Thursday, January 30, 2014

The Carleton Test

Since Will and I missed our date last week on his birthday when Katie had pink eye, we enjoyed brunch together this morning before he had to go to work.  Katie was already in school, so it was just the two of us.  We ate at one of our favorite brunch places, Room 39 in Kansas City, Missouri.  Will had the Huevos Rancheros Burrito and I had the French Toast.  We both had coffee.  They roast it themselves.  It's sublime.

I keep telling myself some day I want to go there for just coffee and dessert, because they have an almond cake with whipped cream and fresh fruit I'd like to try, but dessert on top of French Toast is even too much for my sweet tooth.

After brunch, we crossed the street to Prospero's Books.  The shop has tons of unique finds.  Today I picked up this childrens' book for Katie.  It was published in 1942, just four years after my mom was born.

I'll have to show it to my mom and see if she remembers reading it as a child.  Wouldn't that be wild?

I haven't read it yet.  I like the title.  Fat people have become so demonized in our culture today, it's charming to see the words "nice" and "fat" used to describe the same character.  I'll let you know after Katie and I read it if it passes the fat-friendly test.

Hey, that's an idea.

You know how Alison Bechdel made up "The Bechdel Test" for movies?  Basically, a movie passes the Bechdel test if it has two named female characters who talk to each other about more than just a man.  Sadly, so many films do not pass the test.

I should invent the Carleton Test.  If a book passes The Carleton Test, that means it has at least one fat character who is not humiliated, teased, ridiculed, or harassed by any characters, him-or-herself included, in the book.

I have stopped reading too many books because they don't pass The Carleton Test.  I'll let you know if Raggedy Ann and Andy and the Nice Fat Policeman passes or not.

To be continued.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Reaction Video: #tfios Trailer

John Green asked Nerdfighters to upload reaction videos of themselves watching the trailer to the upcoming movie "The Fault In Our Stars" which is based on his novel.

Green is one of my favorite contemporary writers, educators, and decreasers of WorldSuck.  (If you would like to donate to John and Hank Green's project, The Foundation to Decrease WorldSuck, click here.)

I read The Fault In Our Stars about a year ago.  Here's my reaction to seeing the trailer:

Ta-dah!  The lighting is poor.  I'm in my robe.  The sun coming through the window behind me is blinding.  And my reaction is rather ho-hum to be honest with you.  It's certainly no sisters-freaking-out-over-the-new-Hobbit-film, that's for sure.  That's the best reaction video on YouTube.

I'm excited to share my video, nonetheless.  I did it in honor of John Green, my vlogbrother from another mother.  It's not fancy.  You get no adrenaline rush.  But it's me, being real.  Which is what I love so much about John Green's work.

Green is such an inspiration for living an artful life.  He celebrates the Four Aron Franks and the "absolute nobodies" better than anyone I know.  I'm thinking of having Green's answer to this Nerdfighter's question tattooed across my fingers so I can see it when I write:

Nerdfighter's Question: "I just read Franny and Zooey and I can't stop thinking about the quote 'I'm sick of not having the courage to be an absolute nobody.'  What do you think of that?"

John Green's Answer: "I think it takes tremendous courage to do things that are worth doing rather than, like, worrying over whether you're gonna be celebrated for having done them."

I can't wait to see the movie.  It's coming out June 6, 2014!  Update your calendars.  It'll certainly be a thing worth doing that day.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Rest in Peace, Pete Seeger

Pete Seeger died today.  Here's his obituary if you want details.  He was 94.  What an amazing soul.  Here's an awesome interview he did on Beliefnet.  If you don't have time to read the whole thing, here are my favorite quotes:

"I feel most spiritual when I’m out in the woods. I feel part of nature. Or looking up at the stars. [I used to say] I was an atheist. Now I say, it’s all according to your definition of God. According to my definition of God, I’m not an atheist. Because I think God is everything. Whenever I open my eyes I’m looking at God. Whenever I’m listening to something I’m listening to God."

"I’ve decided that if there’s a human race here in one hundred years, it will be because we learn how to participate with each other, even though we may disagree about many things.  I’ve often thought, standing onstage with 1000 people in front of me, that somebody over on my right had a great-great grandfather who was trying to kill the great-great grandfather of somebody off to my left. And here we are all singing together. And wouldn’t it surprise all those great-grandfathers if they could see their great-grandchildren  singing together? They’d probably say, 'Why did we fight so hard?' Good question!  We all go to different churches or no churches, we have different favorite foods, different ways of making love, different ways of doing all sorts of things, but there we’re all singing together. Gives you hope."

"When Toshi and I had our first child who died when it was only six months old, I was in the army, my father wrote me and said, 'I don’t think I could cheer you up in the usual way. But remember this, that something good that has happened can never be made to unhappen.' That’s a nice way of putting it, don’t you think? Something that has happened can never be made to unhappen."

-- Pete Seeger, "Pete Seeger's Session," Beliefnet interview by Wendy Schuman

Rest in peace, Pete Seeger.  What a stellar soul you are!

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Michael Getting Married

My ex-boyfriend, Michael, got married yesterday.  I found out about it on Facebook this morning.  One of Michael's friends shared some photos of the event.  I'm not friends with the guy who shared the photos, but since he tagged Michael in the photos, I guess, they showed up in my newsfeed.  I don't quite understand computer algorithms.

I don't quite understand human relationships either.  Relationships are so weird.  Our connections to others elicit such powerful emotions.  Here some stranger shared a photo of Michael and his bride and in that moment I first saw it I smiled and my heart swelled with joy.  Thanks, Stranger!

Which reminds me.  Back when Michael and I were dating, in the late Nineties when I was 28 and he was 26, I asked what his favorite book is.  Without hesitation he answered, "The Stranger by Camus".  And he pronounced it "Cam-oo" like you're supposed to, even.  I was wildly impressed with Michael's answer.  I'm sapiosexual by nature, so big brains turn me on.

I broke up with Michael because another person's big brain had captured my attention, and even though the love was unrequited, I felt like I was cheating on Michael by being in love with someone else while we were dating, and I'm just not a cheater, so I broke up with him.  He was such a nice guy.  And many times over the years after I left him, I questioned my decision.

Then I met Will and we got married and I know I made the right decision.  Sometimes, when you follow your heart and not your head (break up with a wonderful man because another man who cannot return your love is the one you can't stop thinking of) it works out.  The more I follow my intuition and not what society tells me is the right thing to do, the better choices I make.

When I saw the photos of my ex's wedding, instead of feeling jealous, I beamed.  I was so surprised.  Surprised at my joy for them and surprised at my lack of jealousy.  I hadn't known Michael was getting married.  He looks so happy.  They both look happy, and I don't even know her.  I love to see someone I love look happy, but this kind of feeling goes beyond the happiness you feel for someone you've once been intimate with.  When you see someone you don't know who has now married your ex boyfriend and she looks happy and your heart fills with joy, that's love.

I love my husband immensely.  I understand now what people who have been happily paired up mean when they call their partner their "better half".  I don't think single people are not whole.  I don't think a person has to be part of a romantic duo to attain happiness.  When I was single it annoyed me when someone called someone else their better half.  It sounded weak and vulnerable.  But now that I've been with Will for more than a decade it really does feel like we've blended and it doesn't creep me out to think of him as my better half.

And yet my love for my husband does not impede my love for others.  I vowed to remain loyal to my husband and I won't cheat on him.  I have no interest in a physical relationship with another person.  But I think it's healthy for me to admit my love for others.  Because love is not about being possessive.  Love really is about wanting what's best for others.

Because I love my ex-boyfriend Michael, I know I was not what was best for him.  I'm happy to see he has found someone who is. 

Music Snobs

Katie was taking a bath while I was putting away the laundry.  I'm too much of a helicopter parent to allow our seven-year-old to take a bath in privacy, so she had the door wide open.

I once read that people can drown if they fall asleep in as little as a puddle of water two inches deep, so I expect I'll be trying to accompany Katie to all her baths throughout her life--the public showers in college, the jacuzzi tub in her honeymoon suite, the physical therapy tub when she's in a nursing home.  I plan on not dying until Katie quits bathing.  I don't care how embarrassed she is or how much she begs for privacy.  The way I see it, a mother is responsible for her child's safety, not her sanity.  At least that's how I was raised.

"Mom, I don't wanna wear a cloth diaper over my face!" I'd whine.

"You cannot go outside to build a snow fort without covering your face!" Mom would say.

"But it's embarrassing.  None of the other kids' moms make them wear a cloth diaper over their face to play outside in the winter," I'd argue.

"You'll catch a cold if you breathe in that cold air!  Put on your diaper!" Mom would insist.

This conversation occurred last week, a couple of months after my 43rd birthday.

No, seriously, I'm grateful for Mom's crazy concern for my wellness.  I hope Katie grows to see my neurotic need to bubble wrap her as endearing and not suffocating.  So far, she doesn't seem to mind.

As Katie soaked in the tub, she sang a few pop songs by her favorite artists Katy Perry, Lorde, and someone else who I don't yet recognize.

I'm doing my best to keep up with her taste in music, but it's hard.  The more Katie listens to current pop music, the more I understand how my dad felt when he told me to turn that noise down in my bedroom when I still lived at home.  My dad's a music snob.  He's one of the biggest music lovers I've ever known, but he despises all music but "his music"--Big Band era jazz and swing.  The stuff that was popular when he was a teenager.

When he'd hear Morrissey singing, "Meat is Murder" from my bedroom, he couldn't relate.

"That's not music.  That's garbage.  I stopped listening to popular music when everyone started playing the guitar!  Ugh!  What an awful instrument!" Dad would rant when he'd hear Johnny Marr's jangle pop guitar playing in my room and Morrissey singing about "the flesh you so fancifully fry" along to the sound of animals being slaughtered in the background.

Dad's dad worked at a slaughterhouse until the day he died of a heart attack or alcohol poisoning, depending on who you ask, at the age of 48, twenty years before I was even born.  Dad worked in the same slaughterhouse for awhile before--Thank God--he got drafted and had to join the army during World War II and got the hell out of the slaughterhouse and into another frying pan, but at least it was a European frying pan and enabled him to return home and get his accounting certificate at the vo-tech school on the G.I. Bill, thus keeping him out of the slaughterhouse business for good.

Dad was the first person in his family to not grow up on a farm.  He was born and raised in the city.  His parents listened to country music, but he "couldn't stand it".  He felt too sophisticated for it.  He associated any guitar music with outhouses and moonshine and chewing tobacco, with the hokey music he thought he'd left behind from his youth.

I, in turn, married a guitarist and I can only tolerate horns in Big Band-era jazz and swing music.  Anything else sounds wrong.  Ska drives me insane.  The sax in those cheesy pop songs of the late seventies--awful!  Give me a guitar or a piano, even techo music--over horns.  Please!

I expect Katie will most likely become a band geek and get a scholarship for playing the trombone while the guitar Will and I bought her when she was four gathers dust in the basement.

But I'm not a jerk about Katie's music like my dad was with mine.  Not yet.  I don't make fun of it or say it's lousy any more than I tell her what I really think of her favorite TV show "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" or her favorite book Pranklopedia.  I'd never choose to listen to Katy Perry, watch TMNT, or read Pranklopedia, but it's adorable to see the enthusiasm Katie has for her favorites.

Katie stopped singing and called out, "Mom, who's your favorite musician?"

"Daddy," I said.  It's true.  People think I married Will because he's smart and funny and responsible and has a great family, but no, that's not it at all.  Those are wonderful perks, but I freely admit I married Will because he's a sexy rock star.  Sure, he hasn't sold an album yet or gone on tour, but he rocks my world nearly every night in our basement.

"No, not Daddy," Katie protested.  I gave her a funny look like hey bossypants how do you know who my favorite musician is?   

She continued, "I mean who is your favorite musician or, like, singer, or whatever, that has, like, a song on the radio or YouTube or something?"

"You mean, like, a professional musician?  Someone who gets paid and makes a living doing it full time?" I asked.

"Yeah.  Who is your favorite professional musician?" she asked.

"Huh.  That's a tough one.  I have several favorites," I said.

"I know who your favorite musician is," Katie announced.

"Oh yeah?  Who?" I asked.

"Patti Smith!" she exclaimed.

My heart swelled with pride.  My seven-year-old little Pop Diva aficionado knows who Patti Smith is.  Katie herself might prefer Katy Perry to Patti Smith, but she's cool enough to at least know who Patti Smith is.  

Guess I take after my dad after all.  Music snobbery must be hereditary.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Life Prefers Improv

Yesterday was Will's 33rd birthday.  We both took the day off work.  The plan was to drop Katie off at school and spend the day together.  We were going to have lunch at a fancy restaurant, one that we can't afford to go to for dinner.  We were going to hang out as a couple and do whatever we pleased.  

Plans never follow my script.  Life is constantly reminding me that it prefers improv, not a scripted play.

The day before yesterday Katie came home from school feeling "yucky".  She didn't have a fever, but I had her lie on the sofa and rest.  Within an hour she had pus coming out of one eye.  I called Ask-a-Nurse.  She said it sounds like pink eye.  She had me write down instructions for home-care and told me to take Katie to her doctor in the morning.

"Be sure to warn your daughter that it will probably spread to both eyes and to expect that her eyes will be stuck shut when she wakes up in the morning," the nurse said.

I appreciated that advice the most, since it never would have occurred to me to tell Katie this, and I can imagine it would freak out a seven-year-old to wake up with their eyes stuck shut. 

Sure enough, Katie's eyes were stuck shut in the morning.  After fifteen minutes in the bathroom with a warm, wet washcloth trying to wash the eye boogers from Katie's eyes, I saw Will stir in bed.

"Happy birthday, Daddy!" I yelled.

"Thank you," he said, sleepily.

The poor guy.  That was about the highlight of his day, right there: his wife yelling "Happy Birthday" at him while cleaning crusted mucus from their kid's eyes.

I took Katie to the doctor so Will could at least sleep in on his birthday.  The doc confirmed Katie has pink eye.  

"A really bad case!" the doc said when I told her I had already washed the goo from Katie's eyes first thing this morning.   

"Oh my gosh!   I thought you guys saved it for me to see.  If that's built up in an hour, she's got a really bad case of pink eye!"

She wrote a prescription for antibiotic eye drops and told me to give her Tylenol if she develops an ear ache or head ache.  Call Friday if she hasn't improved.

I dropped Katie off at home so I could go fill her prescription.  While at the pharmacy I picked up some strawberry flavored lube, figuring since the birthday present I had ordered for Will hadn't come in the mail yet, I could surprise him with a little something sweet. 

I got home and handed Will the bottle of strawberry flavored lube.  I wiggled my eyebrows at him and he wiggled his back at me.  

Katie camped out on the couch most of the day, resting.  She did indeed develop an ear ache and her throat hurts and her nose is both runny and stuffy.  There was no way the three of us could go out to eat for Will's birthday.  Nor could we ask someone to babysit and risk getting sick themselves.  The doc had said pink eye is highly contagious.

"What do you want to eat for your birthday?" I asked Will.

Katie was in the room, on the couch watching a DVD on TV, so he wiggled his eyebrows at me and mouthed the word, "you".  I giggled.  

Will smiled and cleared his throat.  

"What kind of food would you like to eat on your birthday," I rephrased my question.

"Steak and mashed potatoes," Will said without hesitation.  The poor guy.  Living with me, someone who hasn't had beef since 1989, has rubbed off on him too much.  He rarely eats beef anymore unless we eat out, and it's rare we can afford to buy him a steak.  The guy certainly deserves a nice steak for his birthday.

"I can make you a steak!" I exclaimed.

He didn't quite roll his eyes, but he looked away in a way that made me think he was trying not to laugh.  I am not a good cook.  I make lousy tomato soup.  Canned tomato soup.  I always put in too much milk or not enough milk or I accidentally use vanilla soymilk or something.  The fact that I don't eat beef, let alone cook with it, might be the reason Will looked like he wanted to burst with laughter.

"I can cook a steak!" I began defending myself.

"You don't want to cook me a steak," Will said.  I know what he really meant was, I don't want you to cook me a steak.

"Yes I do!  I want to do that for you for your birthday!" I said.

Will took a deep breath and said nothing, looking over toward Katie on the couch.  I could tell he was disappointed he would miss out eating at Ruths' Chris or some other fancy place where he could have a real chef make him a steak.

"I guess I could order you a steak to-go from somewhere," I offered.

Will said "yeah" but in a half-hearted way.  I pictured him opening a Styrofoam carton and piercing a halfway cold steak with his fork.  

"I'm going to make you a steak!" I announced.  

"OK," Will said like a question, like I had just told him I was going to go change the oil in our car and he knew I'd be inside in two minutes asking where I'm supposed to unscrew the cap.

I was at the grocery store far too long.  I rarely go to the grocery store alone.  With Will and Katie at home, I took my time walking up the aisles, browsing all the selections.  It felt good to feel unrushed.  I drive most people insane when they go to the grocery store with me.  I over-analyse everything.  Well this one is cheaper but this one is organic.  This one is local but this one is non-gmo.  This one is low-fat but this one is sugar free.

My inner anorexic tries to conjure her OCD label-reading ways whenever I enter a grocery store. 

But this time was different.  I wasn't shopping for health and nutrition.  I was shopping for my husband's unplanned birthday party.  I went crazy.  I bought everything on the shelves I could remember him at one point in our relationship taking a bite of and saying, "Mmm, this is good."

I spent $115.  Probably more than we would have spent at lunch at Ruths' Chris.  But damn, I got Doritos!  And cake and ice cream!  And Texas Toast!  And Hawaiian Sweet Rolls!  If it weren't for the KC Strip steak in the cart one might look at the contents and think the theme of our party was carbs.

I finally got dinner ready at 8:30.  Will said the steak was delicious.  I had never broiled a steak, so, instead of bugging the birthday boy with questions, I watched this video:

It was easier than I thought it would be.  Here's the final result:

But hold up.  Not everything went so well.  I forgot to make gravy.  I personally think gravy is disgusting, so I always forget to make it when I mash potatoes.  But this meal wasn't about me.  It was about Will.  So I screwed up.  The thing about cooking I need to work on the most is becoming more empathetic.  Just because I don't like to eat something doesn't mean I should avoid cooking it for my loved ones.

Will's birthday cake turned out pretty good.  He loves white cake with white icing.  Katie decorated it with those candy letters you can buy in the candle aisle.  She ate the ones we didn't need to spell out Happy Birthday Will.

His present never arrived in the mail.  I checked the tracking online and it said they attempted to deliver it and we should check for instructions left in our mailbox.  No instructions were left in our mailbox.  What the hell?  I wanted Will to know what he was getting for his birthday, so I spoiled the surprise and told him.  A Roku 3 Streaming Media Player.  I don't know exactly what it is, but the site said it works on virtually all TVs.  It's been about three years since we ditched cable.  Back then we made plans to buy a Roku box, but we had never gotten around to it.

"It will be like cable!  We can watch shows on TV again!" I announced.  "You can watch your favorite online shows on TV too, I think."

Will had the same look in his eye as when I told him I was going to make him a steak.  Like he was thinking I'm not so sure I want this Luddite buying me a Roku box.

We were all excited--at least Will faked it--until the package arrived today and we discovered "virtually" does not mean "all" TVs.  Our old ass TVs don't have the right connection.  

"I'm such a shitty wife!  I can't even buy you a birthday present that works," I complained.

Will just smiled and assured me that it's OK.  There's some sort of $20 adaptor he can get and it will hook up our old ass TV to this Roku box.  I almost suggested we look at the thrift shop for one, but I kept my mouth shut.

In the meantime, Will's fine with sitting in front of the fire in his mancave, reading a library book by the light of the window above.  I love my patient, easy-going man.

I don't know why he loves me.  Trust me, forgetting the gravy and buying him a device he cannot use is not the worst thing that I did for my husband's birthday.  The worst thing I did is, after getting him all excited by handing him some strawberry lube and wiggling my eyebrows and all that, I fell asleep while tucking our sick kiddo into bed.  At 9PM.  Before we got a chance to try out the strawberry lube.

"I am the worst wife ever," I whispered into Will's ear after I woke up at 3AM.  I'd fallen asleep on him.  I couldn't believe it.  

"No you're not," Will whispered back in his deep, sleepy voice.

I looked at the clock.  "It's no longer your birthday.  Is it too late to give you some birthday love?" I snuggled my head into his chest.

"No, it's not too late."

We got out of bed and snuck off to Will's mancave where we stayed up til dawn talking, laughing, and finally getting to try out the strawberry flavored lube.  Late and unplanned, but still lovely and fun.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Love is Enough

At church on Sunday, Pastor Jonas thanked God for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and all the other Civil Rights activists--known and unknown--who marched with him seeking justice.

Known and unknown.

I sat there in the pew and thought about that phrase: known and unknown.  Why should we only honor famous people?  Yes, we should celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King's birthday.  And we should also celebrate every other child that is born on each day.  All of us has a gift we carry.  Not all gifted people march in the limelight of history.

A few minutes before I had said the bolded words of this prayer aloud among the Presbyterians surrounding me:

You are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus,
for as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.
There is neither Jew nor Greek.
There is neither slave nor free person;
there is no male and female, gay or straight,
for all are one in Christ Jesus.

Wow!  That's some radical shit, I thought to myself.  I did not say it aloud.  But I bet several others thought it too.  Unless they're regular church goers and expect this kind of radical love and acceptance.  I had no idea until last November when Katie asked me to take her to church and we picked Grace Covenant Presbyterian in Overland Park, Kansas.  My friend Sarah invited us.  I figured if the people are as nice as Sarah it's gotta be good.  And it is.

So yeah, we're going to church.  Me.  The lover of secular humanists such as Kurt Vonnegut and Christopher Hitchens.  I've never been baptized.  I didn't grow up going to church regularly.  I used to cringe each time I'd enter a church when I'd attend someone's wedding or funeral.  I was afraid my heathen ass would burst into flames the moment I entered the sacred place.

My ass has not caught fire, but my enthusiasm for helping my brothers and sisters who need it has lit fire in my belly.  Remember on Obama's campaign trail when he talked about that volunteer who got them all chanting, "I'm fired up and ready to go!"  I'm not quite extroverted enough to be that volunteer, but I'm the white girl sitting in her basement watching a YouTube video about it, occasionally raising my beer and shouting "Heck yeah!" at the screen.

But no, seriously, I like this church.  And in two months of attending weekly sermons and an adult speaker series, I've learned one thing: love is enough.

I never thought I was a good enough Christian because I didn't read the Bible and I didn't go to church.  I hung out with all sorts of people, religious and irreligious, all of them of varying degrees of faith.  I try to love all people, but I have a soft spot in my heart for the marginalized.  Turns out, from what I'm learning from hanging out with people who call themselves Christians, there's lots of other people who believe love is an action verb and helping marginalized people is the right way to live your life.

I'd been feeling down because the three year anniversary of when I decided I wanted to write a memoir and get it published and spark my career as a professional writer passed and no agents have sent me a message back saying, "sure, I'll read it" and somehow that one agent who is mostly unknown to me, her opinion of me becomes too important.  She didn't like my query letter enough to respond in the affirmative.  Poor me.  Poor, pitiful me.  The rejected writer.

And then I turn on my laptop and I log onto my blog and I write a post about poor, pitiful me and how this one unknown agent doesn't want to read my stuff, and I'll publish it on my own blog, the one I have complete control of, the authority to write about what I feel is important, and people I know and care about will read it and that will make me smile, but I wish it made that one unknown critic in the back of my head stop telling me my words are not good enough.

Love is good enough.

Once my born-again Christian sister Jenny told me that she sums up her Christian beliefs like this: "Love God.  Love people.  That's what Jesus commanded us to do."

It's that simple?  I don't have to worry about this dogma or that rule or that person's opinion or those criticisms?  I can love God and love people and that's that?

To tell you the truth, I kinda didn't believe my sister at first.  I thought she was high on religion.  You know how someone will sit there and go, "hey, man, smoke this" and you're all like, "no, man, I gotta go to work" and they're like, "no man, this will help your focus" and you still refuse because you think you're being practical.  That's how I felt when my Christian sister told me all I had to do was love God and love people and that was good enough to help me feel better.  That all the anxieties and worries I struggle with daily will seem less important, and that I'll realize that loving is the most important thing I can be doing.

Wait a minute?  Am I talking about going to church or going to Colorado?

So anyway, I found out that today is the day a dear friend of mine, Janel, starts her daily blog.  This woman is a miracle of love.  Every word I've read she's written has to do with love.  She's amazing.  So go read her stuff.  I'm honored that she claims I am one of the inspirations for sharing her words with the world.

I want to worry less about fame and fortune and focus my thoughts more on inspiring others to share their love.

But enough about me.  Go read LittleMrsFlowers.

Taking Selfies in Front of The Dirty Dishes

"Taking Selfies in Front of The Dirty Dishes"

"My purpose in life is to enjoy myself."  

This is a quote from a friend of mine.  I heard her say it the other night as I walked in on a conversation.  I don't know what instigated the comment, but I thought it was beautiful.  

My friend who said it is a young woman, mid-twenties.  If I think about it too hard I realize she is eighteen years younger than I am.  I am old enough, biologically, if not emotionally, to be her mother.  And yet this friend who knows her purpose in life is her own enjoyment and no others' is wiser than I.

I have spent too many years worrying over being someone else's enjoyment.  Do I look pretty enough to others?  Do other people think I'm smart?  I hope other people don't think I'm a [fill in the blank].

"What do I care?" my amazing husband Will says whenever I say "What will they think?"  He is so secure with himself.  It's amazing.  I've never known someone who couldn't care less what other people think of him than Will.  

I am the polar opposite.   A chronic worrier, I sit at home alone and worry that people who don't know me will think I'm a lazy slackass if I spend my day writing rather than washing the dirty dishes.

I have too many things to write about, so naturally I'm procrastinating.  I decided I might as well enjoy myself while I do it.  So, instead of doing something practical with my time like washing the dirty dishes, I did something creative with my time by taking selfies in front of the dirty dishes.

"Well Behaved Women Rarely Do the Dishes"

Monday, January 20, 2014

Happy Dr. King Day!

Happy Dr. King Day!  Here is his famous "I Have a Dream" speech:

Misheard Words

When Katie was little, I kept track of the funny things she said in a notebook I named "Cute Katie Quotes".

Two of my favorites are these:

1)  When Katie was two, she went through this phase of storing random objects inside the refrigerator.  You'd open the door to get some half and half for your coffee and find your car keys.  Time to make lunch?  Oh, there's my hairbrush.  At least she didn't store her used diapers in there like she did in her play kitchen.  It's such a fun age when they learn how to take off their diaper after taking a crap, but they haven't quite learned what to do with it.

One day Katie opened the refrigerator to grab her cup of milk. On a shelf inside she'd left one of those plastic magnets you get with the set of ABCs and 123s.  The kind kids like to drop onto the floor for you to step on, put in their mouths to freak you out, lose under your frightfully dirty refrigerator.  Or, in our case, the kid likes to hide them in the fridge. As Katie reached for the cup, her hand passed over the magnet.  She said, "Excuse me L." Then she paused, picked up the magnet, flipped it over and said, "Oh, excuse me 7." 

2)  My other favorite "Cute Katie Quote" happened when she was just a month shy of four years old.  I handed her the popsicle box to choose the one she wanted.  She grabbed one and said, "I like the blue popsicles. They taste like the sky." 

I long ago stopped writing entries into the "Cute Katie Quotes" notebook.  Now I have Facebook and my blog to share Katie's quirky ways and mind-blowing observations.  Lately, Katie's been mishearing a lot of words, which leads to funny conversations such as this:

Katie: "Have you ever heard of Yo-Yo Ma?"
Me: "Yeah. He plays the cello."
Katie: "Oh, yeah. I've heard a jello before."

Then yesterday Katie kept trying to tell me she had a castle on her finger.  I finally figured out she meant a "callous".  Tonight at dinner she asked me if there are two kinds of gargling.  I said I didn't think so and asked if she knows of two kinds.  She said, "One when you gargle water in your throat and one where you stare at someone's boobs".  

"Oh, you mean ogle, not gargle!" I explained.  "You can't gargle boobs."

Katie had such a giggle fit it became contageous.  It feels so good to giggle with my big girl.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Top Five Online Comedy Sites

When I'm in a gloomy mood, I like to binge-watch comedy shows to try to defeat it.  It's no magic happy pill.  But it helps.  It gets me focused on something outside myself that makes me lose my breath from laughter and then find my breath again.  It's comedic meditation.

We don't own a television that is new enough to broadcast digital TV, so we just use our old ass TV sets to play video games and watch movies on DVD and VHS.  We watch most everything else online for free.  No subscriptions to Netflix, nothing.  We just pay for our internet service.  We're the frugalest pop-culture enthusiasts I know.

There's lots of good stuff online for free.  I compiled a list of my five favorite online sites for people who need a little comedic meditation:

Late Night with Jimmy Fallon clips on YouTube.  The skits with Fallon and Justin Timberlake will make you cry.  First from laughter and then, if you're lucky, sometimes we get to watch their bromance unfold and we will shed tears of joy.  The skits with The Roots playing with classroom instruments are little miracles.  Jimmy's impersonations of musical guests ranging from Bruce Springsteen to Neil Young to Jim Morrison are flawless.  This show is a fine example of sublime comedic meditation.

Key and Peele on Comedy Central.  This comedy duo is so funny, I have to stop watching them after five or six videos or else my sides hurt too much.  They are painfully funny.  They can tackle tough comedy topics such as race relations by virtue of their both being bi-racial.  Onstage, during the introduction of their skits, Key and Peele talk openly about how they both have black fathers and white mothers.  They get to make fun of both black people and white people because they are making fun of themselves.  As a white woman, I don't feel comfortable making fun of black people, but Key and Peele invite me to laugh at their jokes in a way that lessons my discomfort.  These badass barrier-breakers show us that all people are freaking hilarious no matter what skin their tone.        

The Daily Show with Jon Stewart is my go-to site for comedic stress relief.  When I'm too depressed to read the actual news, I turn to this trusted fake news source for my news fix.  I'm grateful for what Stewart and his staff do to raise awareness of relevant issues in today's world in a way that gets people's attention.  People want to be entertained, even with their news.

The Colbert Report is another fake news source I turn to when I need my spirits lifted.  I've never seen an episode I didn't like.  In fact, test me.  Try to find a clip I don't like.  Share it in the comments section below.  I dare you.

Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee is its own web series, hosted by Jerry Seinfeld.  It's great.  It's so basic, and yet so brilliant.  Jerry goes and picks up one of his comedian friends in some interesting car and they go drink a cup of coffee and tell each other stories and make each other laugh.  It's like getting to hang out with two friends who, although they don't let you get a word in edge wise, you can sit back and sip your coffee in peace.  But watch out.  It hurts to laugh and blow coffee out your nose.  Sip with caution.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Three Year Anniversary

***trigger warning: childhood sexual abuse***

I feel stuck.

It's the third anniversary of my brother Pat's death at age forty-nine of alcoholic-induced liver failure.  I woke up and noticed the date on the calendar as I was packing Katie's lunch this morning, but I didn't think I felt too sad about it until I tried to sit down and write about anything other than Pat's death.

I gave up.  I re-read the post I wrote about him last year.

I feel sad about it because Pat is gone, but also sad because I haven't accomplished what I thought would help me feel better about myself by now.  Yeah, yeah.  I'm still blogging.  And that's great and all.  But I haven't published my memoir like I set out to do three years ago.

Unpaid blogger.  Blah.  It's not the same.

It bothers me more than I wish it did that I don't get paid to write.  It makes me feel ungrateful and greedy.  At least I have time to write.  I'm lucky to have a side job at the public library that pays a high enough hourly wage that I can work 24 hours a week instead of 40 hours a week and get by.  I'm lucky to share Will's paycheck, and his attention to our daughter and to our home.  I understand there are many writers who don't have that kind of support, who can't afford to sit around and write all day, and although I don't have the luxury of writing full-time like I'd like, I am grateful for the time I do have to write each day.

Worrying about my income makes me feel like a hack.  Worrying about being a hack makes me feel like a snob.  I probably am a snob, because it bothers me way more to think of myself as a hack than a snob.

I know that there's some middle ground between writing for money's sake (hack) and writing for art's sake (snob), that it's perfectly reasonable to want to make a living doing what you feel good at, what you love to do, that there's no shame in wanting financial security for myself and my family so our bank account has enough cushion for the occasional punch life throws at us--car repairs, plumbers, weird growths on the dog's toe.  Katie's college fund.  Oh dear God.

It's hard to find some middle ground on shaky days like today, when I'm looking back at the past three years and thinking, "You still haven't done it."

When Pat died I felt free to share my story.  He and his friend, teenagers at the time, had sexually abused my friend and I, young children at the time, and Pat told me not to tell our mom our she'd end up back in the mental hospital where she had received electroshock therapy for depression before I was even born.  I had shared our secret with close family and friends, but I didn't talk openly about it until I began writing about it three years ago.

It felt so good to get it out.  I had long ago broken the secret and told our mom, and she weathered through it, just like I did, without getting shocked or locked up.  But I didn't like to talk about it too much, even though I felt better when I did, because, well, I didn't want everyone to hate Pat.  I know that sounds Stockholm Syndrome-ish, but it's not.  Pat did some horrible things to me, yes.  But Pat was not a monster.  He was my brother.  He was a good person the majority of the time.  I loved him, and I always will.

I thought enough time had passed that I could go about my day without dwelling on my brother's death.  I thought I could move on.  Get stuff done.  I've got an idea for another novel I want to write.  I'm excited about it.  But I couldn't get myself out of this ditch and back on track with actually writing another story until I hopped on here to write about how stuck I feel, and in doing so, now I feel free again.

I'm just no good at ignoring my feelings anymore.  So I guess all this unpaid writing I've been doing for the last three years hasn't been for nothing.


Monday, January 13, 2014

Allergic to Happiness

In the middle of making us lunch earlier, Will had to take over so I could sit down.

I pressed my palm to my forehead and exhaled dramatically.  "I'm getting a migraine."  I looked out the window at our back yard.  A turtle dove was walking along our back step.  The sun had melted most of the snow away from our yard.

"Of course," I continued to complain.  "The sun is shining and it's warm.  It's a beautiful day today--but nope, not for me.  I've got a storm a'brewin in my head.  I think I'm allergic to the world."

Will looked up from the stove, smiled at me, and said, "I think you're allergic to happiness."

I laughed even though it made my head pound harder.

"That could be," I said, nodding my head toward the window.  "It's like nature is saying to me, this kind of weather makes most people happy, but not you!  What makes most people happy makes you miserable."

"Yep, pretty much," Will smiled and looked back at the stove.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Spontaneous Thriftshopping

Busy day.

Got up, made grits.  Made coffee.  Fed Katie (grits).  Fed Thatcher (cat food).  Fed Earl and Sawyer (dog food).  Drank coffee.  Got ready.  Drove to church.  Arrived late.  Again.  Walked Katie to her Sunday School classroom.  Attended adult speaker series.  Learned about Epiphany.  Laughed out loud in the circle we adults sat in when someone read aloud from the Bible the part about the wedding where Mary urges Jesus to perform his first miracle by turning water into wine and one of the wedding guests says wow, usually people offer the good shit first and then bring out the cheap stuff later after everyone is drunk, but this is some good shit, Jesus!

I'm paraphrasing.  I've never been good at memorizing text or speaking in movie quotes or anything where I have to remember verbatim something someone said.  When I write dialogue it's how I remember hearing the conversation, not necessarily what was actually said.

Anyway, I thought that was a funny story, and I enjoyed thinking of Mary pushing her son to perform his miracles.  A Jewish mother prodding her thirty year old son to show off his talents.  And everyone is smashed and not ready to see this party end.  How cool is that?  I didn't know the Bible was entertaining.  I thought it was full of pious sanctimonious rules.  And an occasional bit about love and peace and usually doves or some lamb or some harmless creature.  But certainly not funny stories about drunk people.

Here's the translation of Jesus' biography we were reading this morning, if you're not into my version:

John 2
New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
The Wedding at Cana

2 On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. 2 Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. 3 When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” 4 And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.” 5 His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” 6 Now standing there were six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. 7 Jesus said to them, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. 8 He said to them, “Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.” So they took it. 9 When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom 10 and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now.” 11 Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.

Makes you wonder how easy it is for people to write down stories exactly as they happened.  I read that exact quote above, from John 2, and look at how I paraphrased it.

Ever played that game "Telephone" when you were a kid?  You sit around in a circle with six giggly girls and one of you whispers a sentence to the person next to her.  That person whispers what she thinks the first girl said to the girl next to her, and it goes all the way around the circle until the last girl says what she thinks the sentence is out loud.  Everyone giggles because it went from, "my cat, Butterscotch, likes to nap on the sofa in the sun" to "my mom likes scotch when she craps on the sofa for fun".

That's how I think of the Bible.  But I might get around to reading the whole thing if it turns out to have other entertaining stories in it.

After I laughed out loud at that story during the adult discussion, I picked up Katie from Sunday school.  Then it was service, stars, jazz, singing, praying, sermon referencing a Joan Osborne song, hearing what a lot of other people call "God" and thinking to myself, I think I call God "The Universe".  Then we sang some more.  Prayed some more.  Listened to more jazz.  Drove home.  Made lunch.  Ate lunch.  Took Katie to the park.  Walked around the lake.  Hung out with Will.  Took Katie to her first choir practice at church.  Found myself with forty-five minutes of free time.

What'd I do?  I did a little spontaneous thirftshopping.

City Thrift is a mile-and-a-half from the church.  I'd been wanting to shop there ever since I heard it opened, but I never got around to it.  This was my chance.

Here's what I found:

2 pairs of jeans for Will
1 pair of corduroys for Will
5 pairs of pants for Katie
1 sweatshirt for Katie
1 hooded sweater for Katie
1 KU t-shirt for Katie
1 sweatshirt for myself

All for $38.03.  Which is donated to the City Union Mission to help people who are homeless and poor.

I love saving money and helping people in need!  Macklemore was my earworm as I drove back to church to pick up Katie.  Drove home.  Ate awesome dinner that Will cooked.  Played Ms. Pac-man on Super Nintendo with Katie.  Tucked her in.  Hung out with Will.  Now I'm hanging out with you.

Busy, beautiful day.

Friday, January 10, 2014

The Mini Pinball Prize

Katie's teacher has her students keep track of the amount of pages they read at home. Something to do with the local Price Chopper grocery store providing them with a pizza party when the class hits 100,000 pages or something like that.  I can't remember exactly why they're doing it.  I've never been a big fan of keeping track of how much Katie reads.  To me, that's like asking someone to keep track of how many breaths they take each day.  Why bother making a big ta-do over such an everyday thing?

Turns out, Katie likes making a big ta-do over such things.

Here's a snapshot of Katie reading Oh the Pets You Can Get to her dino Donnie.  In her left hand she's holding the mini pinball game she won for reading a shit-ton of pages last month.  

Those were not the exact words Katie's teacher said as I picked Katie up from school yesterday.  I'm paraphrasing.  As I walked up toward them, Ms. B's face was beaming so brightly it distracted me from what she was actually saying.

"--more than the whole class put together!" Ms. B exclaimed.

"She does love to read," I said, hoping my response made sense since I hadn't quite caught the first part of what Ms. B had said to me.

Katie and I waved goodbye to Ms. B and started walking home.  

"Look Mom!" Katie held up the mini pinball game, the kind you'd buy in bulk for a birthday party goodie bag or get at the skating rink arcade in exchange for ten tickets.

"Oh cool.  I used to love those little pinball games when I was a kid," I said.

"Me too!" Katie exclaimed.  

"Who gave it to you?" I asked.

"Ms. B let me pick it out of the treasure chest for my prize for reading the most pages last month," Katie explained.

"Oh cool!" I said.

"Mom, can you hold on to it for a sec so I can take off my gloves?"

"Won't your fingers be too cold?" I asked.

"I want to play pinball!" she said.

I held her game while she removed her gloves and shoved them into her coat pocket.  When I handed her back the pinball game, she said, "thanks" and within seconds she shouted, "Wow, I've already scored ten points!"

I don't get that about kids.  They love points.  They love gold stars and stickers and smiley face stamps.  When Katie was having trouble remembering to go potty on the toilet, her doctor recommended we try a sticker chart.  The idea seemed ludicrous to me.  Why can't the prize for urinating in a toilet be getting to walk around in dry pants?  But apparently my three year old didn't give nearly as much of a crap about dry pants as I do, because the silly stickers motivated her to keep her pants dry more than anything else we had tried.

Katie played her pinball game until she asked me to hold it again for her so she could put her gloves back on.  "It's cold," she explained.

"How are you going to play the game with your gloves on?" I asked, holding the pinball game out in the palm of my glove.

"I'm not.  I'm gonna wait til I get home to play it some more," Katie explained.  "Mom, can you put it in your pocket?" she asked.

"Why can't you put it in your pocket," I asked.

"Because my pocket doesn't have zippers and I plan on doing a lot of jumping.  I don't want it to fall into the snow and get wet," she explained.

It's important to take care of your treasure.

Katie proceeded to chase her friend Jordan through the steep bank of snow that had been shoveled off the sidewalk.  Jordan gave Katie a big hug when she got to her house.  Katie stopped on the sidewalk and waited for me to catch up.

"Do you still have my pinball game?" Katie asked.

I pulled it out of my pocket and held it out for her.

"No thanks.  I just wanted to make sure you still have it," she said.  

I put the pinball game back into my pocket.  We held gloved hands the rest of the way home.

"So you won the pinball game for reading the most books?" I asked.

"The most pages," Katie clarified.  "In the whole class.  Put together."

"What do you mean, 'the whole class put together?'" I asked.

"Well, Ms. B colors in a book on our reading chart to see how close we're getting to 100,000 pages.  Today she counted up all the reading logs and she said class I'm going to fill in the book for the number of pages read by everyone in the class but one person.  Then she filled in one book.  Then she said, now class I'm going to fill in the book for the number of pages read by just one person in our class.  And she filled in three more books on the chart!  And then," Katie paused to look up at me with a big smile, "she looked at me in my eyes and she walked right up to my desk and she said now class do you know who the person is who read these pages all by herself last month?  It's Katie!"  Katie skipped the next few steps, her winter boots leaving a trail of happy footprints.

"Wow, Punk!  How did that make you feel?" I asked.  I remember when I was Katie's age I'd break down into tears if the teacher singled me out in such a way.  I felt embarrassed so easily, even for things I'd done well.  

Katie is growing confident at a faster pace than I did.  She has her moments of shyness.  Don't we all.  But lately she's agreed to join the church choir, which surprised me since she claims to be too shy to sing in front of an audience.  And now she seems to revel in the public announcement of her academic achievements too.

"I felt great!" she said, waving our arms up high like our gloved hands were cradled on a swing.

"That's awesome!" I said.

"Yeah, I was excited," she said.  "It kinda felt like my heart stopped beating.  But it felt good," she explained. 

This from the girl who hid in her bedroom crying because she was too shy to come and blow the candles out on her third birthday cake in front of the crowd of people--all family and friends.  I'm surprised in four years how much more accepting of the limelight she is.

What does not shock me is that Katie loves to read.  She comes from a family of readers.  I met her father when we both worked at the public library.  One of her uncles works at the same public library.  All of her aunts and uncles love to read, as do most of her cousins.  One of her cousins got into trouble in second grade for reading too much.  The teacher had to call my brother and his wife in for a chat to tell them that my niece was reading during class instead of paying attention to the lesson.  

Katie's maternal grandparents got married because they both liked to smoke Pall Mall cigarettes and read Perry Mason mysteries.  Her maternal great-grandparents spent much of their free time reading.  Her maternal great-grandmother was named Jean Valjean after the (male) protagonist of Les Miserables, her father's favorite novel.  I was named after Daphne Du Maurier's novel Rebecca.  With all these bookworms on her family crest, it would be difficult for this kid to kick her literary inheritance.    

Here's a video of Katie "reading" the book Goodnight Moon when she was two-and-a-half years old.  We read the book together so many times she memorized it.

So it doesn't shock me that at age seven Katie loves to read, but I am surprised by how much she likes to keep score.  Which, in case you are not Facebook friends with me and have not already seen the three other posts in which I've bragged about these stats, is 42 books totaling 2514 pages in December 2013.

"Gettin a High Score at Pinball" by RandomNumberGuy
image source

I guess I shouldn't be so surprised the kid likes to keep score.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

"Andy Warhol's Dog" by Katie Carleton, age 7

I pulled these three creations from Katie's backpack today.  

"Andy Warhol's Dog" by Katie Carleton, age 7 (crayons on paper) 

"Andy Warhol's Dog" by Katie Carleton, age 7 (paint on paper) 

"Andy Warhol's Dog" by Katie Carleton, age 7 (paint on paper) 

Thursday is the day Katie's classmates and she attend art class for one hour at their public school.  Thursday is my favorite day to dig through the goodies in Katie's backpack.  I do it the moment we walk through the front door, before I've got my coat off, like a kid sitting in her PJ's on Christmas morning unwrapping the biggest gift under the tree. 

I document everything.  I write down the title, her name and age, the date.  I photograph the best ones and share them on Facebook so my mom who lives an hour away knows what's going on in her grandchild's life.

"What's the title of this one?" I asked, holding up the one with four panels.

"Andy Warhol's Dog," Katie said, nonchalantly as she grabbed a piece of bubblegum from her stash on the kitchen counter.

"Not Andy Warhol's Dogs, plural?" I asked, wondering if I should have used the word "plural".  She's only in second grade.  She might not know what it means.

"No.  'Andy Warhol's Dog,'" Katie said again, in the same, nonchalant tone.  "It's just one dog.  Andy Warhol liked to repeat things," Katie said blandly, as if this is common knowledge.  

Art history was one of my favorite subjects in college.  I've been to the MoMa in San Francisco, the MoMa in New York, The Met, and The Whitney.  I've been to the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, my hometown, numerous times.  I follow I Require Art on Facebook.  I have framed prints by Modigliani, Picasso, and van Gogh throughout our home.  I have original works by friends and family framed on our walls.  What can I say?  I dig art.

As big an art lover as I am at age forty-three, I do not think I could have told you that "Andy Warhol liked to repeat things" when I was a seven year old second grader attending public school.  We did not begin studying individual artists and their techniques until high school at least.

Kids at Katie's public school learn things at a faster pace than they did when I attended public school.  It amazes me.  I'm happy with the progress that has been made in the public education of our nation's children.  It's far from ideal, but it's getting better.  I'm impressed with what Katie's art teacher has been able to teach these rich young minds with such little funding.  Public school art teachers make much less money than great artists such as Andy Warhol did in his lifetime, and yet they imbue the masses with art in creative ways, too.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Earl's Lucky 13th Birthday

I adopted Earl from the St. Joseph, Missouri animal shelter on February 23, 2001.  The card on his cage listed that he was about 7 weeks old, so I worked my way back on the calendar seven weeks and decided my puppy's birthday: January 5, 2001.

He's thirteen years old today.  Happy birthday, Early Bird!  I named Earl after the Dixie Chicks' song, "Goodbye Earl," that my ex-girlfriend used to play on the cassette player in the car I bought her.  It was Kristin's idea.

"I can't name my sweet puppy after the jerk in that song!" I protested.

"No, see, his name will be Goodboy Earl, because he's such a good boy!" Kristin was probably the most excited I'd ever seen her when she made this announcement, so I threw her a bone and let her name my new puppy Goodboy Earl.

When Kristin and I broke up, she got custody of the two dogs she had brought into the relationship, and I got custody of Earl.  Earl missed his playmate Weebles, a pit-bull mix who Kristin had rescued after the young female dog was found bloody from bite marks on her face and with a broken leg--probably the victim of a dog fight, or a dog that was used as bait for training fiercer dogs to fight.

Kristin took the dog to a vet and got her all patched up.  She had to wear a cast on her broken leg for a long time, so Kristin named her "Weebles" since "Weebles wobble but they don't fall down!"

She was a sweet dog.  You know that bumper sticker that says, "My ex took the dog and left me.  I sure do miss my dog."  That's how I feel about the situation with Kristin and Weebles.

Earl missed Weebles too, so I adopted Sawyer, a black lab/beagle mix, in late 2002 to be Earl's companion during the day while I was at work.

I didn't know a dog could be sweeter than Weebles, but Sawyer is.  She's the sweetest girl in the world.  She loves to lick.  People.  The couch.  Her toes.  Her butt.  (You have to watch her or right after she finishes licking her butt, she'll shimmy over by you and lay one on you right smack in the mouth like a trashy French poodle.)  She even licks the air sometimes, usually when Will is cooking meat.

I had been dating Will for not quite a year when I adopted Sawyer.  I had also, in between Sawyer and Earl, adopted an abandoned kitten I named Thatcher--after Becky, not Margaret--so Will was growing weary of what was beginning to look like an addiction.  When I brought home a stray cat someone found in the sewer by the library where I work, Will said enough.  We broke up.

"I just can't live in a house with a bunch of pets," he explained.  "I'm not a pet person."

It was a very kindhearted breakup.   An it's-not-you-it's-me kind of deal, only what Will was saying was it's-not-you-it's-your-pets.

It lasted three months.  We got back together.  Will moved in with me and my pets--it was up to five by then since I took in my mom's old cat Ferdie too.  He said absolutely no more, and I agreed to those terms.  But then the stray cat from the sewer ran away and suddenly Will's mom and dad had two little Maltese dogs that needed a home.  I managed to find one of them a home, but the other one, Beau, we ended up keeping after I spent $1800 on emergency surgery for him when we discovered he had Addison's Disease after undergoing a simple neutering and nearly died.

I have no idea why Will objects to my taking in so many needy pets.

But seriously, the pets-to-humans ratio in our family has evened out over the years.  Will and I mated and I popped out Katie, although not nearly as easily as my cat did while giving birth to two kittens when I was a teenager.  Ferdie grew old and got kidney disease, so we had him euthanized.  Then Beau's Addison's Disease got worse and he died.  Now our side of the Carleton Clan consists of three pets and three humans: Earl (13), Sawyer (11), Thatcher (11), Katie (7), Will (32), and Becky (43).

Even though Earl is 13 and I am 43, he probably has much less time left on Earth than I do.  According to this calculator, Earl is 82 in human years.  At 13, we're lucky he's still alive.

Earl is very much alive.  He still guards our front door when we're in the living room, or he guards our bedroom doors at night.

Goodboy Earl Carleton, guarding the front door
January 5, 2014 (age 13)

Sure, he does most of his guard duty while napping and making those adorable, muffled yelps, his feet "running" in his sleep, but if someone comes through the door, by golly, he's up...slowly...stiffly...just a sec my dern hips are buggin me...and barking, deeply, his lungs still full of life as they were when he was seven weeks old, filthy, covered in his own urine from having stayed at the animal shelter when a farmer brought him in with his two siblings after his purebred Great Pyrenees dog got knocked up by who knows what farm dog.

I love my Goodboy Earl.  We all do.  A few months ago, when Earl's hind end really started bothering him, Will announced, "You know, Babe, when Earl's hips get too bad for him to walk on his own, I can carry him."

"He's seventy pounds!" I protested.

Will waved off my comment like it was a gnat in his face.  "Big deal.  I'll carry him wherever he needs to go."

Here's my wonderful husband, Will, who once declared he'd rather break up with me than live with all my pets, offering to be our elderly dog's human wheelchair.  Earl got to Will like he got to me thirteen years ago, when I thought to myself, "Oh, what a lucky dog he is" as I rescued him from the pound.  Living with Earl has taught me that we're the lucky ones.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Tauriel, the Non-Canonical Hero

image source

Will, Katie, and I saw the new Hobbit film last night.  I've seen all three Lord of the Rings movies and the first Hobbit film, all directed by Peter Jackson.  I can honestly say this is the first one I really liked on my own terms.

After reading this great post about the film, I understand why I like it so much more than Jackson's other film adaptations of Tolkien's story.  I couldn't agree with blogger Natalie Wilson more when she says this:

"Not all Tolkien fans approve of this female addition to the story. But for me, Tauriel was the best part of a very good film—a film much better, in fact, than the first Hobbit film."

Wilson is right.  Some Tolkien fundamentalists seem hesitant to embrace this change.  While researching the character, I stumbled upon the excellent Lord of the Rings Wiki.  You can check it out here.  I laughed when I got to Tauriel's page and saw the big alert at the top:

"Non-Canon Alert!
This article contains information, pictures or media from non-canonical sources."

It all makes sense.  Of course the character I love the most is non-canonical. I always liked Mary Magdalene in The Gospel of Mary from the Gnostic gospels the best too.

"Maria Magdalena" by Pietro Perugino, circa 1500
image source

Here's another great point Wilson makes in her post:

This second hobbit installment continues a trend from the first film, suggesting that gender’s not the problem, but that greed, domination, hunger for power and a taste for vengeance—characteristics often associated with being “real” men are. Tolkien’s work focuses on these destructive tendencies in many a male character, but he also gives us empathetic, heroic and kind-hearted males in Bilbo, Frodo, Sam and Gimli. 

I was touched as I discussed the movie with Will when, after I told him I liked it so much more because of the strong, three-dimensional female character, Will said, "Well how do you think I like it when I see these dumbass action movies where all the dudes are dicks?  It's like, hey, can we have a fun action film that features a nice guy for a change?"

It makes sense now why Will loves Tolkien's story so much.  He can relate to the kind-hearted males.

Wilson continues her great analysis by pointing out Tolkien's message:

And if Smaug is not a symbol of patriarchal vileness at its worst, I don’t know what is. As Tolkien describes him,  Smaug is “a most specially greedy, strong and wicked worm.” Smaug embodies death and destruction, with impenetrable armor and enough flame-power to destroy entire villages. Sounds kind of like the embodiment of a certain other empire—one intent on amassing wealth and power while dropping fire from the sky.

In contrast to Smaug—a phallic, Middle-Earth version of military drones—Tauriel represents hope in a war-torn world. She hungers for light, peace and love. Sure, she kills many orcs, but they, like Smaug, are intent on destruction. She does not kill for the sake of killing or hate because it is a tradition to do so.

That's why I love Tauriel.  She's a badass fighting for a better world.

In the past, I had begrudgingly gone to see all three Lord of the Rings films as well as the first Hobbit film with my husband because I'm the kind of person who loves to see people I love enjoy themselves.  I watch cartoons that test my patience with Katie because I love to hear her laugh and see her face light up when something happens on the screen.

It's the same with Will.  Action and adventure is so boring after ten minutes or so.  I need dialogue.  Words.  Not just fancy moves and flashy colors.  But I attend these fantasy action adventure movies with my husband because I love him and it makes him happy.  Yes, I understand there's a story with actual words that I could follow, but too often, not having read the books myself because I like my books more like real life, funny and depressing, I have no idea what the characters are saying.  I have a hard enough time understanding the real world, let alone some made up Middle Earth.

But after reading Wilson's analysis, I finally get it.  I've finally seen the light.