Friday, October 27, 2006

IT'S ALIVE!

Okay, not that we thought it was dead--yet, but the news we received (from two sources, just to be sure) was such a relief. Our lightning scarred old Sycamore is going to make it! We didn't believe it at first and are still somewhat skeptical but mostly grateful that we won't be watching, or paying for, our tree to be hacked into pieces and then thrown into a chipper. Along with our hearts (stay with me here).

I'm afraid I'm guilty of telling anyone willing to listen the sad saga of possibly losing our tree. But I'm reluctant to take it all back--it doesn't seem true. Yet. There's a country music song about this knocking around in my head begging to be written. Funny, I don't particularly like country music, but I'm convinced one about loving a tree would be an instant classic.

The girls are so happy with the news that it's still on the short list at prayer time. "Thank you God for saving our tree".

We're considering seriously the news the last two tree companies have given us: it will survive. We've decided to wait until Spring and see what really happens, if it grows leaves and/or fungus. One guy said there is a sort of "band" that we can put on the tree to hold up what he calls the leader limbs and keep them from blowing around too much in case they were weakened by the lightning strike. Think underwire bra (I did).

It was also explained to us that there is a lightning rod system that can be put in place on the tree that will ground any future strikes. Think expensive (Monte did).

We went to Indiana last weekend to see my parents. My hometown, Brownstown, sits on the edge of the Hoosier National Forest. I forget how beautiful it is there this time of year. We went on a short hike in a state forest I've been to a million times. I've hiked, attended church pot-lucks, ice skated when the small pond froze and even hosted a boy-girl s'mores party there when I was 14. But for some reason, I've never taken Monte there (he's not so much the "outdoorsy" type). But he loved it. Ellie said in the middle of the hike, "I'm so glad I'm here! I love hiking!" This being the same girl who threw herself on the floor and refused to put on her shoes when I announced we were going.

We found a tree identification path (yes, we are geeks). It was so much fun guessing what tree was what when the leaves were almost gone or so high up we could barely see them. My dad could identify some by the bark. What Monte and I noticed over and over on the dense path was that none of the trees came close to being as big as ours. Not to brag as proud parents can do, but these trees had scrawny trunks with leaves no bigger than our hand. Our Sycamore requires all four of us to hug it completely and consistently drops leaves as big as our face. (I'm telling you, this song is writing itself!) Granted, some of the trees on our hike were probably mere teenagers. I kept singing in my head the line of the song from Pocahontas: "How high does the Sycamore grow? If you cut it down, you'll never know". We're proud to say we DO know and it's standing in our backyard.

I still look out at the tree when the wind is blowing hard and wonder what truly is holding it together. It's scar is still so evident etched in its bark. Then I say a prayer, deeply comforted it's still there. (Does anyone have Kenny Chesney's phone number?)

Tuesday, October 17, 2006


HALLOWEEN

Halloween is huge at the Hartranft house. It's one of many family traditions that I brought to the marriage. As a child, my family reveled in the creative process of dressing up in homemade, clever costumes. I never owned one of those store-bought plastic boxed costumes. Maybe once or twice my brothers wore a purchased mask, but I don't think I ever did. Halloween was an expression of ingenuity, an outlet for a very creative family. My grandmother still helps us put together our outfits. It's just in our blood. Speaking of blood, my Halloween experience never included any. Halloween wasn't scary at our house. There were no creepy talking skeletons or hands that grab you when you try to sneak a piece of candy from a bowl. We never had a graveyard in our front yard with dry ice. Halloween was full of hobos and gypsies and firemen and cowboys and Raggedy Ann--not a single one of which was gashed open and bleeding profusely.

A few years ago we started dressing up as a family for trick or treat night and using a snapshot for our Christmas card. Monte is such a good sport and friends from all over the country look forward to what he in particular will be donning for our holiday greeting come Christmas time.

Three years ago our Halloween family dress up almost didn't happen. I explain in a story I was inspired to write immediately after the Halloween of 2003:

THERE'S NO PLACE LIKE HOME

I recently flew to Atlanta for a friend’s baby shower. No kids, no husband. It was my first flight alone in years. I didn’t check any bags, no car seat to lug around or purse overstuffed with crackers and toys. I read completely uninterrupted on the plane. I was giddy with lightness and solitude.

Later that same day, I called to check in at home. My girlfriend answered the phone. Before I could ask why she was at my house, she informed me that my husband, Monte, was in surgery—an emergency appendectomy. She and her husband were watching our daughters.

“Don’t worry, we’re spending the night”, she said. “Everything will be fine”, she reassured.

Everything wasn’t fine. I wanted to go home. I desperately wanted to go home. Shocked, I was sucked into the organizational details of booking an immediate flight back home to Ohio and arranged for my parents to drive over from out of state to watch our daughters and relieve my friends.

Back at the airport, the whirlwind of calls continued regarding my husband’s condition and final confirmation of plans from friends and family. Two and a half hours after finding out about Monte’s surgery, I was on a plane and with the cell phone turned off, alone with my thoughts. I want to go home. I can’t wait to get home. The same giddiness I felt on the flight to Atlanta was an empty pang of loneliness on the flight back. Why did I need a break from these wonderful people in my family? Why was I so desperate for time by myself? Guilt overwhelmed me. Thoughts of my husband being wheeled into and out of surgery all alone haunted me. His waking up in recovery to no one felt like a punch in the stomach. In between prayers, my mind screamed, I want to go home. I want to go home. I want to go home. It became a chant; almost a cheer and I became filled with eagerness to see all things familiar. My oldest daughter in her ripped pink princess dress-up dress with marker stains all over her hands. My 15-month-old daughter with her squeals and spills as she attempts to communicate and turn wobbly steps into running. And above all my husband with all his disorganized (but always well intended) flaws. I couldn’t wait to rush to his side in the hospital and declare that I would never again leave him or the girls and promise to nurse him back to health to the best of my abilities. I loved him more than ever.

Five days after my husband’s surgery, it was Halloween. As a family, we love to dress up and begin discussing our costumes during the summer. The recovery process was slower than Monte (and I) anticipated and playing nurse on top of playing Mom full-time was talking its toll. I considered (much to the horror of my 4 1/2-year-old) not dressing up this year. But I rallied and finished Monte’s and my own costume just minutes before walking out the door Halloween night. We walked (slowly) to a neighborhood Spooky Supper dressed as the Tin Man (Monte), The Scarecrow (me), Dorothy (my oldest daughter) and The Cowardly Lion (my youngest). I have to admit, considering the time crunch in which they were produced, our costumes turned out terrific.

At the supper, I complained to anyone who’d listen about the extra work I had around the house since Monte’s surgery.

“He can’t lift anything for three weeks! Not the girls and apparently not a finger,” I griped. Someone, attempting to be cute, said, “Well, there’s no place like home!”

I stopped what I was doing, my drink frozen in mid-air. I couldn’t believe it hadn’t occurred to me before. The silly irony of it all! My own life was jumping up and down in front of me but I was too busy telling it to sit down and be quiet to see what a beautiful wonderful gift it was. Like the character I was portraying, I wasn’t using my brain. It was just five days before that I was on a plane worried and homesick longing for the familiar chaos that is my precious life. How soon I forgot the helplessness of being far away. The uncomfortable awkwardness of breaking routine. The need to nurse all things sick back to health.

There’s no place like home. No, REALLY. There’s no place like home. That doesn’t mean I’ll never again want to run from the dirty laundry and temper tantrums for a weekend just for me. I’m already day dreaming of a birthday getaway with my girlfriends next month. But this time I’ll keep Dorothy’s mantra in my head instead of straw (it was in my heart all along anyway). There’s no place like home. There’s no place like home. There’s no place like home. I might as well stick the ruby slippers in my suitcase too—just in case.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006



Tree Hugger

This past week has been full of beauty and natural wonder and sadness. Walking to school on Monday, we saw a double-rainbow so bright in spots we could barely look at it. It wasn't raining and hadn't rained. A father crossed the street and commented to us that it was scary, "What does it mean?" he asked. This concerned McDaniel. Why would something so beautiful scare a grown up?

Last Thursday around 4:00 p.m., while enjoying a rare moment of quiet on the couch reading, I heard an explosion and the room flooded with a bright white light. A storm had blown in suddenly, forcing us inside from the backyard where we were playing. I sent the girls downstairs to watch TV so I could enjoy some quiet time. It lasted about 1 1/2 minutes.

Quickly, I thought the house or transformer had been struck by lightning (the power in the den and living room only went out) I rushed to check on the girls downstairs. They had heard nothing and were content, watching their show. I mentioned something had been struck by lightning and McDaniel asked if their was a fire. Good question, I thought to myself as I casually excused myself and then ran like the dickens upstairs to check for smoke. As I gawked out the window for any signs of fire and/or destruction, the black sky was momentarily illuminated by lightning that showed me exactly what happened. Our nearly 100-foot Sycamore tree in our backyard (less than 10 feet from our house) had the perfect markings of a lightning strike. It was as if a big ol' grizzly bear (with just one hook instead of multiple claws--work with me here) had clawed its way from the base of the tree up the ENTIRE height of the tree and then down the other side (which we didn't discover until two days later).

I was scared too death. One, what if the tree was unstable and going to fall on the house? Two, what if it was smoldering on the inside and eventually going to burn up the entire neighborhood? And three, four and five, what if the tree was going to FALL on the house?!?!?!

I called Monte who was all the way over on the east side of town getting our station wagon serviced. He didn't answer the first three times I called. When we finally connected, he instructed me and the girls to stay in the basement. By the time he made it home, the storm had blown over and we inspected the tree and took pictures. It was pretty amazing the way no limbs blew off or the fact the tree didn't crack or split. Or explode. From the debris on the ground, it did seem to scare it barkless.

During dinner the storm returned so we rushed back to the basement just in time to watch golf ball size hail destroy my beautiful impatiens that grew in the stair-step flower beds outside our egress window. The girls thought the world was ending. Monte and I were fascinated and glued to the window and forgot about our tree for a short while.

The next days were spent raking up green leaves (do you know how much heavier they are then their pretty red, yellow and brown cousins?) and assessing house, window and car damage. And, of course, taking pictures of our tree. The entire neighborhood and many friends have been by to look at, touch and offer advice for our beloved tree. In the past few days I've become a tree hugger, we all have. You see, it's base when we play tag. It's where we count for Hide and Go Seek and it's first base when we play whiffle ball. On the 4th of July at noon, we can sit in our backyard and not swelter. It's an awesome tree--the tallest on our block--quite possibly our street.

Dennis, the arborist, who strangely reminded me of my paternal grandfather who had a tree farm, broke the news to me yesterday in the back yard. "It has to go, honey," he said gently (I forgave him the remark because he was 75+ and I really appreciated the kindness). It was dying, more than likely fried on the inside with badly damaged thick, high limbs that stretch out over our house and our neighbors. There was too much risk to keep it. Sometimes beautiful things do become scary. Surprising myself, my bottom lip stuck out four blocks and shook wildly.

"I hate it when I have to give bad news," Dennis went on sweetly, giving me time to compose myself.

I kept thinking of the Lorax, half-expecting Dr. Seuss's little orange guy to pop out from behind the tree and say, "Mister! I am the Lorax. I speak for the trees. I speak for the trees, for the trees have no tongues. And I'm asking you, sir, at the top of my lungs…"

But he didn't.

"You don't understand," I said brokenly. "That's base when we play tag. It's where we count for Hide and Go Seek and it's first base when we play whiffle ball. On the 4th of July at noon, we can sit right here and not swelter. I love this tree," I squeaked inaudibly. I felt as if I were also speaking for the previous two owners of the house. Sixty years of memories surrounded this tree. It was here before the house was even built. I wasn't the first to utter love for this tree.

"I know, honey," Dennis comforted and then wrote out an estimate for the Sycamore's removal that made Monte cry.

Dennis told me that Sycamore wood is not good for anything: building or burning. Once chopped up, they will throw it in the dump. Something so tall and massive good for nothing but a tree.

Monte is convinced it took the hit for us, sparing the house the lightning strike. A protector while he was away. That's deserving of a hug, don't you think? And a prayer. We've been praising God--for seeing us through the storm and for his beautiful artistry of double rainbows and big tall Sycamores.

We've promised the girls that we'll plant again and let them help us decide what and where. Isn't there a quote out there somewhere about the closest we can come to immortality is to write a book and plant a tree? Two of my favorite things.

I think I became a tree hugger long before now. Digging through an old bag, I found some of my old poetry. This is from middle school or early high school. Forgive the lack of flow and overly brooding nature of it. Some things just don't change.

Looking into a pond of my childhood
I eagerly seek to find
If all my favorite places to go
Had stood the test of time

The log I used to sit and think on
Isn't there
And the place where wildflowers used to grow
Is bare

Turning around I was sure to find
That real tall tree that I used to climb
The one that stood out among all the other trees
And the one that broke my first bone
I found it right away because
It stood there all alone

Upset, I look down to see the one thing
That is left to remind me of my childhood
They're the rocks I wished could take my problems away
And when thrown across the water would

Looking into a pond of my childhood
I question the person I see
I throw in a rock to get rid of my reflection
And run over to hug my tree

Friday, September 15, 2006

COACH

It really goes without saying that Monte loves football. It started back when he was 5 and he realized the bond it created with his dad--at times it was the only bond. He studied it, memorized stats and fell in love with the Miami Dolphins and then later the Florida Gators. But it's more than just facts and plays swirling around in his head, he is passionate about the game, whoever is playing. Too bad he never played it. Instead he played soccer. So when the time came for McDaniel to be eligible to play, there was no question, she was going to play.

He started last fall as the assistant coach filling in when the head coach was traveling for work. This year he decided to sign up as the head coach. As the father of 2 girls, Soccer Sundays is as close as Monte is going to get to Football Friday nights. But he'll take it--it's not without its highlights.

Last night, Monte had the first practice. The team is divided into two: 1st graders on one team and 2nd graders on another. He arrived extremely early to be ready with team information packets and I came later with snack sign-up sheets and Ellie. I noticed as I passed around the clipboard and introduced myself that there was an older gentleman dressed in athletic gear that people were referring to as "Coach". Keep in mind that everyone was also calling Monte "Coach Hartranft". I thought to myself, "How sweet, a grandfather is going to coach the 1st grade team".

As Monte gathered the girls for a warm-up of jumping jacks and a run around the field, he pulled me aside and told me he was nervous. "Really?" I asked. "Why?" After all, he had helped coach before. "That's John Cooper over there." John Cooper…?John Cooper…Oh, JOHN COOPER! The former OSU college football coach John Cooper. He was there watching his 1st grade granddaughter practice.

He discreetly pointed out the prominent spectator to his assistant coach who replied, "So? He doesn't know soccer." It put Monte at ease and the practice proceeded with the normalness that is young girl soccer. Lots of giggles, ballet plies, unrelated questions and more giggles.

Practice concluded with John Cooper telling Monte, "See you next week!" Whoa, he's coming back?

I know it has always tugged at Monte's heart to drive by pee-wee football practice in the fall in a station wagon full of pink princess purses and ruffle dresses. But John Cooper was at HIS girl's soccer practice! Monte came home and called up his buddies, including my dad. Too bad his father has passed away and they couldn't bond again as always through football. As I said before, being a soccer coach isn't without its highlights.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

ENEMAS AND PULLING TEETH

As a parent we pretty much assume that our routine is going to include predominantly giving. Giving our children love through hugs and kisses. Giving our children nourishment through food and drink. Giving our children shelter, clothing, medicine when they are sick. In general, giving them a safe place to grow. Except for the occasional splinter and pretzel up the nose, we're not really prepared to extract things from our children. At least WE weren't.

Ellie has been playing the "holding it" game since July. She holds it and holds it and holds it and HOLDS IT until she literally can't sit down and then she tries to hold it some more by doing what we finally recognized as the "Poop Walk". She would pace the floor, going from room to room occasionally leaning against a chair or table to try to fight her body's needs for just a little bit longer. The game finally timed out when she would wet herself (always on the dining room rug) and then have to be carried to the bathroom screaming in pain. Sounds like fun, huh! It gets better.

After a month of this self-inflicted faux-constipation, we sought the help of a doctor who put her on numerous stool softeners, laxatives and extreme fiber-rich diets. Nothing worked. This girl could out last a cocktail of the aforementioned that would give an elephant explosive diarrhea. She held it until her intestines were so full that child birth would have been easier. She's 4.

So not wanting to go through that struggle again, she continued the holding it game. After an especially long "Poop Walk" Monte decided to talk with the pharmacist at CVS who recommended a suppository. Nothing happened--she didn't even flinch. Two hours later, Monte was back at CVS begging for another alternative. He came back with an enema. I've never had one nor do I recommend them but it FINALLY broke the streak of the holding it game. Monte couldn't watch (he wasn't around for the suppository either). Three days later, Ellie was back to her old tricks. So back to the doctor we went. After a rectal exam and other poking and prodding, the doctor determined she was indeed "full of it" and put her on a prescription strength medicine used to prepare your body for medical procedures (this is the type of thing my brother calls Colon Blow). She encouraged us to help Ellie get over the psychological obstacles of going to the bathroom. So poop is a hot word at our house. At any given time you'll hear us say, "Pooping is fun" or "Who wants to be part of the Poop Club?" (Monte came up with that one). We also go through a list of everyone in our family (distant and immediate) who, in fact, poops. Educations are hard at work here.

Things are slowly getting more normal for Ellie. The Colon Blow (that's not really what it's called) certainly did its job--on the floor, every step leading upstairs, in the hallway, on the bathroom floor and all over the bathtub. That was right before the babysitter rang the doorbell which I had to answer wearing rubber gloves and holding a spray bottle of bleach. "Oh, just doing some spring cleaning!" Monte walked by wearing rubber gloves as well holding Ellie's soiled dress as if it were explosive (of another nature). "Oh hi, Kate! Thanks so much for watching the girls for us!" he said as if he were reading the paper and not holding something unmistakably, horrifyingly poopy. We left to attend Ellie's school and meet her preschool teachers. In the middle of it, I had to ask Monte in a whisper, "Do I smell like poop?" Of course, there was no way he could tell. It was on our brains, in our hair, on our clothes and deeply imbedded into our senses. Except for Ellie coming home from a playdate yesterday with an "accident" in her drawers ("Mom, I didn't know how to tell what happened") it seems to be getting better each day.

In the middle of all the Poop Walks and doctor visits, McDaniel started getting wiggly teeth--four, to be exact. She'd pick one and wiggle it with her fingers and then her tongue until she couldn't stand it anymore and beg to have it yanked out of her mouth. Monte went through grand ceremonies involving dental floss, doorknobs, pliers and lots of tears and frustration. I just reached in her mouth and pulled it out. After each tooth came out, Monte was exhausted, "Why have we had to work so hard to get things OUT of our girls?"

McDaniel has lost all four now (she has her permanent front teeth and bottom teeth, these are the ones beside them) so her smile looks like a jack-o-lantern or someone from Deliverance. Her letters to the tooth fairy are nothing short of an investigative report, searching for loop holes in her enchanted toothy story. Last night, she left a note for T.F. (as she likes to refer to the tooth fairy) that she wanted one of MY teeth in addition to money. Eew. "I can't," answered T.F. Apparently the tooth fairy is better at taking things (having had nothing to do with the extraction) than giving them back. Hmmm…I wonder if she needs an assistant.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

V.I.P.

I was in Target last night by myself (a rarity--not that I was in Target, but that I was there by myself). Going at night is such a different experience than going during the day. During the day, I usually run into many other moms with kids doing the same thing I'm doing: buying the 24-roll pack of toilet paper and a kid's birthday present for an upcoming party. At night there is a much different crowd--more college and young professionals. If I had had the time and stomach for it, I'd park myself in the snack bar with whatever they sell there as food, and people watch. But I was on a mission and I tried to stay focused. I had toilet paper to buy and Ellie turns four on Thursday. My people watching skills was reduced to eavesdropping due to EVERYONE talking on their cell phones. It was not just two or three people using their phones but rather, just two or three of us NOT using them. Perusing through the dollar spot, I caught part of a conversation of a woman telling someone on the other line, under no circumstances, to pay "her" (whoever they may be) what she wants. "Like she's worth $68,000," she said sarcastically as she dug through $1.00 candy packaged in tiny little tin lunch boxes. I found myself wondering who "she" was and why $68k and not $65,000 or an even $70,000? I used to be a recruiter and my old negotiating self kicked in: why wasn't she worth it? Could a little polish and better presentation get her top dollar?

I moved on to plasticware to look for buckets (by the way they are only $1.49, so I bought two--who couldn't use another bucket? And they are red!). As I was trying to figure out if the $1.49 price was a mistake, I noticed a man was standing beside me staring at the mops, deep in thought. I was intrigued and hung out to see where that was going to go. After a VERY long while, he picked one mop up and twirled it around slowly, kicking the tires, I guess, and then put it back and continued his studying stare. At mops. I left, to compare prices in the back-to-school section to see if I could get a shower caddy for cheaper than $1.49 (I'm crazy like that) and realized quickly that I couldn't (not even close--$5.99!) So I went back to get another cute red bucket. Mr. Decision was STILL standing there staring at mops! Oh come on now, I wanted to cry out. Then a guy in a very tight t-shirt begged his pardon and reached in front of me and Mr. Decision and grabbed a mop, without so much as glancing at the price and went on his way. Mr. Decision and I shared a now-who-does-he-think-HE-is side glance. I left that section pondering which guy I would recommend to a girlfriend to date. I was still arguing both sides when I came upon a very tall man in bedding with long white hair asking someone on the other line if they thought he was funny. What if they said no? He laughed loudly at their response, so I moved on.

It was in the gift wrap section that I became disheartened. There were two men unrolling a roll of vinyl gift wrap the width of two aisles. They tried to ask in their broken English if it was a table cloth. A very unfriendly, condescending employee, said without stopping what she was doing or making eye contact, no, and vaguely pointed them to the section where tablecloths were sold. They neatly rolled up the gift wrap and left. I looked at the roll once they had left and found that it would've worked fine for a bright table covering and at $2.99 you couldn't find a better deal (HGTV designers would've loved it). I'm only sorry I didn't seek them out to tell them so.

As I was finally making my way to check out, I got distracted by a sale on batteries. As I was trying to find a pack with less than 64 batteries in it, I overheard a guy say loudly, "I don't date teachers or secretaries". Oh, I have to see this jerk, I thought. I turned to find a skinny guy clad with jeans, t-shirt and a ball cap covering curly shoulder-length hair. He picked up a Duncan Hines cake mix as if to read the ingredients and said again but louder, "I don't date teachers or secretaries!" I saw him turn and glance around quickly as if hoping to have an audience. "I will date a mom, though, that's fine," he said, maybe trying to rectify himself? I rolled my eyes and then continued my battery search when he said, "yeah, have them call my publicist". Oh, the guy was a fraud. I glanced at him again, squeezing the bread loaves and turning to see if anyone was watching him, giving him the respect that he so desperately lacking in himself. Knowing there was no one on the other line of his phone, I looked at him less harshly. I pitied him. I thought about him the whole way home.

All the genuine humanity (or lack thereof) that I saw in Target last night, that guy's lack of feeling important struck me as the most humane. We all have felt that way, invisible, uninteresting, just not to the extreme he did. Or maybe we have. I will pray for him. It's hard to go to Target without coming out with more than you planned.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

I AM BLESSED

I am truly blessed to be surrounded by incredible people. Everyday people. Extraordinarily diverse in every way people. And I am better for having their company.

We have Orkin come and spray for bugs and critters every other month throughout the year (it took us six years before we figured out that we should leave some things to the professionals). Greg, or "Bug Man" as the girls and I call him, is someone that I always look forward to seeing pull into the driveway. He always is smiling and he seems to thoroughly enjoy his job--no kidding. Yesterday I was blessed with his company and I asked him about his summer. He said he cooked 900 chicken wings last weekend for his son's graduation party. He went into some detail about how he carefully arranged them on his five grills and the multiple homemade sauces he prepared when he stopped in mid-sentence. "But if that is all I have to complain about in my life, then, I am truly blessed". I have been thinking about that statement ever since.

I just threw a surprise 40 1/2 birthday party for my husband. Several months of planning all came together in one weekend of putting up out-of-town guests, cooking and cleaning house. I was pretty busy and felt like I didn't sit down for three days. Even though it was a success and everyone had a blast, I was having a hard time recovering from the whirlwind weekend (my sleep and my attitude--no more cooking!) when Greg said what he said in my living room yesterday. If this is all I have to complain about in my life, then, I am truly blessed. To have family and friends, that when asked, are willing to travel by car or plane to surprise a brother or friend, is to have wealth beyond measure.

I have to admit, that I found myself frustrated by our small house in anticipation for the surprise weekend. I knew how many people were going to be here and scrambled to make sure everyone had something to eat and a place to sleep. I kept reminding myself of my grandparents little farm house, half the size of our house, yet the spot where we still all gather comfortably for holidays. If my grandmother ever stressed about food or sleeping arrangements, she never showed it. When my grandfather was dying, he confessed to my mom some regrets in his life. One of them was that he never bought my grandmother a larger house. It seemed so silly when Mom told me, so materialistic! He was dying and we all knew that my grandmother would trade any house for just a few more days to hold his hand. That little house has more love in it than any mansion. I will remember that the next time I grumble about not having enough closet space or find myself checking out the real estate listings in the paper. Love has a way of expanding square footage.

We have a wonderful handyman named Mike. Our house is old, so our need for him has been pretty constant, so he has become a member of the family now. My girls run to hug him when he walks through the door. Today he stopped by to chat since it had been some time since our last visit. He was proud to announce that it had been four days since he had had his last cigarette. I asked him what finally made him do it and he said that he had gotten out of breath one evening which annoyed and then scared him. While he was lying in bed trying to catch his breath, several things ran through his mind. One was a billboard he saw in Detroit some fifteen years ago of a woman trying to kiss an ashtray filled with cigarette butts. "This is what it's like kissing a smoker" the billboard read. The other thing that ran through Mike's head was my daughter, McDaniel, asking me if Mike was going to accidentally set the house on fire by smoking, even outside of it. Never underestimate the power of words--especially those from a child. Some past memories strung together in his present thinking was all it took to quit. He asked us to pray for him to stay smoke free. McDaniel reminded us before dinner to do just that.

While we were entertaining our friends over the big surprise birthday weekend, one of them asked me, "Isn't it amazing how good you feel doing this for Monte?" I lied. "Sure it's awesome" my mouth said as my mind was lying out enough sheets and pillows for everyone and making sure there was enough lemonade and ice tea. I didn't take two simple seconds to let it feel good. But thanks to a bug man and a handyman, I've taken the time, and it feels great. You should have seen Monte's face when he saw everyone sitting in the backyard. I am blessed.

Monday, June 26, 2006


THE ROAD LESS TRAVELLED

After six states and 2500 miles, I'm back from my trip to New England. It was awesome. It's different driving with a friend than driving with your spouse and two kids (all which have extremely small bladders). No, it's WAY different. Even though we drove a lot of miles, we took our time, we noticed the scenery, and more importantly, we got off the interstate.

Taking the road less travelled started in New York when we decided we needed to see Lake Erie. We got off on a highway and drove by the most amazing wineries. Field after field of grapes--in New York! When we finally made our way to a beach so we could stick our toe in the lake, we saw several people lying, fully clothed in the sand with no beach towels. As Shirley snapped my picture, I noticed the enormous dead fish inches from my feet than the dirty factory just yards away. Hmmm…I wondered the rest of the trip if we should've checked to see if those supposed sun bathers were breathing.

We ended up in Syracuse our first night (it was far too chilly for my sequin-eyed flamingo jammy top but the bottoms made the point quite effectively). We drove around the city the next day and saw very little of the university due to lots of construction and one-way streets. We were told that the Erie Canal Museum was quite interesting but found it to be closed because it was a Monday. So we were back on the interstate but not for long as we decided to get off on a highway and drive through the Adirondack Mountains. I couldn't believe how beautiful New York could be! The lakes and little towns sparsely built up around each were so quaint. We ended up in Lake Placid for the night and I couldn't take the scenery in enough. The mountains were reflected beautifully in the clear still water of Lake Placid. There is a thriving downtown that Shirley said reminded her of Park City, Utah. We got to see where the 1932 and 1980 Olympic hockey teams played as well as many other winter venues including the ski jump towers which made me almost pass out (I'm no good with heights). I wasn't even half-way to the top and I couldn't believe anyone in their right mind would do that--willingly. Monte has always wondered, how do you know you're good at ski jumping? And what was that first jump like when you figured out you're not?

The next day we were on to Vermont and had the pleasure of riding a ferry across Lake Champlain. I've been on a ferry before, but never with a few cars, a Winnebago (pulling a PT Cruiser) and several motorcycles. It took an hour but the time flew since the view was fantastic. One surprise: the people in the Winnebago were my age! Once in Burlington, we drove around the University of Vermont and took several attempts at guessing what type of cat their mascot was. It wasn't until we were in Stowe that someone told us it was a cougar. A note for the University of Vermont officials: it's not an effective mascot if no one knows what the heck it is!

Vermont is one motorcycle and car hauling a canoe on its top after another. It seems as if the entire state is set up to be outdoors all the time. And there are moose crossing signs everywhere! We even saw one bear crossing sign! But no moose or bears did we see.

Stowe, Vermont was a cute little town set up for all seasons of tourists. Our hotel looked like a cheesy one-story motel but our room was enormous. There was a badminton court in the back. You could rent kayaks down the street and we passed several closed ski resorts. I guess the fall brings a ton of foliage seekers. I can only imagine how beautiful the mountains would be snow covered or splashed with the reds, yellows and oranges of fall because seeing how green and alive everything looked in June was stunning. "How did God know to do this?" Shirley asked me one day after enjoying the scenery on one of our roads less travelled. We imagined ourselves pioneers and riding in wagons through dense forests and than discovering one of these tucked away lakes mirroring the image of a bright green mountain. We know now why not every young man heeded the call to go west.

Right smack dab in what we thought was the middle of nowhere was the Ben and Jerry's Ice Cream Factory. Of course, we had to stop. We took the tour of the small factory where they amazingly make most of the ice cream for the world with a few exceptions--Israel has their own factory. I tried a new ice cream flavor: Turtle Soup. It was vanilla ice cream with caramel swirls and chocolate covered cashews. I'm kicking myself that I didn't try their new Strawberry Cheesecake flavor. I thought I'd step outside of my ice cream flavor box but that was wrong, wrong, wrong. Speaking of wrong, their was a Flavor Graveyard on the grounds of the factory with tombstones of the flavors no longer in circulation. Each stone had a cute rhyming epitaph describing why it bombed or just ran its course in popularity. Let's just say the cleverness behind the epitaphs was far more powerful than that behind the Turtle Soup.

With ice cream still on our breaths, we discovered an Apple Cider shop. Even though the cider was fantastic, it felt like lead in my stomach in combination with Ben and Jerry's. But we were off again to the Von Trapp family estate. Wow! I expected a corny themed restaurant with people in lederhosen singing "Doe, a deer, a female deer". Not even close! This place was like a chateau in Switzerland. I can see why they chose to settle in that spot after fleeing Austria--those hills were most certainly alive with the sound of music. Dartmouth was having a reunion for the class of 1956 at the main hotel. I poked my head in their party just to see what money and privileged education looked like old. Not any different.

We had a ball in the Von Trapp family gift shop. Shirley collects charms from her travels. She has over 18 bracelets (before this trip) that she never wears but treats as her own personal scrapbooks. It's such fun helping her find them--sometimes she pays dearly (like the solid gold hockey player charm in Lake Placid) but she always makes a buddy in the cashier or fellow shopper after telling of her collection. Right now, she's waiting for the gal from Ben and Jerry's to mail her a black and white cow charm.

After Stowe, we were off to Bretton Woods to ride the Cog Railway. I was leery from the start when Shirley said we HAD to ride it, but even more so after the hotel front desk lady told us of a terrible crash in 1967 that resulted in several deaths. She needs to learn the art of exercising judgement. The Cog Railway is just the most bizarre concept (nevermind that its 137 years old). It's a steam engine (think Thomas train but without the scary face) PUSHING a wooden car that looks like something in the streets of San Francisco. No big deal? It PUSHES the wooden car (containing me, Shirley and just a few others under the age of 85) along the tracks UP the mountain. Going 3 miles an hour. It's like when you ride a roller coaster and you click, click, click your way to the top of the highest hill to add anxiety and suspense before you scream your head off on the way down. But the click, click, click part lasted an hour and a half and we stopped (yes, STOPPED) three times, once at a 37% grade incline. The little conductor guy, Jaffi, had us stand up (pretty difficult when your eyes are shut tight and your legs are noodles) so we could see that the people in the front rows were 12 feet in the air higher than the people in the back rows. I wasn't impressed. I wanted the flippin' heck off. We did get off, at the peak of the mountain (elevation, 6300 feet) where we could eat and shop at the lodge. Shirley made friends with the flirty "fire man" of the train (he scoops the coal for the engine on the way up and pretty much chills out on the way down). I asked him about the wreck in 1967 (he was so not even close to being born then) and he said he's not allowed to talk about it on top of the mountain, only at the bottom. That wasn't encouraging.

In the lodge there were many weary hikers sleeping at their tables. The weather was foggy and in the 40s (it was nice and warm down below). They claim the weather at the top of the mountain is the worst weather in the country. In the winter they STILL run the Cog Railway! You can buy a one-way ticket and ski down the mountain waving to the train's passengers along the way.

When we got back onto the train they had flipped the seats around so we could see the engine. Apparently, there's no easy way to turn those bad boys around. We got to go a whopping six miles an hour on the way down with only Jaffi controlling the brakes with a steering wheel. He posed for pictures and chatted with people which was just a far too lackadaisical approach to his job than I would've preferred. Not cool, Jaffi, not cool. The ride down was so much better than the ride up because each few feet we made without becoming a runaway train, was one closer to being on the ground. Shirley asked me, "Where have you seen a view like this?" "From an airplane!" I screamed for we were above, WAY above the treeline. Only for Shirley.

Halfway down the mountain, when I realized we weren't going to die a horrible mangled bloody death, I actually enjoyed it. But never again--not even for Shirley.

After our crazy ride, we drove through rain to get to the ocean in Portsmouth. I had to have a lobster roll straight from the source. It was heavenly--and Shirley's first. After the ocean we headed back through the southern part of New Hampshire making stops here and there for Exeter Academy and my friend Andrea's hometown of Brattleboro, Vermont. We fell in love with Bennington, Vermont with its painted moose sculptures and artist palettes everywhere. Robert Frost is buried there, so of course we had to pay tribute to the man we had been quoting all week.

Through rural New York we almost hit a turkey crossing the road. We didn't see a sign for that one or the pig who gave Shirley a ticket for speeding in a work zone (she was going only 10 miles over). He wasn't at all nice about it.

The trip was one amazing view after another with trees, lakes and church spires that could inspire the most uninspirable to pick up a brush and paint. We talked until my jaw ached and laughed until I thought I would wet my pants and we ate the most amazing seafood. Largest jug of syrup in the world excluded, it was a most successful trip.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

ROAD TRIP

I'm leaving tomorrow on a road trip. I'm going with my 4th grade teacher Shirley Snapp. She is retired, single and has no children so her schedule is much easier to work with than other friends in similar mommy boats like me. Plus, she is a hoot. Her laugh is loudly uninhibited and completely contagious. Last year I convinced her to accompany me to Portland, Oregon to visit my brother and we had a ball. I'm not sure when I've laughed that hard. This year, I convinced her into another trip but I allowed her to choose the location. Tomorrow she's picking me up and we're driving to New Hampshire, Vermont and possibly Maine. She wants no itinerary, no hotel reservations just her and I on the open road ready to pull over and check out anything that interests us. Shirley loves the off-the-beaten path points of interest. Last year, she made my brother pull over to see the second tallest cypress tree in the world. Not the first, but the second.

As much as the no intinerary thing goes against how I usually plan trips, it is so freeing. I'm not anxious about flights (I hate flying all of a sudden) or packing light or having all the right confirmation numbers (that I usually keep in a folder with area information). This time I only have an atlas and a few points of interest that friends from the area have recommended. How wonderful! I did have to get new underwear though. I'm not sure why, but when I go away on a trip I have to have new underwear. I don't do that when I go away with my family on Spring Break or to the beach in the summer, just when I go away on my own. Take that one to Freud or Oprah.

I also had to buy new pink flamingo pajamas. Shirley LOATHES flamingoes and the color pink. Last year (while I was buying new underwear for the Portland trip) I stumbled upon a pair of flamingo PJs that I couldn't resist. Our first night in Oregon I strutted out of the bathroom flamingo-clad to a very shocked Shirley. Her reaction was priceless. For all the same reasons you wouldn't wear the same dress to the ball two years in a row, I was forced to buy new very pink, very flamingo jammies. I can't wait to see Shirley's reaction this year--the large flamingo's eye on the shirt is a black sequin!

When I get back I hope to have loads of stories of wonderful seafood meals, interesting sights and tons of pictures to prove it. I've heard there is the world's largest jug of syrup somewhere in Vermont. Hmmmm…that may be worthy of a pull over.

Friday, June 09, 2006



GEORGIA ON MY MIND

Atlanta has always had a special place in my and Monte's heart. For me it was where I developed into a post-college adult, made a name for myself in my career and fell in love, all in the steamy hot, magnolia-scented, southern drawl of a fast growing city.

Monte and I met at the corporate office of Waffle House. He was in risk management and I was in corporate communications. I wrote him into my Waffle Chatter newsletter as a reoccurring character called Safety Man. As glamourous as it was to have my own column called Dear Karmen along with a hotline for questions that drunk grill operators would call and leave lewd messages on at 3:00 am, after a year I had to get out of the Waffle House. It wasn't until I was picking up my last paycheck that Monte revealed his love for me. But I moved back to Indiana anyway and left all my belongings in a storage unit in Atlanta (Monte's idea).

Oh, how I missed the city, and the way it empowered me to spread my wings. In Indiana I was eternally a kid, in Atlanta I was independent. Its draw was irresistible.

After Monte and I married, we lived in a 2-story condo building in the heart of Buckhead. It was partially furnished and bleakly painted. It was a 2-bedroom, 1 bath (the toilet and tub were gray) with a stackable washer and dryer right inside the bathroom that took approximately 22 hours to dry two pairs of jeans.

The woman who lived across the hall HATED us. Judging by the 47 bumper stickers she had on her hatchback Toyota, she hated most everyone--especially men who might not care about the near extinction of the spotted owl. She had a habit of blasting opera music in the early hours of the weekend and knocking on our door to ask for pinches of spices I'd never heard of. She used to ALWAYS catch us holding hands or snuggling in the hallway and would stomp off huffily muttering to herself things I'm sure we did not want to hear.

That apartment was drab, the linoleum kitchen floor could not be cleaned (my mother tried every visit) and the gray toilet sported hopeless rust stains. But we LOVED it. I remember spending an entire day making cornish hens in this terra cotta cooker thing we got as a wedding gift. By the time they were done I was famished but ate alone to the sounds of Monte retching mucous in the bathroom from a bad sinus infection. Good times.

Our next apartment was on the 6th floor of an 18-story high rise. There was a pool, and free tennis lessons from a pro every Saturday morning. The doorman (what was his name?!) did so well at Christmas that it bumped him into a different tax bracket. My best friend lived with us in the 2nd bedroom which allowed us to save and buy our first home a year later. Monte's best friend lived in the penthouse where we watched 4th of July fireworks practically at eye level. It was like we were out the script of a sitcom.

The building was an interesting mix of young singles, newlyweds and single seniors not quite ready for a nursing home. The building hosted several happy hours and buffet dinners which was always attended by a resident we swear was Bea Arthur.

Our first home was walking distance from our apartment building in Buckhead but was smaller than either of our first dwellings. But it had a yard--horribly sloped so that hard rains ran right into our crawl space, but a yard (containing gorgeous azaleas) nonetheless. It only had one bathroom and no garage. There were bats in the attic and a colony of yellow jackets in the front yard that Monte unknowingly "disturbed" while mowing and was stung multiple times which he handled in true Monte style: he wildly thrashed about screeching that "they" were after him and made me call my mom. Here's a tip she shared with us: meat tenderizer mixed with water makes a paste that takes the pain and swelling out of a sting (it also is an important ingredient in my mom's cheese ball recipe). Interesting tidbit: yellow-jackets take off and land like fighter jets and their sting is worse than any other an insect could inflict (or so Monte says). We watched from the window at 5:00 am while a man with large gloves and a black garbage bag removed an enormous hive from the landscape timber in our front yard. He later told us that it contained 40 queens. Those weren't the type of queens we were used to in Atlanta. We had no problem paying his outrageous removal fee.

But we loved that little flesh-colored house with the red door with a romanticism that only two idiot people in love could. We hosted huge parties where no one had enough places to sit or relieve themselves. We mourned the loss of my grandfather there, planned our trip to Paris, celebrated birthdays, holidays and anniversaries. We brought home our first baby knowing she would never grow up in the tiny nursery we painted to look like the ocean. We moved to Columbus when McDaniel was just one month old--ironically, it was April Fool's Day.

Monte just got back last night from a business trip to Atlanta. He took pictures of that first apartment building and first home and the good memories have surrounded me like mosquitoes on a steamy southern night--but I don't mind the swatting. The apartment looks exactly the same--down to the small mailboxes. Gone is the flesh-colored paint of our home replaced by a preferable white. Thank goodness the red door remains. But this time Monte left the city with no longing to move back. The honeymoon is so over. It took him 25 minutes to drive one mile (with no sidewalks to get out and walk), everything seemed overly built-up and it was stinky hot. Columbus is our home now, we can finally say it out loud. This is where we are going to raise our family and have the quality lifestyle we want. But breaking up is hard to do…I need to tune in to an opera station on the radio, eat some scattered, covered and smothered hashbrowns at the Waffle House and plant a magnolia in the backyard. I know it may not survive the midwestern winter, but it's worth the romantic, southern, fragrant memory-laden risk.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

ADDENDUM TO I SCREAM FOR ICE CREAM

I am an equal opportunity ice cream eater. It was brought to my attention that my earlier blog on ice cream was not fair and balanced. While I do love my cheesecake ice cream at Graeter's I do have other local/national favorites that I failed to mention. It was also brought to my attention that I needed to try out a new shop that has been doing some very inventive things with ice cream. Of course I was game and we tried it Sunday after an afternoon of yard work. Oh my! I was intrigued with Jeni's shop the second I walked into the Grandview location with its milk glass bottle lights (from Jeni's own collection) and the barn siding wall salvaged from an Ohio farm (that she planed and brought back to life with stain). But bring on the ice cream! As a family we probably sampled 10 flavors before deciding on our combinations (2 flavors are encouraged as they work together to please the palette the same way fruit does in a good Chardonnay). This is no Baskin Robbins. The flavors I chose were Salty Caramel (yum-yum-yummy-yum!) and Lime Cardamom (a Jamaican spice). I know what you are thinking--eww, but it was delicious! The lime cut the heaviness of the Salty Caramel like sorbet does in between entrees at a formal dinner. And speaking of sorbets, Jeni has several as well as frozen yogurts. My husband had Passion-fruit frozen yogurt with Salty Caramel. The Passion-fruit is amazing and will definitely be one of my combination picks next time. My daughters chose Lime Cardamom and Raspberry frozen yogurt and Blueberry/Lemon and Raspberry. I was proud my daughters bypassed the chocolate and vanillas and didn't even ask if they had sprinkles. They too were caught up in the tasting and combining of interesting flavors. To check out Jeni's (she ships!): http://www.jenisicecreams.com/index_elements/0201_store/flavors.html

I also have to mention Dairy Queen. Yes, I know, it's soft serve, it's a large chain--everything I usually red flag in a merchant--but it's good. Don't be snooty, you've all had it at some point in your lives--admit it. It's okay. Growing up, my younger brothers and I would play with the neighbor Shelton boys, Tyson and Trent. Their house was a 70s split level dream with every modern convenience and decoration. Lava lamps, lighted, moving pictures and the carpet in the basement that had the checkers and chess boards woven right into the pattern. They also had a large fridge in the garage that ALWAYS had Dilly Bars in them. Summers were spent playing tag and riding our bikes and stopping in at their fridge for a Dilly Bar. The weird part about it is that I don't like chocolate--but waxy chocolate covering soft serve ice cream frozen on a stick--that's genius! Our house only had homemade chocolate chip cookies and brownies--nothing special to the Raymer kids. What we wanted only could be bought--at the DQ.

When I was pregnant with my first child (and a little with my second until I discovered Graeter's cheesecake ice cream) I had a serious craving for Dilly Bars. My husband would buy me Dilly Bars by the box and each night I would go to the freezer and count them lest my husband got foolish and dipped into my stash. That happened once, just once.

I also have to mention that nothing hits the spot better on a long road trip than a McDonald's caramel sundae (no nuts). But they, like the foolish fools at Graeter's with my beloved cheesecake flavor, have eliminated caramel as a topping for their sundaes. Of course I asked why and they gave me some song and dance about precious storage space (they've gone to only chocolate so they don't have to have a separate caramel dispenser). I haven't drafted a letter yet, I'm not sure I have it in me emotionally, me not being postpartum anymore and all. I'm still hoping, like Graeter's, McDonald's will sense the loss and pain of separating family. And what's more relative than ice cream?

Monday, June 05, 2006



THIS LITTLE LIGHT OF MINE

My daughter Ellie announced to us the other day that when she is 16 she is going to drive a "vertible" (convertible) and be on American Idol. She's 3 and she's not at all embarrassed to share her dreams.

My other daughter McDaniel did a presentation in front of her first grade class where she announced that she wants to be an illustrator and author of children's books. No self-consciousness whatsoever.

When I was elementary school age I used to write articles all the time, some illustrated, and post them on our refrigerator for all to see. This had nothing to do with homework or school, just something I would do for fun. My uncle was visiting once and commented on one particular article I had written on a theory of why the dinosaurs became extinct. Not only did he read my writing crudely tacked to our harvest gold fridge with large alphabet magnets, but he said he actually learned something new. I was glowing! Thirty years later that memory is still very vivid in my mind.

Do you remember the words to "This Little Light of Mine"? You know, "I'm gonna to let it shine, let it shine, let it shine." Do you remember the other verses? "Hide it under a bushel? No! I'm gonna let it shine." It goes on to say not to let Satan blow it out and let it shine 'til Jesus comes. The idea is that God's love and blessings through his son Jesus Christ is something to share with brilliant exuberance, not hushed whispers in the dark. That's heavy stuff to grasp in a children's song--although I have a feeling I understood it more then than I do now. Like Ellie and McDaniel--I know their hearts and the dreams beating inside. Its mine that have been hidden under a bushel while I tried to be cool or normal or just like everyone else. (Who was I kidding? I've never been normal!)

I heard a quote the other day about if we don't fully shine in the way we were intended, we are denying the world our light. The world would be dimmer without Mozart, Picasso, Ellie and McDaniel--all brave dreamers not allowing Satan to blow out their light. I'm working hard to join them.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

I SCREAM FOR ICE CREAM!

I love ice cream. My involvement is deep and goes way back. I have early memories of PaPa (my grandfather) cranking by hand the wooden ice cream maker containing my grandmother, MaMa's, fantastic vanilla ice cream with just a hint of lemon.

One summer when I was young, my father even opened an ice cream shop called The Big Dipper with the high school principal. The Big Dipper served hand-scooped ice cream among them the best peanut butter flavor I've ever had. I had forgotten how much I adored that ice cream until we went to Vero Beach last year and had a variety of peanut butter that came pretty close--I tried it several times to come to that highly sophisticated conclusion.

The Big Dipper only survived one summer in my small hometown due to the soft serve place that opened down the street. They had arcade games. What can I say, it was the 80s and there was just no competing with Pac Man and Asteroids.

When we moved to Ohio seven years ago we were introduced to Graeter's ice cream. After a long unfulfilled ice cream need left by our time in Atlanta, the creamy French pot style of Graeter's was like coming home. My family each have our specific favorite flavors--no need to ask what we want when someone is making a Graeter's run. Mine has always been cheesecake, which actually has sizable chunks of my favorite non-ice cream dessert making it a brilliant marriage of taste and texture. It was a staple in my diet when I was pregnant with my youngest daughter, Ellie. In fact, it was the last thing I ate before I delivered her. So you can imagine my horror when the news came weeks later that Graeter's would be eliminating cheesecake ice cream from their menu. I was a postpartum, hormonal, sleep-deprived, nursing mother. When Monte came back from Graeter's with plain vanilla, I was devastated. Anger raging inside (which quickly turned to hysterical sobbing) I immediately drafted a letter to Graeter's trying to explain that discontinuing the cheesecake flavor was no less barbaric and horrific than them ripping my newborn daughter from my arms and running away, never to be seen again. No warning, no good-byes.

I was a bit of a mess and Monte tiptoed into the den to see what all the racket was about. He just nodded slowly with eyebrows engaged as I blubbered through the pain and loss of my beloved cheesecake ice cream. Monte's smarter than I give him credit. He knew any word uttered aloud would've ensured his complete and thorough verbal assassination--and a night on the couch. This was ice cream, after-all.

That was almost four years ago and I've moved on to strawberry--peach and key lime pie when it's in season. Life does have a way of moving forward. We were celebrating McDaniel's last soccer game at Graeter's Sunday when I saw, like a vision, the enchanted word "cheesecake" listed among the other flavors. Yippee doesn't even come close. Even though I never mailed my hormonally charged letter to Graeter's (I can't seem to find it anywhere either, which smacks of Monte's wisdom yet again) I still take a small bit of credit for the cheesecake flavor's return. It just makes good sense--a baby needs to be with its mother.

Friday, May 19, 2006

ALL THE THINGS I ONCE KNEW BUT SOMEWHERE ALONG THE LINE FORGOT

I've learned so much from my daughters. There is such a pure unjaded truth they have that I feel I've lost somewhere in adulthood. You know, all those things you once knew but somewhere along the line forgot. Important things, like enthusiasm, wonder and pure joy for life. Along with that my daughters have a fear of things that don't figure into their simple understanding of life. Like flies. I'm not sure why, but they are terrified of the household fly. My daughters are 7 and 3 1/2 and McDaniel (who is 7) recently went through a series of questions with me regarding flies.

"Do they help make flowers grow?"

No.

"Do they eat bad bugs?"

No.

"Do they sting?"

No.

"Why are they here?"

I have no idea.

The very idea that I had no idea on why flies exist scared my girls. If we are really honest with ourselves, isn't that what keeps us up at night--the unexplainable? Isn't a little fear what keeps us honest, exercising and kneeling to pray? Maybe flies are somewhat sinister--what little I saw of the movie The Fly was pretty freaky--and I just forgot somewhere along the line to fear them.

McDaniel came to me a few weeks ago with a confession. "I've been buying snacks at school," she admitted. Her elementary school has a credit system of buying lunches. We put money into an account that she can use by just giving the account number to the lunch lady when she purchases lunch. The idea is to prevent bullying and young children losing their money, etc. Somewhere the sense of financial responsibility is lost in the "charge it to my account" process, but that's another story.

It never occurred to us that McDaniel, our first born and one who always asks permission to do anything, would start adding chips, brownies and cheese filled breadsticks to her account. After she admitted to her sneaky snacking charges, I thanked her for being honest. I asked her how long it had been going on and she painfully admitted several weeks. Whoa. When I asked why she told me now she said, "It just bubbled up inside me." The relief on her face was priceless.

I know, in certain situations, I ignore the "bubbling up inside me" and I stubbornly torture myself by denying myself the opportunity for relief. When did I forget that it's okay to admit to sneaking, lying or being afraid of things that you just can't explain? It helps that there is always a pair of arms to wrap around you and say, "It's okay, because you told the truth." Even if that hug happens only deep inside.

Confession is never easy like having to admit that McDaniel is smarter and braver than me. But I'm still learning…from my girls…all the things I once knew but somewhere along the line forgot.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

(I'd like to thank my sister-in-law Gretchen for giving me the idea to start a blog. I've enjoyed reading hers and feeling a part of her life even though she is far away.)

Some people hear melodies in their head or rhythms bump-bump-bumping begging to come out. Some people count, calculate or reorganize numbers in their mind for comfort. Some people type out every word they say on an imaginary keyboard in their lap.

I'm not one of them.

In my head I constantly answer questions talk show interview style. You know, a funny story, a clever comment and a quick profound insight that isn't too totally a "what I know for sure" moment. Then I edit the whole response over and over. I've done this for as long as I can remember--lying in bed, sitting in class, driving the car, mingling at parties. Sometimes I've actually tried them out on people and not all of them bombed.

It took me sometime to realize that I wasn't fantasizing about being famous (which I would never want to be) but I was actually writing and editing mini stories in my brain. So, instead of always complaining about being a frustrated writer (frustrated that I NEVER write) I've decided to finally write down weekly what I've always got going on in my ol' noggin anyway. It may not always be pretty but it will give me some good practice. Please feel free to Simon Cowell me--I'll only get better with criticism. Like Monte says about his jokes--it's quantity over quality. I hope to provide quality writing a little more than he does with his punch lines. Nonetheless, he's my biggest fan and I love him. As Andrea's friend Scott liked to call us, I give you Karmonte. Enjoy!