Wednesday, May 28, 2008


For the past few days I've been hard-pressed to think of a single subject that's blogworthy, so tonight I'll feed you scraps: the literary equivalent of a casserole thrown together from the contents of a nearly bare pantry.


Today I saw a red-tailed hawk sitting on the ground of a residential corner lot. His head swiveled as he watched me drive around the corner, but he didn't seem too concerned about the presence of an interloper. I couldn't see for sure, but I suspect he was having lunch. It was that time of day.


Still on the subject of wildlife, I found a dried frog carcass flattened in the driveway yesterday. It was so flat I thought it might be funny to post a picture of it with a silly caption, so I snapped a couple of shots. On the driveway the frog isn't that visible. It almost blends in with the rough concrete beneath it. On my computer monitor, however, the close-up photo tells a different story. One skinny front leg is twisted at an unnatural angle, and there's nothing at all funny about it.


For Mother's Day, my younger daughter gave me a digital picture frame. This past weekend I finally had time to sit down and figure out how to load it with some favorite photos. It's really nice to be able to glance over and see a slideshow starring the people and pets that make my life feel so rich. (No frog pictures included.)


My grandson is presently on his senior trip to Mexico. A few days after his graduation ceremony, I got a thank-you note that said, in part, "Thank you very much for the money...It will come in very handy for college (cough cough Cancun)." I love that boy young man.


Butch is lying on the floor beside me right now, sound asleep. His tail just gave a couple of big wags, so I guess he's having a happy dream. I always wonder if he's sightless in his dreams or if he sees things the way he used to.


I'll bet there isn't one among you who doesn't clearly know the difference between withdrawal and surrender. I wish somebody would explain it to John McCain.


"Dancing with the Stars" is over, so I'm getting my dance fix now with hours and hours of audition shows on "So You Think You Can Dance." It must feel really great to be able to move your body like that. I was always the one in Jazzercise class who kicked to the left when everybody else kicked to the right.


On a grocery shopping trip yesterday I wanted to buy potato chips to eat with my lunchtime sandwiches next week, but they only had extra-large bags. It seemed wasteful to buy that many potato chips. But then I saw the "buy one, get one free" sign, and who could refuse a deal like that? I bought two bags, and today I gave one bag away. Which leaves me with one huge bag containing more chips than I want or need, so it's still wasteful, isn't it?


As much as I hate shopping, it feels good to have the pantry and refrigerator full again. My house is relatively clean, too. I was feeling kind of good about all that, but now I'm getting nervous. I've never met Holly's mother, and I just read online that a clean house and food in the fridge mean she's coming to visit. Holy crap! Now I need to clear off the dining table and steam clean the rugs.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Two key principles

Principle No. 1:
Keep track of ‘em. Your keys, that is.

Principle No. 2:
Keep spare keys in safe places in case you screw up on Principle No. 1.

Yesterday, when the clock struck quittin’ time, I turned off my computer, rolled my wheeled office chair a couple of feet to push the buttons that locked the file cabinets, rolled back to pick up my purse, and reached inside it for my keys. They weren’t where they were supposed to be.

I took everything out of that part of my purse to see for myself. I needed my eyes to convince my brain that my empty fingers weren’t lying. “Wait!” I yelled to two co-workers who were still in the building. “Don’t leave me,” I pleaded. “I can’t find my keys.” If I hadn't caught them before they left, I couldn’t have locked up the building to go home.

My missing key chain held my car key, a remote keyless entry/alarm fob, my house key, my gate key, and keys to the front and back doors of the office. It also held a tiny file cabinet key that opens the file drawers I’d just locked.

I went through my purse again, section by section, carefully but quickly. I pinched all around the lining in case the (big wad of) keys had somehow slipped through an undiscovered open seam. I shook the purse to listen for the jingle of the keys. Nothing there.

My co-workers helped me look all over my desk, in the desk drawers, in the wastebasket and file box under the desk, and all around the floor. I took practically everything out of my purse again. As we searched, I began mentally backtracking to the last time I’d used the keys. It was after lunch, I recalled. I’d unlocked a file cabinet to put something in it. When I thought about it, I remembered having trouble getting the documents to fit properly in the file. In fact, I’d had to use both hands. Had I possibly laid the keys in the file drawer so both hands would be free? I couldn’t say. I was pretty sure of one thing: the only key to that fireproof, tamper-proof file cabinet was on my key chain.

After about ten minutes of searching, we gave up. One co-worker lent me her key to the front door, and the other stayed with me while I verged on panic. Fortunately, I found a spare car key I didn't know I had in a zipped pocket in my purse. Even more fortunately, and unlike the keyless entry system that came with my last car, this car key overrode the alarm system, let me turn the engine on, and didn’t lock up the steering mechanism. Once we confirmed that, I knew I could at least get home.

Home. How would I get in the house? My co-worker waited while I went back in the office and called my daughter. My daughter has a key to my house, she lives five minutes away, and she was home, thank goodness. My co-worker locked the building, I drove home, and my daughter was here waiting for me with the door wide open. Whew! Welcome home.

Once inside my house, I made a beeline to the place where I was pretty sure I had stashed some keys. I found an extra house key and an extra gate key, plus the spare keyless entry fob for my car. As far as office keys were concerned, I figured I’d call a locksmith first thing this morning to make new keys for the office doors and to drill out and replace the locks on the file cabinets. Since it was my fault, I expected to pay for the locksmith. It would be an expensive mistake, but at least I had a plan.

Plan or not, I couldn’t relax. I tried to watch TV, but some nebulous thought kept niggling at the back of my mind. The more I thought about it, I remembered that another co-worker, one who had left for a different job more than four years ago, used to have a key to those file cabinets. What happened to her key? A little more time passed, and it popped into my mind that I'd found a bunch of keys in a desk drawer when we moved offices last year. What had I done with them? Another twenty minutes went by while I tried to recreate the logic I would have used in determining where to put all those keys. Finally, I thought I knew where they might be. The only question remaining was whether or not there was a file cabinet key among them.

I knew I should just hold that thought until morning. I knew it would be foolish to drive back to the office last night to satisfy my curiosity. Wasteful, too, considering the present price of gasoline. It would be a totally unnecessary errand and would have no effect whatsoever on the outcome.

I did it anyway. I drove back to the office, located the batch of extra keys, dug among them and found a file cabinet key, tried the lock, and it popped right open. Bingo! I pulled a drawer open, and there was my key chain, right where I'd never intended to leave it. I could have kissed it.

Some days we get lucky. Most days, in my experience, we’re better off to have a backup plan.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Six random things about me TODAY

Three days ago, Alison tagged me with a meme. I'm supposed to list six random things about me today, so that's what I'll do. Unfortunately for you, dear readers, my answers would have been more interesting on the intervening three days, but on those days I didn't find time to post.

Here goes:

1. For breakfast today I had buttered toast with homemade blackberry jelly, a gift from a former client. It was delicious! I've never made jelly in my life, and I've always admired those who do it.

2. I stayed in my bathrobe until after noon, which kept me from walking out to the road to pick up the Sunday newspaper. By the time I got dressed, I found the paper right outside my door. Cool! (I suspect it was put there by my son-in-law, who came over to cut the lawn. Thanks, Troy, on both counts.)

3. The best part of my morning was the time spent snuggling on the sofa with Butch. He slept with his head on my lap for nearly two hours, during which I channel-surfed and watched some really boring TV rather than take a chance on disturbing him. Snuggle time with him is too precious.

4. I filled up my gas tank today, paying more than I've ever paid in my life to do it ($3.79/gallon). That, I'm sure, is an experience I share with many of you, and I find it appalling.

5. While I was out, I picked up a 12-pak of Diet Coke, went to Sonic to pick up lunch, then went to Hot Wok to get egg foo yung for supper. There'll be enough leftover egg foo yung to eat for lunch tomorrow. I chose to go to these particular places because I could go there without having to do my hair and makeup first, something I'd have felt compelled to do before the supermarket shopping trip I really needed to make. Now I'm good to go until tomorrow night. Draw your own conclusions about the logic I used to justify these errands.

6. I'll cry tonight, just like I do every Sunday night when I watch "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition." I'm a sucker for a sentimental story with a happy ending.

I won't tag anyone, but if you feel inspired to post six things about your day (especially if yours was more interesting than mine), by all means leave a comment to let us know when you've posted.

Yawn. (Kadi just read this.)

Thursday, May 15, 2008

In the flesh...

...of one home-grown tomato, I found the summers of my childhood.

It’s been a while since I’ve had a real tomato, not the grainy kind the supermarket sells, but the plump, juice-filled variety that my grandfather used to grow. When I saw a few of them sitting on the counter at the little corner store, I had to have one.

The first bite brought with it the taste of fried chicken, mashed potatoes and fresh corn on the cob, all washed down with a tall glass of sweetened iced tea. My favorite part of that meal used to be the very end of it, when the juice from the sliced tomatoes mingled with the butter left behind by the corn. I’d stall until everyone else had left the table, then I’d pick up my plate and drink every last drop of that salty juice.

The second bite opened a mental window that looked out onto the backyard of the home where I grew up. On the left was Packy’s garden, the corn growing taller than he was, almost obscuring him in his khaki clothing as he leaned over to pluck a fat worm from a tomato plant and plop it into the hand of my fearless little sister.

A grapevine covered the low fence that ran down the middle of the backyard. The purple grapes made my mouth itch, but I ate my fill. My grandmother harvested the rest of the grapes and turned them into jellies, jams, and quart jars of grapejuice.

At the front end of the grapevine fence, the end nearest the back porch, my grandmother grew morning glories, hydrangeas, marigolds and pansies. Along the length of the grapevine, she grew lilies, sunflowers, and spiky gladiolus. The sweet perfume of the flowers drifted to the far side of the yard and caressed the laundry that hung on the clothesline every Monday the weather permitted.

One bite of a tomato took me home.

Monday, May 12, 2008

The bookkeeper

The title of this post refers to me, but it has nothing at all to do with numbers. Rather, it refers to my tendency to keep books around just because they're, well, books. They don't have to be particularly good books, but if there are pages bound between two covers, I have the dickens of a time getting rid of them.

I just counted fourteen sets of bookshelves in my den. They're all packed with books, and there are tall stacks of books sitting on top of the shelves and on top of my desk. These are all books that I've already read, some of them more than once and some of them that I don't remember at all.

Of course, I want to keep all the really good books to read again someday. And if I remember a book because of how much I didn't like it, I won't have a problem giving it away. My biggest concern is the books I've forgotten. I suppose I could reread them. They'd be new to me, at least in the beginning, but if they were forgettable the first time around, do I want to invest the time in them again? And how many pages of those forgettable books will I need to reread before I can make up my mind what to do with them?

I've taken the first step, which was getting some sturdy boxes to hold the books I plan to give away. I thought I'd sort the books into the boxes by genre, but once they're boxed up, I'm not sure what to do with them. Should I put the boxes on the front lawn with a sign that reads "free to a good home"? Does Goodwill take books? Any ideas, anybody?

Saturday, May 10, 2008


All over the Internet this weekend there will be tributes to mothers, and this will be one of them. This one will be a little different, I suspect. This one is about a mother-daughter relationship that was troubled for more than fifty years. If that last sentence resonates with you, then this post may offer you hope.

From the time I was a small, small girl, I knew my mother was more beautiful than any other mothers I knew. Her beauty set her apart, made her special in my eyes, like the princesses in the fairy tales I read. More than anything, I wanted to please her. And for more than fifty years, I believed I fell short.

Mother had been athletic in her youth, and I was a bookworm. She had been the life of the party, and I was happier playing quietly by myself or with just one friend. She was neat, and I was messy. We were different in too many ways to count.

Mother sewed beautifully. She kept my sister and me in pretty dresses and spent hours with pin curls and perms, trying to manage my straight, fine hair. Somehow I got the idea that I wasn’t pretty enough to suit her, that she did these things so I wouldn’t embarrass her in front of her friends.

In contrast to my sweet-natured grandmother, who seemed pleased to have me around, Mother's no-nonsense approach seemed harsh. She was quick to scold and quick to set me straight when I got too full of myself. She took care of me, so I knew she loved me on some level, but I didn't think she liked me very much.

When I was 14, Mother married a man she’d known for only three weeks. She uprooted us from our grandparents’ home in Missouri and moved us to Texas, and I was angrier with her than I’d ever known it was possible to be. Neither of us knew at the time that 14 is a particularly nasty age under the best of circumstances, and we didn’t have much nice to say to each other for the next four years. I had a bad attitude, and Mother had a tongue that could slice a person in two with a couple of well-placed words. We were angry with each other more often than not, and we were both too stubborn to consider the other person's point of view.

At 18, when I got a marriage proposal, I jumped on it. I told Mother I was getting married in a week and moving away, and I was hurt at her eagerness to make wedding arrangements. I had hoped she'd try to talk me out of it. In hindsight, I realize that it must have seemed an answer to her prayers. With two more teenage girls and a three-year-old boy in the house, she needed the extra room. I married and left home with the clothes from my closet, a suitcase full of hurt and anger, and a desperate need to be loved. My expectations were unrealistic, and the marriage was a disaster.

Two kids and seven years later, I married a second time, this time to a man whose career kept us moving across the country. This marriage was better, certainly more peaceful, and I learned more about love and trust than I'd ever known before.

As I traveled around the country with my family in those years, I kept in touch with my mother. We were bonded by our relationship, but we weren’t close. Our letters to each other were chatty, exchanging news but never sharing feelings. I loved Mother, but I felt less vulnerable by keeping her at a distance.

In the late ‘70s, my husband and I moved our family closer than we’d been before to the town where my mother lived. Only three hours away, we could visit more frequently. Those visits were good because I could spend time with my family, but I could still get home in just a few hours if feelings got too intense. I listened more than I talked on those visits, and sometimes, on the drive home, I’d think about the fact that Mother didn’t know one thing more about me at the end of the visit than she did at the beginning. I wondered if she realized that.

My second marriage ended in the early ‘80s, then both my children grew up and left home. I began to focus on my career. I loved my job and excelled at it. I took continuing education courses, attended seminars, and buried myself in self-help books, trying to figure out who I was and what I wanted out of life. I had relationships with a series of men and learned something from each of them. I began to grow into my own skin. Somewhere along the way, I realized that it’s okay to be imperfect, that, all things considered, I’d turned out okay.

Once I began to cut myself some slack, I found I was able to do the same for others. My job at that time included traveling a couple of times each month, trips that would take me through my mother’s town. I’d leave after work, spend the night with Mother, and complete the trip early the next morning. We supplemented these visits with weekly long-distance phone calls, and we began to really know each other. The more comfortable I became with the woman I’d grown up to be, the more comfortable I became with Mother. My walls began to crumble, and my stifled anger began to dissipate.

One thing I wanted more than anything was to hear Mother say, “I love you.” She could write it, but she couldn’t say the words out loud. She couldn’t even say, when prompted, “I love you, too.” I was in my fifties by the time I figured out that she did love me, even if she didn’t always show it in the usual ways, and I was in my mid- to late-fifties when I heard her say the words for the first time. It was a moment that affected me profoundly. We hugged afterwards, but neither of us mentioned the significance of the moment.

My stepfather (the man who’d moved us to Texas) died in 1996. He and Mother had been married 39 years at that time, in stark contradiction to what 14-year-old me had seen as an impulsive action with no thought on Mother’s part as to the consequences. Mother had never lived alone, and she seemed lost in some ways after Daddy died. Ironically, it was when she was lost that I finally found her.

For the first time in our lives, Mother and I had hours alone on our visits. We set the mother and daughter roles aside and talked with each other as one woman to another. I learned about her early life and the dreams and expectations she’d had as a young woman. I learned how her dreams had been shattered, her trust broken, and how she’d resolved to protect her own daughters from the disappointments and disillusionments that had made her cynical and bitter. As Mother talked about different periods of her life, I remembered incidents from those same periods and re-evaluated them in the context of what Mother had been experiencing at the time. Like an old-western hanging judge, I'd made decisions about her without hearing all the evidence.

For example, Mother had always discouraged me from having any big ideas. She valued practicality, and whenever I’d come close to "flying," she'd verbally clip my wings to keep me earthbound. Until I got to know her better, I’d always felt she was being spiteful when she damped my enthusiasm. It had never occurred to me she’d done it to protect me, to keep me from falling too far and too hard. She never explained this to me, but I figured it out from listening to her talk about her own life, her own hopes and fears. I still think her cautious approach was a mistake, but understanding it changed my way of thinking about it.

Mother learned more about me, too, during the talks we had in her last years. She had apparently assumed that my dreams were the same as hers, and that to find myself in middle age without a man in my life must be terribly disappointing. She wanted that for me, to keep me safe. Through our talks, she grew to understand that I’m contented on my own and don't feel incomplete because I don't have a mate. Her acceptance of that fact put a stop to the inquiries about the state of my love life, questions that I'd perceived as veiled criticisms.

The trouble in my relationship with my mother had been born of expectations, the expectations each of us had for ourselves and for each other. I feel so stupid sometimes that it took me so long to drop my expectations of what a mother “should be” and accept her and love her for who she was. We wasted so much time.

I’m forever grateful for our last few years together. I learned to love Mother with an open heart, imperfect as she was and as I am, to know her as the fun person her friends knew and the caring person she was with her youngest grandchildren. I’m thankful that we had the time to untangle the misunderstandings we’d had without the necessity of rehashing them. She's gone from this planet, but I’m happy that I feel her spirit with me as often as I do. It's hard to explain to people that I feel closer to Mother now than I did for many years while she was alive.

Every year, on Mother’s Day, I used to struggle with finding the right card. The messages on most of them included words like “sweet” and “kind” and “thoughtful,” and those words seemed insincere. I wanted a card that dispensed with syrupy sentiment and said some clear version of “Happy Mother’s Day, I hope you know I love you.” If you find yourself looking for that same kind of card, then this post has been written with you in mind. Here's some unsolicited advice:

Set reasonable expectations for yourself and use those as your guidelines for how you live your life. Sometimes we give our mothers (and their words) more power over us than they should have: more power than our mothers know they have and, in fact, more power than they want. So don’t worry so much about whether or not you meet your mother's expectations.

If you want your relationship with your mother to be better, focus instead on the expectations you have for her. Ask yourself if they’re fair. I know there’s a wide range of mothers, from the worst to the best, and I don’t know which kind you have. But is there any chance you’ve set your expectations too high? Would your relationship improve if you could take a step back and measure your mother on the same scale you use to measure your friends? Can you take a look at the whole woman your mother is, not just the part of her that’s all tangled up with you?

All I ask is that you think about it. Don’t waste as much time as I did. Someone has to take the first step, and if somehow you turned out to be the one who's better emotionally equipped to do it, then it might as well be you. Trust me, it’s worth it.

Happy Mother's Day to all the mothers out there who know they've made mistakes and to all the nearly perfect ones who have set the bar so high for the rest of us. I hope our children know that all of us are doing the best we can.


To my own mom: I appreciate you, I miss you, and I’ll love you always. I know you know I can feel you with me, and I know you know it delights me. Happy Mother’s Day.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Not by the hair on my chinny-chin-chin

There’s a mole on my chin. Not the dark, beauty-mark kind of mole, but a flesh-colored bump that’s been there for as long as I can remember. I’m so used to it I can look in the mirror to put on makeup and never even see it.

And yet it drives me crazy.

I don’t remember when it happened, but at some point a few years back, little hairs began to sprout from that mole. Although my feminine ego demands the use of the word “hairs,” “whiskers” would probably be more accurate: They’re as stiff as broom straws.

I’m vigilant about removing each hair as soon as I find it, but the mole is big enough that two or three hairs can grow on it at the same time. And they grow fast. I pluck one out and another one pops up a millimeter away. It’s like playing Whac-A-Mole, only with tweezers.

Plucking those little bristles isn’t easy. It’s hard to get a good grip on them. Even when I do, they do not turn loose willingly.

I hate those hairs. I hate them so much that in my mind each one of them has its own malicious personality. When I catch one in my tweezers, I imagine it as a tiny creature burrowed deep inside a pore, it’s arms and legs stretched out across the doorway, hanging on with all its might while I pull on its ugly head.

Ha! Got the little bastard.