06 August 2009

My Apologies Unca' Stevie

I've been reading a long time. According to my mother, I began reading independently when I was around 3 and after that never wanted her (or anybody) to read to me again. I wanted to read it myself.

Fast forward seven or so years and, courtesy of my best friend and her older brother, I'd already read the Lord of The Rings trilogy (a couple of times). Fantasy and Sci-Fi ruled my reading life.

I was a member of the Science-Fiction Book Club (think Book-of-the-Month but only featuring sci-fi and fantasy). I read the biggies, the not-so-biggies and everything in between: Tolkien, Roger Zelazny, Terry Brooks, Piers Anthony, Marion Zimmer Bradley, Anne McCaffrey, Bradbury. I subscribed to "The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction" and thoroughly read each digest-sized issue; devouring everything cover to cover.

Horror is a sub-genre of sci-fi and fantasy, so it was somewhat natural for me to branch off into horror fiction. I can't remember when I first started reading Stephen King's novels and short stories. I must have been around 14 or so. But I know I've read and reread many of his works (Cujo, Christine and Night Shift stand out in my mind. But I've never been able to finish 'Salem's Lot. It's just too scary.). The bulk of my teen years my home life was a horror show so reading about a possessed car or a crazed dog was a nice escape.

Once I reached my 20's, though, I left off reading Mr. King. There was no specific reason I stopped. I just did. Maybe it was because he was a very popular writer (has been for well over 30 years now - there's a very good reason for that) and I was all about not reading "popular" fiction. I moved on to other writers (Neil Gaiman, in particular) and horror lost its luster for me after my dad died.

I haven't read any of Stephen King's work in well over 20 years.

Recently though I downloaded King's non-fiction work, On Writing, to my Kindle (one of the most awesome birthday gifts I've received). I had forgotten what a true master craftsman Stephen King is. Boy howdy, he knows his stuff. His writing is clear, simple yet still elegant, spot-on brilliant. That's what had hooked me as a kid: not so much the horror, but his style (that and I loved that the most mundane thing in the world could become completely terrifying). On Writing is an amazing how-to. I'm about half-way through and have highlighted several passages that I will use with my students this year. It's a must read for any one who enjoys writing.

Stephen King also writes regularly for "Entertainment Weekly" (one of the many mags I subscribe to). His writing is as clean and crisp as ever in his editorials, reinforcing his status as one of this country's most gifted writers. He's smart, honest, unmuddied. He's Unca' Stevie to his readers.

Including this one.

And Unca' Stevie? I'm sorry for not reading the Dark Tower books. Or Misery. Or The Stand. Or the myriad of other stories you've published over the past two decades. I'll make up for it. I promise.

05 August 2009

Spooky

This is exactly the way Flynn's saying "sorry" these days, though she's not anywhere near as evil as Gilly, the amazing Kristen Wiig's SNL character.

I love my little girl.



03 August 2009

Lazy. Hazy. You Know The Rest

As Quigs, Loosey, and Harley so gently reminded me on Saturday, I haven't posted in quite a while. I've had ideas for posts floating around in my mind, then they'd get jumbled up with ideas for my upcoming classes and when I'd sit down to write I'd just get tired and/or frustrated and I'd just play a round of Bejeweled instead. I haven't really been even reading any blogs or leaving any comments. I've been AWOL.

Excuses, excuses.

So this is what I've been up to: teaching my son to ride a two-wheeled bike (took him a couple of hours to get the hang of it and we've been going for a lot of bike rides), spending time at the pool (when it's warm enough to go), putting together a professional wardrobe for myself (no easy feat), squeezing in a workout when I can, writing up a syllabus and reading list for my future students, general hausfrauery, AND planning and executing two birthday parties for my daughter, who recently turned 6.

Yes, two parties; one so she could get together with her school friends and one with family and family friends. You'd think that since Pokemon are still very popular there'd be Pokemon party stuff all over this town. Not so. I could not find one single iota of Pokemon merchandise (other than toys & playing cards). So I made my own invites, which after I'd totally MacGyvered a stack of invitations, friends who are scrapbookers said "Why didn't you call me? I have a circle cutter."


The parties went off without a hitch. Flynn is very happy to be six. She's starting to lose her babyness and when I look at her sometimes I'm momentarily breathless; she's growing up so fast, my baby girl, my second child. First grade looms ahead and she's excited.

I've also been settling into my 40th year and celebrated that simple fact last Sat. with friends and family. I hadn't had a birthday party in a decade, but after this last one I realized it's something I should do every year. Cupcakes from I Dream In Sugar were amazing; gorgeous to the eyes and on the tongue. Frank and my sister were responsible for all the planning (well, mostly Katy) and it was superb. But the best part was seeing friends I had not seen in a long time. One of my dearest friends from college drove over from Springfield and a few folks drove down from Chicagoland (one of whom is expecting twins in January). I just wish there would've been more time to talk with every one.

You know me and music. Of course I've been scouting out new tunes. Love Amazon's deal of the day for downloading mp3 files.

Ben Lee is one of my new favorites. "I Love Pop Music" is off his new album, The Rebirth of Venus. It's a fun, melodic poke in the side of popular music and those who make it.



I can't make any promises, but I will try to get back in the swing of things and write a little more often.

11 July 2009

That's My Daughter

My little girl will be 6 years old in 14 days. And every day she asks me "How many days until my birthday?" Every. day.

She knows she will be six yet her age varies with her mood. For example she was playing with her dolls yesterday and said she was their mom and she'd taken Sophie (her doll) to the Pink Poodle (a hair salon in St. Joe that caters to little girls) because it was her birthday. Sophie turned 6. When I asked Flynn how old she was, since she was Sophie's mom, she replied, "Eighteen."

Which just about gave me a heart attack.

Other days Flynn's content to be five for the time being and she doesn't want to be six.

I know exactly how she feels. Some days I don't want to be 40, but I am. I just can't help it, especially since my birthday was last Monday and I said "Adios, 30's, it was nice knowing you."

So.

It's become something of a tradition for me to make a mix disc for birthday party favors and Flynn and I have been mulling over the choices for her upcoming party, one of which is Loudon Wainwright III's "Daughter" from the Knocked Up soundtrack (I haven't seen the movie, but love the music from it).



After hearing this song, Flynn asked "Can you do that Mommy? Can you get me everything I want for my birthday like the daddy in the song did?"

Uh, no.

But I wish I could pull down the moon for my daughter.

08 July 2009

Shame On You, CNN

OK, so I'm at the gym this morning doing my thing on the elliptical machine; huffing and puffing away and I glance up at the bank of TV's on the wall. The Price Is Right briefly held my attention (somebody should tell Drew Carey that he needs a haircut), I forget what was on the tube next to that but the third one over was tuned to CNN. I was reading the closed captioning and the headlines scrolling along the bottom of the set when they showed a clip from Michael Jackson's memorial service yesterday.

You probably know the clip I'm talking about; Michael's 11-year-old daughter, Paris-Michael, addressed the assembled crowd and millions of people watching around the world. She said she loved her Daddy and missed him very much, then collapsed in tears.

God, how that little girl touched my heart. I know her pain; I know she will have to accept that some questions will go unanswered and she will hurt for a very, very long time. I was amazed she had the wherewithal to speak at all. I did not speak at my father's memorial service; I did not trust my voice.


So after that clip of one distressed, very brave little girl the anchor asks for a CNN poll: "What was your favorite moment of the Michael Jackson memorial?"

That pissed me off and struck me as incredibly crass. Like this memorial service was supposed to be entertaining? It was a tribute to a dead man; a way of honoring his life and a way for his family and fans to say good-bye. Would anybody answer "My favorite part was witnessing a little girl's heartbreak at loosing the only parent she's ever known"?

Did CNN poll viewers for their favorite part of Princess Diana's funeral? What moron would answer "Watching her children cry?"

I did not watch the Michael Jackson memorial, so I don't know what all happened. I've only seen the bit of Paris-Michael. But exploiting this child in the name of a viewer poll is beyond shameless. Her brief statement brought some clarity to this loss. Yes, the public has lost a popular entertainer, but Michael Jackson was more than his public persona. He was a son, a daddy, a friend. My heart goes out to his children.

So, shame on you CNN. Shame. on. you.

01 July 2009

Hit The Road, Lady

This time a week ago I was on the road with my mom and sister headed in a southeasterly direction.

My birthday is less than a week away and this is one of those milestone birthdays; one that begins with a four and ends in a zero. So to commemorate the occasion, we decided to take a road trip, something the three of us had not done together in well over 13 years (and that was a weekend in Cincinnati for a family wedding).

Originally, I wanted to go west to San Francisco's Napa Valley. But after pricing airfare, car rental and hotel accommodations, I decided something within driving range would be more cost effective and we'd have money left over to do stuff like eat somewhere other than Burger King or McDonald's.
After some research, I settled on Asheville, North Carolina home of the famed Biltmore Estate. The Estate has its own winery so that sealed the deal. My husband is allergic to wine so this trip would not have been any fun for him, so it's good that he stayed home.

The Biltmore may be THE attraction in Asheville, but the town is nice enough on its own. I really dig its artsy/artisanal/conservationist/organic/locavore vibe. Several locally owned eateries use ingredients that are either made/grown in and around Asheville or North Carolina in general. And that includes liquor and ice cream. I am now a fan of the French Broad Chocolate Lounge and Posana Cafe. People in Asheville give a damn about their food. And their jewelry; I scored a very cool necklace made from old nickles, a bracelet made from old soda bottle caps, and another bracelet made from old watch faces and dimes.

We stayed at the super cool Grand Bohemian Hotel. I would stay there again in a heartbeat. And their spa was on our floor, just down the hall and around the corner from our room. The massage/body wrap/facial I received was heavenly.

The tour of the Biltmore was pretty neat, if not staggering on a grand scale. It's just massive and completely unexpected and beautiful. The gardens, of which we only saw two, were gorgeous and the aroma of the lavender separating the rose garden from the medicinal garden was heady and intoxicating on the warm, sunny Summer day.We decided not to return home the way we had come; the only other city of interest on the way north is Nashville, Tennessee, a place I'd never been.

The three of us are not fans of country music. Oh sure, when I was a kid my mom took us to Bluegrass concerts (I probably saw Alison Krauss at some point) but contemporary country music (you know, artists like Taylor Swift, Keith Urban, et al) are not my cup of tea. There's not a lot to do in Nashville if you don't like the music issuing forth from every.single.bar on Broadway Ave. Other than shop and people watch.

Our hotel, the Hutton, was almost the antithesis of Asheville's Grand Bohemian: sleek, modern, linear. Very chic. A nice welcome to the city I wasn't sure I liked to begin with. The vibe in Nashville is very different from Asheville. Like the difference between C-U and Chicago. Nashville is harder, grittier, not as forthcoming as Asheville, and there's a whiff of desperation in the air there that was missing in the mountains of North Carolina. Or that impression may just be because my mom, sister and I witnessed a shoplifting at the convenience store while I was getting some cash from the ATM within the first 30 minutes of entering the city.

We did the touristy thing: go down Broadway to the entertainment district. And we were entertained, but not by the folks you'd think. We ate BBQ at Rippey's (it was OK) and had an ice cream at Mike's. After a couple of hours of avoiding hustling doormen and skanky ladies we retired to our hotel. The next day we visited the Parthenon replica at Centennial Park, which is surprising and awe-inspiring. It gave me hope for Nashville; that it isn't just the glitz and grit of Music City, that it has depth. Shopping was on our agenda and we did just that. All day. Then had dinner at the tres fab Germantown Cafe.

Sunday was an all-day drive home. We were exhausted but very happy. I can't think of a better way to spend time with two of my life-long favorite people: my beautiful mother and sister. I am blessed to have them as family and, possibly more importantly, as two amazing friends.

We're already planning the next excursion: Mexico in three years to celebrate Mom's turning 70 and Katy's turn at becoming 40. I should start my passport renewal process tomorrow...

Until then, I'll sip a glass of wine from the Biltmore's winery and relive those good times.

11 June 2009

Boldly Going

I've had something in the works recently that I chose not to write about until now.

About three weeks ago, while reading the church bulletin after Mass, I noticed that the local Catholic high school was looking to fill two full-time teaching positions in their English department.

I ain't stupid. I know when Unseen Forces Are At Work.

After talking with Frank, Evan, Flynn, my mom and sister and various friends, I came to the conclusion that it was time for me to return to teaching full-time. Or at the very least try.

So I began the many-hooped process of seeking out a teaching job in the Catholic Diocese of Peoria and sent off a cover letter and resume to the high school's principal.

Last week I went in for an interview and came out with a fire in my belly and a desire to teach I hadn't felt in a very long time.

Yesterday I was called in for my second interview to meet with the school's chaplain (who is on his way to a new assignment) and again speak with the school's principal and vice principal.

When he said, "If we don't offer you the position, would you consider substitute teaching here? We really like to have certified teachers as subs." I thought, "Uh-oh." And I came home feeling not nearly as confident as I had the week before.

Boy, am I glad my intuition was wrong.

I am now the Junior English teacher. I was offered the position this morning, which I very gladly accepted (then did a Very Happy Dance).

"I knew you'd get it." said my pleased-as-punch son.

Now the real work begins: putting together syllabi (I'll have 2 preps: regular & honors American Lit.), devising writing assignments (BelleNoelle, I may be seeking out your hubby's advice), making contact with my department members, finishing up the application process for the Diocese (which involves making sure they receive a copy of my teaching certificate and some other paperwork), and putting together a school wardrobe. And purchasing a laptop.

So. Onward and upward I go.

09 June 2009

3 In 2

My sewing machines had lain dormant since before Christmas and it was high time I busted them out lest they start feeling neglected.

And I had baby quilts to make.
First up was a little something for a family friend who recently welcomed baby #3 into her brood. This little babyman, joining two big sisters, will receive a very boyish blankie made from vintage reproduction fabric sporting cowboys & cowgirls lassoing ponies and white horseshoes on a red back ground. I complimented the 6" squares with 4-patches of a green bandanna print and mottled brown (I thought it looked a bit like worn leather). The quilt is backed in soft red fleece and quilted with embroidery thread in denim blue (to match the kids' clothing) and an orangey-brown matching the color of the ponies in the cowboy print.

Baby blankie #2 is also for a baby boy, also a #3 child (he has a big brother & sister). His mommy is the sister of the mommy of the baby I made the first blanket for (confused yet?). Yep, both sisters found out they were each expecting their third child within a month of each other. Each baby was a surprise.

Anyway, Baby A's quilt is made from 3" strips of three different fabrics: a Curious George print, a red with teeny white dots, and a mulitcolored stripe that I ran horizontally. It is backed in white flannel and quilted with green embroidery thread, to match the satin binding. I went with the Curious George print for two reasons: 1) I think it's cute and 2) I'm fresh out of Thomas the Tank Engine fabric.

SPOILER ALERT: Mommy, Queen of Everything do not look at the following picture as it's the quilt for your little princeling whenever he deigns to make an appearance. I hope he likes it (you, too).
I think this quilt turned out really well. The 6" blocks are made from a super cute owl print I scored at Hancock's or JoAnn's last year and from a pillowcase I had tucked away for quilt-making. I routinely use sheets for quilts and I thought this grey print worked well with the owls and the backing (the grey-dotted flannel). The coordinating 4-patches are made from a blue on white twig-like print and an orange & white check. The quilting is done with a steely-blue that matches a color in the owl print and an olive green that, again, pulls color from the owls.

Manly, yes, but soft enough for a baby.

So that's what I've been up to.

The next sewing project is pj's for the kids. Evan has outgrown the ones I made last year (Flynn's now wearing them) and he's begging me for new ones.

I hope I have enough fabric.

08 June 2009

That's What Friends Are For

You all know how freaky the weather's been lately - cold, rainy/hot, rainy. Luckily, last Friday was gorgeous: not too hot or humid, sunny, temps in the upper 70's.

Perfect for heading to the pool.

Which the kids and I did.

I chatted with friends who happened to be there with their kids while mine splashed and cavorted. like the little fish they are. Evan was delighted when he realized one of his best friends was there and they immediately paired up to play.

Then I realized they weren't anywhere near me.

I didn't panic per se, but I was concerned. My son is a very proficient swimmer so I wasn't afraid he was in a part of the pool where he couldn't touch the bottom, but you never know who's at the pool, you know?

Then I spied the two boys over by the lazy river, headed up to the water slide. I was relieved and grabbed Flynn to go talk to my son, to remind him the importance of telling me where he's going.

I caught up with him and said, "Evan, next time you want to come over to this part of the park, tell me first before just walking off. I didn't know where you were and was a little bit afraid. It scared me to not know where you were."

His response?

"Sorry, Mom. I'm going to go get G so he can share the shame."

24 May 2009

Apparently, This Is Me

Oftentimes around the dinner table my family and I quiz each other on either super hero and/or Star Wars trivia. Last night Frank asked Evan, "If Mommy were a Star Wars character, which one would she be?"

I was anticipating Princess Leia or Padme Amidala, at the least, though I'd say I'm more of a Mon Mothma.

What came out of my son's mouth was certainly not what I expected. "Sometimes, Mom, your attitude is like a rancor."

Great. My son occasionally sees me as a rancor, one of the most deadly and poorly-tempered beasties in the Star Wars universe. Not to mention, it isn't exactly easy on the eyes.

I wonder, though, if this idea of his will make him clean his room any quicker or remember to put his dirty clothes in the hamper. Maybe as a reminder I'll just have to say, "Don't make me go all rancor on you."

This could be a good thing.

22 May 2009

Teacher Let The Monkeys Out



Today was the last day of school. The kids went in for Mass, then received their report cards and we were out the doors by 9:15. It's been an awesome school year, filled to the brim with milestones that seemed to just fly by.

Flynn's teacher gave each child in her class a personalized plastic bucket containing not only their report card, but a handmade memory book, a jump rope, storybook, 2 pieces of sidewalk chalk (which Flynn is using right this very second), a hand-painted and personalized cross, and a tootsie pop. Evan's beloved teacher, Sr. M.V., wrote him a lovely, heart-touchingly sweet letter. We are blessed to have such wonderful teachers, who not only teach the mind academia, but who teach the heart with their love and appreciation of each child as well.

I know my kids are well prepared for the next school year and are better people to have had such fantastic role models in the classroom.

That being said, my kids (as much as they love school) are ready for days of playing at the pool, going to day camp, day trips, or just hanging out at home.

Here's to summer: Alice Cooper's anthem, "School's Out" as performed with the Muppets.

19 May 2009

Great Lake Swimmers

In need of some music to soothe your weary soul? Look no further than Great Lake Swimmers' latest gem, their fourth, Lost Channels. Sweet, dreamy folk enhanced by lead singer Tony Dekker, who possesses a voice that summons ghosts from times past. It’s a voice that is capable of conveying heartache and comfort all in the space of a single phrase. Lost Channels has become my go-to music when I need to relax (followed closely by Steve Earls' Townes, Andrew Bird's Noble Beast, and Ben Kweller's Changing Horses).

From the Great Lake Swimmers' website: That the album was created in both rural splendour and urban Ontario makes perfect sense for a band that has always navigated the parallels between natural and urban rhythms. River imagery recurs throughout LOST CHANNELS; the title of the album is a reference to a certain passage of the St. Lawrence, close to the recording locale, where a reconnaissance boat from a British warship went mysteriously missing in 1760. There’s no specific reference to the incident in the lyrics, though there are plenty of night skies, howling winds and raging rivers in almost every song which captures an elusive sense of mystery. As the album closes, Dekker sings the final lyrics—“Like the unstoppable river… Your beauty is gentle/ but forceful, and fast”—before the band ends on a suspended note. There is no resolution there, only eternity, a continuum, an endless river.

I've only recently been introduced to Great Lake Swimmers and I will certainly be purchasing their back catalog. Tony Dekker's superior musicianship, fine song craft and haunting melodies have grabbed a hold of me, wormed their way into my heart, and have a rather nice habit of following me around.

Please enjoy "She Comes To Me In Dreams" from Lost Channels.

14 May 2009

Ladies First



Lately, the kiddos and I have been reading selections from Free To Be You And Me. The original version, a LP record with illustrated storybook and a TV movie (which I never saw), was released in 1974. I was 5. I still have my record. It was one of my very favorites, next to the story version of "Lambert The Sheepish Lion" (though the wolf in that story scared the bejeebus out of me).

I love Marlo Thomas' reading of this Shel Silverstein short, "Ladies First." This animated version's pretty cute, too, but nothing compares to the audio version, it was my all-time favorite track (second favorite was Alan Alda & Marlo Thomas' rendition of "Atalanta").

I'm pleased that "Ladies First" is Flynn's favorite. If you can, get your hands on a print copy; it's worth it just for Silverstein's drawings (the last one never fails to make us laugh). Evan's comment on the main character of the story: "That girl is a jerk." She's supposed to be and she gets what's coming to her in the end.

Yes, the animation is very dated. But it's still fun. Evan and I spent quite a bit of time on YouTube last night watching segments like Rosey Grier's "It's Alright To Cry". And while the show is visually dated, the message in each segment is not: it's OK to be different.

If you are a child of the '70's this will bring back memories. If not, enjoy it anyway.

13 May 2009

The Mighty Fly

We're big fans of Nickelodeon's "The Mighty B!" cartoon. The main character, Bessie Higgenbottom (voiced by the adorable and completely manic Amy Poehler), is a Honeybee scout determined to collect every single badge in Honeybee history. Honeybee folklore implies that in doing so, she’ll become a superhero called the Mighty B. Bessie often enlists the help of her dog Happy, her brother Ben, and her best friend Penny.

Flynn recently discovered that "if you take the two n's off my name, it spells fly." I guess that's her new nickname at school, though the boy who's asked her to marry him has started calling her Flynnise (rhymes with Denise).

And Monday while I was watching her swimming lesson, I realized that with her goggles on (which are a little big for her but she insists on wearing them) she looks an awful lot like Bessie.

11 May 2009

A Week's Worth Of Years

Seven years have passed since my dad was stolen from me.

And, yes, I do mean stolen. He did not, to paraphrase Dylan Thomas, go gently into the good night. His life was taken. And certainly not gently.

Yes, that initial raw-nerve pain is still there. Most likely, it will be there for the rest of my life. And, yeah, it hurts like a mother. Sometimes it knocks the wind out of me, it's so strong. It's something I've, unwillingly, become accustomed to. Some days, it's not in the forefront of my mind. It's always there, though. Lurking. Coloring every happy moment. Tainting.

There are days like today when I look at my children and I would give almost anything to have my dad here so he could enjoy them as much as Frank and I do. He loved being a grandpa. He knew two of his grandchildren, my son and my sister's first born, for only a brief time, but anytime he saw them his face would light up and he would just marvel at their simply being there. He always had a present of some sort for them. He gave Evan Christmas presents before he was even born (to Evan these are now priceless treasures). This picture is my favorite of them together. They have the same ears. And at the time, practically the same hairstyle.

I miss his physical presence in my life so terribly. I miss his contagious giggle, his wit and wicked sense of humor (as children my sister and I would beg him to tell us jokes), his razor-sharp intelligence, his hugs (he hugged you like it would be the last time; like he was trying to concentrate all of his love for you into this one hug), his smell (a singular mixture of cherry pipe tobacco, Listerine, fresh air, dirt, vet hospital and musty basement), the way his eyes changed color from blue to grey. I miss talking with him. We shared a love of Thoreau, Emerson and Twain; British comedy (his absolute favorite was a show called 'Allo, 'Allo); Get Smart; the Marx brothers; music; food; playing 20 Questions. He could stand on his head longer than anyone I've ever known.

So I have a cry (like I'm doing right this very second).

I listen to the Beach Boys (his favorite band, other than the Kingston Trio). Pet Sounds is playing in the background.

Last night I had a slice of key lime pie from Perkins (certainly not as good as his, but it'd do in a pinch).

I may watch an episode of 'Allo, 'Allo.

I will remember.

Love you, Dad.

Miss you.

08 May 2009

Has It Really Been A Week?

It doesn't seem like a week ago I was reuniting with college friends. The days have flown by, chained together with the mundane tasks of workaday grown-up life: minding the children, tidying the house, laundry, paying various and sundry bills, whatever volunteer work needing to be done at school, I taught the 7th & 8th graders for a day this week.

And in many ways my silence here has been my way of savoring those brief hours with far-flung friends. Friday night we regrouped at one of the two hotels in Charleston and poured over old photos, talking about old times and catching up, laughing a lot. Figuring we'd be a might bit too noisy for other hotel patrons we adjourned to a local establishment for dinner and beverages. We traipsed up and down 4th street from Roc's to Friend's and back again, once we found out that Friend's (our no. 2 hang-out back in the day) was due to undergo renovations and the patrons (and bathrooms) were a little frightening. We did mosey back to the old part of the bar, where we used to hang, and took some pictures. The place looked, and bizarrely smelled, exactly the same. Friend's has an adjoining space with a stage where local bands, that some of our friends were in, used to play. The graffiti on the wall from those days is still intact and brought back tons of occasionally hazy memories.

My friends and I learned a valuable lesson that night: we are no longer 20 and really can't stay up until 3 a.m. and not pay a hefty price the next day. I was hung over for the first time in my life. Yep. I never had a hang over in college. Never. And, boy, could I drink, drink, drink back then. But I powered through the day, happy to suffer through a little dehydration, headache and some vomiting in order to spend time with some of my very favorite people in the world.

The people I came to know in my years at EIU are some of the most talented, creative, smart, funny, caring, and amazing individuals I know. I'm so thankful to be able to call them my friends. My life is blessed.

So it's taken me about a week to come down off that high.

But at least we're connected through Facebook and are already making plans for October.

01 May 2009

The Momcation, Part 2

Last October I ran away for the weekend with some of my college buddies to see the very last play directed at EIU by our teacher, director and mentor Clarence Blanchette.

The play was nothing to write about, but the five of us had a blast and agreed it certainly didn't last long enough.

So.

This weekend Charleston is hosting Celebration: A Festival of The Arts and we decided it was as good enough an occasion to get together as any. And thanks to the modern miracle of Facebook, we've more than doubled our ranks. (We're also celebrating a birthday, a doctorate, and the retirement of our beloved acting teacher, Dr. Jerry Eisenhour).

I'm taking off in a little over an hour or whenever my friends arrive - I'm hitching a ride down with the folks from Chicago. Frank will join me tomorrow after dropping off the kids at my sister's house.

I can't tell you how excited I am to see friends I haven't seen in person in seven months, and some in over 15 years.

My bag is packed and waiting by the door.

Later, taters.

30 April 2009

So Cool I Couldn't Keep It To Myself

This morning Frank told me about the episode of Mythbusters he watched last night. Apparently, it involved a million Legos:



The ball fell apart into, literally, a million pieces.

OK, so that's cool in and of itself (we are, of course, a Lego-centric household). But what grabbed my attention was that the Mythbusters team borrowed the million Legos from Nathan Sawaya, a NYC-based artist whose medium is, you guessed it, Legos.

This is some of his amazing work:


Pretty damn cool, no?

29 April 2009

This Ain't St. Elsewhere



A week or two ago, I downloaded The Empire Of The Sun's debut compilation, Walking On A Dream. It was one of those $1.99 daily deals on Amazon. I've been grooving to it off and on since. The first single, the title track, sounds like David Gruesin's theme for St. Elsewhere, the awesome Dr. drama from the 80's (which I loved), or Vangelis's Chariots of Fire - lots and lots of synth. Very, very 80's with a modern twist in the vocals (some critics compare them to MGMT but I find them softer and not as nihilistic as MGMT).

Empire Of The Sun hail from Australia and, to me, they look like Kajagoogoo rejects or David Bowie's Goblin King in Labyrinth. And even though they don't have the vocal power behind their lyrics, I can't help but mentally compare them to fellow Ozzies, Air Supply. Maybe it's just because EOTS sound like they just stepped out of 1983.

But I dig most of the songs on their album, especially this one. They're pretty dancey.

Enjoy.

28 April 2009

Of Cults and First Communions

Because my kids attend a Catholic school, special Church occasions like receiving certain sacraments (Reconciliation, Holy Communion and Confirmation) are built into the school calendar. My son's first communion was one such occasion. For those of you non-Catholics out there we take communion every time we can get it (some people attend daily Mass, others like my family and I attend Sunday service). And Church doctrine states that the priest actually transforms the host and wine into the Body and Blood of Jesus. So receiving the sacrament of communion for the first time is kind of a big deal. The boys get dressed up and the girls, well, they look like little brides dressed all in white, veils and all.

Evan's first communion was last Saturday.

And my mother blew it off for a singing competition.

A few months ago my mom asked me when Evan's first communion would be held. I told her it had been on the school calendar since August and was scheduled for Saturday, April 25th.

"Oh, well, I won't be there. That's Sweet Adelines competition," she said.

What?

At the time I was too gobsmacked to say anything. I figured she'd see how ludicrous she was being to ditch her only grandson's big day for her singing group's competition.

Nope.

My mother's been singing with the cult of Sweet Adelines for about a decade or so. At first my sister and I thought it was great: it gave her a hobby, kept her off the streets. Her favorite aunt, Dottie, was a director for an internationally-known Sweet Adelines group and I think this is where my mom got the idea. Music has always been part of her life and I'm happy that she found an outlet for her creativity.

But now it's a bit too much. Sweet Adelines has slowly, but surely taken over her life and totally brainwashed her. I don't know, maybe she's been hypnotized by glare coming off all the sequins on their spangly costumes. I mean, really, choosing the choir over family just pisses me off. And I even tried to enlist the aid of one of my mom's friends, a teacher at my children's school and fellow Sweet Adeliner. "Mrs. W, I need your help. Could you tell my mom that first communion is more important than competition?" I asked her at lunch one day. Wanna know what she told me? "Take pictures." Yeah, this from a Catholic school teacher! See? Cult.

And Evan was let down that one of his grandmothers wasn't there. "Doesn't she know that family's more important than things?" he asked me in the car on the way home from school one day. I told him I agreed wholeheartedly with him and that he should take it up with his grandmother.

But even though Evan was disappointed in his Nana, he was happy the rest of our family was there for him: my mother-in-law, sister-in-law and her family drove down from Chicago and Frank's cousin and her family were in town for the Science Olympiad state finals and were represented by their oldest daughter (their son was competing), my sister and her family were there as well as my step-brother and his family (including my new niece, 4-week-old Nicole).

Evan looked rather dashing in his suit and signature red bow-tie. My mother-in-law does not throw things away. Case in point: she still had the suit Frank wore for his first communion. Evan wore it, too. He looked straight outta '78 in his 3-piece Pierre Cardin blue polyester suit. The pants were a little too flared for my personal taste, but Evan was happy. "Three-piece suits aren't in vogue anymore?" Frank asked.

Uh, no. I tried to get Evan to pose like John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever, but he wouldn't.

My son's first communion went very well, though he said afterwards, "The communion wine tastes horrible!" (and he was very relieved to hear that he does not have to drink it every Sunday).


So we're good until the next big deal: Flynn's first communion in two years. And you know she'll be all kinds of decked out.

I'm hoping there won't be a Sweet Adelines competition scheduled for that weekend as well.

21 April 2009

Perfect for Decompressing



My favorite disc to chill out to lately is Andrew Bird's Noble Beast. This song, "Oh No", is the first track and sets the mellow, yet incredibly musical vibe for the thirteen songs to follow. Bird plays a variety of instruments on this compilation including the a masterful guitar and violin.

He's also an expert whistler.

Kick back, relax and enjoy this live version, the best of the lot to choose from on YouTube.

17 April 2009

Owly, The Cutest Owl In The World


I know it's super-duper gorgeous outside today, but take a moment and read my review of Andy Runton's Owly comic over at The Full Mommy, OK? OK.

16 April 2009

Because The Sun Is Shining



A little fun Fred Schneider for a sunny Spring day. I love this song, "Monster", from Fred's solo album Fred Schneider and the Shake Society. Kate Pierson, also of The B-52's, sings on four of the album's tracks (including this one). That's her in the video, too, and Tina Weymouth of The Talking Heads makes an appearance as well.

This song hearkens back to my college days and maybe I'm a little nostalgic lately because I'm in the midst of compiling mix discs for a reunion coming up in a couple of weeks.

So. much. fun.

Get up and dance.

If this fails to make you shake your booty, notify your next of kin because I'm afraid you are dead.

13 April 2009

Q: Wanna Know What's Torture?

A: Going to Chicago's Brookfield Zoo on a glorious, sunny Saturday afternoon and leaving the camera at home.

Yep, we traveled north to my mother-in-law's home Friday evening and as we merged onto I-57 I remembered the camera. Everything else was packed: Easter goodies for the kinder (my 2 plus 2 nieces and 2 cousins), clothes (except I forgot dress socks for Evan), birthday gifts for my sister-in-law, and the assorted flotsam and jetsam that comes along for the ride (Evan and Flynn's blankies, stuffed animals, pillows, etc.). Everything except the camera, the one item I almost always bring.

Bugger.

So instead of viewing what were sure to be awesome photos, you'll have to use your imaginations.

And of course the polar bears were surprisingly active, as were the gorilla babies (chasing each other all over their environment, one running back to its mother when the play got a little too rough - my mother-in-law and I could've watched them all day), a tiny cotton-top tamarin was not six feet from me, just hanging out on a branch over the path through the primate exhibit. He was so cool, chirping away at his admirers. A grizzly bear was curled up asleep next to the window looking into his open-air enclosure. He was hugging a traffic cone.

I tried not to agonize over the missed photo opportunities.

We also walked through the new dinosaur exhibit, Dinos Alive!. It had just opened last weekend and displayed 18 animatronic dinos ranging in size from a massive Ruyang Yellow River dino to the smallish Baryonyx. My little boy was in dinosaur heaven. Flynn, not so much, but afterwards proclaimed to have enjoyed it. Evan was disappointed there was no Velociraptor, but quickly got over it and LOVED walking down the path through the robot dino habitats, four of which zoogoers were allowed to manipulate from interactive remote-control panels. I wish I had a picture of Evan working the Allosaurus controls. Or one of the look on his face as he triggered the motion sensor on the Baryonyx. He must have jumped a foot into the air as the puppet moved and growled.

Gah.

I think I need to leave a camera in the car at all times.

07 April 2009

Film Review: The Tale of Despereaux

Find out what I thought of the DVD version of The Tale of Despereaux here.

06 April 2009

Maybe Just One More

I was with the 4th graders again today and will be with them tomorrow as well. Generally, I enjoy my days with them; they're smart and funny, though at times I could staple their butts to their chairs and put tape over their mouths.

Today during reading class we were discussing "judgments" and "decisions." In their text book was this still from Charlie Chaplin's classic 1939 film Modern Times:
We were discussing man's role with machinery/technology and I told them a little about 1930's American life. Echoing my previous experience, one kid pipes up with "Were you there?"

I was temporarily speechless then 20 other 9-year-olds jumped to my defense. "She's not that old!", "She's young!", "You never ask a woman about her age or her weight. Don't you know anything?" Then they wanted to know what my age is. I told them. I have nothing to hide.

One little boy said, "39? No way. I thought you were 27."

I now want to adopt this precious, precious child.

05 April 2009

An Interesting Mental Image To Say The Least

Yesterday, the family and I bundled into the car and headed out to do some plant shopping. Well, it was more like window shopping since we weren't planning on buying anything; just getting ideas for when we have the time, like in May, when we can put things in the ground.

As we're heading north on Staley Road, we passed a construction site.

Evan pipes up with, "Hey, look! It's a portal potty."

Frank said, "Yeah. It's called the T.U.R.D.I.S."

31 March 2009

The Dare

I overheard this on the way home from school:

Evan: Flynn, I dare you to say weenis.

Flynn: NO! No, Evan, I don't want to say that word.

Evan: I dare you to say it. Say weenis.

Flynn: No. way.

This from the children who never shut up about penis this and penis that. It's penis, penis, penis around here from those two.

But weenis makes me laugh out loud.

30 March 2009

"Benign" Is A Beautiful Word

The beginning of last week was a little fraught with stress, what with my biopsy and all. I tried to push the lurking anxiety out of my brain by keeping the kids busy (playing at the indoor playground, a trip to Bloomington on Friday to the Children's Museum). The end of the week brought me good news: a) the blood work I had done the previous week showed that my thyroid is functioning normally (with the help of my daily dose of thyroid hormone) and b) the biopsy results tell that the nodule is benign and consistent with my current diagnosis of Hashimoto'sThyroiditis.

Whew.

How do I know these things when I'm not even scheduled to see my doctor until tomorrow morning?

The U.S. Postal Service.

Yep, the hospital mailed my test results to me.

When I mentioned this to some friends on Facebook a couple of them took umbrage with the impersonal-ness of the mail. Why couldn't the hospital call me with the results, my friends asked? I'm sure there are people out there who need their doctor to call them and hold their hand. I am not one of those people. And my doctor knows that. He's been my doctor since I was 12 (my pediatrician retired and Dr. D was just starting his practice). Tsk-tsking the medical community is not something I normally do. Doctors and nurses have enough to do, have tons of patients to squeeze into appointment-filled days, that I'd rather they spend the time with their patients that need them than ring me up to tell me everything's OK. Frankly, I'm just happy I got the notice in the mail. I don't care if they call me or not. Actually, I think I'd be more concerned if they did call.

And it unsettled me a little when the day after my biopsy, some very nice lady from the radiology department called me to see if I'd had any side-effects (bleeding, bruising, etc.). I told her that I was fine aside from a little tenderness at the injection site, I was strangely bruise-free (I bruise quite easily so I'm surprised I wasn't sporting a purple contusion the size of a nickle. That tells you how good the doctor was.). After I hung up, I thought, "That was nice that they called. And a little weird." What that says about me, I don't know.

So I'm A-OK.

Happy dance time (a little Fred & Ginger's in order):

23 March 2009

Nothing Says Fun Like A Needle In The Neck

Because I have a thyroid condition (an auto-immune disorder called Hashimoto's Thyroiditis), I see my doctor once a year for a check-up. He palpitates my thyroid, orders up some blood work and I go on my merry way. Last September, Dr. D. wraps his hands around my neck, asks me to swallow some water then says, "Hm, I think I felt something there. I'm going to order an ultrasound just to make sure everything's OK." One sonogram and a couple of days later I'm on the phone with his nurse who told me that there was something on my thyroid, we'll keep an eye on it and do a follow-up in March.

It's March.

Last week I had my follow-up sonogram and the radiologist who read it found a nodule that was large enough to warrant a biopsy. Now, from my independent research (which mainly involved Googling "thyroid nodule") I gleaned that nodules are fairly commonplace and most are not malignant. That did little to calm my nerves and I'm very thankful to my friends who talked me down from a bit of a freak out, because you know the first thing my mind went to after hearing the word biopsy was cancer: "Don't freak out." It doesn't sound like much, but it helped immensely.

Today was my biopsy.

I was scheduled to have it done at 2:30. I walked into the exam room at 3:30. It wasn't so much that I had to wait an hour that kind of ticked me off, but that I a) had the kids with me and b) Frank took off work to watch the kids during my procedure. Luckily, there was a TV on in the waiting room tuned to the Disney Channel and Evan had brought his DS with. But still.

The sonographer took some more grainy pictures of my thyroid and then we waited for the radiologist to come work his needle mojo. Dr. B., was warm, friendly and very thorough. He told me exactly what he was going to do, what it would feel like and what to expect afterward. I like that. I appreciated being treated like an adult with a brain in her head, not some stupid moron who has no clue about anatomy or how a microscope works. So he numbed me up with a local anesthetic, then went deeper with another. That stuff works lightning fast because I couldn't feel anything as he used a fine-needle syringe to cull the cells from my little thyroidal hitchhiker.

A cytologist was also in the room with her microscope and she prepared a slide of my cells making sure Dr. B. got enough. He had to do a second pass to get the correct amount. Then they cleaned me up and sent me out (at this point it was well after 4:00).

So now I just play the waiting game until next week when I meet with my doctor to discuss today's results.

And if you happen to see me out and about over the next few days, I'll most likely have a lovely bruise on my neck. Pretty.

19 March 2009

Age Is Relative

So I spent yesterday teaching 4th grade. I've been with this class several times and have always enjoyed my days with them. They are a good group of 9- and 10-year-olds, if not an excessively chatty and antsy bunch.

During reading class we were grading their workbook page, which had to do with a story they'd read the day before about the famous baseball player, Jackie Robinson.

These kids have no frame of reference for the significance of Jackie Robinson's inclusion in the major leagues (he was the first African American to play major league baseball, playing when Jim Crow laws were still on the books across the country and Civil Rights was roughly 20 years away).

To help them put the story in historical context, I told them about what life was like during the pre-Civil Rights era. What I know is what I've learned from watching documentaries and reading about early-to-mid-20th century American history.

"Mrs. M.," asked one student, "were you around when this happened?"

What?

"Uh, no." I replied. "I'm not that old."

17 March 2009

Beautiful Music For A Beautiful Day



Good God, how I love the totally fabulous Miss Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings! I came across this band on Amazon while I was searching for free music downloads. Their song, "100 Days, 100 Nights", from the album of the same name blew me away and I had to have more, more, more. Theirs is a seamless blend funk, soul, and rhythm and blues.

And if Aretha Franklin is the Queen of Soul, then Sharon Jones is the heir apparent. Her voice. Gah. So. damn. amazing. This is music that touches your soul. Amy Winehouse, Duffy, Adele even, pay attention and listen up.

Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings sound like they just stepped out of the 1960's and their videos tend to reinforce that (love the art direction, the grainy quality to the film and the cross-fades), but make no mistake about it, they are contemporary artists.

So, enjoy their song, "Tell Me". In it I hear echoes of Stevie Wonder's "Uptight (Everything's Alright)", which makes this song just that much better.

14 March 2009

Derby Day

After three weeks of preparation, planning and building the Big Day had arrived: our first Pinewood Derby.

For those of you unfamiliar in the ways of Scouting, the Pinewood Derby allows Boy Scouts (and their siblings) a chance to design and build their very own race car. Out of a block of wood. It's the highlight of the Boy Scout calendar and is kind of a big deal.

In January, Evan was given his kit which contained a small block of Pine wood, 4 wheels, and 4 nails to be used as axles. The cars, when finished, must all be within a specified length and weight limit (a mere 5 ounces).

Of course, Star Wars fan that he is, Evan wanted to build a speeder bike (as seen in Episode VI, Return of The Jedi). So Frank and Evan got down to business. Evan did the majority of the woodwork and the painting (he did get some help from his dad with the tricky bits like the handlebars). I helped with the bedroll on the back (felt & hot glue) and the Imperial Scout Trooper's kerchief (quite possibly the rattiest looking Boy Scout kerchief in existence, but it did the job).

Evan chose not to race his car, but wanted only to enter it in the design competition. He received a certificate for 1st place in Best Detailing.

Personally, I think he deserved to win a trophy for Originality (and I'm not just saying that because I'm his mom and I know how very hard he worked on his car). I don't know how the judges scored the entries or if they even bothered with the cars that didn't race (Evan's and one other one that looked like a Mario Kart, complete with Mario which looked awesome).


Maybe the judges didn't believe Evan did the work himself? I dunno. What I do know is that he's rather disappointed that he didn't get a trophy and two of his friends did. But he'll get over it.

He's already planning for next year's car.

13 March 2009

Ch-ch-ch-check It Out

My first post for The Full Mommy, reviewing the "Easy Times" CD.

Pretty darn cool, if I may say so myself.

11 March 2009

Mushrooms!

About a month ago, Sarah over at Color Kitten documented, in a series of posts, her experience of growing mushrooms indoors. From a kit she bought online. I thought this was a super-cool idea and that the kids would get a kick out of this. Once again, she inspired me and I followed her lead and ordered my own little kit from Fungi Perfecti.

The kids were enthralled with the idea of growing mushrooms we could harvest and eat within a couple of weeks. Well, Evan thought it would be cool to eat the mushrooms. Flynn, not so much.

Not long after I place my order, my Enokitake colony arrived snugly wrapped in plastic and nestled in its own blend of sterilized, enriched sawdust. We followed the directions and within a week we had these baby mushrooms:

"Oh, Mommy! They're sooooo cute!" said Flynn.

These mushrooms grow best in cold temperatures and I didn't have room in my fridge, as recommended in the growing directions, so I left them in my garage and misted them with water two times a day.

This is what they looked like today, a week later, just before we harvested them:You can see little baby ones at the base.

I've never cooked Enokitake mushrooms before and next time I think I'll leave them raw (the way Evan prefers them) and add them as a garnish to a miso soup. Tonight I just sauteed them in a little butter, olive oil and garlic. They tasted fine, but think they'd fare better with gentler treatment.

And, to my amazement, Flynn actually ate one, teeny, tiny mushroom. After she'd chewed and swallowed, she said she'd rather just hold the mushroom.

Evan wants to try a different type of mushroom next time.

Maybe the Shiitake...mmmmm.

06 March 2009

Because I Need A Laugh

Frank took the day off today so we could see the new, long awaited movie, The Watchmen. We went out for breakfast then took in the 10:30 show.

It's been a long time since I've read the Alan Moore-Dave Gibbons landmark graphic novel and I think the film is faithful to its origins (the comic's better) but some of the performances were a little flat and that may have been due to the script, which I thought was pretty lackluster. The best performance of the bunch was that of Jackie Earl Haley as Rorschach. Excellent. Some of the dialogue was a little stilted and not very genuine (it reads better on paper - some of the lines were lifted directly from the comic). It's very, very dark, gritty, grimy, and bloody. It was a little much for me, but Frank really liked it.

"That was the comic book movie equivalent of The Lord of The Rings," said Frank commenting on the movie's length.

After nearly 3 hours of superhero gore I need something funny.

So in homage to LOTR, I give you Flight of The Conchords' "Frodo, Don't Wear The Ring". Which is even funnier because Bret McKenzie (one of the Conchords) played an elf in LOTR, The Fellowship of The Ring and The Return of The King.

05 March 2009

Back Among The Living

After being pretty much bed-ridden for the past two days, I can safely say it's good to be up and around again. Man, that cold was/is wicked bad and knocked me on my ass, messed with my sleep and generally made my life miserable.

Today, I feel much better. My energy has returned, if not to my regular level then it's nearly there. I can breathe (with the help of Mucinex D) and I slept much better last night than the previous two.

And while I felt close to my regular self, I didn't overdo it: no gym, no vigorous housework. All I did was clean up my vapor trail of dirty Kleenex in my bedroom and the family room and allow myself to become engrossed in an America's Next Top Model marathon on Bravo.

We can resume our regular schedule of after-school activities, from which we've been absent for the past week and a half.

Tomorrow is a franknmisc day: Frank's taking the day off work and we're going to see the new Watchmen movie and hang out together while the kids are at school.

I'm happy to be back, but I'm wondering when Evan will come down with the ick.

Hopefully, not tomorrow. Or ever.