Sunday, August 31, 2008
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.
"Uh...you 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
Saturday, August 23, 2008
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
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:
"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."
"Right...you know, I can't believe you didn't make it as a salesman."
Friday, August 15, 2008
"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
Tuesday, August 12, 2008
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
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
- 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
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
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.
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.