Monday, December 24, 2007

Christmas Eve

I just got back from finishing my shopping (I think.) It was pleasant, since there aren't many people brave enough to shop on Christmas Eve, but the merchants didn't know that. Lots of clerks, (relatively) few customers, and I am in hog heaven. The pickin's were slim, but I am a flexible shopper. And the Christmas ornaments at World Market were 50% off. I couldn't afford NOT to buy them! If I forgot anything, I'll wrap cash in Christmas crackers and let it go.

So now I am relaxing & thinking about wrapping. We'll go to my son's house and have a small family gathering with take out chicken and sides. They are going to Katy's family tomorrow, so we will just spread the season a little more.

Friends, family, and a paycheck that outlasted the giving. What more can we ask?

Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Rainy days and Fridays

It is Friday morning. I hear the rain outside, but it is too dark to see. Since this is South Carolina, precipitation usually means it is warm. It may bring a cold front, but that will be crisp dry air that will make my hair stand up when I take off my hat. That's ok. It is Christmas, and it should be cold.

Yesterday, I went Christmas shopping. I've done it before, but it's always an adventure. My brother and I went to the Village at Sandhill, which as my son points out, is not really a village, even if it does have a horse and carriage ride. I've seen places like this in other cities, and it always makes me feel as if I am in Disney World, without the water rides. I expect to see Goofy and Cinderella. I don't. I do hear every version of little drummer boy ever made, but that's not necessarily a bad thing... once a year.

Two years ago, I was sick at Christmas time. Really sick. For two days before and two days after Christmas, I lay in bed and whimpered. Since I am a last minute Christmas person, many gifts went unwrapped if not unbought. Christmas eve, I arranged the presents, crying because I couldn't get it done. My husband didn't seem to see the problem, and that of course, made it worse. Christmas morning, I left the bed to watch my children open their gifts. Someone opened mine for me and I went back to bed while the rest of them went off to my parents' house and then to my husband's parents' house. I threw up and went to bed.

For a few weeks afterward, I found presents that had not been delivered. I handed them over with a shrug and an apology. "Sorry, I was sick. I lost 20 lbs." (Always looking on the bright side.) "There will always be next year."

It was my mother's last Christmas. She was sicker than I was. I couldn't see her, because I couldn't take the chance of infecting her in her weakened condition. And of course, we really didn't expect that to be her last Christmas.

Oh Well.

Today, I work, and get a paycheck to pay for some of my Christmas spirit. Then I go out again and shop some more. I am not sick; no one is, praise god. I will make my husband wrap presents or at least bring me rum-soaked eggnog as I wrap them. He may not see the point, but, god as my witness, he's going to pretend he does. I will see my father and siblings; think of my in-laws in Antarctica and Wild Dunes; and sing one more version of Little Drummer Boy.

Thursday, December 13, 2007


Have I already named a post "bummer?" I really didn't plan to spend a lot of time whining. I know I said I would, but I didn't think I meant it.

I am having a lousy no good month. I am feeling sort of yucky... not really sick but with what my old doctor called "the grunge." A headache that comes and goes, sort of sore throat, no fever or anything that will help me garner any sympathy. Nothing that makes someone give me hot chocolate and say "You need to go to bed, honey."

I have been really irritable lately. Everything seems outrageously disproportionately unreasonably difficult. I can't get my e-mail to work, and somehow decided everyone was trying to cut me out of the conversation. No one loves me. I need to eat some worms.

I tried to do a job very quickly so I could get to a meeting, and there were so many additional things and I made so many mistakes that I had to fix that I pretty much decided I should resign and let them hire someone who knew her assets from a hole in the ground. I became convinced everyone wanted me to quit but was too nice to tell me.

I failed the business part of the enrolled agents exam for the fourth time, which means in reality, that I must start again next May, but meant to me that I am a moron who shouldn't be allowed near a balance sheet or a tax return and should consider mowing lawns other than the fact I'd probably break the mower. It doesn't matter that I passed the other two parts with relative ease and that most people say the exam, especially the business part, is brutal. I should be able to pass it.

And I have a zit.

I think I'll go to bed with some hot chocolate.

Oh look: "No misspellings found." Things are looking up.

Monday, December 10, 2007


Why do weathermen take credit or blame for the weather? Why do they say, "sorry, it's going to rain on Saturday, I hope that doesn't ruin your outdoor plans"?

Why do they use judgement words like "Good weather" or "Bad weather." OK, a hurricane is bad weather. I'll grant you that. But why do they call 81° in the second week in December "GOOD weather." It's not GOOD weather. Right now, I want rain, because of the continuing drought. And I want cold, because it's December, by god, and I want to wear my closet full of cute Christmas sweaters.

But no, the smarmy weather guy smiles and says, "I've ordered some spring weather for this Christmas." Oh please. Send it back. It's not my size.

Friday, November 30, 2007


In the week I have been without a computer except at work, where I had to work, I have been thinking about multi-tasking. I'm against it. If I multi-task, I become addled, foggy, and fragmented. I find myself making grocery lists while listening to Mark read to me, composing letters while reconciling an account, and mentally decorating while having sex. This is not good. All of these things require complete thereness. And I can't be in two places at once.

Even things that might seem made for multitasking, like planning a meeting while driving, can be fragmenting and even dangerous. I get to my destination, and I can't remember my trip. It's like drunk driving. You know you made it, but you check your bumper just in case. Not a good thing.

And so, I am trying to combat personal multi-tasking. Other people can do what they want. I am doing one thing at a time. I start with a to-do list that covers all areas of my life (and there are plenty.) Then, if I am working on something and an idea or rememory hits me, I jot it down on one of the notepads I keep nearby if it's something important. Often, it is just a flight, and I push it aside. It will come back if it is important. Then I move back into the moment and do a sort of focus exercise. BE the bank statement.

On the whole, it has been pretty successful. Fewer mistakes, better sex, happier people. I'll let you know how it goes.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving Recovery Weekend

After two days of wonderful overindulgence in food and family, I am ready for a two day fast. I'm thinking of nothing but cereal & soup and a long list of chores to do around the house.

I am sitting here now, writing a charter application for a middle school, with one cat on my lap and another eyeing my keyboard. He thinks it's the best place in the house to sleep. I disagree.

The angel Gabriel is sleeping upstairs with GrandBob. He awoke at 5:30 a.m., starving to death. I fed him and he fell right back to sleep. Not me. I'm up, drinking coffee and reading about best practices in middle school education. Trying to convince my cats that they don't like me that much.

By some miracle, my house is, for the most part, clean. The weather is mild. I guess I don't have any excuse not to tackle the storage shed. It is filled, not so much with twenty years of junk, but all of my neuroses, anxieties and big plans.

If I throw away the pieces of fabric I cut out 15 years ago when I decided to teach myself to quilt, am I admitting failure? And maybe I should give them to the art teacher. At least the pieces that don't have cat pee on them.

Do I really want to get rid of the size 6 jeans I was able to wear for one week in 1985? Jeans never go out of style, and I could very well lose 50 lbs...

Oh well, I guess I have to face the incomplete craft projects, the disorganized boxes of books, and the jumble sale of clothes I've managed to ignore for 10 months, plus twenty years.

Onward... wish me luck... oh wait, is that left over killer mashed potatoes?

Friday, November 23, 2007

Healthy Eating.. or not

The cooking sections of magazines and morning shows are full of helpful ways to make traditional foods more healthy. Use non-fat sour cream, apple sauce instead of sugar or oil, half the cheese.

I don't do that.

I don't eat mashed potatoes, cheese cake, stuffing, cookies, or any of these things every day or even every month. I do not want to make my traditional holiday fare healthier. I want it to be full fat, full sugar, full naughty.

This is my recipe for Thanksgiving Whipped Potatoes.

Beat one container of REAL cream cheese, one stick of REAL butter, two cups of shredded white cheddar cheese & one pint of REAL sour cream until fluffy. Add about 12 boiled potatoes. Beat until creamy.

I have ruined several beaters with the recipe, so you might have to let it rest between steps.

Eat no more than once a year. Take a long walk or play touch football with the kids afterwards. Enjoy the full naughty meal and remember the infamous admonition:

Eat, drink, and be merry,
for tomorrow we may Diet.

Thanksgiving part deux

Yesterday, we had a wonderful time with my in-laws. Bob's cousin, who we are just getting to know, came with his wife and two little children. My sister-in-law's first ex-husband was there along with his sister. Everyone was charming and fun.

Bob's family is very musical. His cousin played his CD. I am always amazed that people I actually know can sound like that --- like REAL musicians. Cousin Warren and Bob played the piano & every child who wasn't too shy showed off their musical skills. Later, Bob brought out his guitar and took requests while most of the family played pool. It was a great day.

The menu, for the record: Turkey, gravy, rice, sweet potato casserole (with marshmallows), green bean casserole, cabbage with apples, collards, creamed spinach, three kinds of cranberry relish (including one Mark made), heavenly hash (more marshmallows), apple, pumpkin, pecan pie, peach cobbler, & pumpkin cheesecake. I know I've forgotten something...

I think that I was wrong about the family gathering thing. Well, not wrong for my family. They don't want to entertain on Thanksgiving or Christmas or whatever. They want to be. And that's OK.
But the new people at Bob's family's house made everything seem fresh and new. Having new people around allowed me a new look at the family, and I liked what I saw.
Today, I'll go to a quiet gathering of my side of the family, and it will be nice. We aren't all alike; I'm not even the same person every day. And that's OK.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Great Expectations

Many years ago, when Robert and Joseph were very young, we had our first and only Thanksgiving as a nuclear family.

Robert got chicken pox about a month before Thanksgiving. My brother and sister had never had chicken pox, and since they were adults, it would have been fairly dangerous for them to be infected. We waited for Joseph to show symptoms, but by Thanksgiving, he didn't have a bump. Still, we decided to forgo Thanksgiving with the family, just in case.

Bob and I took on the challenge with all of the enthusiasm and good sense one expects from a young couple. Lots of enthusiasm, little sense.

We planned our menu for four. We had to have turkey, and Bob prefers dark meat, so we couldn't have just the breast. We had to have ham. My brother gave us some of his extra special stuffing, and my sister donated her delicious sweet potato casserole. Bob made green bean casserole, I made creamed onions. These are all essential, of course. It wouldn't be Thanksgiving without them.

I had to have mashed potatoes --- the kind with sour cream, butter, cream cheese, and white cheddar. Bob needed white rice. I think we agreed to forgo the wild rice, but I'm not sure. And of course, we had pumpkin and pecan pies. And ice cream.

And of course, we had the relish tray. Sweet and dill pickles, black and green olives, pickled okra and cranberry sauce.

We set the table with wedding china and crystal that we hadn't seen since Robert was born. I made a centerpiece of pine cones and autumn leaves, with the help of 5 year old Robert and 2 year old Joseph.

While we waited for the meal to come together --- no mean feat to get all of that ready at the same time; I set out the relish tray. Bob and I fought with the turkey, and eventually, we were ready to set out the feast.

That's when we noticed the relish tray was empty. Robert and Joseph had eaten every pickle, every olive... OK, they left the okra.

Bob and I ate a little of our feast. Robert and Joseph had managed to save room for ice cream. We had lots and lots of left overs. And a great story to tell every single Thanksgiving since then. Forever and ever, amen.


OK, I'm walking across the Food Lion parking lot along with a zillion other people who are buying stuff for Thanksgiving dinner. I look down at my feet to admire my embroidered clogs and I see:

something white hanging from my shoe. I reach down, thinking I am going to get a slightly embarrassing piece of toilet paper. I grab it, and it isn't toilet paper. It is cloth. It is substantial. It is my underwear.

I take it from my pants leg and stare at it, in the middle of the Food Lion parking lot, surrounded by a gazillion shoppers. It won't fit in my pocket. This isn't a flimsy bikini number. This is a super-duper support panty, size...never mind. It goes in my pocket book, where it stays safely, until I pull out my wallet to pay...

Ok, back to the pumpkin cheesecake.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007


Annie commented that it was sad my big happy family couldn't be together because of their different beliefs. I think I need to clarify what I said, and sort of defend the families. Well, not defend them.. they are what they are.

Which is what I think about families in general. I heard an interview on NPR yesterday. A sociologist was talking about Thanksgiving and holidays and how to deal with your family. She was very witty and, I thought, wise. One thing she said that struck me was that you don't have do this stuff if you don't want to. We all work very hard and we should choose where and with whom to spend our down time.

As an extension of that, I think we need to recognize that just because we want to be with different people doesn't mean they want to be together. I think it would be selfish of me to force the various facets of my family together just because I don't want to eat three turkey dinners. After all, these people have nothing in common except Bob and me and our children. Why should any of them endure a holiday with virtual strangers? After all, they all work very hard, too, and deserve a relaxed holiday.

Having said that, let me emphasize that none of these people are rude to each other. They all have lovely conversations, they laugh, they commiserate, they applaud. Many of them like each other outside of any relationship they may have with Bob, me and the kids. They may like each other more than they like us. If we did get together, it would be a pleasant event.

It just wouldn't be a take your shoes off, loosen your belt and tell stories about the time Great Grandma Mary put the turkey in the oven for four hours, but forgot to turn it on. No, I take that last part back. That story is always told.

Anyway, we will have two or three turkey dinners and spend long periods of time in the drowsy comfort of various family --- no company, no cares, no drama. And I think that will be a good thing.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Over the river

Yesterday I planned to shop for Thanksgiving and cook one of the pumpkin cheesecakes (the one for the family feast at his school) and make the dough for cheese pennies. I managed to buy the food, but that's it on that front. I did get the landscaping timbers and soil for my little garden by the shed. Sometime this week, the boys (who are men) will build my little raised garden.

Today, I go to work and try to do everything that needs to be done this week in one day. I also need to go by the school to sort and deliver the fundraising booklets. We're hoping the kids will hit up their families at Thanksgiving. Isn't that what families are for? I plan to do my Christmas shopping through the school's various fundraisers. (When is the Scholastic Book Fair? I need to buy books!)

This evening, I make pumpkin cheesecake with ginger snap crust and ginger whipped cream topping. And maybe cheese pennies. If I'm going to be a mess anyway, might as well go all the way.

It has occurred to me that the traditional fight I used to have with my mother at this time of year may have been more about me than her. Or a certain combination of her personality and mine. I sort of miss that fight, although I'm trying to avoid going ballistic on anyone else. And I'm still thinking Christmas in the Islands sounds really really good.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Thanksgiving: the angst

This is the time of year when I begin my annual nervous breakdown. Well, actually, last week was... which is part of the reason I haven't posted. That and a perforated eardrum, but that's a different story.

At Thanksgiving, families gather as one big happy group, give thanks for their blessings and eat lots of food. It helps if you family is one big happy group. It helps if they can be together without sneers, judgements and reminders of things we agreed to forget.

My family is really three families. My father and siblings, my husband's parents and siblings, and us and our children. This year, with the advent of the angel Gabriel, there is another family or two... my son and his family of three, and Katy's family.

Robert and Katy decided to invite all of these people to a Thanksgiving dinner at their house. I can understand their motivation. There is nothing that says "we are a family" more than inviting others to eat with you at your house. And it appears that Robert has inherited my all-or-nothing style of entertaining. Once a year, invite everyone you know to your house and feed them.

Unfortunately, the forces of Thanksgiving did not work in their favor. Their 1200 square foot house would strain with the 25 to 30 people who might show up. Although they wouldn't have to provide the food for everyone, it would be a small space filled with people who are related only because Bob and I love each other and because Katy and Robert love each other. Other than us, they are as diverse and divided as the US Senate. Our families range from my Dad who is a raging liberal atheist who has gotten more so in his old age to Bob's brother and sister-in-law who firmly believe in a literal Bible and other things I don't understand and don't want to. I'm not going to go into all of the stuff in between out of an out-of-character respect for privacy. Let's just say that if Pat Robertson, Hillary Clinton, Sylvia Plath, Yasir Arafat, Martha Stewart, Indira Ghandi, Mao tse Tung, Ayn Rand, and Ann Coulter sat down together, they would have more to say to each other than my family members. My family is all wonderful, but in really different ways. And while everyone would be civil and kind, no one would have fun.

So we will go to Bob's parents on Thursday and my brother's on Friday. I have promised Katy and Robert I will help with a non-Thanksgiving dinner for her sisters and their families and her cousin and her boyfriend.

And I am not complaining.
  • I am grateful that we have this much family in one town.
  • I am grateful that my parents and Bob's parents married each other and stayed married, and that Bob and I are still married after 22 years, so we don't have to add the stress and strain of step-families to our bizarre mix.
  • I am grateful that I am blessed with a group of people who love us all, even if they are bewildered by our behavior, beliefs, and interests. And vice versa.

Time to go to the store... three pumpkin cheesecakes coming up...

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Other People's Dreams

I have some really weird dreams. I don't mean the ones where I go to teach at my old high school and find that I didn't pass my senior year and have to take English and Science while teaching a history class that includes every person who has ever been mean to me. Talk about overcrowded classrooms. I'm not thinking about the standard anxiety dreams: Tornadoes, tidal waves, sharks, Nazis, all of the above (man that was an anxiety dream!)

I'm not even talking about the very rare but disturbing premonitions of birth or death. I'm OK with my grandmother coming back to me and giving me fashion advice, especially since her taste has improved since she died. I'm hoping that when Mom gets settled in, she'll tell me something other than "quit giving away my things." No, those are all regular dreams.

I dream other people's dreams. The first time I remember dreaming what didn't seem to be my dream, I was stamping papers with a copy stamp, wearing a red sweater and black & white hounds tooth skirt, and someone said "Have you finished that yet Garcia?" I said no, but thought that was strange, since my name is not Garcia. I told my friends about this, and they said I should buy a red sweater and black & white hounds tooth skirt, because that sounded cool, and forget about the dream. So I did. Buy the outfit, not forget the dream.

Since then, I've had several dreams in which I am someone else. Sometimes I am a man instead of a woman. I have been of a different race or ethnicity. As far as I know, I always speak English, since I understand what's going on, sort of. I am surrounded by family and friends who are not mine, but accept me as theirs. It's a little like the television show Quantum Leap, where I am the only one who knows I'm different.

I wonder if these dreams are the stories I should be writing. I hope not, since they are pretty boring. I should probably apologize to whoever's dreams I'm having, since I've not only stolen them, I've insulted them. Sorry.

Maybe I'm dreaming the dreams of all of the insomniacs within my range. If more people take Rozarium (or whatever it's called), I'll go back to my own dreams.

There is probably a perfectly rational explanation, and I don't want to hear it. Right now, I'm enjoying solving other people's problems and dreaming other people's dreams. It's much easier that way.

Monday, November 5, 2007


This is one of those stories I probably shouldn't tell, but am going to anyway. I'm going to tell it anyway for a couple of reasons. First, I've already told just about everyone whose opinions matter to me, and so far, they have not condemned me completely (at least to my face.) And second, I'm just like that. I tell stories I shouldn't tell.

So this is it. I have a thing about shoes and feet. Nothing kinky. It's just that when I was a kid and asked for new shoes, my mother would show me her feet and say, "When I was your age, we couldn't afford new shoes and I had to wear the same shoes for three years and my toes got all twisted and bent." And her toes were twisted and bent. Her second toes, which should have been longer than her first toes were curled under like a corkscrew. Her baby toes were mashed in so they hid under her feet. It wasn't pretty at all.

So I wondered then, although I probably didn't say it out loud more than once, why she would subject us to the same torture, when they could afford to buy us shoes? Why did we have to go through this every year? Yes, once a year. It's not like we were Imelda Marcos wannabees. We each had one pair of shoes each year, until we started taking gym, then we had a second pair of sneakers.

Now, in my infinite wisdom, like so many others before me, I swore my children would always have shoes that fit. They were from K-mart mostly, but I bought new pairs two or three times a year if I needed to. God as my witness, my children would not have crooked toes!

OK, there were times when I let the boys wear their shoes until the soles fell off. There was that sort of embarrassing incident, when one of them came home with slightly used shoes from the poor children bag at school. The slightly used shoes were Nikes or something, and better than I would have bought, so I sent a thank you note and left it at that. But I vowed to do better.

So, now, we come to this last week.

My baby had needed new shoes for a month. His toes were sticking out. The soles of the shoes rubbed blisters on his poor feet. By the time I bought him new shoes in an early morning emergency trip to the 24 hour Walmart, his feet looked like raw meat.

I rinsed them, salved them, and swathed them in aloe infused sockies. He rested all day. I felt terrible. The next day he put on his new shoes and flew off to school. He kicked the ball, ran the bases, leaped tall buildings. All it took was new shoes and a mother with the sense to buy them.

Ironically, coincidentally, or karmically, I stepped on a safety razor this weekend, so I am now the one with the hurt foot. I rinsed it, salved it and wrapped it in Mark's aloe infused sockies. But somehow, I knew I deserved it.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Fall Cleaning

Today we are cleaning and sorting the tax office. We are sorting files that we might need if the IRS gets a whim from the ones we will probably not need again, good lord willing and the creek don't rise. It is invigorating and exhausting. Right now, we are at the stage where the office looks worse than it did when we started, but by the end of the day, we will be organized and ready for the 2008 tax season.

I seem to be doing a lot of cleaning and sorting these last few months. It is probably very important, especially for me. I have trouble throwing things away. I have several bags of half-finished, slightly dingy needlework, crochet, and knitting projects. I have many bags of yarn and every size of crochet hook and knitting needle you would ever need... somewhere.

Yesterday, I found an Izod sleeper that my now 21 year old son wore when he was an infant. These little gifts are part of the reason I can't throw things away. I can't find my winter skirts, but I found this sleeper just in time to give it to baby Gabe.

I know I have too much stuff. Some of it is good stuff, but I can't find it. And when I do, it is torn, dirty or broken because it's been in a box or closet or ... somewhere.

I am not going to say that I will do better about getting rid of things I don't need and taking care of things I want. I am working on it, but all of the good intentions in the world aren't going to make me do it. So no more talking. Just doing.

Well, maybe a little more talking...

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Whole Wheat and Tofu

When my husband & I first got married, many centuries ago, while the dew was on the rose and the honeymoon was not over, I discovered a wonderful, exciting, new recipe. It was very exotic for South Carolina in the 80s. Extra large pasta shells (called "big macaroni" by most people) stuffed with four cheeses (no American!) and covered in a marinara sauce ("spaghetti sauce.") It wasn't hard to make, but it wasn't that easy. The hardest part was finding the shells in the grocery store.

As I said, this was early in our marriage, when my darling husband still told me I sang beautifully. And so I presented this great meal, with a side of broccoli, which was our favorite vegetable. He tasted it and said, "Yum." He smiled. He poked at the shell, peeking under the pasta, the sauce, the broccoli. He looked puzzled, then said, "Where's the meat?"

I thought about this last night as my family ate spaghetti with whole wheat pasta, and no one complained. My darling husband has even suggested that we should try more vegetarian meals, although he has drawn the line at tofu . South Carolina has grown, too, and we can get all sorts of exotic food now. It's a part of our adventure, trying new food, making new choices, being new people; but still being together.

The dew has left the rose, but I don't think the honeymoon is over. Although he did tell me to go easy on the broccoli.

Monday, October 29, 2007

How's the Weather?

When I was younger, I remember hearing that small talk was shallow and the perfect example of small talk was talking about the weather.

I'm not sure who I was listening to. I grew up in South Carolina where small talk is an art form and far from shallow. It is an essential element to civilization. It isn't an impediment to business transactions, it is part of the process. At least, here in South Carolina, and in some form or other, most of the world.

But that's not what I want to talk about. I want to talk about the weather.

Soon after I remember hearing that talking about the weather was shallow, I remember thinking, what about hurricanes? We need to know when a hurricane is coming so we can prepare. Hurricanes are an important part of our lives.

And rain. We always have too little or too much rain. The farmers talk about rain and frosts and droughts an awful lot. It's an important part of their lives. And even though I have never lived on a farm, it is a part of my life too. How much will peaches cost, if I can get any? Do I need to water my herb garden or bring in my plants?

I don't know why weather is important here. We are no closer to the farms than most other places. Maybe I should ask why isn't the weather important everywhere? Are there places where they have forgotten where food comes from? Are there people who don't pray for rain? Maybe that is why we are struggling with water shortages in places that used to have lots and lots of water. Maybe that's why a healthy environment is a debatable issue.

Or maybe I'm just shallow.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Karma Kicks

Karma is not like a bank account, in which you make deposits that are available whenever you need a shot of good luck. Like all things in the universe, it operates on its own time table and by its own logic.

I mention this because I am having what currently appears to be the crappiest day of the year, but which I hope will turn out to be fortuitous. When I was a child, we had a book called Fortunately by Remy Charlip. "Fortunately one day, Ned got a letter that said, "Please Come to a Surprise Party..." Then it goes back and forth: "Unfortunately it was a thousand miles away. Fortunately..." This book became the springboard for a family game. Someone would start and we'd entertain each other for hours on road trips and stuff.

I am hoping my day has a next line. Kathy went to take her exam. Unfortunately, her van broke down on the Interstate. Fortunately, she was able to get it to a gas station and wasn't stuck on the side of the Interstate. Unfortunately, she was too late to take the exam and lost her money. Fortunately, she was able to call her husband... Fortunately, she isn't dead.

The karma thing relates to something that happened a few minutes earlier. A lady at the gas station, where I filled my car before getting on the Interstate, asked for help because she ran out of gas and had no money. She said she was a nurse 500 miles away from home in her pajamas. It seemed strange, but I had a little cash and gave her some. Maybe it was a con and she made a couple a thousand dollars that morning. Maybe she was stuck. Once, on the way back from NY, we tried to use our debit card to put gas in the car and it wouldn't take it. Fortunately, we had another card that worked. I don't know what we would have done if we hadn't. So I may have been a sucker and I may have been a saint, but I don't think I did anything to deserve having my car fall apart almost immediately.

And here we get back to the universe. Maybe I was better off not taking the test today. I felt bad anyway, and even though I am prepared, I might not have done my best. Had I failed this section, I think I would have lost confidence. And I'm feeling kind of low now anyway. I didn't get smashed on the highway, I didn't even have to wait very long. I was inconvenienced. I will have a huge repair bill. But I am alive and I see I have people who will help me, even if they yell at me first.

So what's the point? We'll see.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Customer Service

Let me start by saying that although I often patronize small businesses and stores, I am often found in large national chains as well. Convenience, price, being able to buy ice cream bars and bikinis in the same store --- all of these appeal to me. OK, I don't actually buy bikinis, but I like the juxtaposition.

I usually have fairly good service in these places when I need it. But not today.

This afternoon my sister and I went to a national home improvement chain to purchase cement wall blocks, soil and sand so that she can build a small raised flower bed. We grabbed a large flat push cart and navigated the barge to the back of the garden section. We loaded eight 40-lb bags of soil as large, well-muscled employees walked by. We shoved the loaded barge to the sand section and loaded three 50-lb bags of sand. She decided to order the blocks and have them delivered, since it seemed unlikely the two of us could get them on the cart and to the front of the store. And even more unlikely we were going to get help. It has been said that middle aged women are invisible in our society. This was certainly true this afternoon. And so, without help, we pushed the cart, which now weighed more than the two of us combined, to the garden center check out.

"I'm sorry, but we are closed. They can help you inside."

Had it been just me, I would have walked away, leaving the 300+ lbs of soil and sand in the aisle for clean up. But my sister is more patient, and with a great deal of effort, we pushed the cart through the store to check out.

While she checked out, I got the car. She wheeled it out and told me she decided to order the wall blocks on-line because the check out girl didn't seem to be interested in helping. We rolled our eyes and began to load the soil and sand.

A lady and her son, who were selling boy scout popcorn offered to help. We said no, thank you. A male customer walked by and offered to help. Again, we said no, thank you. My sister said it would be nice if an employee offered to help. But no, and we loaded and left.

We figure this fulfills our daily weight lifting requirement. We guess Sunday afternoon isn't the best time to shop at a home improvement chain. We think we might go to the local garden center next week. At least they'll put the stuff in the car for you.

Thursday, October 11, 2007


Here I am again... waiting. Waiting for a phone call so I can finish a tax return. Waiting for another call so I can get one signed and out of here. Waiting for this day to be over.

It is Thriday... the last day of my non-tax season workweek. It's not that I don't have plenty to do in the next hour, it's just that I don't want to do what I have here. It is waiting on me, too. It will wait until Monday. It's Thriday, and I'm ready to go home.

Why do I get this feeling of anticipation? Is it the cool weather which arrived over night? Is it the way the sun shines at an angle that makes the world seem orange and bright, even though the leaves are still green? Is it the new moon? What am I waiting for?

Several things have been telling me I need a change. My AOL horoscope, my bank account, my sister. I'd like a change, but I want a guarantee that it will be a good change, and no one will give me that. When I wish for things like change, I always think of the story about the monkey's paw. Remember that one? The couple wishes for money and get a big insurance payment when their son is killed in an industrial accident? I don't want that kind of change. Well, duh.

It appears I'm not willing to do what it takes to make a big change, either. I don't want to change jobs or get a new husband (as AOL suggested for some bizarre reason.) I do want to get organized, increase my energy, do everything on my to do list. Martha Stewart says she gets her energy from eating well and exercising. What's the fun in that?

So I want to eat a healthy diet that included Karmel Sutra ice cream and diet coke with lime. I want to exercise --- really. I have a yoga DVD and a Tai Bo DVD. I have walking shoes. I have cool weather.

OK... that's it. That's the change. I'll walk and enjoy the cool air. I'll do yoga and/or Tai Bo. I'll get energy.


Tonight I go to Oktoberfest.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Walk for Life

Saturday morning, I joined my very good friends from CSI (the school not the crime scene) to walk in the First Ladies' Walk for Life, to raise money for breast cancer research. It's amazing how easy it is to walk three miles when you have good friends to whine to the whole way.

Saturday was overcast and muggy, but there was a little breeze. A real one, not just a wave of wet air that feels like a damp towel. A cool breeze that evaporated sweat and made it possible to breath.

I admit, I had tried to talk myself out of going. I was tired. I had to clean the house. I had to box up the stuff at Dad's house. I had to see my Saturday morning cartoons.

At first I was overwhelmed by the PINKNESS of the place. Pink hair, pink shorts, pink cell phones. Good lord, I don't even own anything pink. Except the miniskirt that is in the bag to go to the Salvation Army. (What was I thinking?)

But quickly, I realized I was very glad that I went. There is something magical about walking in a huge pink sea of people who care.

There was a woman who appeared to be undergoing chemotherapy who walked leaning on her husband and her child's stroller. There were cheerleaders who cheered the entire three miles. There were little kids and great-grandmothers. It was something.

I am very glad I walked. I am already planning for next year. I will wear a pink hat and pink shorts. I will encourage more people to join us. I really can't wait.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

One year

Mom died one year ago this month.

Sometimes it seems like it has been a century and sometimes it feels like I spoke to her yesterday. In a way I did, since her voice still comes to me at times. Yesterday, I read an article on going grey and thought about whether I want to use the bottle of "Dark Ash Brown" Clairol in the bathroom. I thought about my mother saying, "It's time for me to get into a fight with Miss Clairol," as she pulled out the old, stained towel and bottle of dye. I thought about her going grey, then about her hair thinning as she got sicker. I think I'll keep fighting with Miss Clairol for a little while longer.

So much has happened this last year. A new baby was born. Mom would have been so thrilled to hold the son of her grandson. She loved babies. Not changing diapers, but holding the babies and talking to them. As her grandchildren got older, she loved spending time with them, inviting them over every weekend, until I had to tell her I'd like to spend time with my kids. She said I could come over too.

A woman, one of her best friends, was elected chair of the SC Democratic Party. Mom ran for chair years ago, but the old white men weren't ready for it, even the ones who call themselves progressive, even the ones who accepted her support, hard work, and advice in the past. That experience hardened her, made her more cynical, but she still loved the Democratic Party. And she would be proud of Carol for becoming chair, and proud of the party for electing her.

We bought a new house. Every time I looked at a house, I thought about what Mom would have said about it. As I decorate, using some of her furniture, I think of her taste and style. I have my own style, but it is linked to her. For instance, I will think long and hard before I paint woodwork anything but white.

I am asserting myself professionally. She would encourage me to do that. I will never be a CPA because I don't want to spend another several years in school. If I had the money, I'd pay for my children's college; I've had my time. But I am taking the exam to become an enrolled agent, joining professional organizations, and seeking continuing education opportunities.

I am becoming more active in education reform, in a way. Mom was always involved with the community --- mental health, civil rights, economic development, education. I think that if I don't do things to help make the world better, I will be letting my mother down.

Another year passes. It's a little cooler, a little wetter. And it will be spring again, and we will go on.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Is it fall yet?

Since the calendar says October 2, I officially declare it to me fall. I know, September 23 was the official day, but in SC that is considered a quaint idea, at best. Usually it just makes us cry, although you can't tell, because we are sweating too hard.

But here it is October 2 and it's about 87 degrees outside. The leaves are turning brown, but that is because of the drought. There is a breeze that feels cool and refreshing. And so, I declare fall.

I brought out my sweaters, although I haven't actually worn them. I made a huge pot of vegetable soup, with fresh carrots, potatoes, green beans, and corn. A nice mix of summer and fall veggies. That is something to be grateful for, isn't it?

Our windows are open, which (I hope) means the electric bill will be below $200 this month. Maybe I'll use the extra money to buy bushes and trees to plant. Another thing to be grateful for are mild winters that allow us year round gardening. Well, I think that's a good thing. Don't ask my loving husband.

Well, that's two. Maybe I should stop whining and go enjoy the weather. I can walk around the neighborhood, dig in my yard, lie in the underused hammock. That is three. Who can be ungrateful in a hammock?

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

The Calm of Order

Today was a day of realigning my brain. I have been out of order, so I had to adjust my mind to normal.

I started by an uplifting visit to my son's school. I saw great friends, helped out with a newsletter, talked about projects, and generally felt the love. No matter how yucky I feel, I can be cheered up by a visit to Carolina School for Inquiry.

So with a cheery attitude, I drove to work. I found that some of my clients had brought me documents I've been needing for about 6 months. Bless them, I was able to whip out 6 months of bookwork in 20 minutes in one case and a couple of hours in another. That feels good, even if I know I did most of it months ago. I could complete the month, print the reports, copy, file. It is complete. It is orderly.

The routine tasks have helped me rejuvenate in a way I don't usually expect. It reestablished the patterns and my mind was able to settle down. Now I am ready for the big things. Maybe. Tomorrow. Today I am serene.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Back to normal... sort of

Here I am, back at work. Things have waited for me, which I guess means they miss me. Since I spent the morning in a meeting, I still haven't sat down and figured out what I need to do today, this week, this month...

What do I need to do, here and at home? I am not over committed, I'm just temporarily underorganized. I think I'll spend a little time this afternoon organizing my brain. Things to do: call the lady about the fundraiser this fall, study for the final part of the SEE, help Joseph fix my computers, clean my house, clean the shed, plant bushes and trees, paint Gabe's rocking chair, finish Gabe's blanket, call the charter school people about the new school...

I think I'd better get back to work.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

The Best Laid Plans

Let me talk about plans. I had lots of plans for last week. Nothing really big, mostly getting through the little things that back up. And then, my grandson and both his parents ended up in the hospital with viral meningitis.

Viral meningitis is not as bad as bacterial, in that it won't kill you, probably. It causes a fever and a headache so bad you think you are dead and in hell already. Because it takes 48 hours to be sure it's not bacterial meningitis, which will kill you, the doctors gave them antibiotics. One doctor said, in front of my 9 year old who was also getting checked, that it probably wasn't bacterial or they'd all be dead. Somehow, this wasn't as calming to Mark as the doctor seemed to think it would be. Go figure.

With his parents in other parts of the hospital (36 hours in the emergency room for Dad & about 24 hours in the emergency room and another 24 in a private room for Mom), GrandBob and I had to stay with Gabe in his room. We were glad to take care of him, of course. Our bosses and co-workers were understanding and supportive. We revisited our belief that cable tv is over-rated, although we did enjoy a couple of Hitchcock movies.

Everyone is ok now. Gabe is all better. Mom Katy is feeling somewhat better. Dad Robert went through a worse time after he got out of the hospital, but had some serious medication and survived.

Uncle Joe, my other son, is sick at home now. He had been checked out and diagnosed with "flu-like symptoms." I think maybe it was early in the meningitis, or maybe not. He's taking extra strength ibuprofen and lots of fluids. I'm not taking him back to the emergency room. Did I mention it cost $125 with insurance for the doctor to scare Mark and say he wasn't sick? Did I mention Robert doesn't have insurance or medicaid or anything? Joseph is still covered, and if I thought they could do anything I'd take him in. Right now, I'm pretty sure it's viral something. If it weren't he'd be dead. That's what the doctor said, and we always trust the doctors, right?

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

The Gift of Taking

Stephen Covey suggested in Seven Habits of Highly Effective People that human development should go through three phases: dependence, independence, and interdependence. This makes a lot of sense to me. Children are naturally dependent, and we help them grow into independent people who can take care of themselves, and eventually other people.

What I see around me now, though, is many people who aren't comfortable in the interdependence phase. They are often care-givers, but they won't let other people care for them. I suppose there are many reasons that people feel that they should give help to everyone around them, but shouldn't ask for help in return. For some, it is the belief they aren't worthy of help & they don't want to bother others. For some, it is a fear of giving up power and personal control. For some, it's plain old martyrdom.

Fortunately, I don't have close contact with many martyrs. When I see a one, I tend to say "Get off the cross, we need the wood," and they rarely if ever take kindly to that. I do have contact with people who won't give up their power and personal control. I don't think I'll go there today.

The people I care about who are great care-givers, but won't accept help, are loving, kind people. It is their "job" to take care of everything --- family, friends, pets --- and they don't ask for help. When they were told "it's better to give than receive," they believed it with a vengeance.

Often we don't offer to help these powerhouses, because we have gotten in the habit of taking from the givers and we don't think to ask how they are holding up. We may know from experience they won't let us help. But that should change.

And so I ask the care-givers to do me one great big favor. I know it is scary, but please, let us help. It is a sign of trust to allow someone to help you. It is a gift of faith and friendship. It is a kindness.

I know it's hard to ask for help when you know you can do it all, but PLEASE, let us help you.
You need to fill your heart and soul before you can share. You can't keep giving without refilling.
Interdependence goes both ways. Thank you for helping me. Now do me a favor and sit down while I cook dinner.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

The Really Bad Stinky No Good Week

OK, first of all, I didn't pass the stupid test. I knew I wasn't going to pass because (DUH!) I didn't study. I didn't study because I had a yucky week that I'm not going to talk about. When I was taking the test, a 100 question computerized exam, I kept thinking, why am I bothering? I'm going to fail. $97 down the tubes and for what?

But then I'd hear my son Mark's voice. When I hugged him goodbye that morning, in a really bad mood, he'd said, "Take the test with all of your heart, mind, strength and ability."

So when the questions started to run together, I'd take a deep breath, draw on what I did know and answer to the best of my knowledge. When I was really lost (I was told there would be no Trust), I tried to remember the issue I didn't understand so I can go back and study again.

I will study more, and I will acknowledge that I knew there would be questions about trusts, and I will be a better accountant and tax preparer. If I ever have to handle the dissolution of a closely held corporation, I will know where to look in the tax publications. Next time I will pass.

Because I remember the other thing Mark said: "Always fail successfully."

(And thank you, Mr. Chris, for teaching him that.)

Monday, September 3, 2007

The Change

September doesn't usually mean much to me in the way of change. School starts in the middle of August. Usually, the heat and humidity will last until October. I don't care about the start of football season.

But this September seems to be bringing a freshness I didn't expect. After a summer of oppressive heat, waiting for the rain, waiting for the baby, waiting for my family's lives to take their respective upturns, September has come in cool and hopeful.

I suppose that sounds strange to most people. In most places, it is the long winter than freezes people's hearts and makes them wish for the spring thaw. Here, in SC, the summer is stultifying. By the middle of August, we wonder if we will ever breath again. Every year, I think about One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, in which they have a year of rain and everything and everyone is covered in algae or mildew. Even with a drought, that is what it is like in Columbia every summer. Sticky and mildewy and hot. Swimming pools are as warm as bathtubs. Ice melts in the freezer. The air conditioner runs full blast and barely gets the house to 90 degrees.

And then on August 31 the high was 89. I am always shocked by the difference between 89 and 98. I felt a breeze. There was no humidity, so "85" felt like "85". I walked around the yard and saw my poor neglected yard. I lay in the hammock and read. Believe me, it is much worse to neglect a hammock than a yard.

I feel renewed and ready for changes. I will plant the bushes in the butterfly garden after the heat and before the cold. Clean my house, paint Mark's room, sort the junk in the shed and have a yard sale. I can already feel the energy returning. Fall is here. At least for this weekend.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

The Special Enrollment Examination

Friday morning, I passed the first section of the Special Enrollment Exam (SEE) required to become an enrolled agent with the IRS. If I pass all three parts and complete the ethics check and some other forms, I will be able to speak for people to the IRS. I'm not sure I want to talk to the IRS, but I want to know I can pass this test.

The first part in on Individual taxation, which includes trusts, estates, annuities & IRAs. I'm glad to get through it and am ready to move on to Business taxes. A couple of years ago, I took the exam and passed the section on corporate taxes, but this test will include partnerships, which I didn't pass. And so I will spend the next week reading about partnerships, reviewing corporated tax rules and thinking happy thoughts. I'll take part two this Friday and part three the next Friday. Part three is ethics and stuff, which I hope I understand.

As far as posts go, this is terribly boring, but it is what is on my mind right now. Overshadowing baby Gabe, who with his parents, is staying with us this week. Overshadowing the charter middle school we are developing. Overshadowing the house that needs to be cleaned, the yard that needs to be mowed and the garden that needs to be prepared. Overshadowing the blog that wants to be written.

And on we go...

Thursday, August 30, 2007

A Writer's Notebook

Tomorrow I am taking my son to choose his writer's notebook. It was on the list of school supplies with a note that it should not be purchased until after school started.

I was lucky enough to be in the classroom during one of the discussions of what a writer's notebook is. The class read the book A Writer's Notebook by Ralph Fletcher and discussed what they wanted from a writer's notebook and how they could use it. As a class, they developed a list and finally sent home word that it was time to find the perfect writer's notebook.

This is tremendously exciting for me. I have already scoped out notebooks in Barnes & Noble, The Happy Bookseller, Staples & Target. There is one in Barnes & Noble that I think he might like --- it is yellow with stylized red dragons. If he doesn't like it, we'll keep looking. This is a major undertaking, like a first bra or a wedding dress, neither one of which I will never have to purchase for my sons (I don't suppose.)

I have several notebooks myself, and also buy new ones just because. There is one huge faux leather volume that had lots of potential, but got set aside in the bustle of moving to a new house. I had envisioned a journal supplemented with stories, photos, recipes, drawings, pressed flowers and other souvenirs. I can see it bulging with feathers and clippings between beautifully written vignettes and memories. A memory journal to pass to my children.

Most of my journals are more mundane. They are spiral notebooks purchased at the grocery store. They start: "I now weigh ____ lbs. This time I REALLY AM GOING TO LOSE WEIGHT." The earlier and later ones go on, I really can't put up with my mother one more minute, which of course, was not true. The very early ones had a list of everyone, real and imagined, I was in love with. Some have poems, some have bits of stories I planned to write. Some include stories I did write. But few lasted more than a few pages before they were put aside and forgotten.

Maybe I'll pull out my faux leather memory book and start my own "writer's notebook" as Mark begins his. Maybe I'll write things I want to think about later. Things I will end up writing about here or in a more private e-mail. Things that may grow feathers and fly away.

Won't that be fun? Mother and son writing notebooks. I am sooo excited!

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

What's love got to do with it?

Love is patient, love is kind.
It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.
It is not rude, it is not self-seeking.
It is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.
Love does not delight in evil, but rejoices with the truth.
It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
Love never fails.
I Corinthians 13:4-8

A truism.

How many times have I heard this in a wedding ceremony? How many times have I said Paul is really not my favorite apostle. And yet, these are true important words representing true important ideas, not just for romantic couples but for friends and families as well.

I have been thinking about the nature of love. Love. Not obsession. Not approval. Not affection. True, unconditional love.

I love my children, my husband, my extended family, and my friends in a way that will never end, no matter what they do. (Don't take that as a challenge, please. I'm being a little rhetorical here.) I may not be happy with some choices, but I love the people. I respect them and their right to make their choices even if they are different than mine. I probably wouldn't like them so much if they didn't make their own choices. But I would still love them.

Another truism?

I thought so. But recently I have been shocked to find that some people don't love that way. When someone does something they don't like, they withdraw love. I shake my head and furrow my brow. How can they do that? Was it really love? Don't you have to love your children, your siblings?

I'm not talking about tough love. Your child is on crack and refuses to seek help and you stop giving him cash and letting him steal your silver to sell for more crack. That is great. I'm all for that, but even then you still love your child and you do something excruciatingly hard on yourself --- allow him to suffer, even go to jail --- because you love him too much to help him kill himself.

I'm talking about your child doing something different from what you hoped he would do --- going to art school or not getting married --- and you saying, you won't do what I say so I don't love you any more. I wash my hands of you. Who does that?

Yesterday, my husband received an e-mail from his sister stating that she couldn't say anything nice about his family and would withdraw from contact. She said she hadn't commented before (untrue) because she knew we wouldn't listen (true).

And she is right, of course. Her advice was neither solicited nor welcome. One of the things of which she disapproves is a beautiful boy named Gabe who was born less than two weeks ago, "out of wedlock" as they used to say. How could we possibly entertain that notion? What would we do to try to please her?

Gabe is the latest in a long line of sins my sons and I have committed against her supposedly libertarian sensibilities. I knew she didn't approve of us, but I didn't realize it was such a strain for her to keep her opinions to herself. I rarely tell people what I think of them, even if they ask. I don't find it to be a strain at all.

I think I have said too much. I feel a dam bulging with all of the irritations and petty grievences (she gave my son his first haircut without asking because she thought it was too long and didn't even save me a curl), and I don't think I should let it out. I am civilized, remember.

And when she says "I don't have any influence on your children at all," I smile in the same vague way I do when someone offers to sell me insurance. "No, should you?"

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

And Here We Are

A blog. Like a new journal. Full of possibilities. Full of hope. Full of potential... pitfalls.

Am I going to use this to express great thoughts, or at least amusing thoughts? Am I going to write this opening entry and forget about it for a few months? Am I going to begin great conversations about important (or at least amusing) things? Am I going to use this as one more excuse to avoid the long long long to do list?

What am I going to do with this blog? I'll probably whine. I don't do that IRL and so I vent on paper, or keyboard, or whatever. When I say I don't whine in real life, I mean, I have a very low tolerance for whining in others and I hold myself to those standards as well. There is something about the pitch of a whine. Maybe I'm part bat and it sets off a radar that makes me want to hone in on the whiner and bite him or her.

My children don't whine. They do other things that I probably shouldn't mention, but they do NOT whine. It was one of the few parenting skills I was able to master consistently, probably because of my bat-like intolerance for the noise. When they'd whine at me, I'd look at them with a pained, sympathetic grimace and say, "You seem really upset, but I can't understand a word you are saying." After awhile I just had to give them a confused smile and point at my ear.

A good friend of mine looked at a whining high school freshman and said, "Put a little bass in your voice, son." The young man immediately stood up straighter and repeated his request in a Barry White voice. My friend still said no, but he didn't bite him.

Part of teaching Not Whining is teaching children that "please" is not literally a magic word. Conversation:
Child: May I have a cookie?
Me: No.
Child: Please.
Me: I like your manners. No.
I'd like to say it ends there, but children sometimes think that please is a magic word as long as you say it with just the right inflection (thanks a lot Harry Potter) and so they try it over and over again until they get it right or I bite them.

And so, at the risk of being bitten, I may whine in this blog. But I hope I do it in an interesting, important (at least amusing) way. Or not. Where is my To Do list?