Sunday, December 31, 2006

Nice pants

It's Day 7 of my Christmas vacation and I can feel my brain turning into jelly. It doesn't help that I tend to follow the boys around with a dustpan. Our house is small and with four bodies filling it from room to room, the clutter tends to pile up. Also, there's no escape from the Xbox, EPL review shows, GI Joe war games, or wrestling matches, so I'm going a little batty. We've had several days of rain, and now it's cold.

Honestly, I am counting the hours until I go back to work on Tuesday. I take refuge in the quiet repetitiveness of my job. Once everyone finishes sharing their New Year's celebration stories, I'll be back into the rhythm of productivity.

I have, however, been relatively productive here. I rallied the troops the day after Christmas to get all the decorations down and the house back to normal. I've worked on my scrapbooks and watched a couple of documentaries: Guns, germs & steel and When the levees broke. I've finished 4 books and am about to finish a 5th. I've made curtains for the boys' room and the guest room. We scouted out some new shades at Home Depot for our bedroom and the bathrooms. I've taught Sport how to do some strategic planning in Scrabble (he's getting pretty good) and we all tried to learn how to play our newest boardgame, Cranium.

I guess I'm feeling a bit of the post-Christmas letdown, although I'm glad it's over. I hate the way I feel the week before Christmas. Maybe it's my own weird hypersensitivity, but I swear I feel a pulsing energy rising from every store and home, a kind of collective desperation to meet ridiculously high expectations that gathers and melds into a shimmering entity that hovers over the city. I try to stay out of it myself, but it's not easy. And everytime I turn on the radio, someone is covering "Have yourself a Merry Little Christmas." As far as I'm concerned, only 2 people are allowed to sing that song: Judy Garland and Karen Carpenter. For anyone else to attempt it is blasphemy.

I wore my new pants today. I finally caved in and purchased a pair of flaired hip-huggers. It took me back to their days of origin -- circa 1970. I was in elementary school and somehow acquired a stylish pair of white flaired pants. I can't remember shopping for them. Perhaps they were pulled out of the church donation box, as were many of our clothes. In that time, kids didn't really care what they wore, but I fell in love with these pants. They had at least a 12-inch spread and made a satisfying swish when I walked. (I would have worn them everyday if given the chance, but my mom manage to sneak them away for a washing when dirt rings formed on the hems.) Coordinated with a jazzy pink plaid top and platform shoes, I felt like a million bucks -- if, that is, I ignored my Bugs Bunny overbite and waifish freckles.

Anyway, I thought I might be pushing it, trying to wear pants similar to ones I wore in the 3rd grade. But Gouldie said they looked good, and hey, I really love these pants.

Happy New Year, everybody!

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

How do you spell...

"Stop spelling and go to bed!"

We just watched Akeelah and the Bee. And yes, the boys are now would-be Scripps National Spelling Bee champions. It's an interesting phenomena, one I'm sure many parents are familiar with. Or perhaps our kids are weirdos. But everytime we watch a movie, they morph into the hero/heroine or animal of interest. We once looked at a documentary on chickens. After we put the video away, we found them wandering through the hallway, scratching at the carpet with their toes and clucking.

"Weren't you supposed to put those clothes away six hours ago? Why don't you go in there and spell yourself into a clean room!"

Hopefully everyone got what they wanted for Christmas. We gave each other the gift of new windows this year. I'm not sure how I got to this point -- craving home improvement items rather than new shoes, diamonds, or the newest pair of designer jeans, but I've arrived with a vengeance. In fact, as we took a walk this afternoon, SO and I played a game in which we imagined we'd won $10,000 and had to say how we'd spend it (two rules: we couldn't blow it on one thing, and no gifts to charity). The first five items I named all had to do with improving the house: wood floors, gutters, cabinets, countertops, garden fountain.

"Mom, ask me any word. I can spell it!"

Our Christmas gathering was a lot of fun. We spent it with SO's family, and these people know how to party. In general, we're able to avoid the two big no-no's: politics and religion. They serve up lots of delicious food and decadent baked goods! (I ate so much sugar, I'll probably get diabetes in 2007.) There's always lots of alcohol (I'm partial to strawberry daiquiris myself) and plenty of family members to talk about and/or counsel through difficult times. After taking a call from Houston, my favorite sis-in-law shook her head as she hung up the phone. "We are such a dysfunctional family!" I'm convinced all families are dysfunctional in their own way. In fact, I think Tolstoy could be tweaked a bit to read: "Functional families are all alike; every dysfunctional family is dysfunctional in its own way."

"How do you spell mistletoe?"

When I think of all the things we've been through since I hooked my family up with my hubby's, it sounds like the worst kind of afternoon talk show: teenage pregnancy, alcoholism, multiple divorces, embezzlement, spousal abuse, larceny, drug abuse, car accidents, brain injuries, jail. But behind each story is the face of a loved one. The heart has a great capacity for understanding, forgiveness and acceptance, and something else.

I spell it: G-R-A-C-E.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Encore, bravo, encore!

Sport’s piano recital was last weekend. This thing usually lasts about 3 hours (I am not exaggerating) as 30 students, ranging from the ages of 6 to 18, all perform a special piece of music. We are very proud of our boy, as he won the Outstanding Performer of the Year and was a big hit as The Narrator for the Romantic Period, looking adorable in his double-breasted suit and jaunty cap.

But I’m not going to brag on him.

About midway through the performance, two little old ladies came wobbling in and sat on our row. One was wearing her best Sunday-go-to-meetin’ fur coat. The other had her blue hair perfectly coiffed and was clutching a cavernous black bag. Settling into their chairs, faces creased with enigmatic smiles, they opened their programs to find the name of their musically-inclined loved one.

The auditorium in which the recital took place is no Carnegie Hall, but sound does travel. Shifting bodies, rustling papers, cranky babies – all combine to make distractions. We were warned by Ms. Melody at the beginning of the program to turn off cell phones and pagers and take crying children to the foyer. The two elders missed this particular speech.

During one rather long example of the Contemporary Period, the Woman in the Fur Coat (WFC) got a hankering for a Tic Tac. Tic Tacs, in a quiet space, are one of the loudest candies on the market. They got even louder when WFC fished for them in her bag, shook them in an effort to open the container, and then dropped her bag (and the entire contents) onto the floor.

It got even more interesting when the Blue-Haired Lady (BHL) got a call on her cell phone. It seemed to ring at least 5 times as she tried to locate it in the cavernous black purse.

“Hello?” BHL’s voice carried across the hall as the student on stage struggled with a difficult Scott Joplin piece.

“I’m at the recital.” Pause.

“The recital.” Her enigmatic smile dimmed slightly.

“I’m going to have to call you back.” Another pause.

“I. Will. Call. You. Back.” She carefully closed the phone. And, of course, did not turn it off.

A few minutes passed; then, her phone rang again.

“Hello?” Pause.

“I’m at the recital.” A sigh.

“The recital.” Slight cough.

“I’m going to have to call you back.” Clearing of the throat.

“I. Will. Call. You. Back.”

The exact same conversation, same inflection, same words, everything.

I got tickled and had to swallow down the giggles.

And then it rang again. By this time, I’m so cracked up at the whole thing that I’m feeling a wave of hysteria. Who in the world needs to talk to this 78-year-old woman so desperately that they keep calling back every five minutes? Does she have a secret lover? An impending book deal? Did she win the Publisher’s Weekly sweepstakes? Why didn't she turn off the damn phone?

LegoGuy saw me laughing into my coat and began giggling himself. SO, on the other side of us, started to lose it as well.

But what really got us happened in the middle of the last song. BHL’s phone rang again and at the same moment, WFC let go the longest, rat-a-tat-tat of a fart I’ve ever heard. Magnified by the acoustics of the hall, the sound was unmistakable.

As the music ended in a swell of fortissimo, applause filled the air. The three of us were able to finally let our laughter out, channeling guffaws into cries of “Bravo! Bravo!”

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

I am not a loser.

I finished my Santa pillow! I started cross-stitching way back in 1994. As I was decorating the house for Christmas last weekend, I realized that I may be going overboard on this particular tradition. I've got about 16 of these, and I'm running out of places to put them. No, I don't keep them out all year, if that's what you're wondering. (I'm not a loser -- like Drew Barrymore's character in Never Been Kissed.) If I did that, they'd end up being ruined by the kids or chewed up by the dog. They come out once a year, and then are tucked back in the closet for the next 11 months.

This one, titled Santa & Friend, is my most recent.
(Click on photos to enlarge.)

Here's 3 others. Doesn't look like it, but that Merry Christmas one took longer than the other two.

This is the first one I made: Santa's enchanted sleigh.

My favorite: Santa Moon. The pattern wasn't difficult; it was the crazy quilt embroidered edges that nearly did me in.

Speaking of Christmas traditions, we've acquired so many over the years, it's almost hard to get them all in. To begin with, we decorate the tree the first weekend of December. I try to get the boys a special ornament from Hallmark. LegoGuy's been collecting the Kiddie Cars series since he was 2; unfortunately, the newest one is now sold out so I'm going to have to find it on Ebay -- at an exorbitant mark-up -- if he's going to have a complete collection. Sport's never found a series he likes. Last year he wanted a Harley Davidson motorcycle; this year, he went for the USA team jersey and soccer ball.

We've got 3 movies we watch: It's a wonderful life, A Christmas story, and A Muppet Christmas Carol. I usually take the boys to see the lights at a nearby children's home. We always head over to the Saint's house to decorate cookies with assorted icings and sprinkles.

I make up a Christmas letter and mail it to all our friends and relatives. Then there's usually a large family gathering at my family's house, after which we head over to SO's family for more merrymaking and gift-exchanging.

My favorite tradition, however, is the Christmas Eve candlelight service at my church. It's quiet, reflective, and beautiful -- a perfect ending to a busy, busy season.

Then, once January rolls around, it's time for me to start working on my next pillow. I've already picked out the pattern: Santa's midnight journey.

Okay, maybe I am a loser.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

White hell

Oklahoma blizzard, day 2.

A mountain of wet clothes sits disconsolately near the front door. Every pair of sweatpants in the closet lie there, along with mismatched sweatshirts, sodden socks, frozen mittens and soaked sneakers. Pools of icy mush litter the hallway. A couple of towels have been tossed aside with careless aplomb.

Pictionary Jr., Scrabble, Memory, Life, Battleship, and Operation have all been pulled off the shelf, played, and deemed "boring." The DVDs have been sorted, viewed, and tossed aside. The children are getting restless. Their 3-minute attention span can no longer be sated.

We already bundled up to take the dog for a walk at the pinnacle of the blizzard's high winds. An attempt was even made to build a snowman, despite the poor quality of the snow. Entertainment is at a low point. I'm getting desperate.

The boys have eaten every carbohydrate-laden snack in the house. We're down to a couple cans of soup and some stale bread. Even Bella's bacon treats are starting to look good. I'm beginning to feel like Tamsen Donner. Thank God SO doesn't have a hand injury or I'd have to start thinking of appetizing ways to serve him up for supper.

For a moment, I have a spark of hope. The library, it was rumored, would open at noon. I could make a break for it! But the phone call came, dashing my plans. Instead, SO is called into work due to a lack of employee turn-out.

I'm left staring into the hollow eyes of my children.

"What are we going to do now, Mom?"

I search my mind for something, anything. Reading? They wouldn't go for it. Old-fashioned ghost stories? They wouldn't last through the setting of the scene. Crafts? They'd only mock me.

Perhaps they sense my fear. Sport picks up a tiny soccer ball and bounces it up and down. LegoGuy, his eyes never leaving my face, pulls on his goalie gloves. It's time for a game of indoor football. If I never again hear the phrase, "Oh, what a beautiful goal from Steven Gerrard!" I will consider myself only moments away from nirvana.

Outside, the snow continues to fall. There's no escape from my white hell.

I didn't always dread snow days. In San Antonio, we had one about every 8 years. There's nothing more beautiful than snow on palm trees. My siblings and I once made a two-foot snowman by scraping our lawn with the lid of a trashcan. Sure, it was covered in St. Augustine turf, but it was beautiful nonetheless. In college, I was transfixed by falling snowflakes. During my first Oklahoma blizzard, we all got out and had a huge snowball fight. One of my friends, who'd grown up on the border of Texas and Mexico, convinced herself she'd gotten frostbite. We made fun of her relentlessly. Snow days are a blast when you've only got yourself to entertain.

But throw two kids into the mix, and it's impossible to spend hours reading by the fire, or cross-stitching quietly on the couch while listening to Christmas CDs. They want to be doing something constantly. If they aren't entertained, they're bored. And when they're bored, all hell breaks loose.

Oh God, what was that noise? Did they just knock down the trophy shelf? They did! Back in a little while...


I know, I know, I'll miss all of this when they are grown and gone. I believe you! I really do. LegoGuy is spending tonight at a friend's house. He's been gone for 6 hours now, and I miss him and his interminable, rambling soccer discussions. I miss the riotous laughter he and his brother share when they're up to something, or when we watch funny movies together like The Money Pit. I just hope it's six months before we get another Oklahoma blizzard.

I need the rest.