also, they'll be there when you want to eat them yourselves. The kids can fill up on apples and grapes.

Although, grapes might be just as dangerous as Cheetos. In my house growing up, we used grapes as missiles, flinging them at each other when my parents were out of the room. This was when we were old enough to know better (in college.) Months later, we'd find them, only by this time they were raisins.

You just know that those pansy liberals in Congress will start passing laws against Cheetos now. And when Cheetos are outlawed, only outlaws will have Cheetos. Do not allow them to infringe the rights of Citizens to keep and bear Cheetos.

Please send $10 to the Save Our Puffy Orange Snacks (care of this blog) and keep Cheetos legal.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

It's Killing Me

It's killing me.

Right before my birthday I went out of town to visit my family in PA, leaving Mr. Peevie in charge of kids, school, homework, baseball, ballet, laundry, meals, and birthday parties, plus his regular day job which actually pays the bills. He had a lot on his plate, and so I said to him, with unprecedented maturity and consideration, "Honey, don't worry about my birthday. I know you'll be handling a lot of things while I'm gone, and I don't want my birthday to add to your stress."

I'd love to get a present, of course (I told him), but it can wait until you're less stressed.

Apparently, he's still stressed, because: no present yet. Three weeks later. It's killing me.

I know that I am the most materialistic, shallow person on the planet, and I'm not proud of it. But a gift, to me, is love. It doesn't have to be big; it doesn't have to be expensive. It just has to be TIVO.

Oh, I'm just kidding. I can be happy with something other than TIVO.

I did ask him once, maybe twice, in the last two weeks or so if he thought I might be getting a birthday present. He said yes. He knows me well enough after 25 years of virtually unmitigated marital bliss to not kid about such a thing.

Virtually unmitigated. One time, early in our marriage, Mr. P came home from work carrying a mysterious package. "Ooo," I said, "What's that?" "I bought you a present," he said cheerfully, handing it to me. I was excited to open it, as I always am when I receive a gift. It was an album of music by an artist that I had never heard of in a genre that I didn't particularly enjoy. My balloon of happiness deflated rapidly, and I not-very-graciously said, "Oh. Thanks."

Mr. Peevie didn't notice. He opened the album and headed to the turn-table. (I do realize that my younger readers will have to get out their History of Electronics textbooks to understand some of my archaic terminology.) "I've been wanting this for awhile," he said.

"Really," I said. "Well, then, why did you say it was a present for me?"

"Um, because I thought you might enjoy it too?" he said, with the beginnings of fear in his voice.

"Let's take this opportunity to reach an understanding here," I said. "I love gifts. When you say to me, 'I brought you a present,' I feel happy and loved because you spent time thinking about me and about what I would enjoy." I paused for soulful effect.

"But when you give me a gift which is really a gift for you," I continued, "I feel cheated and tricked instead of loved." I know what you're thinking: boy, is this woman high-maintenance. And perhaps I am.

OK, there's no 'perhaps' about it. I will own that I am, indeed, high-maintenance. But I would argue that in this case, I was being the opposite of high-maintenance. I was communicating clearly and honestly, and asking merely for gift-giving integrity, which, if I recall correctly, was included in our vows, right after "love, honor and obey."

OK, slash that. There was no 'obey' in our vows. But I'm sure gift-giving integrity was in there, in spirit if not in so many words.

I said, hey, Mr. Peevie, it is perfectly appropriate for you to buy yourself some music! If you had come home and said, hey, look, I bought myself a CD, isn't it great!, I would have been happy for you, I said, and not at all disappointed for myself. Where he went wrong was in saying, for some inexplicable reason, that it was a gift for me.

Mr. Peevie is a very quick learner. He never made the same mistake again; and in fact, over the years has become the master gift-giver. He understands me and loves me, and I can tell that it gives him pleasure to show me love by giving me gifts. He puts himself into the gifts he gives, and I adore being on the receiving end of that.

Which is why this situation--no birthday gift--Is. Killing. Me.

It's killing me not to ask about it. It's killing me, wondering if maybe he forgot.

Doesn't he love me anymore?

Why can't I just let it go?

Have you ever known anyone so shamelessly shallow?

UPDATE: Mr. Peevie came through. When I returned from the Badlands, there on the dining room table were two wrapped gifts: a Jason Mraz CD, We Sing, We Dance, We Steal Things, including my new favorite song, Lucky; and a large, very promising wrapped box containing a Williams-Sonoma pizza pan and cookie sheet. He loves me, he really loves me!

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Father's Day Scare

A little friend of ours watched her daddy have a seizure right in front of her tonight. It was one of the most frightening things I've ever been close to, and except for calling 911 and trying fecklessly to bring him out of it by talking to him (obviously, I'm medically clueless), I was scared and helpless.

Mr. Peevie and I had taken our kids plus a couple of extras to the park to play baseball. We were taking turns pitching and batting, and generally having a good time. Little Un-named Friend (LUF)'s mom dropped off LUF and her daddy to play with us, and they were sitting on the bench along the sidelines.

Suddenly LUF-daddy started yelling and convulsing, his arms straight out in front of him. For the first 10 seconds or so, Mr. Peevie and I thought he was kidding around, but then 9-year-old LUF started screaming, and we knew something was wrong. I ran over, to do what, I have no idea; and I called to Mr. Peevie to grab my phone from the backpack and call 911. I started talking to LUF-Daddy, but of course, he could not hear me; he stopped yelling, but his arms were still extended stiffly in front of him, his eyes were rolling back and showing red around the edges, and bits of foam whitened the corners of his mouth. LUF kept screaming, and I just kept watching him helplessly, knowing only to watch to make sure he wasn't choking on vomit.

Mr. Peevie couldn't figure out how to dial 911 on my phone, so he handed it to me and went to put his arms around poor, terrified, screaming LUF. It took me three tries before I could get my fingers to hit the right keys, but finally, I got through.

"A man is having a seizure," I yelled into the phone. "We're at Hitch school; we need help." They asked for the address, which I gave them with Mr. Peevie's level-headed help; I couldn't remember the names of the streets with LUF-Daddy foaming and seizing next to me on the bench and his horrified daughter screaming 10 feet away. Meanwhile, the other kids were watching from where they stood on the field; except M. Peevie had moved to a safer distance and stood with her fingers in her ears and a scared look on her face.

After about a minute, LUF-Daddy slumped back against the cast-iron bench and his head lolled to the side. His eyes were open, but not rolling back; he was only semi-conscious. I was still talking to the 911 operator, who was asking me for symptoms and telling me to lay him on his side.

"I can't really lay him on his side," I said nervously. "He's sitting up on a bench, kind of leaning over on his side already. He's a big guy." She asked me to try to make sure he didn't choke on anything, and to flag down the ambulance, which was on the way.

Mr. Peevie still held tight to LUF, who was crying and screaming, "Daddy! Daddy! He doesn't know me! Daddy!"

I got back on the phone and called LUF's mom to tell her what was going on. "I'll be right there," she said grimly, and she hung up quickly.

As LUF-Daddy started gradually regaining consciousness (if that's the right word for it), he started looking around with a dazed and confused expression on his face. I was sitting next to him on the bench with my hand on his arm. When his gaze focused on me, his eyes widened in fear and confusion, and he started backward, like he was afraid of me. He clearly had no idea who I was or what was going on. I got up and moved away from him, partly out of fear for my own safety, and partly to help him feel safer.

LUF was still crying and screaming, and LUF-Daddy looked over at her uncomprehendingly. Then he looked back at me, and startled again. I took another step away, but kept talking to him in what I hoped was a reassuring voice.

"You had a seizure, LUF-Daddy," I told him. "It's going to be OK. The ambulance is on the way." I kept repeating this mantra, because it was all I could do; but he was still clearly disoriented, and my words probably sounded like what a pet hears when its owner talks to it in human language.

It felt like a year passed, with the screaming and crying, the talking gently but warily watching, the waiting, the holding. Every time LUF-Daddy looked toward me, he jumped in his seat, like he was afraid I was going to hurt him; and every time, I moved further away because I felt it was entirely possible that he could lash out in fear. A man came from across the street, hearing the commotion. He wanted to be helpful, and tried to talk gently to LUF-Daddy, but with the same lack of success that I had had.

"I wouldn't go too near him," I warned him. "He's disoriented and scared. He's still coming out of it."

Finally we heard the sirens, and the fire truck and ambulance arrived (it was probably less than five minutes), and LUF-Mommy pulled up at the same time. She leapt out of her car and ran over to him, ignoring my warning that he was confused and maybe she should move slowly; but thankfully, he seemed to recognize her. She talked to him gently, but he still didn't talk or move from the bench.

The EMTs moved more slowly and carefully, assessing the situation like professionals before walking slowly over to LUF-Daddy. One paramedic asked me for the details of what had happened, and I told her while they helped him up and loaded him onto the stretcher. LUF was still sobbing loudly with Mr. Peevie's arms wrapped around her.

As they pushed him toward the ambulance, LUF-Mommy's face crumpled, and I put my arms around her. LUF came running over to us, and jumped up into her mom's arms, wrapping her legs around her waist and sobbing even louder. We huddled together, with LUF's mom saying reassuring things to comfort her.

"His arms stuck straight out!" she wailed, "And his eyes were red, and there were bubbles on his mouth! He didn't know who I was!"

"I know, baby, I know," her mom said, holding her tight and crying. "It's gonna be OK now. The doctors are going to help daddy."

Two or three times before they left, the paramedics asked about LUF, making sure that one of the adults was taking responsibility for her. Later, when I was processing the whole event, I thought to myself how alert that was, for them to not only take care of their patient, but also to be aware of the needs of a distraught little girl.

After LUF-Daddy had been taken to the ambulance, M. Peevie came over and put her arms around her little friend and held her tight. LUF-Mommy and I sat down on the bench to give her a chance to talk and cry a bit. C. Peevie helpfully grabbed A. Peevie and his little friend and walked them home, while M. Peevie sensitively suggested to LUF that they walk a little ways away from us so that they did not have to hear what we were saying. When she felt ready, LUF-Mommy drove her car home, and Mr. Peevie and I walked home with the two little girls.

All of us spent time tonight processing that scary event. M. Peevie's process included extra cuddling at bedtime, plus a reading of Psalm 23. The rest of us just talked through what we saw and how we felt; and one of us blogged about it.

I'm sure poor LUF will be processing this for years. How does a child recover from seeing such a frightening thing happen to her own daddy right in front of her eyes?

I did some research on grand mal seizures, which is my diagnosis of LUF-Daddy's situation, and I learned that we did a few things right by mainly leaving him alone. Don't hold him down, don't put anything in his mouth, turn him on his side (which we didn't have to do for him because he essentially did it for himself), and note the symptoms and length of the seizure.

I learned that it is technically not necessary to call 911 for a person having a seizure unless there is no medical ID indicating that the person has a seizure disorder. In this case, we called instinctively, and only learned later that he had never seized before, which is a positive indicator for medical attention.

Next time, I'll look for a medical ID bracelet--although how you do that when a big guy is flailing and foaming at the mouth, I really don't know.

Next time, maybe I'll just plan to be somewhere else.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

When Our Words Turn Around and Bite Us In the Butt

My kids and I walked to Chicago All Stars sports memorabilia store (known affectionately around our house as "The Card Shop") today to browse and buy baseball cards. And by "my kids" I mean two of my own kids, plus three friends.

The owner is a friendly guy named Ronnie, and he told me that he started his business when he was nine years old. Nine. That's when he started collecting baseball cards, and decided that he wanted to open his own memorabilia shop. It didn't happen for many, many years--but I admire his tenacity and vision. His store is the epitome of the American Dream.

(If you clicked on the link, you may have noticed that Ronnie's web site needs some work. The site does not do justice to the quantity and quality of his multi-sport memorabilia inventory. Plus, he's got a replica of The Great Wall--the ivy-covered brick wall in center field at Wrigley--in the shop, complete with baseballs trapped in the grate above the ivy. If you're looking for a gift for a sports fan, this place is worth the trip; and this is not a paid endorsement.)

Most of the kids bought cards, and M. Peevie also purchased a binder for her baseball card collection. (Ronnie threw in some free plastic pocket pages to get her started.) She could barely wait to get home so she could start loading the cards into the pages.

I walked into the room when M.P. had started sorting through her plastic Dominick's bag of baseball cards and inserting them randomly into the plastic sleeves.

"M. Peevie," I suggested, "Why don't you put your more valuable cards in first?"

"Why?" she asked.

"Because it makes sense to make sure your more valuable cards are protected before you protect your less valuable cards," I explained.

"But why do you care so much," she asked.

I was a little taken aback.
"I don't really care," I said. "I was just making a suggestion."

And here's where I learned that apparently she does listen to what I say. Sometimes.

"But mom," she said earnestly, and without a trace of disrespect, "I didn't ask you for advice. You always say, don't give people advice unless they ask you for advice."

I was flummoxed. She was absolutely right: I do say that. I hate being on the receiving end of unsolicited advice.

"You're right, M.," I admitted, "I do say that. And in general, I think it's a good rule." I was going to add something about the situation between parents and minor children being a bit of an exception to the rule, but in the end I decided that I did not have the energy to take the conversation in that direction.

"You go ahead and put your cards in the binder however you want," I said instead. I felt proud that her eight-year-old self cleverly made the connection between my suggestion about the cards and our long-ago conversation in which I told her that her advice-giving, though no-doubt motivated by love and helpfulness, might not be well-received.

I think she's going to be a lawyer someday. She will give advice all day long, and people will pay her for it.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Another Conversation About Sex

Sex is coming up a lot in conversations around my house (and in the car) lately. I think this is great: the best way to talk to kids about sex, I believe, is in natural, everyday conversation. So here's the latest iteration:

"Mom," A. Peevie asked for no apparent reason, "Why did people long ago have a lot of kids, but today people only have two or three?"

"Well, A.," I said, "A long time ago, babies and children died from illness and disease more often than they do today."

"So?" he asked, reasonably.

"So," I surmised, "If they wanted to have a family, and have kids that would grow up, they would have to have more than one or two kids, because they might die.

"For example, A. Peevie," I said, bringing the lesson home, "Your special heart, with the kinds of problems that the doctors had to work on after you were born? Thirty or 40 years ago, babies with those heart defects did not survive."

"Huh," he said, unimpressed. "But why else would they have a lot of kids?"

"Well," I guessed, "Probably a lot of families had farms and businesses, and they needed help doing the work..."

"So they had a lot of kids to help with the farm-work!" M. Peevie finished for me.

"Huh," A. Peevie said again. "I'm not buying it."

I looked at him in the rear-view mirror, and he stared placidly back at me. "Why else?" he demanded. I had no idea why he was being so persistent on this topic. Did he wish he had more siblings? Was he hoping for more babies in our family? He does like babies, but unfortunately (for him), that ship has sailed.

"OK, A.," I said, bringing out the big guns, "How about this one: People a long time ago had more babies than people today because they didn't have any effective birth control methods." I paused for dramatic effect, and to let the meaning sink in.

"In other words," I continued, "When two people have sex..."

"I get it!" he said loudly. "I'm buying it, I'm buying it. You don't have to finish!"

"Well, I don't get it," M. Peevie interjected. "Finish, mom. When two people have sex, what?"

I explained that when two people have sex, there's always the chance that the woman will get pregnant. Today, I continued, people have more ways of preventing the woman from getting pregnant, so they can have sex even when they don't want to have a baby. In the old days, women got pregnant more often and had more babies because they didn't have those ways of preventing pregnancy.

"But mom," M. Peevie wondered, "Why would they want to have sex if they didn't want another baby?"

Ahhh. I'm not sure if I'm glad or not glad that we are starting to have more conversations about sex than we have about poop.

"Because sex is fun, M.P.," I said. "God invented sex not only so that people could make babies, but so that married people could enjoy each other and feel closer to each other."

"Yuck," she said. "I am never going to have sex unless I want to have a baby."

Excellent, I thought to myself. That is exactly what I want to hear from my daughter for the next 20 years.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

When Mommy's Happy

I invented a new beverage. The official name of this beverage has not yet been determined, but the working title is When Mommy's Happy. Those of you who are underage, please click away.

Here's the recipe:

1 lime
1 oz Cointreau
2 oz vodka
7-Up or Diet 7-Up

Fill a highball glass with ice. Cut lime in half, and squeeze both halves into the glass. Add Cointreau and vodka. Fill with 7-Up. Stir. Enjoy responsibly.

I googled these ingredients, and did not find an existing similar drink, so I'm taking full credit for the recipe. Technically, this is actually two servings of alcohol, so behave accordingly. Mix it, and share it with a friend. Another option is to cut the alcohol in half, and mix the drink in a smaller glass.

I almost feel virtuous when I drink When Mommy's Happy, because it has an entire lime in it. It's sweet, but not too sweet, because of all the lime.

Let me know what you think.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Summer Value, Simple Fun

My 8-year-old Peevie Child and her 8-year-old pal M. Black Hair and I put together our metal frame and vinyl pool in about an hour last week. (That's how easy it is.)

This little pool (which takes up most of our typical Chicago back yard at 10' diameter and about 3' deep) has served us well. Every year it gets a little more off-kilter, and it currently doesn't have a working filter (kilter, filter--it rhymes! I'm a poet!), and the vinyl is bleached, and we had to plug a filter hole with a sock--but this pool was the best summer entertainment value that I ever purchased. Assuming we get through this year with the pool still functioning, I think the cost works out to about 16 cents per hour of summer fun or less, not including the cost of filters, chlorine, pool toys, and other accessories.

They're running about $129 at Target this year*, but when we bought ours three years ago, it was $99, including the water filter, plus about $50 for the chemical kit. The filter gave out during the season last year, but we continued using the pool without it. I also stopped buying expensive pool chemicals, and just started using regular old chlorine bleach to kill the germs; and I used a skimmer net to skim off the leaves and dead animals that accumulated on the surface of the water.

(I still used the testing supplies to make sure that the Ph and chlorine levels were appropriate. It vastly amused me and made me feel like a mad scientist when I dripped the yellow and red solutions into the test beakers. But then again, I am easily amused.)

So for the first two days that the pool was up, M. Peevie spent great chunks of time in it--even though the temperature has barely reached 70 and the water temp is probably just shy of icicle. She floats on hot pink inner tubes, swims laps around the perimeter, practices holding her breath under water, and generally splashes happily for hours on end.

The good thing about having this pool in our tiny Chicago backyard is that it's fun for our kids and their friends. The bad thing is that sometimes I become slightly irritable at the parade of kids needing food, drinks, bathing suits, towels, sunscreen, and Band-Aids tracking watery footprints through my kitchen.

At this moment I have an 8-year-old, a 9-year-old, and a 10-year-old floating on inflatables and telling stories in the pool. It's sweet, innocent, and simple, and it makes me happy and grateful for my life.

*I saw the pool on sale for $99 again yesterday.

Monday, June 15, 2009


I think I accidentally committed a felony yesterday. Plus a couple of misdemeanors.

Normally Sunday mornings are Jesus time for the Peevie family. We all get up, get dressed, we fight about stupid stuff, and then we go and worship the Lord. Actually, every day is Jesus time, but Sundays are, you know, Official Go To Church days. Whatever. I'm getting off track here.

Eeenyway. C. Peevie has been wanting to try out for the all-star baseball team for several years, but Mr. Peevie and I vetoed it because of the added burden on our already packed summer schedules, plus the Sunday morning church conflict. But this year we decided to let him go for it.

Sunday morning I had to get C. Peevie to the baseball field by 9, but M. Peevie was still sound asleep. I hate waking up sleeping beauties--here's where the potential felony comes in--so I asked A. Peevie, age 11, if I could please leave him in charge for 10 minutes while I drove C.P. over to the park.

"I don't know, mom," he said seriously, "I don't know if I'm ready for that kind of responsibility." As I have mentioned before, he has more anxiety than Woody Allen when WA is off his meds.

"Please, A. Peevie," I said, "I don't want to have to wake M. Peevie up and drag her out to the car to take C. Peevie to baseball. It will only take 10 minutes."

"I'll think about it," he said, but he only had a couple of minutes to decide, so I sweetened the deal.

"How about if we give you C. Peevie's cell phone, and you can call me if you get worried?" I said. C. Peevie showed A. Peevie how to press one button to reach me on my cell phone, but he was still unconvinced.

"OK," I said, "How about this. How about if you call me on my cell phone right now, before I even leave, and I'll stay on the phone with you for a couple of minutes?" (There's another misdemeanor: driving while talking on the cell phone!) He agreed. I got in the car, buckled up, and a second later the phone rang.

"Hello?" I said.

"Hi, Mommy!" said little boy sweetly, waving goodbye from the picture window.

"Hi, sweetie," I said, as I pulled away from the curb. "How're you doing? Feeling OK about this?"

"I guess so," he said, "But you're going to be back in 10 minutes, right?"

"Yes, A.P.," I reassured him. "Ten minutes. I'm going to hang up now, OK?"

"OK," he said. "But I can call you if I need to, right?" Right, I said.

He called me two and a half minutes later. "Hi, mommy!"

"Hi, A. Peevie." (Another misdemeanor.)

"Watcha dew-in'?" he said needlessly.

"Honey, I'm driving. You're OK, right?"

"Yes," he admitted, "I'm OK."

"OK, then, I'm going to hang up. You can call me if you need me." Emphasis on the if you need me.

He called me two more times, for a total of four calls in the seven minutes I was gone. Seven minutes. The last time, the phone rang just as I was pulling up in front of the house.

"Hi, A. Peevie," I said.

"Hi, mommy," he said, "Oh! You just parked in front!"

"Yes," I said, one last time. "I'm hanging up now."

He was so happy when I walked in the house, and so proud of himself for staying all by himself (not counting his sleeping sister) for ten whole minutes, that he smiled a smile so big it cracked his face in half. I don't actually know if it was a felony to leave him alone, but I do think it was a good thing for his confidence.

Please don't turn me in.

I Heart Irony

I just got an email request from an business acquaintance to "join Friends of U.S. Senator Roland Burris as we show full support for America's only African-American senator."

The email also indicated that "our senator will address the crowd and answer questions regarding the economic stimulus package." He will also "discuss his plan for our great State," and I should "be sure to attend for complete clarity of his mission."

Yes, Senator, what exactly is your mission? I don't suppose that it has anything at all to do with satisfying your massive ego, does it?

I composed, but didn't send, an email to my colleague that started, "Are you kidding me? The Senator is an embarrassment." Does anyone who's not looking to gain something from his position think that a) he is there because he's qualified; b) he is not a self-seeking, prevaricating, ego-maniac; and c) he is in any way good for Illinois?

I'm not saying this is true of my business acquaintance. I'm just saying that I don't get it. As I mentioned before, along with thousands of other commentators, the whole process was tainted with the appearance, if not the actuality, of inappropriate influence. It would be true of ANYONE who accepted an appointment by our benighted governor.

And here's the hilarious irony of the invitation: the fundraiser is being held at Vain Nightclub. No lie. Vain. Did the event planners not consider the possibility that bloggers with huge audiences such as myself would derive great joy in exploiting the ironical connection?

The Vain website leaves no doubt about the significance of the name and the purpose of the club: "Vain-definition 1) Excessively proud of or concerned about one's own appearance, qualities, achievements, etc.;" and later, "Live, drink, and party in VAIN."

It kind of reminds me of the parable of the rich fool in Luke 12: Eat, drink and be merry, the foolish rich man thought; but Jesus reminds his disciples that "this very night your life will be demanded from" him, and they would be wise to consider eternity when tempted to pursue vanity and emptiness.

I will not be attending the Burris fundraiser.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Magical Moments

Have you ever had one of those moments when time slowed way down and you felt like you had entered a magical alternate dimension where you were eternally young and you were surrounded by happy children, friendly adults, sounds of laughter and cheering, and there was cake, too?

Me neither.

However. This week we came pretty close to that moment. The eighth-graders challenged their parents to a softball game to celebrate their emancipation from grade school and to demonstrate their "superior" athletic ability.

We creamed them. It was awesome.

But wait: let me backtrack for a moment. First of all, we (and by "we" I mean Poor Man's Ricardo Antonio Chavira (PMRAC), who is a 4th grade parent; yay, PMRAC!)) reserved a field at Thillens Stadium for two hours on Wednesday night. Thillens Stadium is an iconic part of Chicago history, where generations of Little Leaguers played under the lights, and Jack Brickhouse announced the play-by-play during the 1950s.

To play under the lights at Thillens is to be a part of something bigger than yourself. To play third base at Thillens as a 48-year-old, mini-van-driving, capri-pants-wearing mother of three, against about 40 eighth-graders and their younger siblings and schoolmates, and to throw your own son out at first base* in a slo-mo-replay moment, is to make history that will never be written, but will also never be forgotten.

After we shut the kids down in the first half inning, we grabbed our bats and took the kids to school. I put myself first in the grown-ups' line-up because I got there first, and the dads were too polite to object. I smashed a single between the cocky teenaged infielders, who were no doubt thinking to themselves, "Sink in, boys, sink in; it's just C. Peevie's mom; she can't hit!"

I rounded the bases when Eddie "The Babe" sent one into orbit, and crossed home plate gasping for air and begging for the paramedics to administer oxygen. "I need a defibrillator!" I wheezed, and Mr. Peevie said, "You need a work-out program." Like I have mentioned in the past, he has a bit of a mean streak.

Since there were little kids playing on the kid team, we let them have five outs per inning. We let them swing until they got a hit, and we "accidentally" fumbled the ball in the field. See, we wanted the little ones to have fun and success, but we had no such concern for the big kids.

O-Daddy and I formed an unbreachable wall covering third and short. I think he took one look at my out-of-shape self and thought to himself, "Oh well, it's just a game." But then! Then I fielded a short-hopper to third and threw to first with precision and grace (if I do say so myself), and O-Daddy's jaw dropped to the ground.

"Wo, Momma!" he said with admiration. "You got some mad skilz!"

"Yes, O-Daddy," I said. "I may look like a zaftig, past-her-softball-prime mama, but when I'm in ready position in the infield, I am still 17!"

The rest of the Mamas and the Papas did great as well, recalling the skills of their lost youths ("yutes," for those of you who are fans of My Cousin Vinny, one of the funniest movies of all time), some of them more lost than others.

The bleachers were filled with additional moms, dads, siblings, and friends who opted to watch the game in the comfort of their blankets (yay! Chicago in June!), coolers, and snacks. I joined them after the first game, having already caused enough damage to my so-called muscles and joints to keep me sore for three full days.

We beat the kids soundly in the first game, and then we sang "Happy Birthday to" C. Peevie because it was his actual b-day, and then I served homemade sheet cake, passing the slices around the bleachers and to the players on the field. The playing, the talking, the trash-talking, the celebrating, the remembering, the laughing, the hanging out in a truly cool locale--these were all gifts of grace and beauty in a troubled world.

It was magical. In the Presbyterian sense of the word, of course.

*My son remembers this differently. In his version, I bobble the grounder, and he's safe at first. But he's been known to have a distorted view of reality.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Making Brownies

"Mom," A. Peevie asked, "Can I make brownies?"

"No," I said.

"Please, mom," he wheedled. "I know how."

"Hmmm," I said. "Really? You know how?"

"Yes," he said. "I've done it before."

"You know how to follow the directions on the box?" "Yes." "You know how to find all the ingredients, find the right pan, turn on the oven?"

"Yes," he said confidently. "But I might need your help to turn on the oven."

"Fine," I said reluctantly, "But I don't want to have to get up every two minutes to help you." I was busy lying on the couch while my uterus turned itself inside out. "And I'm watching People's Court. I don't want to have to answer a million questions."

"No problem, Mom." He grinned a big grin, and headed off to the kitchen. I could hear him pulling a chair over to the pantry to pull down the brownie mix. The kitchen was quiet for about a minute while he read the directions.

"Mom!" A. Peevie called, "Can you turn the oven on for me?"

"No, A.," I called back, "You can do it." I told him what buttons to press on our digital stove dashboard while my uterus and I remained supine on the couch.

Thirty seconds later: "Mom, what size pan should I use?"

"Where are the pans?"

"Can you come get the pan down for me?"

"What should I mix it in?"

"Where is the vegetable oil?"

Worried: "We don't have any vegetable oil!" After A. Peevie and I ping-ponged about the vegetable oil several times, my churlish uterus (try saying that three times fast!) and I crawled into the kitchen, pulled the vegetable oil off the pantry shelf, read the label out loud in a disgruntled voice, and crawled back to the couch.

Thirty seconds later: "Mom? What should I use to mix it?"

"What spoon?"

"Where are the spoons?"

"Is this mixed up enough?"

"Can I lick the bowl?" This was an awesome moment: he was asking if he could lick the bowl before emptying the brownie batter into the pan. I clarified the correct order of operations, and went back to Judge Milian.

Thirty seconds later: "What do I use to get it into the pan?"

"What's a spatula?"

"Where are the spatulas?"

"Can you help me put the batter into the pan?"

At this point, I felt like setting the entire kitchen on fire so I wouldn't have to answer any more questions about brownie-making. But Judge Marilyn had exposed the defendant as a lying liar and had rendered her judgment; my uterus was taking a break from twisting itself into a one-legged king pigeon pose, and I had nothing better to do--so I helped A. Peevie finish the brownies.

Moral of the story: When they say they can do it "all by themselves," don't believe them.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

In Which I Take Up Smoking, And Then Quit

I smoked my first cigarette ever on my 48th birthday this week. Boy, did I feel cool. And sexy.

My friend Rock Star had to light it for me, because I had no idea how to do it. I sucked on it a teensy bit, and coughed like a 12-year-old sneaking one of mom's smokes behind the garage for the first time. Even though I watch lots of TV shows where people smoke, I still had to be reminded to tap the ash off before I set myself on fire.

I wasn't planning to acquire a new noxious habit on my birthday; it just sort of happened. We were celebrating Dr. Vespinator's upcoming nuptials with a surprise shower. J. Cool hosted what was supposed to be a "godden potty" on the verandah, but of course this is June in Chicago, so with the wind chill in the 20s, we took it indoors.

At one one point, Rock Star, our resident bad girl and the most fun pastor's wife you will ever hang out with, went outside to smoke. We all decided to go out and smoke with her, sort of as a joke and sort of as a sign of solidarity. ("Smokers are one of the few groups left that it's OK to malign," Rock Star had said. "Yeah," I added knowingly, "Smokers and fat people.") So I grabbed her cigs from her purse and handed them around to the rest of the gang.

We all went outside with a cigarette hanging from our lips or dangling casually between two fingers like Marlene Dietrich. Rock Star was touched, I think; or maybe she was annoyed that we had just wasted an entire pack of cigarettes.

With our cigarettes in one hand, and our glasses of champagne in the other, we went around the circle making toasts to the guest of honor.

"To 50 years of uninterrupted wedded bliss!" I said, and we all clinked our glasses boisterously.

"Move over, Brangelina," toasted Queenie, "Make room for Mixie!" We giggled, clinked, drank and smoked. (BTW, that's funnier if you know Dr. Vespinator and her fiance's real names.)

I got better and cooler with the smoking with every puff; and I even tried to smoke out of my dwindling surgical neck hole* like a tracheotomy patient. But I'm happy to say, for the benefit of the youngsters out there, it was not enjoyable at all. I'll stick to my many, many other vices, thank you very much.

*NOTE: I can't believe I never told you the story of my gigantic surgical neck hole. I'm sure you'll want to hear it, and see pictures. Maybe later, kids. Try to keep yourselves calm while you're waiting.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Going Home Again

Last week I visited my parents (and sister) for the first time in over a year. (Bad daughter!) My trip was a medley of hilarity, sweetness, deliciousness, shopping, and napping. Here are the highlights:
  • Shopping with my mama for a snow-white purse with two outside pockets with snaps, not too big, not too small, that doesn't requires the use of a paper clip to close the zipper.
  • My BIL sitting on the couch eating frosting from a can, while we watched a Jeff Beck concert on cable and speculated about the age and origins of the bass player, Tal Wilkenfeld. (Photo credit:
  • Raising eyebrows with the story of my stalker former boyfriend.
  • Eating a Franconi's authentic Philadelphia cheesesteak. If you haven't sunk your dentures into one of these, you haven't lived. Culinarily, that is. (Photo credit:
  • Shopping unsuccessfully for a rectangular pre-planted window planter to hang from mom and dad's patio railing. We went to four stores, with no luck. Finally, we went to Lowe's, bought the ingredients, and planted red and white petunias right there in the store's garden center.
"How are you going to plant flowers without a trowel?" asked my in-the-box daddy.

"I'll use my hands, Dad," I said.

"But you'll get all dirty!" mom worried.

"Yes," I replied. "And?" Have they ever met me? Dirt and I go way back.

  • Shopping (again!) for button fly/button waistband PJ shorts for dad. Guess what? They don't exist. Every single pair of men's PJ shorts in captivity has an elastic waistband. But my dad remembers the PJs that mom bought him for their honeymoon 61 YEARS AGO and wants exactly the same thing. Which is sweet, but deluded.
  • Visiting with my beautiful niece, her crazy husband, and my handsome nephew. Sadly, it appears that my sister's kids both chose spouses with personality disorders similar to their father: controlling, manipulative, and narcissistic. My nephew was visiting for less than two hours, and his wife called him four times to find out where he was and when he'd be home. Four times.
  • Avoiding conflict with my opinionated parents. This was my personal favorite of all the highlights.
I asked my therapist for a script that I could use when my parents said something provocative, because in 48 years I have not yet learned how NOT to take the bait. He said, "Why don't you try saying, 'Uh-huh' or 'Hmmm.'"

So I tried it. My dad said something politically charged--I can't even remember what it was, but it was probably something about Barack Obama being personally responsible for millions of babies being killed--and I said, "Hmmm." He said something else along the same lines, and I said, "Uh-huh," and then I changed the subject to books.

It worked! I experienced a minor miracle first-hand. Essentially, I paid $150 for two words--and they weren't even words, just sounds! But as my friend Q said, that was the best $150 I ever spent. Hooray for therapy. (But seriously, why could I not come up with those responses on my own? That is messed up.)

The moral of the story: You can't go home again, but I guess you can shop there.

(Bonus points if you identify the source of the quote without googling it.)

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Poop for Life

Once you have kids, dealing with other people's poop will never stop being a part of your daily existence. Those of you who are childless but considering the possibility of being childful, consider yourselves warned.

Starting before the baby is born, you'll be dealing with his poop--although poop in utero has a fancy name: meconium. It is (usually) black and tarry, and stays that way for a couple of days after birth. Post-birth, it is very, very smelly.

Mr. Peevie and I developed a clever scale for measuring the relative disgustingness of our babies' poopie diapers. It was known as the Wipe Scale, as in "Whoa! This one's gonna be a six-wiper!" I believe that the scale only reached 12 baby wipes; if more wipes than that were needed, we'd just strip the baby and throw him into the tub, and double-bag the clothes with the diaper and burn the whole thing.

Sometimes the poo would squish so far up the baby's back that it would be seeping through the onesie. This almost always occurred when we were at a restaurant or when we had forgotten to reload the diaper bag with wipes. It was almost gross enough to make us regret ever having children.

Eventually, you'll have to deal with potty training, although you'll have to go to other websites for helpful advice on this front. My potty-training philosophy was, they'll do it when they're good and ready anyway, so why fight about it? I observed other parents taking their kids to the potty every half an hour, and it seemed to me that it was the parents who were trained, not the kids.

That's why my boys were almost four before they were out of diapers. I know, I know; you're shocked and appalled. But you know what? We rarely had a potty battle; and when they were ready to poop in the potty, they just did it. M. Peevie potty trained way earlier than the boys, partly because she was ready earlier and partly because our babysitter, Roseanne, decided she was ready.

It was much harder on my parents, the in-laws, well-meaning acquaintances, and total strangers to accept our method of non-potty training than it was on us.

But potty training is only part of the poop picture. Even after they've theoretically learned to deposit their dumps in the porcelain pot, there are still accidents; and by "accidents" I mean what looks like a literal shit-storm that paints the bathroom a lovely shade of cocoa.

And now that they're done with accidents, they eliminate turds as big as New Hampshire, and they call us into the bathroom to admire their bowel's handiwork. One time when C. Peevie was about four, he had done his excremental duty in the appropriate porcelain container; and he was extremely proud of himself. He was not only proud of his output, he was deviously proud of the pungent stench he had produced.

He called Mr. Peevie into the bathroom to admire his turd. Mr. Peevie obediently headed toward the bathroom, smelling the malodorous opus well before he got there. C. Peevie waved him into the bathroom and said, "Smell it hard, Daddy. Smell it hard."

I don't know what it is with kids these days, but mine produce such prodigious bowel outputs that we've given our plunger a fond name.

"Go tell Plungie it's time to get to work!" we say. "A. Peevie has outdone himself this time." Oh, I'm just kidding. But seriously, we should. Currently, two out of three toilets are clogged because of the size of my kids' ordure. I need to get the plumber on speed dial.

Another poo-related problem we deal with these days is that no one under the age of, say 40-something, flushes their own poop. It sits there, mouldering, until Mr. Peevie or I discover it, holler for the culprit to identify him- or herself, and then flush it ourselves when all three of them claim, "It wasn't me!"

In summary, I would just like to ask one question: Why am I always talking about poop on this blog? Is my life really that pathetic?


Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Birthday List and Birthday Meme

Today's my birthday. Here's my list, in case you haven't finished your shopping yet:
  1. Diet Coke
  2. World peace
  3. An asparagus serving platter*
  4. Framed movie poster (Cool Hand Luke, Princess Bride, Memento) for The Green Room
  5. A great book
  6. Dinner with friends
That's it. It's not asking for much, is it?

And here for your blog-reading pleasure is a little birthday meme in honor of the Day I like to call My Favorite Holiday, June 2. The meme calls for a list of four events, three births, two deaths, and one holiday.

Four events that happened on June 2:
  1. 1774--England enacts the Quartering Act in direct response to the Boston Tea Party of December, 1773. It was one of four laws known as the Intolerable Acts, giving Colonial governors the right to house soldiers in local buildings--though not in private homes, as I learned in elementary school.
  2. 1835--P.T. Barnum and his circus started their first tour of the U.S.--and you know what I think of circuses.
  3. 1897--Mark Twain was quoted by the New York Journal, in response to reports of his death, "The report of my death was an exaggeration."
  4. 1925--Lou Gehrig took first base for the NY Yankees, starting his record streak of 2,130 consecutive games played. Sixteen years later to the day, Gehrig succumbed to ALS, which became his eponymous legacy.
Three births on June 2:
  1. 1731--Martha Washington
  2. 1840--Thomas Hardy
  3. 1954--Dennis Haysbert
Two deaths on June 2:
  1. 1987--Andres Segovia, the father of the 20th century classical guitar movement
  2. 1990--Rex Harrison
One holiday on June 2: My birthday. Isn't that enough of a festive occasion?

Now I'm going to go and be a princess. After I put in three loads of laundry and mop the bathroom floor, that is.

*I'm just kidding about the antique asparagus platter. I really just want a simple, rectangular serving plate like this.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Naming Names

Remember a couple of weeks ago when I wrote about bad clients? Well, I'm ready to name names now.

The Elance client that is screwing me over (to put it delicately) is BLM Technologies of Florida. They contracted with me to re-write one page of a tri-fold brochure that they would distribute at trade shows.

(First of all, who uses tri-fold brochures anymore? That is so 1970s. I tried to talk them out of it, but they appear to get their marketing advice from a misogynist named Frank who has one foot in the 70s and one foot in dogshit.)

They sent me the existing brochure, which was absolutely awful. I think my first mistake with this company was being too blunt about their current marketing piece. You could tell that someone had cut and pasted--in a different font--the new marketing name of the company (BLM Now) over the old name throughout the brochure. Tacky.

Also, the piece was so crammed with information that no white space remained except a thin margin along the outside edge. Anyone who knows anything about graphic design will tell you that white space (also called "negative space") is an important element of graphic design, and the last thing you want to do is fill all your space with copy. People just won't read it--and plus, it's unattractive. It makes every piece of information have the same value, instead of directing the reader's attention to the most important words, phrases and images.

A big chunk of the brochure space was taken up with the logos of the companies whose products BLM is licensed to service. Why spend your money to advertise the products of other companies? I wondered.

I advised the client to cut the content and produce a smaller piece--perhaps a two-sided card--
with the purpose of driving prospects to their web site for more information. They wanted a fast turnaround, so I delivered the first draft of a tight, punchy text less than 40 hours later.

As I mentioned previously, they hated it. I didn't proof it carefully enough, and I made a minor typo (left off an "s") and a major content error: I put "BMI" instead of "BLM" about halfway through the draft. Yeeks. Embarrassing. But is it enough to justify the client ditching our contract and hiring another writer to write the brochure?

Misogynist Frank thought so. He also picked a fight with me over a so-called grammatical error: he did not approve of the phrase "no matter your," as in "No matter your IT needs, ..." I pointed out to him that the phrase shows up half a million times if you google "no matter your," and even the New York Times approves of it.

In his complaints to me, M. Frank became uncivil, saying, "If you had half a clue, you would..." Seriously. This is probably the guy responsible for the crappy existing brochure, and when I criticized it, I became his enemy.

I am confident that if the client had called me with his instructions for the second draft, he would have received a brochure text that would have more than satisfied him. Instead, my emails and phone calls went unanswered. At one point, the primary contact (NotFrank) agreed to send me his comments and edits so that I could produce a second draft that they could use for another piece--but he never followed through.

I could go through the dispute resolution process on Elance, but it would take time and cost money for an arbitrator--and for a hundred and fifty bucks, less the Elance fees of 7-9%, it's just not worth it. I emailed the client directly, side-stepping M. Frank, and asked him to pay me $90 for the first draft. I am not optimistic.

The moral of the story is: avoid Elance, which is a marketplace for buyers who do not value the services they are seeking. M. Frank said two telling things to me. He said, We're hiring you even though you weren't the lowest bidder. (As I mentioned, I bid $150 on a project that I would normally quote three or four times higher. The other bidders were coming in at $50 and $75.) Then he said, We're paying you "a lot of money." Yes. A lot of money. $150 for five or six hours of work.

It's just not worth it.