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.