Lyrical Laughs

Saturday, May 25, 2013

There is Crafty, and Then There is Me

It has been raining just about the whole week. Much more and I’ll be able to just pour laundry detergent down the steps onto the cellar floor and let the piles of clothes wash themselves. We can’t do yard work and I am not a shopper. What does that leave? Crafts, right? Pulling out some fabric, maybe a little scrapbooking, getting really crazy and painting a picture frame. Stop. Right. There.

Remember when you were in elementary school and there were so many fun activities to look forward to? For instance, Arts & Crafts. Weren’t you so excited to get to that time of the day where you actually had permission to dive into multi-colored paper and glue and scissors? Here’s the first clue that Arts & Crafts was not a fun time for me. I am left-handed. Oh yeah. I have flashbacks of my five-year-old frustrated grip on unrelenting purple or red rubber handles, attempting to hold a carefully selected section of thick construction paper in my right hand and make a reasonably normal cut with those pieces of mystery metal slapped together with a fake screw and primed with sand. It was the time in my life when I learned to growl.

At such a young age I wasn’t aware that this was the first sign of having not one craft gene. I mean none, nada, zero, zilch. My sister got it all. She is that combination of Martha Stewart and MacGyver (or Jack Bauer if you're born after 1990) that can transform a few staples, thread, rolled up newspaper and a piece of toast into the perfect Christmas present. She paints, sews, makes jewelry, and her house is in constant rotation to stylishly fit the season.

I have candles.

Volunteering without a clue

Right now this whole non-crafty thing is being drilled even more into my head since, during a moment of weakness (insanity), I volunteered to work on decorations for YK’s upcoming final senior celebration. Decorations. What was I thinking?? Ask me to whip up a steaming pan of irresistible lasagna and I’m your girl. Put paper, scissors and directions in front of me and I start to hyperventilate. What’s the opposite of symmetrical and straight? Oh, right – every craft I have ever tried to finish.

Like any well thought out big project with a definite deadline, we now have just a few days left to transform cardboard and glitter into grandeur. As you can imagine, nobody is counting on me to pull it all together. I am perfectly capable of punching out holes (perforated – don’t make me have to cut something out raw) and taping separate pieces of material (with clearly measured lines) together. Or I can go get lunch for everyone - that would probably be better.

The thing is, I am volunteering with a friend and also mom of a high school senior whose entire family is crafty. And they all sing together. Picture the Von Trapp family with their own DIY show. So it is pathetically easy for me to appear hopelessly lost. Which I technically am. Much of my effort in this project has been to act like I know what this friend is talking about when she reads part of the directions and then says, “Oh, I get it now. We attach this section here and then flip this part over. See, they’re showing this section upside down because we have to <zzzzzzzzzzz> and we’ll be done!” I nod my head as if I absorbed every detail and am picturing seven sections coming together like a giant jigsaw puzzle, resulting in a cardboard masterpiece. The truth is, there is at least one missing piece in my opinion, and that’s the one that reads “Open box, press button, step back during automated assembly process.”

Step away from the glitter, mom

When my daughters were very young (and non-judgmental) they loved to have me sit down with them to color and glue and throw sparkle around. As years went by and they could determine the difference between Mommy crafting along with them and Mommy spending most of the time scraping up the error of her gluing ways from the kitchen table, or picking up the box of toothpicks her elbow relocated to the floor, they sort of stopped asking. This defect of mine did not spread to them, thankfully. We didn't always recognize which animal they had molded in art class and proudly brought home to display, but they managed to get through school without burning down the woodworking class or baking a hole into a wall of the home ec room (now labeled something like “family and consumer science” which sounds even scarier). Today both girls are creative, confident young women who did not inherit my aversion to measuring tape and glue guns.

Because I want to better myself (and because it's too late to wrangle anyone else into doing this) I hope this week to establish that a craft I am working on will end up looking like it’s supposed to look… mainly because I am the directee and not the director, and then only under strict supervision. In all sincerity, I am enjoying being a part of this project in a don’t-leave-me-alone-with-this-diagram way. It’s a kick to help with my baby girl’s last blowout before graduation, knowing her class will have a great time on the night of the festivities and all the decorations will be worth it. This, however, is anything but the beginning of my foray into embossing, snipping, stamping, or collaging. Having owned that, I was completely unprepared for one thing.

Can’t we just give blood?

I recently (five hours ago) attended a 50th birthday party for none other than Mrs. Von Trapp DIY. It was much fun and good food, lots of laughing and reminiscing over family photos. We were just relaxing and talking about kids and jobs and life in general… when there was an announcement from one of her children that almost sent me screaming into the ladies' room.

“All right, everybody, make sure you do your scrapbook page before you leave.”

Are you kidding me?????

My palms began to sweat. People were staring at me, I was sure of it - my reputation having spread through town over the years as the uncrafty mom. I suddenly wondered why I was not drinking wine. Wine might have helped me power through this intimidating activity, and it would also be the perfect excuse for why the end result was so bad. But it was too late, that ship had sailed and all I had was ice water to clutch. Not even a slice of lemon swirling around.

I walked up to the table covered with sticky jewel shapes, photos and cards with sayings to cut out and glue (with a glue stick – I could handle a glue stick) and a book of crafting paper. Genuinely crafty people were clipping out shapes and sayings and framing their paper, color coordinating and effortlessly stick gluing and tossing about their fake jewel flowers - which naturally fell onto the page in perfect symmetry. My head began to spin. There were at least four others around the table at the time so I slipped quietly away in the hopes that everyone else would make enough so my friend wouldn’t care if I didn't. Eventually it cleared out and I felt guilty for thinking only of myself and my own perfectly warranted fears. It was time to think out of the box… as long as I didn’t have to neatly fold it up afterward.

Take deep breaths – but not into the glue stick

Leaving S to talk with other husbands about beer or something, I strode with purpose to the craft table, bound and determined not to leave until I had conceived a decent representation of this birthday celebration. With photo chosen and (thank you, craft gods) perforated crafting paper successfully removed from the book (from past experiences, I know better than anyone that “perforated” is in no way a guarantee), I started the search for the perfect combination of happy and birthday. The final result is not as frightening - or even as crooked - as I feared it would be, as you will see from the picture. There is now the tiniest shred of hope that I could enter Michael’s Crafts and not be asked to leave, or sign up for the Sea Glass Mosaics class at Adult Ed (sea glass is rounded and probably perfectly safe) and not have my name flagged to notify the registrar to send me a “class full” notice. I could volunteer on parade floats and 250-year-old neighboring town celebrations!

I’ll probably just bring lasagna.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Coffee, Compromise, and the Art of Using Vengeance to Ensure Marital Bliss

Whadya Know - She’s a My Birthday Too*

I recently celebrated a birthday, smack dab in between our anniversary (29 years – a feat that has shocked many) and Mother’s Day. I sure know how to plan ‘em. My demands – excuse me – my requests were simple: Shower me with lavish gifts and a spectacular dinner and remind me that I don’t look a day over the sound of, “Mommy, I have to go potty.”

All (most) kidding aside, my only real request was to please not make me have to do anything about dinner.  We ordered takeout, and I didn’t even have to pick it up. I did, however, have to bring our sick dog (who spent the whole trip making I’m-going-to-vomit noises in the back seat) to the vet… after throwing laundry in.  It’s not that I minded doing anything. Really, I could have included a request for laundry to be done, and even for the coffee to be set up for the next morning. I just didn’t think it out carefully, and so it got done - by me. The problem, though S might disagree, is that I stink at making demands.

I do, however, have vengeance down to a science.

Do Not Try This At Home

Take certain scenarios with S, for example.  Once in a while he manages to ‘forget’ that he will not win an argument he started with me. Note the words “he started” – because you know if a woman (an Italian woman at that) is put on the defensive, there is the possibility that flailing arms will knock someone out cold. You should probably tack on “in the morning” because for some reason he will, on that rare occasion, have some sort of a brain lapse or something and think he’s going to start my morning off with negative vibes.

I am a morning person. I don’t do “negative” in the morning.  I’m in my groove, my element, my happy place. He should know after all these years to never, ever screw with that.

Have I mentioned how important coffee is to S in the morning? Vitally important. Knowing the little timer is set to start the brewing as he showers, preparing the heady flavor of chocolate cappuccino or blueberry that is his official wake up call, is his motivation for getting out of bed. We set up the coffee pot the night before with enough so he can fill up his travel mug for the drive to work. Unless, of course, he ticks me off before we leave in the morning.

I will cite a perfect example that is still fresh in my mind – and most likely his. Let me preface this with a disclaimer: This account of my actions in no way represents the proper or most effective way to handle such a scenario, and will not guarantee similar results. So don’t come crying to me if the end result is not a Hallmark moment, or even a Lucy and Ricky moment.

It was approximately 6:35 a.m. on a typical workday. I was preparing my lunch… or maybe feeding the animals… possibly just standing in the kitchen wondering if I had a clean shirt to wear – that’s not the point, it was my morning time. When suddenly there was an assault, a veritable spewing of verbal negativity on my person over The Cup. The Cup is S’s sacred plastic, worn white vessel with a flimsy red cover that he uses each morning to mix and drink his daily fiber (he is nothing if not regular). By his dramatic (loud) account, it had been “buried” so far down in the four inch deep (oh yes, honey, I did measure it) sink strainer that he had to dig and dig which caused too much noise and this was not acceptable and people (I believe he knew identifying which of the two other people in the house would have been the nail in the coffin) need to make sure The Cup is conveniently placed from now on. Having vented and now feeling oh so much better, S proceeded to make his way down the hall to get dressed, leaving me in the wake of his wrath. Alone with the coffee pot.

You can see where this is going, right?

As luck (for him, trust me on this) would have it, we were not carpooling that day. Just before 7 a.m., S came flying into the kitchen for the typical last minute scramble for “food, phone, keys and coffee.” Ah, yes. Coffee. He quickly rinsed out his travel mug (which he leaves every day on the counter as if it will magically be cleaned and ready for use the next morning) and lifted the coffee pot to pour his beloved beverage. Wait. What’s this? How is it that there is barely half a cup o’ joe left for me to sip on my travels, his facial spasm indicated.

Then he turned and caught my expression, as I stood by the fridge with a small grin, sipping my second full cup. His face said it all. So did mine.  A flustered, quick rant as he rushed out the door with barely enough coffee in his silver travel mug to make it worth taking, and it was over. For the moment.

Better Safe And Sorry

Sometime later that morning while at work I received a text – something along the lines of “Are we still married?” I couldn’t help but smile, knowing he saw the error of his ways, which was simply to not screw with my morning. There was a brief exchange of comical messages and the matter was put to rest… or so he unwittingly believed. There was still one part of this issue to be dealt with.

That evening we sat together and had a very amicable conversation over dinner. This seemed like a good time to make an announcement. Though the words were not as formal, the meaning was basically this: I hereby decree that You (S) shall, here on in, be responsible for the cleansing and strainer placement of The Cup, and shall under no circumstances place blame for the location or condition of The Cup on any other person or persons in this residence.

The Decree took effect immediately with no further discussion. Since then The Cup has been washed and placed in the strainer after each use, usually on an easily accessible side, for the next morning. Now whenever there is a coffee shortage in the morning for some inexplicable reason (our coffee maker sometimes has a mind of its own... and sometimes I don't have my glasses on when I'm looking for the cup indicator line), S will replay the last 24 hours in his head to try and recall if there was some sort of breach that would cause me to be thirstier than usual. It’s kind of a fun twist.

I will end with my humble (yet unwavering) opinion. I believe the trick to surviving those pesky little issues that crop up in any marriage is to face them head on with love and respect, a strong sense of humor, and an occasional dose of “Oh, no you didn’t,” infused with some incentive for quickly making things right.

Like coffee.

*If you do not understand this reference you most likely don’t know there wasn’t always color television, and you probably also wouldn’t get a Vitameatavegamin reference. I feel sorry for you.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

In my daughters' eyes

Because it is Mothers’ Day and I have just gotten home from a trip to Connecticut to visit my own mom this weekend, this will be short and sweet. All right then, short. Probably.

This is very likely my last Mother’s Day with the guarantee of seeing at least one child. Only a few short weeks from now, YK will be graduating from high school, eager to shed the training wheels of her high school experience and venture into the unknown at a college. Eight hours away. OK can’t exactly ‘stop by’ for a visit from Philly to Maine. After 24 years, this day is bound to change.

Every so often S will be foolish enough to bring up the fact that it will be “just the two of us” very soon. He tends to do so when he is not within head slapping range, as he is acutely aware this is a sensitive subject for me and one I have yet to fully embrace. Still, I will admit to a small sense of excitement at preparing for our own “unknown” down the road.  I’m learning maybe it’s all right to feel that way if you believe in your heart you’ve done it right. Not necessarily always the best way, but as right as you could get it without an instruction manual.

It would be a lie to say that I didn’t keep a steady count of the 50 times I had to rub OK’s back every night before she would even attempt to sleep, or that I wasn’t more-than-ready to be done with singing the chorus of “It’s A Great Day To Be Alive” (does anyone reading this even know who Travis Tritt is?) for the 12th time with YK on any car ride longer than 5 minutes. The Great Shopping Cart Debacle and The Longest Ride Ever To Preschool - both vignettes about the worst days in the lives of my then three-year-olds (which they loved having retold when they hit their teens) – were not humorous at the time.  Looking back on those moments, they somehow make me feel complete.

Being a mom has offered a plethora of inconsistencies. It is rewarding and exasperating, a broad learning experience as well as a lesson in futility, memorably sweet and mentally exhausting. It was a shock to me in the beginning that watching the nightly news was too overwhelming once I was holding a week old baby in my inexperienced arms – so many horrible things happening in this world, how dare I bring a helpless child into it? Then it got even harder. Over their school years, not only did they glean much from teachers’ notes on the board in school, both faced some very harsh lessons from their peers. I am sure there were things I never knew, mini traumas I was not privy to because I would transform into Mama Bear ready to pounce on whoever upset my child. Letting them settle their own differences was truly a difficult lesson for me to learn.

There has been much written about a mother’s love for her child. Not to sound like a downer, but I think my words might be more about how heart-wrenching motherhood can be.  A child, no matter what age, can instill fear and worry you did not know you could feel, just by being five minutes late. As a teen that same child will quite possibly see you as a blithering idiot who can barely contain their own drool. If you’re lucky you will start to recover some brain activity when they are about 22.

The reality is this. That kid you burped and kept clean as an infant, sat in a steam-filled bathroom holding when they had croup as a toddler, ‘assisted’ with school projects the night before they were due and helped find the right gift for a friend whose party you didn’t know they were invited to (on the way to the party) in middle school, drove everywhere, and eventually handed the car keys to with a touch of both trepidation and relief, will most likely break your heart into a billion tiny shards at the same time you hug them and send them on their way. Then they will walk out the kitchen door to their next adventure with your blessing, less and less likely to use the spare house key as time moves on. But a part of you will still wait up.

I haven't always gotten it right, but my daughters still make me feel beautiful and awesome. It wasn't always perfect... but every moment, every back rub, every song, will always be perfectly mine to cherish.

Happy Mother’s Day.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Are we anywhere near there yet?

For your reading pleasure

It has been a while, so I will provide a “key” to the following abbreviations:
S = Spouse (usually)
OK = Oldest Kid
YK = Youngest Kid
There, now you are all (more like both) caught up.

Before the fun began…
The first part of this blog is a tribute to a member of our family that we recently lost – our cat Reeses. She came to us through an animal shelter 13 years ago as a tiny ten-week-old ball of tortoiseshell fur.  She looked like peanut butter and chocolate rolled together.

Reeses was to be OK’s cat. However, being a true “scaredy cat,” she wasn’t much for being held by a then 11-year-old. Eventually she chose S as her target. Person, I mean. He moved slower than OK and sat for extended periods of time watching cartoons. Harmless enough. She claimed her stake in between our pillows at the start of each night, but eventually would persuade (harass) S into letting her slip under the covers and sleep on his arm. Occasionally that meant he would wake up to claw marks in his head if he moved too much, or – heaven forbid – sneeze.

Reeses was terrified of her own shadow and begrudgingly tolerant of the other pets in the house. She made a habit of taunting us during meals as she sat atop the opening between the kitchen and living room, yanking her fur out while we ate, until one of us (usually me) would get so tired of watching her grow a beard that we (I) would get up, de-fur her yap and (gently, for fear of retribution) remove her from her post.

It wasn’t until close to the end that Reeses began warming up to the rest of the family. I mean this literally – I think she was losing body heat and just wanted to be warm. It frightened YK and me a little, not knowing if she would abruptly change her mind and rip our eyes out when she climbed onto us. Looking back, maybe that was her way of saying, “Before I leave, I just want you to know you are acceptable - as humans go.”

We had to say goodbye to her only a few days before going on the road. I think maybe that was a blessing, to be distracted and not home to ‘see’ her in her usual haunts.

We love her and we miss her. Sleep well on the arm of an unsuspecting angel, Reeses.

And away we go. And stop. And go.
Road trips. We’ve had more than our share of them this past year, what with visiting 15 colleges in YK’s pursuit of the perfect higher education setting, and seeing family. Pennsylvania will now be a semi-regular stop on our travel agenda since that is where YK will be for the next four years, and since OK hopped on a bus bound for Philadelphia (and her now fiancĂ©) a year and a half ago. She is thriving in the city life. I have no idea where this child came from.

 Road trips usually mean stories. Let’s start out with Pennsylvania. That is, let’s start out with our trip through Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York and Pennsylvania.  And back.

The purpose of this trip was YK’s second visit to a college where she had been accepted, for a weekend of events. The trip started out simple enough. We got on the road at a reasonable hour that Friday morning (i.e., before I had to threaten anyone), and it looked like there would be no issue with getting to the area within an hour of registration for that afternoon’s festivities. Plenty of time to stop at the hotel first and freshen up. Plenty of time.

Sometime around 3 p.m. we were cruising down I-84, when a thick gust of smoke smacked the windshield shortly after entering the state of Pennsylvania. Just to verify, the very observant teenage backseat driver announced, ‘Mom – smoke.” We pulled off to the side of the highway and S attempted to diagnose the problem. Trucks flew by at a pace that practically spun us around as we tried to hold our ground on a jagged slope while S stood staring at the car’s innards and YK and I just stood. We decided to try and limp to the next exit about a mile away.

As luck would have it, an employee at the quickie mart we pulled into was nice enough to come over and see if we needed any help. Let’s see… smoke pouring out of the hood, man on phone with a mechanic several states away, woman on phone telling someone they will be “late – I have no idea how late”, pacing teen. I would say yes. He then directed us to his mechanic right next door. I did have a momentary flashback to an I Love Lucy episode and was almost tempted to ask if the mechanic was also the mayor, fire chief and justice of the peace. It passed.

While S hovered around the garage waiting for the mechanic to diagnose the issue, YK and I relaxed – as much as we could with an impending deadline to reach our destination – in what had to be the most welcoming waiting room a mechanic has ever had. It was equipped with a television, sofa and comfortable chairs, and there was another room with a pool table. The office manager was the mechanic’s girlfriend and explained to us that she made clear her conditions for working there. Obviously, these conditions were met, and the many spouses/partners/children who might be subject to “the wait” would forever be appreciative.

End result: the transmission had decided to call it a day. I will say that the people who worked with us really went out of their way to try and get us back on the road, but it was not meant to be with this car. My Baby.  My radio-tuner-on-the-steering-wheel, special-sunglass-holder, first-sunroof-in-20-years Baby.

Does this thing take AA batteries?
We rented a car for the remainder of the trip. Wait, that’s not really accurate.  We rented a Toyota Yaris. It was seriously the only car available, and we were lucky (using the term loosely) we even got that, since we called after hours and just happened to get a wonderful employee who waited for us. That was where “seriously” ended. You know those cars you see in the circus that look like they barely fit 2 people in, and then 20 clowns get out? I do believe we could’ve rented the red noses and big shoes for a little extra.

After cramming the three of us and all our gear (including a sleeping bag, since YK would be spending the night on the floor of a dorm) into said… car… we hit the road for what was to be another almost 3 hours. Full-bore. I’m not kidding – I was driving, and nobody dared to ask how fast we were going, let alone if the wheels ever hit the ground. I’m not saying I was speeding. I was just… navigating with a goal. Got there in 2 hours and 20 minutes. Goal!

We made it after all programs had ended except for dinner, which was already in progress when we arrived.  So much for freshening up. We dragged our scruffy selves into the dining hall, our ‘good’ clothes now balled up in the back seat of the clown car. Nobody cared, they were just glad we made it at all. Wiped out from the trip, we settled down for the meal and what was left of the evening’s presentations. To our surprise – and YK’s glee – she ‘won’ a prize for the fact that it took us “twelve hours and two cars” to get there.  That made it all worth it, to have a shiny new mug with the school name (fortunately, the school she has chosen to attend) emblazoned on it! Definitely a comparative value to a transmission. Sigh.

It wasn’t until the next day when we realized we were driving around in something Mattel might have designed, as we parked at our hotel after Saturday’s events at the college. Just as S was about to get out, he uttered, “Oh My God.” It might have been a prayer that we had thus far managed to not be tossed off the road by a strong wind, but YK and I both jumped on it. He managed to blurt out, “One windshield wiper.” That was all it needed. And that was all it took for us to pretty much lose it. I did give the steering wheel a little pat between snickers, more out of pity than admiration. Thankfully, the car couldn’t tell the difference, and delivered us home scrunched but safe the next day.

Back in Maine we traded that car in for a real car – a Chevy Malibu with all the jazzy little features cars come with now. This required a lesson in how to turn on the lights and wipers (back to a car with two of them now) without ejecting anyone before we left the parking lot. We rode around in comfort for two more weeks. Baby vacationed without us in PA for two weeks. Renting a car for such a long period sort of felt like we were the Kardashians (only a small percentage of the two people who read this blog would get a “Rockefeller” reference), minus the burden of all that money. Oh yes, it’s always fun until somebody gets the bill.
You’re going where why?
We did go back to Pennsylvania the following weekend in the hopes of picking up Baby, but that was not to be. In the meantime we had a wonderful visit with OK and The Boy (a little nickname her fiancé has been honored (stuck) with since the beginning of their dating life). We also got to spend time with more family in New Jersey and Connecticut before heading home.

I only have this to say about the directions I printed off from Google Maps, and the GPS agreed with. Somewhere in California someone in an office with a whole wall of plate glass is drinking skim milk lattes and choosing your route. It’s not the easiest route and it’s not the safest. It just looks interesting when they plug in all the parameters, line their Tonka trucks up along the built-to-scale construction site that is known as The Bronx, and seek revenge for the hours they spend on whatever freeway they creep along on their way to the Mountain View, California office.

We live in Maine. We sweat when we spot the bridge into New Hampshire and tighten our seatbelts as we enter the Land of Don’t-Even-Think-About-Using-the-Passing-Lane, aka Massachusetts. Driving into New York construction – not a thing we endeavor to do with our own car. Even with a rental that, for all we knew of its magical powers, would uncover spikes on the tires if it felt surrounded, it was still Beyond Not Fun.

I Kissed a Car and I Liked It (“Baby” is back)
After what seemed like an eternity, S took a day off from work to make the drive to PA to retrieve our car – to the tune of $3,000 and then some. At the same time Baby was going through transmission transformation, our second car needed some work done. Always worry when the term “some work” comes into play. When it rains, it monsoons. Tack on almost another $1,000 and you are close to what those two weeks cost in dollars. Time is another whole area we can’t even begin to calculate.

Within minutes of seeing Baby’s return to our driveway, I was hugging the steering wheel.  It was like having a child come home. No, really – think about it. The only events revolving around kids that cost us $3,000 in one week were birth and college tuition. Baby is now right up there.

We remain home safe and sound until June, when college orientation begins. Until then, if you happen to rent a car that only requires one windshield wiper, you may want to check and see if it really comes equipped with an air bag – or just a cotton ball.