Friday, October 31, 2008

It's Halloween! Let's Hoot 'n Holler! (a.k.a. A Clampitt Halloween)

For those of you who of have noticed my conspicuous silence regarding all things Clampitt related, allow me to fill you in on the goings on for the past few months.

In the short time we've lived here, the house across the street has been temporary home to several branches of the convoluted Clampitt family tree, all related either by blood or common law union to the old man who has lived there for over a decade. We call him Common Law Butch. At the time of my first blog posting, Butch was sharing the place with the Alabama Clampitts, whose seventeen year old daughter we met for the first time when she asked Matt for a ride to the gas station to buy cigarettes. Their dog, who promptly brought forth an enormous litter of puppies, was part wolf, they told us with pride. They sorted through their family problems by screaming insults at each other in the front yard. You know, the usual.

Several months ago, the Alabama Clampitts hastily loaded up Common Law Butch and most of their belongings--including the panels from the wood privacy fence, which Matt helped to place in the moving truck--and retreated to Alabama. I'll be honest. We got a little bit excited. We even considered bidding on the house when it went into foreclosure, which was what the Alabama matriarch had told us they planned to do with it. I began to mentally renovate it, paint it, and plant ornamental grasses around it. And then God said, "Not so fast!"

Enter the Corsicana Clampitts, who began showing up in force a few days later, stomping around and cursing and tying the house's remaining furniture to the sagging roofs of old Buicks. Turns out, the house was actually in the name of Common Law Butch's old lady (may she rest in peace), and they were going to get it back.

So we are basically back where we started. And it's been really entertaining. Like the Clampitts before them, this particular group prefers to cook alfresco. At suppertime, they cut a limb off the tree in the front yard, light it, and throw on the meat. Consequently, when we hear the buzzing of a chain saw, we start salivating. We have been classically conditioned by the Clampitts. Now that's disturbing.

Based upon our super-duper observation skills, we can tell you that the universal hallmarks of Clampittdom include the above mentioned front yard tirades, visitors who park their pick-ups on the tiny front lawn, and debilitating cases of emphyzema (sp?). They all have this distinctive cough that reminds me of visits to my Aunt Jo and Uncle Larkin when I was a kid. Uncle Larkin was pushing eighty and possessed neither teeth nor hair. His ears had grown with each passing year. Picture a white Yoda, but instead of a Jedi robe he's wearing a stained wife beater and a truck driver hat with the slogan "Life's Too Short To Dance With Ugly Women." He had "the cough," which always directly preceded "the spit."Uncle Larkin's been gone for years now, but Aunt Jo and her own version of "the cough" are still going strong. A few years ago she decided it was finally time to quit dipping snuff, her habit since she was 12 years old, I think. For this reason, the sound of a Clampitt cough induces these odd feelings in me--part queasiness, part nostalgia. "Whatever you do, don't knock over that Folgers can. That ain't coffee in there." Ah, memories. And now, back to the topic at hand...

If front yard finery is an accurate indicator, Halloween is the highlight of the Clampitt calendar year. They pull out all the stops. Two weeks ago, the whole front of the house was festooned in a dungeon-themed plastic banner. Poles adorned with shrunken heads littered the yard, and they seemed to multiply by the day--that is until Halloween Eve, when we heard a ruckus in the front yard. The present tennants and their son (who was living there with his family at this time last year) had a falling out. Alas, it was he who had purchased the grisly decor. The closing remark must have been something like, "Fine, I'm leavin'. And I'm takin' Halloween with me."

No more cobwebs. No more skeletons. No more severed heads. The Clampitts wiled away the day painting their new decorative rocks (don't ask) the hue of Pepto-Bismol and looking pretty sad. But when evening came, nothing could squelch their particular brand of Halloween spirit. Picture Larry the Cableguy and family leering at trick-or-treaters and doling out candy from his plastic chair on the front porch. For sheer volume and enthusiasm, this group had no peer.

"Oh my gawd! It's Spider Man! C'mon over here kid and let me look atcha."

Insert expletive-filled argument over where to hang a picture in the living room. Pause for long swig of beer.

"Oh, my gawd! It's a princess! Give 'er some candy."

Little Hispanic girl is frozen like a deer in the headlights.

"Dontcha speak English, princess?" Hmm...what to do? Let's try again, slower and louder this time. "DO YOU WANT SOME CANDY?"

Girl's mother finally ushers her away from the porch.

"You watch out for them witches and that grim reaper...Oh my gawd! Look, Wayne, it's a vampire! Don't suck our blood, 'er we won't give ya any candy."

The final Clampitt image of the night was the lady of the house, resplendent in yards and yards of shimmering blue housedress, chasing Matt and the baby down the sidewalk.

"Come back here 'n get a sucker for that baby! Caintcha see he wants a sucker?"

Fact: This woman has a grandson the same age as Miles (around 18-20 months). His mother told us he tipped the scales at 65 pounds at his last check-up. They call him Fat Boy. As in, "Fat Boy! Git outta the street! Come on over here 'n get you somethin' ta eat."

We're not really all that into Halloween for the usual Christian reasons, although Matt did take the girls trick-or-treating (but with a grimace on his face) and I did hand out candy this year. Still, I have to say it was fun watching the Clampitts in their element.

Miles really did enjoy that sucker, too.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

I think, therefore IB

A few weeks ago, I received an invitation to attend a reunion for former Garland High School students who had participated in the International Baccalaureate Program, which has now been offered for twenty years at GHS. What's that, you ask? Well, imagine the Advanced Placement program on steroids...and with the British spelling of words like programme and colour. That's not exactly accurate, because the goal of AP is to earn college credit, while the goal of IB is to produce a certain kind of thinker, as best I can understand, with the added bonus of possible college credit. If you're really interested or have nothing better to do, you can check out the program at

I loved being an IB student, even though the curriculum was so rigorous and time-consuming that I look back on the last two years of high school as the most stressful and draining time of my life. Even now, I blame the IB folks for the fact that no matter if I'm dog tired, I can't fall asleep before 11:30 p.m. All those midnight biology lab study groups have irreversibly altered my circadian rhythm, it seems. As one responder to the IB survey quipped: You know you're in IB when your heart beats in 7/8 time.

So today I trotted on back to Garland to attend the little reception, wondering who I might see and how much things have changed. Several of my favorite teachers had moved on to other schools, several had retired, and some had even found other careers--for example, the Theory of Knowledge teacher has heeded her own famous admonishment to "follow your bliss." She has found bliss as a public defender somwhere in Oklahoma, I think. She had a big heart, so I can see how this is a good fit. There are those who could argue, on the basis of personal experience, that teaching high school is ideal preparation for a career dealing with criminals. But as usual, I digress...

I discovered within five minutes that the vast majority of attendees were very recent graduates. I was one of only three who graduated in the 1990s, and I'm guessing that most of the other attendees are still college students. There are several possible reasons for this:

A. The reunion project was organized by students who needed CAS (service) hours for their IB diploma, and they sent the invites to our old high school addresses, so most people had never recieved them.

B. Most of the other I.B. diploma recipients are high-powered D.C. attorneys or doctoral candidates or brain surgeons or poker players (I saw online that one guy I graduated with has won over 28 grand) who couldn 't forsake their previous commitments in order to dine on cheese cubes and cafeteria cookies in the GHS library.

C. I'm the only person in her thirties who is still seeking the approval of teachers who have long-since graded their last test (I pulled out pictures of my children so they could evaluate them).

Even with the changes in personnel, the IB ethos (sorry, Audra) feels the same today as it did way back when. The kids are telling the same jokes about sleep deprivation, caffeine dependency, and rabid overachievement that characterized my two years in IB. Against that backdrop, the changes in myself were glaringly obvious.

Since I didn't know anybody but a few teachers, I milled around eavesdropping, just for funsies. The room was filled with little clusters of kids commiserating over college classes, degree plan requirements, and what they really want to do with their lives. I passed a group of scruffy-faced boys engaged in an earnest discussion of utilitarianism, each sporting the goatee that advertises, "I'm a sophist." It reminded me of a scene from La Boheme except instead of featuring starving artists, the main characters had their fill of free cookies, and nobody died of consumption or belted out Italian arias. (Aside: Did anyone ever buy the idea of a man of Pavarotti's gerth living on crumbs?)

I remember those discussions and how much I wanted to make an articulate contribution. Today, twelve years later, I just had to laugh. I think I have reached the point in my life where, for the most part, theoretical banter must give way to practical action. It was always understood in my family that I would go to college. Looking back now, I realize that what I perceived as merely a prescribed stage in life was actually a great luxury. Five years (Music ed + English) of extended adolescence, when my only jobs were to study and perform.

I don't know what I would've contributed to that conversation were I still a career student living on scholarships and the charity of my parents and grants provided by you, the taxpayer, but the older I get the more "utilitarian" doesn't seem like such a negative word. Sometimes the usefulness of something must necessarily trump everything. If you don't believe me, head on down to Babies R Us and check out the strollers. You'll find out that the eye-catching designer models, which at first glance seem to exclaim "Buy me! I'm adorable! I'm like a giant purse!" will in fact take you ten minutes--with some deep breathing exercises and the assistance of a spotter--to collapse. In this instance, I'll take drab but functional. It'll be covered in graham cracker/slobber crust within a few months, anyway.

I think the human mind can reflect this phenomenon, as well. Let me put it this way: if everyone spent all their time filling their pockets with all the "isms" there are to contemplate in the world, who would take the trash out? (Fact: Back at the GHS library, I snapped out of a dissociative trance, realizing I had collected a stack of dirty plates that had been left lying around and was looking for somewhere to deposit them. Because I am a mom? Because I am thirty? Who knows?) Hopefully, I am finding a balance in my own life of common sense and academia. Of course, it's also entirely possible that a man in a giant purple dinosaur outfit wiped my slate clean of all intellect 4 years and two children ago, and everyone has been kind enough not to point this out to me.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Men in Tool Belts

My best friend in high school was a girl named Stephanie Wong. We met on the bus in sixth grade, and we were like yin and yang. You might have noticed that I like to talk. A lot. Stephanie preferred to listen, so it was a match made in heaven. Her mom owned a travel agency, and she gave me my first summer job (I got in trouble for reading the brochures instead of filing them).

Because her mom was a travel agent, Stephanie was quite the world traveller. Her favorite place in the world was London, and her locker was tastefully decorated with magazine clippings of Hugh Grant and Kenneth Branaugh. She just had a thing for Brits, and that locker was like a crystal ball. Fact: Stephanie has now been a Londoner for years and has even picked up her own clippy British accent and British boyfriend.

My locker? Well, it was a disaster, and there weren't any pictures in it because, to be honest, few of the men I found attractive were splashed across magazine covers. While everyone else was swooning over Brad Pitt's character in Legends of the Fall, I was thinking, "Well, sure, he's beautiful enough, but look what a mess he made. Are brooding eyes and a flawless complexion really worth that headache?" My fantasy guy was more like Bill Pullman in While You Were Sleeping--just a regular, nice, down-to-earth guy with a handsome face that you never get tired of. I guess even then I was thinking about what I really wanted in life. Or I was just an old lady trapped in the body of a 17 year old. I mean, Adonis is nice for fancy restaurants and days at the beach, but I just can't see him cruising along in the driver's seat of a Honda Odyssey or dragging three preschoolers and all their belongings through airport security...although, come to think of it, Brad Pitt has probably done both of those things now. Anyway, since I was no Venus, my usual function in relationships with Adonis-types was as the friend-girl-confidante reassuring them that, yes, the cheerleader/model/pageant girl would go out with them if they asked. Sometimes I wondered if these guys noticed that I was, indeed, a girl. A few years of that finally purged any incidental romantic longings for this type from my system.

Some girls like guys with huge muscles and glowing tans or rock stars or bad boys or rich guys, etc. Me? I like handy guys. If I were in high school today, I'd have a big picture of Tom Silva from This Old House or Norm Abram, the New Yankee Workshop guy, in my locker. Lucky for me, I snagged a guy who crawls under the house to fix the plumbing and looks awesome in a minivan.

I mentioned my affinity for guys in toolbelts--and Matt's many manly virtues--in a Sunday school discussion a few months ago, and a few of the guys in the class laughed out loud at the idea(admittedly, I set them up to do this by momentarily forgetting that the male mind is a sewer). Their view of manhood, it seems, is embodied by the big, beefy athlete or the type A aggressive man, or...I don't know...the guy with the most weapons and dead animal heads above the fireplace. They laughed, good-naturedly of course, at my glowing description of Matt the Manly Man because he's not all that big or aggressive and he isn't bothered in the least by acting uncool in public. In fact, he thrives on public displays of dorkiness. It's like crack to him. Our kids love it, but they'll hate it someday.

"But Matt was a cross-country runner", I said.
"What's that got to do with being manly?", they joked back.
"Well,in the most important areas of life, endurance bests brute strength every time," I replied pointedly.

And somehow nobody could argue with that.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Matt's New Digs

After four years at our little church, my husband is about to achieve a major milestone.

His own office.

For four years, his "office" has been the old dumpy couch-filled space reserved for youth Sunday school and one of our youth small groups on Sunday night. As any of you who have taught the upper grades or raised adolescents can attest to, teenagers molt trash--funyun wrappers, coke cans, plates of congealed rotel, notes passed during the service (did you fall for that one? Ha! How irrelevant you are! omg! No self-respecting teenager has passed a note since the invention the text message. lol...yeah, I don't text message much. I have too much to say, and there's this darned obsession with accurate spelling.) Every week we would find a pair of dirty socks lying somewhere, as if someone were marking his territory. Matt's desk was crammed in behind the couches and was a favorite spot for pretty much every member of our church under the age of 18. For a few years the church housed a little Christian school, so he officed in the youth room/library/school copy room. There was no lock on the door, and people streamed in and out constantly.

My husband is one of the most humble people I know. He never complained. Until the candy started disappearing from the secret stash in his old filing cabinet. And then someone broke the weird little running man statue we bought at IKEA. Some people have no respect for art! The darkest day came when some irreverent soul desecrated his Chia Scooby Doo. That was the last straw.

He stuck his desk in the corner, constructing a makeshift wall between him and the parasites out of shabby bookcases. The area was maybe 5 ft x 5 ft. There was more of an implied barrier--but still no door. Therefore, the candy bandit is still at large. But now there's nothing left but a giant bag of hard candy that arrived from the Oriental Trading Company shortly after Matt was hired. You know, the kind you never wanted to get on Halloween.

About a year and a half ago we got a new pastor that energized our little fellowship and stirred up lots of new ideas. We must have a lobby, the people said. And perhaps an office for Matt, some kind soul chimed in.

So the old youth space is being repurposed to create this new lobby and an office for Matt. The original plan had been to just throw up a real wall where the shabby bookcase wall had been. Sure, Matt's office would have been the size of a pantry. But at least there would be a door. He was filled with joy. A door! With a lock! And just when he thought things couldn't get any better...

(phone rings)


"I have the greatest news ever. You just won't believe it."

"You got tickets to see Prairie Home Companion?"

"No, it's even better than that. I'm getting a window."

"A window! Wow, honey, this is such great news. Nobody deserves a window more than you."

"This is the best day ever."

And there you have it. A locked door to protect the candy, and a window, to boot. Keep your expectations low and you'll seldom be disappointed.

Saturday, September 13, 2008


Imitation, they say, is the sincerest form of flattery.

I tried to remember that five minutes ago when I googled the name of one of the clients I have represented at work and was surprised by the results. For starters, let me explain to you a little bit about what I do. I write press materials for a group of publicists. Publicists are the people who help you become famous. They convince media people that you are an interesting person who deserves their attention and that you have a message worth airing. Ever been reading an article in Real Simple that quoted an author and happened to mention his/her new book? Work of a publicist. Heard an author or speaker giving commentary on FOX news or CNN about the newsworthy topic du jour? The publicist strikes again. This whole enterprise may sound smarmy to some of you, but the truth is that the media has the attention span of of three-year-old. Is this just a reflection of the American public's short attention span? Which came first, the chicken or the egg... If you want to get your message out, you must be in constant pursuit of media opportunities.

You may have the best, most urgently needed message in the whole world. But unless you're already famous, nobody will hear it, at least not on the national news. You could draw the media attention yourself, but that usually only happens when you do something that would make you infamous...and I hear the market for jailhouse memoirs is glutted at the moment. So you're better off hiring yourself a publicist. I'm particularly fond of all the publicists with whom I work. I write press releases about new books or ministries (we do mainly faith-based stuff) or just whatever ya need. And I write questions for potential interviewers to ask our authors about their books, the goal being to set up each autor to share his super-duper best stuff. We want to get the word out.

I tried to remember that when I read several "articles" by a certain news service about the client in question which had by-lines by some random gentlemen...but were WORD FOR WORD replicas of the press releases I had written. It's all for the cause, I suppose. They pay me to write it, then the client owns it. It's not like I own the copyright (for those of you who are baffled by this, you would be shocked to know how many books "written" by famous people are, in fact, the work of paid scribes like myself...but in that situation, the famous person then holds the copyright and would probably sue some random person who posted it as their own). But I think these guys, all of whom describe themselves as "freelance writers" are focusing a little too much on the word "free." It would seem they just troll the news wires for good stuff, then slap their byline on it and repost as their own. This happens, I am told, even with the national media who you'd think would be more worried about getting exposed. I like to think they only steal the well-written, emotionally resonant stories. Hopefully they are not well paid to do this. But this is America, so I'll bet they are. Maybe I'll look into that line of work. Forgive my snarkiness. I'm purging. Perhpas there is something spiritual to learn in this. Are there other areas in my life where I am prone to getting my panties in a bunch when I don't receive the credit I feel is due to me?

So it goes. In each instance, I rejoice that this particular client, who has overcome amazing odds and really needs all the support, is benefiting from the repetition of my words. This is great publicity for a deserving person.

I have decided to take it as a compliment. Some people send affirming words your way. And others think so highly of your words that they adopt them and raise them as their own.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

We Has Class

Here's an excerpt from our day. I was thumbing through the magazine our local newspaper sends out every month.

"Hey, whatcha readin'?"

"An article called Donkey Talk."

"Oh. Sounds interesting."

"Hey, look at this! They have those woodwick candles down at the Pack 'n Mail!"

"Awesome! Since we can get them here in town, we won't have to drive an hour to the Cracker Barrel."

"Don't be ridiculous. Of course we'll still drive an hour to the Cracker Barrel. It's the Cracker Barrel, for cryin' out loud."

I love living this close to people who are actually preserving a rural way of life. It's fun waving to cows on our way into town. As for me, this is about as rural as I get:

The guy at the feed store was only too happy to sell me this decorative bale of hay, which you can see is guarded by the imposing scarecrow I bought for 5 bucks at Garden Ridge.


Here's a fun assignment. How many no-nos can you spot in this picture?

This child ate a birthday candle today, so that should make for an interesting diaper.

Friday, September 5, 2008

The Music in My Head

I hear music all the time.

I can't tell you how many times I've been sitting with a group of people in a crowded, noisy restaurant (say, the Olive Garden), and all of a sudden Matt taps me and says something like, "Why are you singing songs from West Side Story?"

"What? Was I singing?"

"Well, you were quiet. But yes."

"Oh. I guess I was singing along with the music."

"What music?"

"You know, Somethin's Coming, from West Side Story. Don't you hear it?"

The table gets quiet and everyone agrees that, yes, lingering in the background noise is Frank Sinatra singing showtunes.

I used to be so softhearted (read:weepy) that just the sound of beautiful music would move me to tears. I remember one year when the guys in the All-Region choir performed an arrangement of the Ave Maria by Biebl, and I just sat there with tears streaming down my face, wishing the sound would never end.

Concerning movie soundtracks, my musical memory was particularly keen. The theme from "Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves" was used in the previews of several adventure movies, and I would always lean over to the person next to me and inform them of the true source of the music. Made a bunch of friends that way. Everybody loves a nerd. You know, in case you ever end up in a high-stakes game of Trivial Pursuit.

Why am I telling you this? Well, those of you who know me best are aware of an unfortunate and traumatic event that happened in my life about 9 years ago. In the months following, I was alarmed to find that the music in my head had stopped--and with it, the emotions that expressed who I felt God had created me to be. Eventually, the music came back. At least, my empirical music memory returned. But I never felt swept up in anything--not the harmony, not the beauty of the voices or the instruments, nothing. After awhile I got used to it.

Well, I am happy to report that last evening, September 4, 2008, I was fooling around with my playlist and decided to look up some of my favorite choral music. I found a recording of a men's chorus performing Biebl's Ave Maria. Imagine my surprise when that old feeling, so unfamiliar to me over the past years, began to well up in my heart. Then the tears began to fall.

I felt like I was meeting a younger version of myself...this hopeful, girlish--and yes, sappy--young woman sans control issues. This confirmed romantic, this girl who considered Anne of Green Gables a personal turns out she's still here. To some people, this smacks of regression. I mean, who wants to be a blubbering crybaby whose emotions are triggered simply by listening to the right song?

I guess I do. I liked that girl. I missed her. I am so thankful that God, in His own time, has seen fit to restore that portion of who I am.

My apologies to those of you who come to this blog for my usual fare of semi-amusing nonsense. I haven't forgotten about you. Since I was taking a musical walk down memory lane (check out the last tracks on the playlist for bee-yoo-tee-ful theme songs, etc. Can't you just envision Sally Field flipping out in a cemetery or Kevin Costner frolicking with his pet wolf?), I decided to pull out the copy of Speed that we got in the five dollar bin at Wal-Mart last night. This movie came out while I was in high school, and I remember thinking Keanu Reeves was so amazing. Watching it again after so many's Keanu Reeves with a flat-top haircut and a mouthful of chewing gum, which he chomps incessantly and with purpose. Oh, and he throws those dirty words around like only a bona-fide tough bomb squad guy can throw 'em...and that's about all there is to that performance.

What was that girl thinking?

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Hooray For Fall!

Today a big limb fell from our massive oak tree and landed on our little picket fence, knocking one panel loose. The panel was fine--all we had to do was nail it back in place--but my fall bloomers that were just about to begin the show were all squashed. Alas. Ah, well, I shall not allow a pesky limb and some trampled autumn joy sedum to trample my own sense of autumn joy. The fall is my favorite, even though Texas is not exactly known for its crisp fall weather or colorful leaves. Actually, we do have two colors: green and brown. Still, I love it!

Hooray for fall!
Hooray for Meet the Teacher night and school supplies! Hooray for fingerpaint and naptime and sloppy joes and lunch ladies!
Hooray for field trips on big yellow buses!
Hooray for hayrides and weenie roasts! Hooray for s'mores!
Hooray for chrysanthemums and pumpkin patches!
Hooray for It's The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown!
Hooray for football games! Hooray for geeky band uniforms! Hooray for school spirit and cheerleaders who write brilliant alliterative slogans like "Swat the Skeeters" and "Trounce the Tigers" in giant bubble letters on posters!
Hooray for mulled cider and pumpkin pie! Hooray for steaming pots of soup and chili! Hooray for hot chocolate with teeny tiny marshmallows!
Hooray for pumpkin spice and harvest spice and all the other spicy scents they use for fall candles!
Hooray for great big piles of leaves perfect for jumping!
Hooray for candy corn and popcorn balls and bobbing for apples!
Hooray for trick-or-treaters in little kitty cat and princess and cowboy costumes! (Sorry, even my good Baptist upbringing couldn't stop me from blurting that one out. I do frown on dead cheerleader outfits, if that will redeem me in anyone's eyes).
Hooray for sweaters and, if we're lucky, for sweater weather!


Okay, I'm finished now. That was exhilirating.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Car 54, Where Are You?

This weekend I attended my first auction. It was at this amazing nursery/landscaping place in Ennis called Tex-scapes Greenery. In spite of my absolute lack of a poker face (Matt said you could almost imagine me jumping up and down and shouting, "Ooh, me! Sell it to me! I must have that!"), we walked away with some really great stuff at prices I doubt we'll see again. This is partly because we like old-fashioned, non-trendy plants like Bridal Wreath spirea (we now have nine big ones...for 50 bucks!) and 2 pom pom ligustrum, which will provide ideal camouflage for our rain barrels some day. We also scored a super cheap pallet of flagstone for a path in the back yard, a huge lot of creeping roses, and--best of all--the beautifully well established Japanese Maple that I was dying to get, so obviously dying to get that the two older gentlemen who were bidding against me dropped out because they didn't have the heart to take it from me.

Fact: Our home improvement projects generally get going after the kids are all in bed. We have painted, removed a rather unattractrive hedgerow, tiled bathrooms, laid laminate flooring, constructed windowboxes, and done most of our landscaping at the time of night/morning when sane people have already completed several REM cycles.

So there we were tonight in the moonlight, out in the front yard digging a gigantic kidney-shaped flower bed that will be home to our nifty new roses when a squad car drove past and lingered at the stop sign in front of our house. The passenger window rolled down, and we were greeted by one of Corsicana's finest.

" guys aren't hiding a body, are you?"

"No, officer. We are preparing to plant roses."

"Oh." He sounded disappointed.

"Slow night?" I asked.


"If you stick around, you could probably catch a speeding teenager. That'd be fun to watch. Oh, and somebody egged the Clampetts' cars a few weeks ago." I pointed to the house across the street.

"Thanks for the tip."

"You're welcome. And if we do decide to murder someone in cold blood and then bury them in the front yard, you'll be the first one we call."

"I'd appreciate that."

The officers went on their way. I found myself wishing we had a copy of Rear Window, the great old Hitchcock movie with Jimmy Stewart and Grace Kelly. If you've never seen it, you should rent it.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Who Needs A Mommy, Anyway?

My oldest daughter started pre-K today. She's been thrilled all summer, and so have we. We're excited about the program at her school. It's a dual language program, the goal being that the kids will perform at grade level in both English and Spanish by the time they move to middle school. Her teacher is from Spain. Very cool. This is a great opportunity, one we almost didn't get because at first we were only on the waiting list.

Yet there I was last night, like so many other moms, wondering if this was the right thing. She could stay home another year. It's only pre-K, right? Sure, she'd hate me for awhile, but at least she'd be safe from all the other kids or mean teachers or headlice or lingering asbestos or child molesters who might be casing the building. At 11:30 p.m. I began assembling the child's lunch. You would have thought she was going on a four mile hike. Carrots, orange, sandwich, pudding, juice...should I add granola? Cheese? What kind of mother sends her little one out into the world without adequate protein?
I rejected the plastic spoon Matt handed me for the pudding. "Get the one that's shaped like a whale," I said.

"What's wrong with this spoon?"

"It's not happy. I want the happy whale spoon." Sniffle. Sniffle.

I wrote her a little note on a heart-shaped piece of paper, zipped up the fancy lunch box, then realized there wasn't a good place to write her name without ruining it for the next user (yes, I'm sentimental. But also very cheap.). We didn't have any masking tape. For the first time ever, I lamented not inheriting my mother's obsession with organization. SHE wouldn't be digging frantically through drawers at midnight on the night before her baby's first day of school. Oh, no. SHE would just pull her trusty label-maker out of her purse and go to town. And she would probably pack the extra cheese and granola too, just in case.

Well, lucky for me, my daughter isn't so consumed with those little details. In fact, she was so ready to spread her wings that nothing and nobody could stand in the way of her big debut. Literally. When they called her name to join her class line, she crawled over me and dashed away to claim her spot before I could stand and let her pass. Funny enough, the next kid responded to his summons by sprinting past the line and toward the door, bawling his little eyes out. My little angel made a face that read, "What's the big deal? They have snacks here. Pull yourself together, son."

My daughter will turn five in about a week. And she is already too cool to wave goodbye to me. When we left, she was correcting the teacher's pronunciation of her name and looking around like she owned the place. Something we'll have to work on. But for now, maybe they should pair her up with Mr. Crybaby. She would boss him around, and he'd feel like mom hadn't really left him, after all.

I feel a bit useless. Maybe I'll go buy a label maker.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

It's a good day for a love song

Those of you who read my previous post (that would be Matt, Audra, and maybe my parents...I have no illusions of mass readership) have already shared in the exciting news of the termites that have chewed a large hole in our bathroom floor. What I failed to mention--because I have instituted a strict no whining policy at our house and didn't want to be a hypocrite--is that we also discovered a leak in the roof earlier this week and now have a large water stain on our living room ceiling. Not sure about damage to the interior of the walls. Since Matt will have to do serious demolition and reconstruction in the bathroom, we'll just add the living room walls to the list.

Our younger daughter, who has been doing so well with potty-training, had several very messy bloopers today. I know it's just part of life with toddlers, but after a day mopping up puddles, I felt all wilty. "This week has been rained on, stained, peed on, and eaten by termites," I declared to nobody in particular. Oh, and my son pooped in the bathtub twice this week. Just thought I'd add that.

What to do, what to do...I should have come up with a more spiritual, biblically informed response to the big patooey that was this week. Instead, I chose to simply escape. I closed my eyes, rehearsed some of my favorite memories (mainly of the year I fell in love with Matt), and then started looking for love songs.

By the time Matt got home from his paintballing day with the youth group, I was all starry-eyed and sentimental. Not that I had done anything helpful to deal with reality...except to disinfect the sights of all the bloopers. But I think sometimes when life turns to crap, especially when it involves literal crap, you just turn up the music and choose to dwell on other things. Some days it's worship music. Today, for me, it was love songs.

Things only got better from there. We took the kids to feed the ducks. We have, in general, always found this group of ducks to be well mannered. They're small town ducks who waddle along aimiably. Tonight was different. These ducks are empowered. They're so used to the free food, they have begun to blur the line between charity and extortion. They're organized. It's a little suspicious. Kind of made me think of an Alfred Hitchcock movie. One of them even tried to bite the baby. So Matt took it out. Punched it right in the face. "Now you've done it," I said. "They'll all turn on us."

And they did. I was chasing them away with our rather large stroller, rallied by baby Miles sounding the battle cry. Like so many people who feel insecure in a situation, Merrilee's solution was to taunt the ducks. She stared Mr. Duck in the eye and blew raspberries and made faces. Mariah just ran around screaming. A family across the pond was staring at us. By the time the girls retreated to the safety of our little red wagon, I was laughing so hard, I almost tinkled a little. Which reminded me of my tee-tee stained week, but in a good way.

See what a change in perspective can do for you?

Since the house repairs will now be ongoing, I'm leaving my fun new songs on the playlist. Enjoy.


Update: Having reread this post the day after, I feel like I should recognize that dealing with a few home repair hassles and expensive pest control treatments does not really qualify as "life turning to crap." It's only money. Lots of money. And Matt's free time.

Also, for those of you who may be concerned about the well-being of a certain bully duck, please remember that like most writers, I tend to embellish. Just a little.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Unwelcome Houseguests

After a very full summer, Matt thought he would spend this evening working on some of the house projects that have been left unfinished (for example: both of our bathrooms). I was, of course, delighted. He finished off the bathtub plumbing in the kids' bathroom so they can finally take a bath in there. I was ecstatic.

Then he turned his attention toward replacing the tile in our bathroom. He did that remodel when I was consumed with caring for a newborn and unable to give myself completely to my usual obsessive research and endless list of "what-ifs." We missed the memo about concrete board. Thus, we are paying the dumb tax. He had removed about 6 square feet of tile, and then:

"Oh, no."


"We have a problem."

"Has the shower been leaking under the tile? I knew it. It's been a year and a half, and now the black mold will snuff out our promising young lives..." (Feel free to imagine your own version of me nagging and freaking out).

"No, it's not water. It's termites. Many, many termites. And we won't be able to get the bug guy out here until Monday at the earliest."

"Good thing you decided to fix the kids' bathroom earlier."

"Oh, you can still take a shower in our bathroom."

"With the termites?! Aren't they running around in there destroying everything in their path?"

"Well, yeah, but they hide when you turn the light on."

" know, I can't believe you didn't make it as a salesman."

Friday, August 15, 2008

You, too, can be a color commentator

After watching over a week of the Olympics, particularly in the gymnastics events, I have developed this easy training program for would-be color commentators the world over. Begin by building a repertoire of zingers like:

"That was the rountine of a lifetime."
"(Fill in the blank) really needs to stick this landing."
"(Fill in the blank) received a 16.25. This is not the 16.9 we saw earlier."
"That's got to be disappointing."

Try your best to insert the comment appropriate to each situation.

Then, at a pivotal moment, address your expert co-commentator with this question: "What is so-and-so thinking right now?"

To seal the deal, wait until the cameras are trained mercilessly on some poor girl who has performed terribly all night and offer this observation, "So-and-so's expression tells us everything we need to know." Then offer a lengthy explanation of what so-and-so's expression is telling us.

So, there you go. You're welcome.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Pictures of my picket fence for Dr. Motl

This top photo is from the garden we planted beside our kitchen in spring 2007. Here's how it looked this past Easter.
New flower bed and Harvey the lawn ornament

Matt's Window boxes

Before we had 27 days of temperatures exceeding 100 degrees, the marigolds along the front of the fence were quite lovely.

Here's a Clampetts' eye view of my picket fence. Matt also broke up the existing sidewalk, which was falling apart, and laid the brick walkway. He's a winner. Coming next season...grass! At least, in a few places. Grass is a notorious water hog (unless you just let it turn brown), so it isn't the focus of our big plan for the yard. We also have plans to install two rain barrels on either side of the porch and a drip irrigation system --from our research, the least wasteful method of watering. Feeling inspired yet? I'm sure this is way more info than you really wanted, but you should know better than to ask a woman for pictures of her house. Or her children.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

In the mood for something silly?

We made this commercial a few months ago for a youth group variety show/ fundraiser. The idea originated with some of our students, then I ran with it, and our pastor's daughter, Abby, offered a commendable starring performace. If you're interested, the scene takes place in the garden Matt designed below our kitchen window. The video is completely homemade, even the music. It's my vague interpretation--by ear/theory--of the Forrest Gump theme song. For those of you who can easily spot poor piano technique, I'll remind you that I never claimed to be a pianist.

The best part for me was the fact that Abby, a junior in high school, was familiar with the term "self-actualization" and even mentioned studying Maslow in psychology. Hope, and hair, can spring eternal.


Monday, August 11, 2008

Look! A music thingy on my blog

Kudos to Matt for figuring out how to put a playlist on my blog and to Lori Motl for the step by step instructions (Lori--we figured it out by stealing the idea from your blog). You can see it if you scroll down to the very bottom. It's a sampling of my favorite stuff. Here's a quick guide to the artists with whom you may not be familiar.

Sufjan Stevens is a prolific poet/musician. I read an article in Books and Culture that accused him of formulaic music composition. True, he does have two basic models--contemplative acoustic guitar and noisy, wild extravaganza incorporating the whole band (as in, the high school band). Fortunately for me, I'm not all that sophisticated and, in fact, prefer the familiarity of contemplative acoustic guitar. He uses banjo, too. And not in a "Deliverance" kind of way. And as a former band geek, I'm all about an instrumental extravaganza. With a glockenspiel, even. Sufi (that's our nickname for him. I like to pretend we're old friends) writes some diverting nonsense and some songs that are so pregnant with emotional insight and theological truth, they keep me thinking for hours. If grappling with these issues in musical form sounds fun to you, try Casimir Pulaski Day. It's about a friend of his with cancer. Tragic and lovely. I'm tearing up just thinking about it. Actually, if you're having a bad day, you might want to skip to the next artist.

Elizabeth Mitchell is the finest creator of children's music I've ever found. We love, love, love almost everything she's ever done. From a music educator's perspective, she breathes life into the folk songs that children should be learning in school. A great way to help your kids become well-versed in the melodic vernacular of western music. She even throws in some folk songs from other countries, and a few rock, sesame street, and schoolhouse rock songs to liven things up. Most of all, it's some of the only children's music I've found that does not make me crazy--so crazy that I imagine myself commiting a violent crime. If you've had enough of little kids squawking "The Farmer in the Dell", it's worth a listen.

I've never really been much of a rocker (people who went to high school with me are laughing out loud at the absurdity of that statement), but since the kids came along I find I'm irresistably drawn to music that sets a gentle tone in the house.

Of course, if you don't find my tastes delightful, you can always stop the music. The beautiful, beautiful music.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

My favorite Olympic moments so far

Here's a brief list:
  • That children's choir from the opening ceremonies broke my heart, they sang so beautifully
  • Matt Lauer's lame attempt at making a contribution during the march of nations. His tangent begins with James Michener, and before you know it he's talking about how many Tony's the broadway revival of South Pacific just took home. Bob Costas finally interjects, "And here comes Greece, just in time to change the subject." Fabulous.
  • The cycling events. What amazing views of Beijing!
  • The sight of four shocked Frenchman after the U.S. came from behind to win the men's 4x100 free relay. Humble pie is not so tasty, oui?
  • This is random, but I especially like the arrangement of The Star Spangled Banner they have been using. And did anyone else notice that Japan's national anthem is hauntingly beautiful (and, I think, mainly pentatonic)?

Hope you guys are watching, too.

Oh, and I promise to add a picture of "the fence" soon.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Catch the Olympic Spirit

I've always loved the Olympics, and not just for the girly sports like gymnastics and figure skating or the popular sports like track and swimming. I like it all. Rowing? Why not? Biathlon? The person who thought of combining cross- country skiing and shooting was brilliant--and intensely practical in case, say, you take your cross-country skis out for a spin in the woods and encounter a grizzly bear.

This morning I watched the finals of ladies fencing. For those of you who are interested, the U.S. nabbed all three medals. When else is a girl with no cable T.V. going to get the chance to observe fencing, the sport of Hamlet and The Princess Bride? Of course, it would have been more interesting if one of the ladies had turned to the other and said, "There's something I have to tell you. I am not left-handed." Still, the silver lamme outfits were snazzy.

It's also fun to see how advertisers will use the Olympic spirit to peddle their products. Visa comes down squarely on the side of cooperation, exhorting us (via Morgan Freeman) to forget the names and countries on the jerseys and celebrate individual athletic accomplishments as representations of our collective potential (to spend money). Not surprisingly, Budweiser chose the nationalist route...probably because Europeans would respond to their slogan of "This is Budweiser. This is beer." with a resounding, "No, it's not." McDonald's extolled the universality of...McDonald's. Evidently, underdogs the world over--which, I guess includes all of us too slow and round to compete in the Olympics--can find solace in beef and french fries.

It may sound like I'm down on corporations and capitalism. Actually, I'm not. I think the Olympics demonstrate the benefits of competition. Yes, the people of the world have all united for two weeks. To compete. There will be far more losers than winners. But overall, the competition will bring out the best performances from everyone. But what do I know about economics? I was a music major. It was interesting, though, that when presented the opportunity to share their history in those amazing opening ceremonies, the Chinese apparently decided to leave out the Communist period altogether. Of course, that may have been due to the uninspiring wardrobe they would have been locked into by a Communist number. (To Dr. Motl--Wouldn't this be an inventive theme for a Tiger Tunes routine? Imagine the women of EEE doing drill team moves in their little gray Chairman Mao suits and singing ditties about the cultural revolution. That's so offensive, I'm ashamed to have thought of it.)

And how 'bout those opening ceremonies? Unbelievable! But watching all those people cheering and celebrating humanity's endless ingenuity and potential did kind of give me the creeps. The folks that built the tower of Babel were pretty proud of themselves, too.

Well, it's almost time for beach volleyball. Ta-ta.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Pepper the Wonderdog

My next door neighbor has a dog named Pepper. She's the ugliest dog I've ever seen, and somehow that distinction makes her a winner. Once you get to know her, it's impossible not to love Pepper, which is funny because she's not one of those affirming, peppy, "You, master, are the center of my life" dogs. In fact, she's more of a cat-- dog, as in "You, human, will pet me now. Because I say so."

Terry, our neighbor, is a plumber, maintenence man, and the nicest guy you'll ever meet. That's why Pepper chose him, of course, to be her owner several years ago. She's the classic American success story, having parlayed her status as ugly stray into two cans of wet dog food a day. We paid for our dogs, and they don't get wet dog food.

I love Pepper for several reasons. First, she sleeps in our driveway and barks at bad guys for us, even though we have never repaid her with the above mentioned wet dog food. Secondly, she entertains my girls for at least ten mintues a day. They press their little noses in the window and watch her make her daily death-defying migration across the busy street to poop in front of some apartments, sniff some stuff, and then make the treacherous return trip. We don't have cable, so this is our Animal Planet.

Most of all, Pepper restores my faith in the goodwill of people--or at least, in the ease with which they can be manipulated. Pepper is the canine embodiment of passive aggression. She loves to lie on the warmest spot of pavement, regardless of whether that spot happens to be in my driveway or the center of the streeet. The first few times I came upon her limp body, I thought she was dead. That happens some times on Animal Planet, I think. But the truth is, she has learned that people are easily controlled. People stop, blare the horn at her, and wait. She raises her head lazily and looks at them like, "What's your problem?" And then she takes her sweet time dragging herself to another spot of pavement.

Come to think of it, I'm feeling this strong urge to go and buy her a can of wet food.

Welcome to my picket fence

About a year and a half ago, my husband and I bought a seventy year old house on the corner of one of the main drags in our little town of Corsicana, TX. The decorative windows around the front door were patched with duct tape. The shutters were burnt orange. The bathroom floors sported thirty year old carpet. But we were drawn to its potential and its charm, spurred on by the hubris of the young. Two bathrooms in need of complete renovation? No dishwasher? No problem. And it was extremely affordable for the most important real estate reason. Location, location, location.

Quick fact about Corsicana: It was an oil boom town. And then it was an oil bust town. It's not uncommon for the real estate here to display the evidence of both the fat and lean years on the same street. Our block tends more toward the lean years, but the rest of our street is full of stately, well-kept homes. I'm not proud of this, but for almost a year I would return from our family walks to the neighborhood duck pond with a sense of deep resentment for our ratty little block and particularly for the neighbors across the street, whom I had begun referring to as "The Clampetts." Selfish? Yes. Sinful? Yes. On the positive side, God did use the Clampetts to show me exactly how much I don't love people. Still, I wondered if the move had been a huge mistake.

Then came the fence.

I was always afraid when we took the kids to the car because of our proximity to the busy street. I avoided the front yard (and, therefore, the neighbors) at all costs. So we decided to build a picket fence (well, for Matt to build a picket fence) that would surround the whole thing. As he began the work, the craziest thing began to happen. The neighbors we had hardly interacted with for a year began to come over and weigh in on the work. Kids from the youth group came to help dig post holes. Good ole' boys in their big trucks stopped by to critique Matt's craftsmanship. Strangers from the swankier part of the neighborhood would approach us at parties and shower us with compliments, having recognized us from all the times they saw us out in the yard. Random people driving down the busy street would roll down their windows and shout, "Love the fence!" There's not too much to do around here, so some nights our youth group filled an evening with periodic visits to check Matt's progress.

I must admit, the affirmation was addictive. Which explains, in part, why we spent so many nights busting our butts to add the landscaping that now adorns the front of the fence...and the inside of the fence...and that is taking over the easement between the sidewalk and the street. Oh, and did I mention the new window boxes Matt built? The arrival of the flowers signaled the next wave of appreciation--old ladies. Sometimes we see the same cadillac full of blue haired women three or four times in an evening. They slow to a crawl and point at stuff. They especially like the American flag we installed on the porch, I think. A few weeks ago, one ancient lady actually parked her car in the middle of the street and tottered over just to thank us for all the work we've done to make the yard beautiful. Turns out, she played bridge in this house for fifty years. It's nice to know that we're doing something to brighten the day of some sweet old ladies.

It's funny how that fence has turned all my negative feelings about our house's location into positives--without really changing anything. I mean, we still live on a busy, noisy (by Corsicana standards) street directly across from a family who will probably star in an episode of COPS one day. Yes, our own house looks nicer now, but the biggest change has been my attitude. We're often out late at night watering the plants. From our vantage point on the corner of a main street, we can see our own students racing home to make curfew, so that's fun. Hardly a night goes by when someone we know doesn't honk and wave. Sometimes the sight of us out in the yard even prompts them to just stop and chat. Who does that anymore?

I don't even mind the Clampetts so much. In fact, the more time we spend out by the fence, the more they become "our Clampetts".

Which reminds me...if the person who egged our Clampetts' cars the other night is reading this post, know this: We'll be watching from behind the fence. And I'm telling.