Monday, December 29, 2008

Auld Lang Syne (Whatever That Is)

Here we are, the week between Christmas and New Year’s. A week best known for drinking leftover eggnog and polishing off Mom’s rum cake because – let’s face it – another 1200 calories, at this point, isn’t going to matter much.

This is the week we spend un-decking the halls, shopping for half-price Reese’s Peanut Butter Trees with the same people we complained about the day after Thanksgiving, and debating whether we should put in some face time at work or simply find a new job with a more compassionate company that knows well enough to just shut down for the last 10 days of the year.

But this is also a week of introspection and personal review. Have we accomplished everything we set out to achieve for the year? Or at least all the things we bragged about in our Christmas letters? Did we convert all the old VHS tapes to Blue Ray or even begin that Toni Morrison novel? Of course not. But we don’t spent time fretting about that. Instead we pour the champagne and turn our attention to the changes sure to abound in the coming year.

There are plenty of us with plans to get fit, get organized, and get a life… and some who might even do it. There are some of us who will vow to spend more time reaching out to the needy and less time Facebooking… and others who know better that to set ourselves up for that kind of failure.

I, myself, don't attempt New Year’s Resolutions. Forty days of Lent is plenty for me. An entire year of bettering myself is impossible to ask. So since I technically still have some time to come up with my own self-improvement list, I am currently free to dream up resolutions for you, my fellow earthlings, to achieve. A “List of Resolutions I’d like to See the World Embrace,” as I call it.

My list is meager, an attainable set of goals for us to work on: an end to illness, corporate corruption, global warming, violence, and TMZ’s coverage of all Simpsons – Ashleigh, Jessica, OJ, Bart – and anyone else who shares the last name.

However, if by chance the New Year’s Baby pops out of Brangelina Thursday (she is pregnant with one, isn’t she?) and actually offers to grant me just one item as part of some World-Wide New Year’s Bailout Package, I am prepared to do a little down-sizing.

Obviously the first item off my list would be an end to illness, and I’m not just saying that because without strep throat or pink eye my family-practice-doctor-husband couldn’t pay the mortgage. I’m looking at the bigger picture here, and how it affects us all. You see, without illness in the world, we could never call in sick to work again:

“Hey, boss, (cough cough sniffle) I can’t make it to work today.”
“Why not?”
“Can’t you tell? I’m sick.”
“No, illness was wished away by Weekly Jules earlier this year. Now get your a$$ to work or you’re covering for the entire office this Christmas, you faker!”

Next to go would be corporate corruption, as it has its place in our lives as well. Yes, we cringe and judge away at the shamelessness of crooked and greedy CEO’s, but the truth is we count on them. After all, a-holes like Bernie Madoff make us feel, when we are at our most self-centered and lazy, as though we are not the biggest pricks on the planet.

Now, having seen “An Inconvenient Truth,” I’m just as concerned about the earth as the next gal, which is exactly why I never let my 98,000-mile (American-made) minivan idle, at least not while I’m at the McDonald’s drive-thru. But to see a complete end to global warming has its downside as well, so I’m not sure I could keep that one on the list either. I mean, I kind of like watching Zac Efron cool off at the beach with his shirt off and am not quite ready to see that one end.

And finding a way to rid the world of violence would certainly make a leisurely drive through East St. Louis more appealing, but without it, Jack Bauer and his quest to save the world from total destruction in 24 hours every year would lose all believability.

So this leaves me with TMZ’s coverage of all Simpsons. And that one is non-negotiable. I don’t care if one of them cures cancer or finds a way to resurrect Mother Teresa, I don’t want to hear about it. Although if one of them discovers a way to eliminate stretch marks without surgery, call me.

As for my own set of goals, I hope to be on Oprah, of course. But that’s been on the list every year since 1985. Most of all, I hope to keep dishing out stories with no purpose other than to give you something to laugh about. And for joy to pave your journey in 2009.

For my 10-year-old, Amelia, cursed with a birthday between Christmas and New Year's. What were her parents thinking??

Sunday, December 21, 2008

A Christmas Carol

(I enjoy singing almost as much as I enjoy laughing. Usually my singing is cause for laughing, which is why I rarely sing in public. Outside of karaoke bars, that is. But in the spirit of the season of sharing, I am offering this little ditty I wrote to a familiar tune. Feel free to sing it for a private solo of your own or light a fire, gather 'round the piano and belt it out with friends. Whatever makes your Christmas just a little more merry. xo, Weekly Jules)

(P.S. My husband thinks I should tell you what the "familiar tune" is so you can sing this blog... "Jolly Old St. Nicholas") (as if you needed help with that...)

Jolly Old St. Nicholas, lean you ear this way...
I've been busting my tail to be ready Christmas Day.
Fighting crowds at Target, hanging lights upon the tree,
Even baking cookies (what has gotten into me?)

Narrowing the wish list of my diva, Caroline,
Down to just a few things from six-hundred-forty-nine,
Hunting down the presents that my son hopes to receive,
Praying that my daughter, nearly ten, will still believe.

Trying to decide just what to get for my pre-teen
Tweenagers are tough, dear Santa, you know what I mean.
Switching cash and credit to throw Husband off my trail,
Trying to get Christmas cards all stamped and in the mail.

Eating all the cookies and the candy neighbors make,
Knowing I'll regret each bite that I can't help but take,
Braving freezing wind chills to light up my new fake deer,
Hopefully the head will work this time (unlike last year!)

Decking all the halls with boughs of something red & green,
Finding Baby Jesus, kidnapped from the manger scene.
Muppets and John Denver fill the air the whole month long,
("Noel: Christmas Eve 1913"'s my favorite song)

Setting up the TiVo to record the season's shows
Watching Chevy Chase light up his house until it glows,
Rooting for the Grinch and hearing Polar bells' sweet rings,
Every time a leg lamp's lit an angel gets his wings.

Going in for flu shots that we haven't gotten yet
(Don't you worry, Santa, our deductible's been met.)
One last task to finish now, before it gets too late:
Find a New Year's sitter who won't charge a hooker's rate.

Just a few days left now before you come flying by
(Would you rather have leftover cookies or some pie?)
I'd just like to tell you, Santa, while I have your ear,
Have a Merry Christmas and a very Happy Year!

Monday, December 15, 2008

Season's Eatings

I rolled back in the door after our last Holiday Party (this one had me at “fondue”) and felt something jiggle on the back of my waist.

What could that be? I wondered while slowly twisting around to my right, looking for the culprit. It felt as though a piece of ham from the buffet line had jumped onto my hip, but I didn’t see anything there.

I started up the stairs when I felt it again, this time on both sides, as I turned the corner into my bedroom. Face-to-face with a full-length mirror, clingy velvet top slightly raised, I immediately regretted the blankets of cheese I’d covered countless bread cubes with just hours earlier.

That jiggle wasn’t a piece of renegade ham stuck to my side, that jiggle was my side. A side of me I had never seen before.

But I am not to blame here. Weight Watchers is.

I know what you’re thinking: Weight Watchers? Aren’t they supposed to make us thinner?

And the answer is yes. But they won’t have much luck getting you to sign up for the “New Year, New You” special if you kick off ’09 a size four, now, will they? That is why, this time of year, they form an alliance with Betty Crocker, Eagle Brand Condensed Milk, and Absolut Vodka.

Think about it for a minute.

When else do you EVER eat this kind of crap? St. Patrick’s Day? Fourth of July? No. Holiday time. And not just some three-day-weekend-bank-holiday. I’m talking THE major gift-buying, hall-decking, wassail-imbibing, season of Festivus and the rest of us.

This is the time of year we are told we absolutely cannot, under any circumstances, possibly host a party, regardless of how well we can warble “Five Gol-den Rrrriiiiiinnngggs,” unless there is a fudge ring present, preferably from the kitchen of Mamie Eisenhower. So we eat our way through December, still digesting the leftover Halloween candy and Thanksgiving pie(s), convinced we are free – no, obligated – to consume anything served on a toothpick or poured into a sugar-rimmed martini glass.

Yep, Weight Watchers lures you into their calorie-counting lair with a co-dependent strategy. They make you think that anything rolled in bacon is sexy and a 600-calorie pomegranate-tini will make you popular.

And they wrap it up in Spanx and cover it with the little black dress.

But just when the last piece of confetti has fallen in the wee hours of the morning on January first, Weight Watchers will rip away that welcome mat from the buffet table and, suddenly and from out of nowhere, ambush us with new material.

“Look Fine in Oh-Nine!” they will suggest.

“Lose the Holiday Weight!” they will instruct.

“Come in Today!” they will demand.

But not me. Not this year. I’m not letting them have their way with my free will this time.

Oh, don’t get me wrong, I have no intention of bypassing my very titillating ritual of recklessly popping bacon-wrapped scallops into my mouth in rapid fire or making new friends one fancy party drink at a time, but I refuse to fall prey to their advertising once the clock strikes midnight on New Year’s Eve.

How will I shed the extra layer(s) then, you ask? No clue. But I’m sure I’ll think of something next month, probably while sitting on the sofa in my sweats and polishing off the red and green M&M’s I plan to buy (for half price) the day after Christmas…

Eat, drink, be merry, and ENJOY the holiday season your heart holds dear. I’ll see you back here next week for a tribute to Jolly Old St. Nick!

Monday, December 8, 2008

It's A Major Award

So I was all set to write about the Annual Christmas Letter this week, with lamentations about my friend Jennifer’s Aunt Debbie Downer and her yearly tales of existential woe, and our dear-but-puke-inducing friends, Luke and Laura, and their perfect life with Lucky and Lulu.

I had an entire paragraph dedicated to my #1 pet peeve (please, unless you’ve hired a biographer to detail your family’s year, the letter should be written in first person… Andy and Jason are exempt from this rule because their letters rock the free world).

And there was a shout-out to my Aunt Kathi who only sends cards to people who send them to her; she addresses the envelopes without the use of a Blackberry, she simply uses the return addresses on the cards she receives, as she receives them. Stress-free and brilliant, really.

But this morning I received some very exciting news, and, by law, I must share it with you:


Even better than a leg lamp, this is the “Proximidade Blog Love Award” from Adlibby. (thank you, Adlibby!!) Adlibby has provided me with many laughs as she chronicles adult life in my old childhood stomping grounds. She is a dynamite mom and hilarious writer with a crush on Johnny Depp. Who wouldn’t want to be her blog friend?

Never heard of the Proximidade Blog Love Award? Let me share with you, again I have to do this by law:

"This blog invests and believes in PROXIMITY - nearness in space, time and relationships! These blogs are exceedingly charming.  [Just like the winners!]  These kind bloggers aim to find and be friends. They are not interested in prizes or self-aggrandizement.  [Whatever!]   Our hope is that when the ribbons of these prizes are cut, even more friendships are propagated. Please give more attention to these writers!  [Because they thrive on it!]  Deliver this award to eight bloggers who must choose eight more and include this cleverly-written text into the body of their award.  [And some side comments too!]"

And so now, by law, I must bestow the award on eight worthy writers. Unfortunately I am still a bit new at the blog world and don’t quite have eight writers to share. So, at the risk of ending up in blogosphere prison (hey, “blogosphere” didn’t get flagged on my spellcheck… but “spellcheck” does. I suppose it’s actually “spell check”), I’m going to share with you some of my favorites (I’m sure some of these have received the award in the past, but they’ve never received it from ME!), and I encourage you to check these out in the oodles of spare time I’m sure you have this holiday season:

Things That Go Pop (My favorite source for important pop culture information. I LOVE Rox!)

Red Tent Girls (Who doesn’t love a site that hits you with Cyndi Lauper?)

Cake Wrecks (Um, because cake is love.)

Love Letters by Cora (Read them and weep. Or laugh until you weep.)

Secret Life of Tova Darling (Much like hearing from your BFF, only in writing.)

Insert Clever Name Here (A college student who takes lecture notes in Haiku. Seriously.)

So, yes, in addition to Facebook and online shopping, I also enjoy the blog world. But not nearly as much as I enjoy reading Christmas Letters. Speaking of which, I’ve got to start addressing mine. Have a fantastic week!

Monday, December 1, 2008

The Comforts of Home Shopping

As I sat on the sofa in our basement listening to the Domino’s delivery guy ring the doorbell, exhausted from my Black Friday online shopping spree and ready for something --- anything --- to eat that didn’t come with gravy, I found myself wondering how on earth I got to this point. And why wasn’t anyone answering the door for Pete’s sake?

I quickly placed blame on a man named Aaron. Yep, Aaron Montgomery Ward, and his stroke of mail-order genius, has made me into the woman I am today.

It all began with the Montgomery Ward Catalog, which first brought the department store to the home over 130 years ago. How excited Ma must have been the day that first Shoppers' Bible arrived. Throwing the kids into the back of the wagon (horse-drawn, not station) and driving into town to check out the newest in fashion and home appliances (hand-cranked, not electric) was no longer necessary. Waiting 10 or 12 years for the hip east coast styles to hit the Midwest was a thing of the past, for with Ward’s giant leap in marketing, the only limiting factor in having the latest and greatest in all things retail was the Pony Express.

Sears and Spiegel soon followed, and before we knew it, we were inundated with pages upon slick pages of items we needed to make our home run efficiently and never look anything less than beach sexy.

By the early 1990’s, retailers had re-defined shopping to be a rainy day on the couch with a stack of catalogs, the telephone, and a major credit card. But for some, turning hundreds of pages from dozens of stores each day had grown tiring… and lonely. And that is when God invented QVC.

QVC gave women that one piece they were missing all those days alone in the living room with nothing but a leftover bottle of cabernet for company --- shopping buddies. With QVC we could still sit on the sofa, never fight the elements (save for a hot flash or two) or the crowds (unless we were put on hold for the next available customer service agent), and never be alone. Our new BFF’s were on TV, telling us why we should buy the appliquéd tunic or massaging slippers, and how the way we prepared meals would be forever changed with three E-Z payments and one little product.

Obviously QVC and her little sister, the infomercial, had their flaws though. Namely, either you had to record an entire day’s worth of sales on your VCR (like my roommate’s mom) or stay within eyeshot of the TV the entire day (like mine).

Fortunately Al Gore and his Internet were not far behind. I suppose Al Gore is the reason I will never awake at 4:00 in the morning on Black Friday to hit the mall, still digesting my 600-calorie slice of pecan pie from the night before. Never again will I stand in a department store line, gagging on the stench of ashtray and B.O. that mysteriously wafts through the air on that day. Now I can roll out of bed anytime I choose, pour a cup of coffee and finish shopping well before I decide it’s time to brush my teeth and put on a bra.

Which brings me back to Black Friday 2008. Just when I thought Mr. Ward’s monster had reached its peak, shopping from the comfort of my home in the most high-tech way possible, I saw an ad on TV for Domino’s Pizza. Suddenly the little TiVo guy popped up in the corner telling me all I had to do was push the green button, and they would deliver to my door. No catalogs, no phone calls, not even a trip to the PC. Just a push of the button on the remote control already cradled in my hand.

Thirty minutes later the doorbell was ringing, and I was still in the basement on the sofa watching the very show that had summoned three medium pizzas and a side of Cinna Stix to our home. He rang the bell again, which gave me an idea.

I pulled my cell phone out of my pocket and called our home line. My second-grader answered and was more than willing to retrieve our dinner. I wish I could have seen the look on the guy’s face when a seven-year-old boy, apparently with TiVo and a major credit card, came to the door.

(sigh) But that would have required effort.

(dedicated to A.M. Ward and my mother, Queen of QVC)

Monday, November 24, 2008

Work of Art

Caroline, as I may have mentioned before, is an interesting creature in our home. She lights up our days and fills our nights with song --- and has provided me with much blogging material.

This fall she began the wondrous journey of Kindergarten. And every day I’m in awe of her teachers who not only instruct with love and patience, but allow her to come back, morning after morning. Never more in awe, however, than I am right now, this Monday morning.

Let me begin by saying that Caroline, at this point, has been publically (and correctly) recognized by her teacher, Mrs. MyHero, as being “not like the others,” relative to our three oldest (and model citizen) children. The distinction came early but has snowballed in recent weeks, starting with her near-sabotage of parent-teacher conferences.

My husband and I had planned to address Caroline’s chronic complaints about a supposed bully in the class. A real monster. The kind of kid who will likely finish high school in juvie, with a rep for teasing, taunting, and terrorizing classmates, according to our daughter. And we were more than ready to call this child out. But just hours before conferences were to take place, we got a call from the principal. Caroline, apparently, had stabbed said “bully” in the hand with a pencil in a fit of vigilante passion.

But just when we feared this would greatly reduce the likelihood of our concerns about a classroom terrorist being taken seriously, Mrs. MyHero forgave her without a second thought. And the “bully” (actually, the entire class) has yet to mess with our Caroline ever since.

I know she’s learning things at school too, though. She comes home eager to share her newfound knowledge nearly every day. Her Catholic school recently presented a lesson to the children on “good touch, bad touch,” and I greatly appreciate their willingness to protect my child from molestation with dignity and a sense of security. Caroline couldn’t wait to let us all know, however, that it’s not really called a “fanny,” but rather, a “ba-gina.”

We always look forward to seeing what Caroline brings home. So I was happy to sit down with her Friday and read the “Alphabet Book” she had been constructing at school for weeks now.

We had flipped nearly halfway through pages of impressive writing and illustrating, all by Caroline, from apples and bears to ice cream and jars.

And then came the letter K.

Caroline had very beautifully copied the sentence, “The man has keys” across the bottom of the page as instructed. Above the sentence she had, very thoroughly, brought the story to life with her own illustration. Standing gingerbread-man-posed above her written piece was, indeed, a man holding keys in his right hand. He also had a bad comb-over atop his head and a great big smile.

And we know without a doubt that this was a man, as opposed to a woman, or even a boy, as he was not only drawn completely and 100% buck-naked, but anatomically correct as well. Yes, indisputably a post-pubescent man with 10 fingers, 10 toes, all other appropriate appendages and hair growth, and a bellybutton.

And keys, of course.

But when others might have greeted me arm-in-arm with SRS upon seeing such art, Mrs. MyHero did not question or judge. She had simply smiled at me after school Friday as she scooted Caroline (and her backpack filled with hand-drawn soft porn) into my arms, knowing quite a surprise awaited me for the weekend.

So my 5-year-old, quite graphic, artist is welcomed back to school each new day. And for that, among many other things, I am extremely thankful.

Enjoy a week filled with gratitude and loaded with laughter.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Status Update

Hi, thank you for being here. What I'm about to do is not easy for me. But the time has come for me to step forward and own my addiction.

I started doing it, sadly, because a friend told me to. "It's totally safe. Don't be so paranoid," she told me.

My husband was already doing it, and he seemed to handle it just fine. "Don't worry. You're in complete control,” were his words.

And so, with nothing but an anonymous photo and my back-up email address, I joined Facebook.

Was I nervous? Yes, I'd heard stories. Stories of online predators waiting for me to post something they could use to find my family and hold us captive as musical servants in the hills of West Virginia. Stories of respected citizens shamed by pictures from college resurfacing online. So I set my profile to private, believing I was safe from the dangers of Facebook.

But, alas, no one had warned me of its addiction and the havoc it can wreak on an otherwise nearly-functional housewife.

It started out so harmless, with requests to be friends with people whom I already considered to be friends. My husband, a brother, a couple of friends from college, even a priest for heaven's sake. We wrote on walls, sent free virtual gifts, played a game or two.

But one friend led to another. I found old pals from college, high school, even grade school. Next thing I knew I was a part of a virtual mafia family (thanks, Danny) and planting acres of cyberplants (thanks, Amy and Drew).

And that's when I got comfortable.

I collected flair. I joined causes. I opened up about books I had read, my activities and interests, favorite books. I unleashed with rapid velocity not witnessed by any therapist my entire past and all my hopes and dreams with just a few clicks of the mouse.

Oh, and I "friended" people. Yes, I just used "friend" as a past-tense verb. I've not only plastered masses of ridiculously boring trivia about myself all over my own profile, but I've spent precious minutes, okay hours – whatever – DAYS reading about people I barely know, at the expense of clean laundry and home-cooked meals.

(Is there ANYONE left on the planet who has yet to read Eat, Pray, Love? Or who came of age in the 80's and DIDN'T find "Say Anything" to be life-changing?)

I'm not sure how the sun used to rise each morning without knowing it would find me at work every day tagging photos, managing my wall, and finding friends (and by "finding friends" I should clarify that I 100% mean stalking old boyfriends).

THIS is why my kids suggested I come to Career Day and speak about my role in the Oprah Winfrey Facebook Fan Club or my newest endeavor, United To Get Broeckelmann Onto Facebook. And don’t even get me started on the many perils of Facebooking under the influence.

I've tried to cut back. But the fact remains that I have FBBFF’s ranging from immediate family to mere acquaintances, people overseas to people I see in the flesh every day. And, thanks to the Status Update, I even know, at any given minute, which of those FBBFF’s …is wishing it was Friday, …is enjoying a beautiful fall day, and …is STILL eating her kids’ Halloween candy. How did I get through my days before without knowing any of this?!?!

(sigh) I'm not saying I’m proud. What I'm trying to say is…

My name is Weekly Jules, and I am a Facebook addict. And if any of you know of a Power higher than that of the Live News Feed, I beg you to tell me. Please. My kids are starting to smell funny.

(dedicated to Tracie and all my FBBFF's)

Monday, November 10, 2008

Dealer: No Deal! (and other car games)

There are a handful of places you can’t take children for an extended period of time without being driven to drink. Airplanes, shoe stores, any restaurant with mechanical entertainment (do they sell beer at Chuck E. Cheese?). Recently, though, I discovered a new form of Purgatory.

After a weekend spent using jumper cables to get our minivan started each morning, I found myself at the local dealer where an extremely polite Customer Service Agent gently broke it to me that the DVD player was the problem…..a $450 problem. I briefly considered how many pairs of shoes I could buy instead but remembered I don’t walk in cold weather, so we still very much needed wheels. I let him fix the DVD player with high hopes the battery, which he also replaced for $300, would live to see each new tomorrow.

But alas, the new DVD player didn’t work. It kept the battery alive but didn’t actually play movies. Wouldn’t be a big deal, were it not for an impending drive across Kansas. I know, we got by just fine when we were growing up playing games like “License-Plate-Round-Up”, “Alphabet-I-Spy”, and “The-Next-Person-To-Speak-Is-Walking” (that was my dad’s favorite). I prefer to play “Put-In-A-Movie-That-Should-Keep-Them-Quiet”.

So it was back to the dealer – this time with kids – for what my CSA said would be a 20-minute job. We made it in early the next morning and crammed into the 4x8 play room, where the kids played their favorite game, “Make-Ellie-Cry”. I grabbed an issue of Glamour, hoping it would rub off on me, and we all settled in for our 20-minute stay.

Forty-five minutes, 15 “can I have a candy bar/chips/pop/gum/mints/cookies/crackers”, and one mop and bucket later (I caved on the pop – big mistake) later I consulted with my CSA, leaving the kids locked in the play area where Ellie was, indeed, crying.

“Should be any minute now,” he assured me with the kind of smile a good department store Santa gives a kid who just asked for a baby brother.

I shared the good news with Ellie and her tormenters, who celebrated with a choreographed rendition of “Baby Got Back”----opera style----while my fellow waiting room patrons, I’m certain, resisted the urge to chime in. After half an hour of musical highlights from Shrek I-III, we hustled to the parking lot for a game of Keep Away with a koosh ball Amelia had peeled off the bottom of a Lego table.

Within 90 seconds I was prying Caroline off the rear of a nearby Escalade.

My CSA appeared. “You should be up next,” he said, oblivious to the child on his $70,000 truck which, by the way, boasts a whopping 12 mpg.

We decided to cruise back inside where, for 30 minutes, my team test-parked, complete with sound effects, every car in the showroom. Ellie only cried once this time, and that was my fault for telling her we probably weren’t buying her a Yukon for her 16th birthday someday.

As a courtesy to my fellow carless patrons in the waiting room, and because I am grossly undertrained for what I’ve come to call my Day Job, I herded everyone back outside for another round of Keep Away, when my team started questioning the rules of the Waiting Game.

“Are we going to be here all day?”

“Do they have any snacks?”

“Can they change the radio station to MIX 93?”

At this point we had survived nearly two hours at the dealer with nothing but a mysteriously gooey koosh ball and $500,000 worth of inventory for entertainment without technically breaking anything.

Clearly I needed to quit while we were ahead, so I decided to check on the car again, this time with backup. I rounded up my support staff, and, like the Pied Piper, led the critters to my CSA who chirped, “I’m not sure what’s taking so long, let me check.”

He disappeared into the repair shop, where I envisioned a team of highly trained – and concerned – professionals hard at work replacing the DVD player with pit stop speed.

He returned ghost white, “Our guy is on hold with customer support right now. It could take awhile. Would you like a ride home?”

“Wouldn’t YOU like us to hitch a ride home?” I replied as the kids wrote their names in their breath on the clean storefront windows. He led me through the abandoned repair shop where I found our poor van looking like it was halfway through a C-section, its guts spilling out all over the place and the technician’s note “WTF?” stuck to the windshield. I grabbed the car seats, strapped everyone into the courtesy shuttle, and we were on our way home to torture each other in private.


“Well, it looks like the problem is your DVD screen.” He took a breath, I braced myself, “it’s gonna be another $800.”

“$800 for a screen in a car with 95,000 miles?!?” I cried foul, “Are you KIDDING ME? For $800 I could hire the cast from ‘Camp Rock’ to perform for us LIVE all the way to the Rockies and back!” I was on a roll, “In fact, I’d rather drive two straight days armed only with duct tape and Benadryl for family fun than spend another second waiting for YOU to pimp my ride!”

And then I politely told him thank you anyway for trying.

Surely we can make it without a steady stream of movies; I’m just not sure how to convince my husband to let the Jonas Brothers ride shotgun.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Hail to the Chief

The following was obtained by the Oxygen Network. It is a copy of the most recent stump speech Julie has been delivering before school every morning for the past seven years, which is almost as long as the 2008 Presidential Election has been going on.

“Good morning darling children whom I adore and couldn’t wait to jump out of bed and cater to today! What could I make you for breakfast on this beautiful morning? [Engages the audience early, earns their trust]

“We’re out of that.

“That too.

“I’m going to the store later.

“No, not Fruit Loops. How about Fiber One? [Health Care Reform]

[To the senior member] Careful, the milk’s pretty full, why don’t I pour--- Get a towel. [Homeland Security]

“A wet one.

“Wring it out first.

“So it doesn’t dribble across the--- [Forces a smile] Never mind. I’ll get it, you get dressed.

“No, I’m not mad.

[To the oft-neglected middle child] I don’t know, I’m not the one who took them off your feet last night. Did you check under your bed?

[To Luke 6-Pack] Of course you can go on the field trip.

“Four dollars and twenty-five cents? Today??

“Give me the permission slip and go dig 17 quarters out of Dad’s change jar. [Re-distribution of wealth]

[To the youngest – and most passionate – constituent] That is a great collection, but I’m not sure you should bring a handful of dead ladybugs for show-and-tell. See if there’s a toy you could bring.

“Did you check for your shoes in the bathroom?

“Please stop crying, I’m not mad at you for spilling. [Compassionate Conservative] Are you wearing mascara?

“Buddy, those are nickels. [No Child Left Behind] Quarters are the big ones that are bumpy on the outside.

“Did you leave your shoes out by the swing set?

“Sweetie, the Barbie Condo won’t fit in your backpack. [Addresses the mortgage crisis]

“Please stop crying, your mascara is running. In fact, why don’t you wash it off? Back in my day, we didn’t wear mascara until eighth grade. [Not true. Julie was in seventh grade. See]

“Honey, I’m not in charge of your shoes. Did you try the car?

“…14, 15, 16… This one’s a Chuck E. Cheese token. Are there any more quarters? [Free Trade]

“That’s better, now you look more like an 11-year-old girl. Go eat your Fiber One.

“No, you can’t bring matches to Kindergarten. [Weapons of Mass Destruction]

“Why were your shoes in Luke’s closet? [Deregulation]

“Great job, bud. Here’s your permission slip. Put the baggie full of change in your backpack and give it to your teacher as soon as you get there. [Regulation]

“Sure, you can take your Barbie toothbrush. Just remember to bring it back home after show-and-tell.

“Can you please start putting your shoes where they belong? [Change is Coming]

“No, sorry, it’s 55 degrees outside. We’re walking. [Energy Independence]

[Strong finish as she exits] You’ve got your library books? You’re ready for your spelling test? You have jackets? Got your lunch? Let me give you a hug. Seriously, none of your friends are watching.”

She kisses four babies on their heads and walks back to party headquarters while the chant “Twelve More Years!” resonates. Another crowd-pleaser, we must say. And, like usual, she wasn’t even wearing any lipstick.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Thin Ice: An Interactive Observation

My friend, Andy, was lamenting a recent family outing to “Nemo: On Ice.” Why, he wondered, when his son was perfectly happy watching Nemo swim on DVD, should he have to pay $45 a head to watch Nemo swim on ice? I assured him that once a child hits seven or eight, shows “On Ice” lose their magic.

But it turns out ice isn’t just for preschoolers anymore. In their next maneuver to take over the planet one catchy tune at a time, the producers of Disney’s cash cow, “High School Musical,” have taken Troy, Gabriella, and friends from East High to “High School Musical: On Ice!”

Ever the innovators, it seems Disney has broken new ground for more mature shows to hit the ice. And, quite honestly, I’m glad. I think it’s about time someone took “On Ice” to the next level.

They could start with “Sex and the City” which proved timeless this summer, drawing throngs of ladies, gay men, and reluctant boyfriends to the theaters long after Carrie Bradshaw seemed to have closed her book. Surely Dolce & Gabbana can design something fabulous enough for four hotties to triple axel in with a string of men (yes, Samantha Jones, I’m talking about you!) and Manolo Blahnik can branch out into lace-ups – think “Ice-Capades-Meets-Sex-Capades” – and SATC could be resurrected yet again. The title might need some work, though, as “Sex and the City: On Ice” sounds uncomfortably cold.

There are plenty of movies begging for blades and a new audience, the key is picking the right show. For instance, “Gandhi: On Ice” and “Schindler’s List: On Ice” might sound very exciting to watch, as both were fantastic on the big screen, but the starvation diet those characters seemed to thrive on isn’t going to power the typical professional skater for a three-hour-long performance. And I can think of more than one obvious reason why no one should ever produce “Titanic: On Ice.”

So I suppose if I were to pick an Oscar-winner that I wanted to see on skates, it would have to be “Jaws: On Ice,” complete with ice-skating surfers and life guards and starring a giant Zamboni disguised as man-eating sushi. The kids would love it.

And speaking of jumping the shark, what I wouldn’t do for someone to bring us “Happy Days: On Ice.” I see poodle skirts and leather with a juke box off to the side. The whole gang could twist away at Arnold’s and find some way to get Mrs. C all worked up about nothing while Big Al keeps flipping burgers. Yep, yep, yep, just like the good old days. They could bring back the whole cast too, Joanie, Chachi, Ralph, Potsie, and the Fonz. Not Richie Cunningham, though. By then, the demand for blockbusters on blades will skyrocket, and Richie will be too busy resurrecting Daryl Hannah for her big comeback, “Splash: On Ice.”

Although, come to think of it, I’m pretty sure Disney has already done that one. Those folks at Disney are always a step ahead of the rest of us, aren’t they? Why, I bet they’re already putting together the next HSM installment, “College Musical: Broadway Comes to Berkley”.

Hmmm… I wonder if I’m too late to audition for the part of Troy Bolton’s house mom???

(Dedicated to Andy, KK, and Ice Fans everywhere)

Monday, October 20, 2008

Economic Crisis

I’m probably never allowed into TJ Maxx again (long story, that, fortunately, ends with no jail time for me), but on that final trip, I bought a fabulous purse for twenty bucks.

Dave wasn’t impressed.

“If your purse was only twenty bucks,” he said, staring at the receipt, “why were you charged ninety?”

“Darling,” I started, “the first purse I picked up was $130. When I found the $20 purse, I decided to go ahead and buy a pair of black tights and black boots to go with the new black dress I bought last week.”

Blank stare.

“On my birthday?”

Furled eyebrows.

“Fifteen dollars off?”

Head cocked to the side. “Don’t you already have black boots?” he asked.

“Yes, but those are old,” I said slowly, so he would be able to follow, “and I’ve worn the heels down so much I was afraid I might fall on the ice this winter. I’m just trying to save us a little money.”

“By buying new boots?” He still didn’t get it.

“New, safer boots,” I clarified, “that won’t cause costly injuries. Plus, they were on sale, so I saved fifty dollars on the spot!”

“You ‘saved’ fifty dollars?” This was way over his head.

“Yes, I did, but wait, there’s more,” I said proudly. “When I tried on the black tights and black boots with the black dress, I decided the tights and boots would actually look better with a different top, like this hot little satiny number I got for seventy-five percent off!!”

I held the new shirt up to me for him to admire, but he clearly wasn’t as excited as I was.

“Don’t you see? Fifty off the boots, fifteen off the dress, thirty-three off the new top, and one hundred ten with the cheaper purse? That’s almost two hundred dollars I’ve saved in less than a week!”

Damn, I thought, I should have gone into finance. I totally could have come up with a bailout plan…

“Honey, fifty plus fifteen plus thirty-three plus one hundred ten is actually over two hundred,” Rainman replied.

“Yesss, even better! I am a budgeting genius!” I shouted.

“And,” he added, “you really aren’t saving any money by spending it.”

Why is this so hard for him to understand? I didn’t have time to re-do the math for him, though. I simply kissed him on the cheek and smiled as I grabbed my keys.

“Where are you going?” he asked.

“To find a new purse,” I said, walking to the door. “I’ll be back soon.”

“What’s wrong with the one you just bought?”

I glanced at my new purse. “This is brown,” I said.

Back to the blank stare.

sigh. “I just told you I bought a pair of black boots.”

Eyebrows furled again.

“I can’t carry this,” I said, holding up the new brown purse, “with these,” I continued, kicking out my right foot, covered in a new black boot.

He started to speak, but I beat him to it. “Oh, don’t worry. I’m not planning on spending all of the $200 I just saved on one purse,” I said, looking back at him lovingly. I couldn’t help but laugh, “that would be fiscally irresponsible!”

Now that I’ve solved the economic crisis, I’m working on a way to end all wars with an international cake-decorating contest and dance-off to be judged by the Dalai Lama, the Pope, and, of course, David Hasselhoff. Stay tuned!

Monday, October 13, 2008

Mother of the Groom

The scene was not unlike many other wedding receptions across the country. Nervous groom slips the garter off of blushing bride to toss to his single friends. The guys elbow one another, nudging each other to the front of the pack, but their hands never leave their pockets. “Oh Yeah” is playing in the background.

Enter the seven-year-old kid (mine) eager to show off his recently-acquired skills from six weeks of coach-pitch baseball by diving to the parquet dance floor, risking bloody nose and broken glasses to catch a lacy piece of elastic, while the groom’s single friends take a collective three steps back, making said seven-year-old the next man present to take a wife.

And I have been in the market for a Mother-of-the-Groom dress ever since. Fortunately, I have plenty of time to botox the wrinkles, tone the triceps, and find a subdued yet milfy beige number well before his big day.

In the meantime, I am working hard on molding Luke into the perfect catch.

Starting in the bedroom. I’ve got to find a way to get my Mama’s Boy to sleep in his own bed. I doubt his future wife will appreciate waking up alone every morning because Luke drove over to our house in the middle of the night to sleep next to me. He has no clue what he could possibly get from his wife that he can’t get with his mom right next to him throughout the night, and I’m not ready to go into great detail with him. But soon enough, I’m sure, he will replace the picture of me that currently sits on his nightstand with one of Miley Cyrus (but not that tacky one with her dad), and the last thing Luke will want is to wake up next to his mother. I hope.

Dinner, however, should be a piece of cake. Literally. He would also settle for pizza, hot dogs, or cheeseburgers and will eat any vegetable that rhymes with “Flinch Flies.” His beautiful wife can also look forward to an occasional night of fine dining at IHOP for the Funny Face Pancake Combo and a chocolate milk.

There are a few items my future daughter-in-law may need to be prepared to negotiate, though, before heading to Macy’s to register. Whatever they decide as a couple is fine with me, but she should know I’ve told him that as soon as he has his own house he is welcome to adopt an entire litter of Komodo dragons, grow his hair as long as Slash’s, and buy as many tarantulas, light sabers, and Mountain Dew vending machines as he can afford.

And speaking of what he can afford, Luke does not yet have a job. Or a college degree. And he’s still 10 years away from his high school diploma. But no worries. He has a bright future ahead of him --- nearly as bright as the glittery blue plastic ring he found in the Target parking lot a couple years ago and, I assume, can only be saving to give to the lucky lady with whom he intends to spend the rest of his life. He is a forward-thinking boy. Even at his young age, Luke has already ruled out careers as Spiderman (still can’t shoot out a web), Superman (tried leaping a tall building once, luckily he was wearing a helmet), and Jedi Knight (the commute was too far, far away), and has decided on a career in aviation. All he needs now is Lasik and the keys to a 747.

So there’s plenty of work left to do, but I have faith Luke’s future wife will be more than pleased with the end result. In fact, she will be positively giddy with excitement to have such a handsome, kind-hearted and capable young man for her husband.

Her mother-in-law, on the other hand, is a whole different story…

Monday, October 6, 2008

Absence of Newman: An Interactive Tribute

It seems I have a vacancy on my list. You know, the “list” brought to us by the cast of “Friends” in the 1990’s, where each partner in a relationship is allowed a list of (up to) five people he or she is allowed to leave the other for without question or argument.

Dave has long held the same five, a list that is carefully laminated and folded, safe in his wallet, should the opportunity to run away with Jennifer Aniston, Cameron Diaz, Ashley Judd, Jenna Elfmann, or Fergie (the American, not the Brit) ever arise.

I, on the other hand, have had more of a revolving list kept tidy and orderly on a sort of mental dry-erase board. Several names have come and gone: George Brett, Antonio (Banderas and Sabato, Jr.), and Nate Berkus.

Brad Pitt made the original list until he left Jen for Angie and I removed him in protest of his poor moral character. Then I caught “Troy” on HBO one night and decided Mom was wrong; sometimes what’s on the outside counts more than what lies within, and so Brad is back on. (Though I’ll admit, I’ve probably got a better shot at Nate.)

There are a couple of original names which still remain today (Bono and Harry Connick, Jr.) as well as a near-original (George Clooney). And then, tragically, there is one I was recently forced to remove, the very first man on any list I’ve ever made, Paul Newman.

I was in eighth grade when I first met Paul Newman. Our class had been herded to the school cafeteria for a special treat, where Sister Kathleen, in her infinite and holy wisdom, let us all watch “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid”, a movie which will long live as one of the most influential films in my formation as a woman with needs.

Paul Newman forever redefined “Cool” and “Fast” with the names “Luke” and “Eddie” and set a high bar for all of mankind in the areas of sex appeal, philanthropy, and organic popcorn. But it was his run from the law with Robert Redford that set him permanently in my heart. I delight in the naïve but wishful thinking that, were it not for the 66-year difference in age, he would have left the steak at home and taken this hamburger out for a spin around the race track.

Which brings me back to the list. Paul Newman will not be easy to replace. No other man on earth has such stunning blue eyes that gaze into my very soul or can turn me on with a simple, “Sorry I’m late, I was taking a crap.” The next guy to fill the empty slot has to be able to ride a horse off a cliff, school Tom Cruise in pool, and whip up some killer marinara, and I just don’t think Zac Efron is ready for that – yet.

But according to George Carlin, and he was the king of tact, I have a year before I can tastefully replace a dear departed lover with a new one. So I suppose there’s time to look around, which is a good thing. Because among the many alluring and talented men that walk our planet, there was only one man we called Paul Newman.

(dedicated to Kay)

Monday, September 29, 2008

At Home with the Brangelinas

According to TMZ, Brad Pitt, father of the most beautiful, exotic six-pack on the planet, recently took his two oldest sons to Venice to promote his newest movie at the Venice Film Festival. (And, once again, George Clooney went without me. I’ll never understand why.)

So Angie was left in le Chateau Miraval alone for the week with four small children, an army of French nursemaids, and access to some of the finest cabernet in the world.

With Brad’s busy schedule, I bet they’re glad they moved their exponentially growing brood away from the hubbub of Hollywood to the village of Brignol, France. A village with a small-town-feel to it, I would guess, where nobody even bothers to lock their front door (or doors, or gates, or watch towers, or drawbridges) and where everyone really looks out for each other (I hear Angelina has offered to adopt every lost child who knocks on their security fence as part of her pledge as a new neighborhood block parent).

I imagine the whole town rallied as soon as the twins were born to organize meals, carpools, and babysitting for the blossoming family. Not to mention their Saturday Supper Club, who, I hear, had already made big pink and blue yard signs with Mylar balloons and streamers announcing the newest arrivals when the Brangelinas returned from the hospital with Knox and Viv. And how much fun must Maddox, Pax, Shiloh, and Zahara have every time they show off their new brother and sister to everyone they see with their mom at the grocery store. (I still remember the first time I went to Target right after Luke was born and Ellie saw a woman holding an infant seat walking in just ahead of us. She ran up to the woman and told her to look at our baby, because “our baby is cuter.” Do they have Target in Brignol?)

Living in a $60 million compound far away from the extravagance and excess of L.A., the Jolie-Pitt family will finally be able to enjoy the simpler pleasures in life they couldn’t possibly have found in any old 1000-acre property here in the States. The morning family brioche ritual just wouldn’t be as enjoyable without the dual citizenship they now have.

Yes, life is good for TMZ’s royal family living among the French, the people who love Americans the very most. It’s hard not to be a little envious of Angelina with her newly-renovated chateau, full staff that probably even mops her hardwoods, and Brad Pitt between the sheets every night. It would seem life has been a fairytale for the philanthropic princess.

But every time I find myself thinking about what a magical, perfect life she leads, I remind myself of the price Angelina has paid for her many blessings, and I can’t help but laugh.

No, I may never walk a red carpet, and I’ll probably always have to do my own laundry, but at least I can honestly say I have never been married to Billy Bob Thornton.

And I have far better taste than to shack up with a drop-out from Mizzou.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Disco (Really) Is Dead

Sitting at the dinner table a few days before school started, our family began the annual ritual of naming all the goals we had not yet achieved for the summer. Weekly trips to the library (we hit the pool), visiting museums (we saw “Wall-E”), cleaning out closets (did I mention the pool?).

And then Dave brought one up. “You never did Pioneer Week this summer, did you?” The kids dropped their forks and looked at me. They’d heard of my friend Susan’s summers with Pioneer Week, living without electricity or running water just for the experience, and they wanted no part. They held their breath waiting for an answer.

“No,” I told him, “I hadn’t even planned on it.” The kids simultaneously exhaled. “Do you really want to spend a week sleeping in the living room on straw beds with all our kids and no TV, PC, or A/C?”

“Oh, I was going to have to do it too?” he replied. “Never mind.”

Suddenly I had an idea.

“Maybe we should try ‘70’s week!” I announced. The kids looked confused. We’ve never had anything nice to say about the ‘70’s and they know it.

I continued, “We’ll watch 4 channels on the little tv in the basement and listen to the Commodores and rent a station wagon for the week!”

Four little jaws hit the table. They turned to their dad, hoping he’d get them out of this one.

“Now THAT sounds doable,” Dave agreed as eight little eyes rolled. “At least people had electricity and slept in their own beds. And you could dress like Farrah Fawcett....”

“And let my perfectly good Wonder Woman outfit hang in the closet all week?”

“That’s good too,” he conceded. “What will you cook?”

“You mean after Calgon takes me away? Oh, a starch with canned meat and gravy.” I heard Ellie gag. “But we’ll have Dinky Donut Cereal for breakfast and Moonpies for dessert!” I added. “So we’ll definitely need Pearl Drops Tooth Polish. It will make your teeth feel - - - “

“ - nnnnnng,” Dave finished. “Do they still make Tab?”

“I’ll look for Tab, Jiffy Pop, and B-O-L-O-G-N-A,” I sang. “And I will ask 7-11 let me pay 65 cents a gallon for gas in honor of ‘70’s week.”

“Go ahead,” Dave said, “But you might have trouble explaining to a cop why your kids aren’t wearing seat belts.” Then he added, “We could rent ‘Love Boat’ or ‘Happy Days’ for the kids, and I can probably TiVo some old ‘M*A*S*H’. Is ‘Rockford Files’ on DVD yet?”

“I don’t know, I think ‘Bionic Woman’ is. And ‘Captain Kangaroo’,” I said.

“That’s fine. Just no ‘Maude’,” he asked.

“I LOVE Maude!” I said, “….But I will leave Bea Arthur behind if you will go without ‘Kojak’.”

“What do you have against Telly Savalas?” He thought for a moment then smiled, “you know you’ll have to give up your cell phone.” Four little heads turned my way.

“Okay,” I conceded, “but you’ll have to give up your iPhone....and Fantasy Football.” Four little heads flipped to him.

“And Facebook,” his grin turned sinister.

The kids watched us like a tennis match.

“Ebay,” I threatened through a tight smile.

“Call waiting,” he mocked.

“Guitar Hero,” I retorted.

His eyes narrowed. “Did they have hair color back then?”

“What are you implying? My grandmother didn’t go gray until 1983.” I stated.

“When she was 68?” he asked.

“Yes, and it happened overnight,” I smiled, “And just so you know, it runs in my family!”

“What about Oprah? Wasn’t she still a news anchor in Baltimore back then?” he said.

“Whatever,” I smirked, “I’ll watch Phil Donohue. What will you do without Sports Center?”

“Two words: Howard Cosell!” he huffed. “But I bet your friends in Port Charles will miss you that week!”

“’General Hospital’ is 40 years old! And how did you know so much about Oprah?” This was getting ugly.

“No Matt Damon!”

“Or Jennifer Aniston!”




"Best Buy!"

“Tall soy mochalattes!”


“Sit on it!”

“Kiss my grits!”

“Mom?!” Amelia interrupted.

“WHAT?!” Dave and I replied.

“We’ve only got, like, three days of summer left. Couldn’t we just go to the pool like everyone else?” she said with the wisdom of Mr. Kotter.

Dave and I looked at each other.

“Fine,” I shrugged, “Anyway, I’m allergic to polyester.”

“Gloria Gaynor makes me puke,” Dave added.

So that settled it. And just like disco, this idea hit hot and heavy, but then a little punk came along and declared it was dead.

Monday, September 15, 2008

My Summer Vacation Part II-IV: Clubbing, Ex-Boyfriends, and Hookers, Oh My! (Family-Friendly Version)

DAY ONE began with me and Maverick on a plane….this is how it ended, 15 hours later:

Midnight. Panic-stricken, but wearing a fabulous dress and hot sandals, I step outside a bar in the Ukrainian Village neighborhood and into the rain to call my husband. Groggy voice on the other end lovingly says, “What’s going on?”

“I’m at a bar in Chicago with Michael (my little brother), Wheels (my best friend), and Ed (dear-friend-slash-old-high-school-boyfriend), and I think my wallet was stolen….I’M SO SORRY!”


“Ed’s with you?”



“Did you check with him?”

Remember, I’m standing in the rain.

“I shouldn’t be allowed out of the house alone, should I.”

“Probably not. I’ll check with Citibank. Don’t worry about it.”

I come back in to find another round of drinks on the table. Courtesy of Ed.

I get a text.

Dave: Did you get gas today?

Me: In our van?

Dave: In Chicago

Me: No

Dave: I’ll cancel our credit cards.

Me: Super. Thanks. Now go on back to bed and don’t worry about a thing. I’m in complete control up here and doing great. Love ya!

Knowing my husband could sleep soundly now, I resumed my position at the table. The bar owner narrowed down the night’s patrons to one suspect he described as “dressed like a hooker”. He offered me a shot for my troubles…I declined.

DAY TWO began without identity, cash, or sunshine. In fact, Cook County was under a tornado watch, and I was feeling rather vulnerable.

We made a quick stop by the Chicago Police Department to file a report so I could have proper paperwork in hand to board the plane home Sunday sans ID. Oh, and so the CPD could get right on that search for my wallet. I’m sure they’ll call any day now with good news.

“What can we do for you?” Officer Donohoe – a broad if ever there was one – asked.

“I need to file a report for a stolen wallet,” I replied.

“How do you know it was stolen?” she challenged.

Fair enough. “Someone started charging gas to my credit card about 30 minutes after I last saw it last night.”

She wasn’t easily convinced. “Where were you? Tell me the whole story.”

“Well, I’m here on vacation from Lawrence, Kansas. Last night we were at a bar, and my sister called at exactly 11:09 pm. She has a new a baby and never calls that late –“

“Speed it along, Dorothy.”

“Okay, I had a 15 minute window where my purse was open, and by the end, my wallet was missing and a Ukrainian Village hooker was buying gas with my credit card,” I said as fast as I could.

“Did she get your little dog, too?” she amused herself.

“Look, I just need paperwork to show airport security on Sunday so I can get on the plane to go home, since I forgot to pack my ruby slippers,” I amused myself too.

The Good Witch of the Southside granted me my wish, and Wheels and I motored to the W to get dolled up for a night of clubbing where I learned quickly not to make eye contact with any males. This is how every conversation I had with strangers that night went, and I am not kidding:

Him, with a cocktail: Hey, what’s your name?
Me, with club soda and a smile: Julie
Him, not remembering my name: Where are you from?
Me, not caring what his is: Kansas
Him, showing off his genius IQ: Are you on vacation?
Me, showing off my power to repel: Yes...I’m married and have four kids.
Him, standing there:
Me, leaving there: Nice to meet you!

DAY THREE I bought the most fabulous yellow giraffe-print purse thanks to my very patient brother who loaned me cash and drove me around.

Wheels, Michael, Ed, a few other friends, and I ended the night at a bar in Bucktown. I wanted to stop time and bask endlessly in the glow of the unadulterated bliss of reliving the happiest of my teenage years, but my plane was leaving in just a few hours. So Wheels and I hopped back to Wrigleyville for a quick nap at Michael’s where I weighed the possibility of moving to Chicago so I could buy a boatslip on Lake Michigan for happy hour and rock the street festivals every weekend.

Too soon, though, the Wizard showed up with his balloon to take me to Midway (okay, it was a cabbie). And after an uncomfortably thorough screening at security, during which I pleaded with the officials to let me on board in spite of the fact that the only ID I had was a very expired passport, a Facebook page, and a tattoo, I was sound asleep on my plane back to Munchkinland, where the Acting Mayor was waiting with open arms and four citizens in tow. Glinda was right, there really is no place like home.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

My Summer Vacation Part I: Cruising Altitude

As the mother of four kids, I was moved to tears this past Christmas when my husband gave me a trip to Chicago – ALONE! I planned for months, eagerly anticipating time away from my house and kids to play with friends in the Windy City this summer, but I didn’t realize the fun would begin before hitting cruising altitude…

I was 50 pages into a smutty novel about a dysfunctional fiancé who, at that point, was fighting with her mother about the wedding dress, when the plane began to taxi before takeoff. Just then a baby two rows up started to cry. I closed my eyes and smirked, happy to be free of responsibility for the weekend, when I heard the passenger to my right snicker.

I turned toward him with a grin and tried to respond, but when we locked eyes I was stunned to see a familiar smile on this stranger, that of Tom Cruise!

“You have kids?” he asked through his Tom Cruise smile and Tom Cruise eyes. My jaw hit the runway.

Can you handle the truth? I wondered to myself before regaining composure, “yes, I have four.”

“Wow! Four kids. I have one, a daughter. I always feel so bad for parents traveling with their kids, it’s so hard….” Do you know you look just like Tom Cruise, therefore I'm not listening to anything you say? “….but she’s a great traveler now. Do you work outside the home?”

“Oh, uh, no. I do enough inside the home right now. But my baby goes to Kindergarten this fall, so we’ll see what happens next.” You complete me.

“Raising four kids has got to be enough to keep you busy. My ex-wife…” Ex? When did that happen? What was Katie thinking? “…which keeps her really busy. Are you on vacation alone?”

Yes, do you want to come too? “Yes, I'm visiting friends. What about you?”

“I'm going on to Providence for a wedding. One of my buddies is getting married…” Where are your Ray Bans? In your carry-on? “… I've been in Kansas the past year for military officer training…” Hold on – a year? How on earth did I not notice? “…was just promoted to Lieutenant Colonel.”

“Where are you based?” Like, exactly what is your address, and how do I get there?

“I'm based in San Diego.…” I subtly put away my book. I would catch up with Fat Bride someday when Ugly Passenger was seated next to me. Right now I was all about Tom Cruise. “….Marine Corps for 16 years.”

“So, how did you like Kansas?” I attempted to joke. He laughed. I died. It took all my self-control to keep from jumping on my seat a la Oprah.

“It's a lot different from San Diego, for sure. I'm a fighter pilot, (of course you are) I fly helicopters. (of course you do) So pilot training kept me busy…” I bet you do your own stunts too. “…the thing I missed the most, though, was my motorcycle. I love riding it, especially along the ocean, but there’s no way I could have had it here in Kansas this winter.”

Fighter pilot? Motorcycle? Suddenly the theme from “Top Gun” was blazing through my head.

I tried to talk over the music, “My seven-year-old son wants to be a pilot, but he’s already in glasses.”

“I was too,” Tom confessed to me, pointing to his beautiful Tom Cruise eyes. “But I had corrective surgery…” hold on, I’m still riding with you on the motorcycle, “…there are two kinds of surgery, but only one is approved….” take my breath away “…get the military to pay for it.”

“How much longer do you have in Kansas?” K-Mart sucks.

“Just two more weeks, then I'm back home.” Two weeks?!? I feel the need, the need for speed!

The flight attendant came with the drink cart. Please sing to me about how I lost that lovin' feelin’ and then buy me a ginger ale???

He handed me my drink without a serenade. “I’ve got 4 years left before I can retire, and…” show me the money, ”…with my daughter, but there aren't any guarantees.”

”What will you do after you retire?” I asked, hoping the answer was along the lines of moving to Kansas where he'd spend retirement as my pool boy….although we don't have a pool.

He smiled at me again, with Tom Cruise’s lips and Tom Cruise’s teeth and Tom Cruise’s eye wrinkles and Tom Cruise’s hair, “I don't know yet, but I have a few ideas…”

That’s okay, Maverick, you had me at “hello.”

Monday, September 1, 2008

Endurance: The Interactive Update

After complaining for 2 ½ straight hours that she hadn’t seen any mountains since crossing the state line, Caroline was more than ready for her first hike. We meandered aimlessly around greater Colorado Springs, before stumbling upon Garden of the Gods where we finally stopped.

For the first (long) quarter mile of the otherwise very pleasant walk, the little five-year-old cross we bear provided running commentary on which rocks she would like to climb. I tried to explain to her that no one was allowed to climb the rocks because it was too dangerous.

“Then why is SHE doing it?” Caroline asked, pointing to a woman repelling back down from a 40-foot climb.

“Because SHE brought her equipment, crew, and permit,” I answered, “Did YOU bring a rock-climbing permit?”



“Do you have freckles in any of your armpits?”

We walked on until we came to a massive red rock formation where Caroline marched up to the guard rail and, using circular breathing, explained her deep desire to climb the several-stories-high rock before us with passion and conviction and without stopping. I gently, and with great love and patience, pointed to the sign she couldn’t yet read that clearly stated “No Climbing”, and we all continued along the path.

At least, five of us did. Caroline stopped in her tracks. “Fine. If I can’t climb a REAL mountain on a REAL hike, I’m leaving!”

At this point, we five remaining family members performed a very Brady pivot-turn in the direction of the rebel yell with such perfect synchronicity, there’s no way, even with rehearsals, we could ever repeat it. I swear I heard a family from Utah applaud for us. But Caroline missed the move as she was walking back down the path, I assume to the car where she was going to troll the parking lot looking for the ever-elusive Delaware license plate before putting in a movie and polishing off the rest of the Twizzlers, and was a good 20 yards away. We watched, frozen in disbelief as she kept on walking without looking back. In the 15 seconds or so that none of us spoke or moved while we watched her make her way closer to the parking lot, I deeply regretted the hours we spent on endurance training and longed so badly for the days when I could strap her in a stroller and keep moving. I also regretted heeding the pediatrician’s advice to leave the duct tape and Benadryl at home, lest I get tempted to use it for evil.

With our youngest child now 50 yards away and determined to leave, I finally broke the silence with words I refuse to put in writing. Let’s just say I made the family from Utah very uncomfortable, but in the end Caroline fully understood she was going to finish the hike – and the vacation – with her family who, at best, tolerated her.

And on we marched through the majestic red rocks while “Sweet (Mother of God Where Did This Child Come From?)” Caroline told all within earshot about what a scam hiking in Colorado had turned out to be.

“You can’t even climb any mountains and nobody gets to climb on rocks and there is dirt everywhere and it’s getting my crocs all messy…”

We soon found a trail that headed up rocky terrain, and Caroline, for the first time since viewing the Magpie Exhibit in the visitor’s center, was in her element. All four kids climbed fearlessly and without looking back at their parents, impersonating Bear Grylls all the way to the top but (thankfully) without eating any worms or drinking their own pee along the way.

The next day we made our way to Estes Park where, accommodations aside, we had a fantastic time doing all things Colorado from fishing and horseback riding to an evening with a John Denver impersonator who made my Mom cry when he sang “Annie’s Song”. Okay, he made me cry too.

By the end of our stay Caroline and her entourage had finished two more steep hikes in the Rocky Mountains like pros, both along waterfalls and both more beautiful than words or pictures could describe, so I won’t even try. John Denver nailed it when he sang about “the serenity of the clear blue mountain space” as every step really was filled with wonder, especially with Caroline leading the charge.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Exit Strategy

Oh, we were so close to having a perfect family vacation in Colorado....Our room on the road was great, my Priceline find in Colorado Springs was flawless, and, as we drove north to Estes Park, I felt confident the rest of the trip would be a breeze.

But just two hours before check in at our paradise by the river in downtown Estes, the owner, Mavis, called with news, “My water heater overflowed and there are two dehumidifiers in the house. I just wanted to let you know before you got here.”

Good thing she called first because, had she not, I would have walked in and assumed the government scientists from "E.T." had taken over...there were two big, whirring machines blocking the kitchen and bathroom and hoses strung nearly all over the house, including the kitchen sink and tub. Mavis assured me that everything would be fine, in fact the last family to stay there had a great time. Although, they were Hurricane Katrina survivors. Not kidding.

So I settled into bed the first night there. Well, first I removed the remote control from between the sheets where Mavis had, undoubtedly, left it after washing and changing the bedding. Then I got up and shut off all the flood cleanup equipment. Then I settled in. As best as I could without touching anything.

For the next two days the six of us tried to ignore the large industrial blowers. But that inner voice Oprah always talks about told me something was wrong.

As always, Oprah was right.

On the third morning we were greeted by Mavis’s clean-up crew who, I had hoped, was there to remove the equipment while Dave took Luke fly fishing and I took the girls horseback riding (a whole other story I plan to title “Raw Hide”).

When I hobbled back in after an hour on the horse, I found the workers hadn’t removed the fans after all. But they HAD removed the entire kitchen floor and replaced parts of it with biohazard plastic and tape to keep the mold spores they’d found from becoming airborne. Seriously.

So I did what any other concerned suburban mom would do, I headed up and moved us out. Hee-yah!

Dave returned from fishing with Luke to find our bags packed and reservations already paid for at a cabin across the street. Surprisingly, he was not at all surprised.

When I asked him why he was taking the sudden move so well, he reminded me of the very first hotel experience we ever shared in Colorado, after just seven months of marriage:

We were broke and trying to attend a friend’s wedding in Denver as cheaply as possible. We checked into a dive hotel about an hour before the wedding, smelly from a day of travel, when Dave realized he had forgotten his dress shirt and left for the nearest mall, which was supposedly out the parking lot and south about one mile. After he left, I headed to the shower. But when I pulled back the shower curtain, I found the tub was covered in mildew, the drain surrounded by hair, and, I swear, a dead cockroach was being carried away by a colony of red ants.

Obviously that wasn’t going to work for me for reasons previously mentioned. So I packed all our stuff, donned Dave’s beat-up camo-green jacket and a hat, grabbed the fancy wedding gift, and checked out.

I waited on the hotel steps like a vagabond about 5 minutes before growing self-conscious. So I loaded up, walked out of the parking lot, and turned south, thinking surely I could hit the mall, or at least flag down Dave before he got back to the hotel. Mind you, this was a few years before cell phones hit the free world.

After what seemed like two miles dressed like a homeless person, carrying a duffle bag, a backpack, a garment bag, and a wedding gift, I waved down a police officer for help. As I explained my situation, Officer silently put my belongings in his trunk and told me to get in the car, specifically the back seat. I urged him to swing back around so I could find my husband and get to the wedding on time. He muttered something in his CB about a woman (poor thing was wandering the streets of suburban Denver), and did a quick U-turn. Within seconds I spotted poor, uninformed Dave and squealed with delight to Officer. He flipped on the lights and siren and did another U-turn in hot pursuit of my husband.

I saw Dave look back with panic as Officer motioned for him to pull over, then shake his head after spying me in his rearview mirror.

We all pulled over, and I pulled the car door handle ready to leap into my husband’s arms, but the door was locked. Officer got out instead and removed our things from the trunk while I sat in the back seat of the police car and listened.

“Sir, I found your wife walking southbound on this street. She claims she was looking for you?” Officer was puzzled. Dave was not.

“That sounds like something she would do,” he said.

Officer unlocked my door and let me out. Dave opened his door and let me in, and we enjoyed the rest of the weekend at a Marriott in Cherry Creek.

Yes, we made it to the wedding on time. No, there was no charge at the first hotel.

And, yes, Mavis has offered us a refund.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Days of Yore (from July 2008)

We’re getting ready for the mind-numbing drive across Kansas to explore the beautiful Rocky Mountains. We’ve got books, CD’s, Leapsters, portable DVD players, and Mad Libs for entertainment. We’ve got Rice Krispie treats, Twizzlers, and a canister of nuts for snacking. We have a gas-powered minivan to drive on a well-paved highway, courtesy of Bob Dole. We know we will rest our heads on pillows and beds in climate-controlled rooms with running water and can hit Target for anything we’ve forgotten to pack.

Every time we prepare to head west over the Flint Hills and across the nothingness that is western Kansas, I think about the Ingalls family and their fellow pioneers who traveled by wagon to settle in little houses on the prairie.

How in the heck did they do that?

What kind of stock were they made of to hop off their trans-Atlantic cruise ships and travel from the comforts of the East Coast though the Appalachian Mountains, the Ohio Valley, the Mississippi River, and the ride across Kansas in a horse-drawn wagon filled with kids, dried beans, and cornmeal? And what kind of whack jobs did all of that, only to hit Denver, and decide to see what might be on the other side of the monstrous terrain out yonder? I would have been done just west of Limon. Oh, who am I kidding…I’d still be in Ireland praying for an end to the famine.

I shared this awe and wonder with my dear friend’s girlfriend, Susan, an advertising professional and single mom of five fantastic teenagers. She and I agreed that the pioneer way of life is something few, if any, Americans could handle now. The closest I’ve come to pioneer living was listening to Frankie Lane sing “Rawhide” all the way out to our family’s only camping trip, where we sat in the minivan and watched my dad set up the tent in the rain, only to have one of my brothers pee in it that night. Susan, however, has embraced pioneer living to an extraordinary length.

Susan is one of my favorite mothers, and here is why: Every summer, she shut off the water and electricity and led her children in what she calls “Pioneer Week”. For an entire week, Susan and her five kids led the pioneer way of life without leaving their home in Phoenix, living by the pioneer motto, “Use it up. Wear it out. Make do. Do without.”

The kids were given one change of clothes. They bathed in a washtub by the fireplace in water they “fetched” out of the hose out back, and yes, they took turns bathing in the tub using the same water. Susan had a meager supply of dried goods. To simulate hunting for food, the children had to chase their mother around the yard while she dangled pieces of meat in front of them. Food, whether it was cornmeal cakes or vegetables from the garden, was cooked over a fire. They lived one week every summer (with no A/C in sweltering Phoenix!) confined to a 14 x 20 foot area Susan had taped off in the house, an area the exact size of Laura Ingalls’s family home on the prairie, or outside playing in the sun. They slept there, all six of them, together. They dug their own outdoor plumbing. They were assigned chores to do each day. They learned to live humbly, the pioneer way.

After hearing Susan talk about the success of Pioneer Week in all of its simplistic, romantic glory, I tried to envision how that would fly with our Guitar Hero junkies – and their mom. But I soon remembered the time last winter when our power went out for a few hours one afternoon while I was home with the kids. Coincidentally, Amelia and I had been reading the Little House series book, The Long Winter, that month. So I gathered all the kids around, seizing the opportunity for a quiet, peaceful afternoon and we read about the Ingalls family’s first winter in the Dakota Territory.

Winter lasted seven months that year. The Ingalls family had moved into Pa’s 2-room office building in the budding downtown after the first winter storm, as their claim shanty wasn’t strong enough to withstand the wind and snow. There were blizzards every one or two days. The train hadn’t been able to deliver any supplies since November. By the end of winter, they were surviving on a couple slices of toast and one small potato apiece each day. They spent their days sitting by the stove to keep warm or twisting hay into kindling in the lean-to out back to keep the fire going, as the town’s coal supply was gone. And did I mention Mary, the oldest daughter, was blind? Laura was about 12, Carrie was 7, Grace was around 2. The entire town was in grave danger of starving, there was little to no contact with neighbors, and there wasn’t anything new brought into the house for nearly six months, no new toys, books, newspapers, magazines…

As my children sat wide-eyed with wonder, I began to think maybe they were grasping how easy they have it with warm beds, plentiful food, and TiVo. And then they spoke.

“Why didn’t they just walk to the grocery store?”

“Why didn’t they just move somewhere warm…like North Carolina?”

“(sigh) This is a boring story. Can we watch TV yet?”

Obviously my crew was not ready for “Pioneer Week”. (Truth be told, I’m not either. I know my limits.) But I will think about the pioneers, as I always do, when we cruise along I-70 in the air conditioning, covering 620 miles in just 9 hours. And, as we head ‘em up and move ‘em out, I will give thanks that a hot shower, Heavenly Mattress, and full breakfast buffet are waitin’ at the end of my ride.