Friday, July 29, 2011

Chicken Lover Praises Shredded Paper

   Several weeks ago my personal assistant Handsome agreed to bring me some shredded paper from his office.  I requested it on a whim during one of those Hot Tub Summits, thinking it would spread nicely around plants in need of mulch, etc.  I had been experiencing trouble with weedy straw and needed a fresh approach.

   Two unexpected things happened:  First of all, Handsome brought me not just the one bag I mentioned, but four, all crammed in the hatchback of his two door show car.  That was just the first day.  Then he brought me five another day.  Then a week or so later he drove our pickup to the City in order to surprise me with another seven bags. 

   "That is a lot of shredded paper, Sir."
   "Yes, ma'am."

   That is just how he rolls.

   The second unexpected event was our gradual discovery of exactly how far one bag of Shred can go.  Ummm, FAR is the precise answer.  And it is extremely versatile around the farm too, making it my second favorite supply to keep on hand now, next to heavy cotton drop cloths.  More on that some other time.  Right now I am pretty jazzed up about Shred.

   I could rattle on for pages about its gardening applications, but your imagination can serve you just fine there.  It works, it is cool and different and environmentally friendly, enough said.  Instead, let me tell you about how good Shred is for chickens...

This Tomato with one of his rooster cohorts.
They are so patriotic.

   Yesterday evening I spent a few hours doing clean-up chores in the front paddocks of our place, including sprucing up the chicken yard, pond, and coop.  Cleaning the chicken coop used to be one of my least favorite chores, but now with Shred in my arsenal it is an enjoyable, rewarding task again.  Incredible!!  I feel like I am living a rural infomercial.

   If you keep chickens you MUST try filling their boxes with Shred instead of hay or straw.  Check it:
  • The edges of the paper strips are roughly textured, so it all sticks to itself really well.  It is very grabby.  This allows the soiled Shred to be lifted out in large, unmessy, almost weightless clumps.  I just hooked it with the tine of a small garden fork and Voila!  Clean.  The paper absorbs all of the droppings and even broken yolks, so you have virtually no extra clean up to do before refilling the boxes with more Shred.  AWE-some. 
  • The Shred definitely seems to attract and retain fewer bugs, too.  Even in this crazy heat!  HUGE bonus.
  • The glaring white of Shred is visually cooling in the concrete hen house.  I realize this may benefit only me and not the chickens, but I could have SWORN I heard Red talking to Lucy Loo about the new decor and how sexy it makes her feel.  And even if it only SORT OF feels cooler in there on a 108 degree afternoon, then I am a believer.
  • While handling the mountains of gifted Shred, I noticed that a handful could expand into twice or thrice the volume it appeared to possess.  This makes it not only economical (on top of being free) but also REALLY fun.  It is like playing with dry snow in the middle of an Oklahoma heat wave-slash-drought.
  • The dirty Shred is 100% biodegradable of course and so can still be composted right along with your kitchen scraps, other dry manures, etc.  In fact, it is arguably BETTER for your compost pile becuase it contains no weeds.  Especially if you have clay you'd like to bust up, I think the paper would be a good start.
  • Do you have allergies?  I bet you're less allergic to paper than you are to hay.
   So there you have it, six solid reasons to use Shred in your chicken coop rather than straw or hay.  Chances are you know someone with access to excessive amounts of this office byproduct.  Maybe you have a home shredding machine and a kid laying around with nothing to do; you can keep your kid busy, destroy sensitive financial documents, and keep your flock clean and healthy all in one quick project.

   If you try this, please let me know what you think.  I think it's jazzy.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Naked at the Dentist

   What was I thinking when I scheduled a dentist appointment just a couple of days after vacation and quite early in the morning?  There is no excuse for it.  I should know myself and my tendencies better than this by now.  This combination of circumstances always leads to personal disaster.

   I did at least remember the appointment, thanks in part to a friendly office call ahead of time, but that is about where the good news stops.

   A wonderfully romantic evening the night before led to Handsome and me crashing downstairs then sleeping a bit late, so there you have strike one.  By the time I had scrambled to send him off with food and smooches for his day of toil at the office, I was already way behind my self imposed schedule. 
   The day before, I had planned to rise before dawn to do all of my normal outside chores PLUS about seven other good, worthwhile things and at least one load of laundry.  Then I wanted to drink some hot, perfect coffee while blogging, maybe grab a quick workout, and take a shower.
   Not just any shower, the full blown, head-to-toe kind.  Some people call this the Hollywood shower; I call it remodeling.  It takes longer than ninety seconds.

   What actually happened is this:  I worriedly kissed my good lookin' guy in the face then dashed around drinking only half a mug of now lukewarm coffee.  I did NOT start a load of laundry but instead silently cursed myself, knowing that I would be returning home too late to run these electricity-consuming monsters before Peak Time, which that day started at 2 p.m.

   I threw on Handsome's cast off gray t-shirt from last night, stabbed my feet into some mismatched flip flops, and bolted outside to do the Feed & Water circuit as quickly as humanly possible.

   The gray t-shirt was just long enough.  Just.  But we live in the country and passersby are usually moving at a pretty good clip, so I take liberty now and then in the interest of either time or laziness.

   Have you ever seen an expression of true bewilderment on a buffalo's face because someone is trying to run fast who doesn't have good running form?  In flip flops, not boots?  Or have you ever sprinted through a flock of already nervous chickens or fed horses with a long, skinny line of grain rather than neat and tidy, affectionate little piles?  Uncoordinated speed and extreme panic are effective paralyzers for large animals and definite scatterers for small ones.

   So my adrenaline-based chores routine ended up substituting (poorly) for a cardio session.   And thanks to the ongoing heat wave in Oklahoma, doing this even as early as 7:30 a.m. led to copious amounts of salty, pouring sweat.  I was ripe.  This necessitated a shower, but if you are paying attention you may have already predicted that I did not get the remodel that day.  Strike two.

   Here is what happened next.

   I flew back through the house, terrifying poor Pacino, and again cursed myself for wasting good coffee (now burning in the carafe) and not starting the automatic bread machine, laundry, Scentsy, you name it.  If it was automatic, electronic, and time consuming, I hated myself for not using it that morning.

   I landed in our upstairs bedroom and glanced in horror at the clock.  And then I glanced in even greater horror at the mirror.  With seven and a half minutes to go before time to leave the farm and make it to the dentist on time (not even early), I had some important decisions to make.

   Let's just say I left eighteen minutes later, and most of that time was spent sanitizing my mouth as if the future of the human race depending on it.  Strike three.  Out!  I maybe should have rescheduled at this point.

   Somehow, without speeding on the side roads and without having a nervous breakdown, I made it to the dentist's office only four minutes past my appointment time.  Fortunately, the folks there are so chill and so great that it was not an issue.  In fact the dentist is usually up to twenty minutes late himself, so it was zero problemo mon.  He has longish hair with french braids and feather extensions.  Yeah, I know. 

   You might think this is the happy end of my story.  Except that once I was seated in that weird vinyl chair-bed, all the evidence of my chaotic life started to unravel and betray me.

   I was wearing denim Capri pants, cuffed mid-shin.  This makes the bottom halves of my lower legs visible, and I hadn't shaved since the night before last, meaning about 40 hours ago.  They say that a good suntan covers a multitude of sins, but crossing my ankles together, attempting ladylike behavior when none could be had, felt like I was attaching myself to myself using Velcro, and I felt a little sick to my stomach.

   Then, while I sat-slash-lay there waiting for someone to attend to my unfortunate mouth, I caught a glimpse of my feet.  Ten days ago I had made them presentable for vacation.  Then we went on said vacation which consisted of four days of walking in flip flops at the beach, swimming in salt water, being nibbled by borderline dangerous fish, and finally walking approximately a thousand miles in New Orleans.  My feet were embarrassed of themselves.
   As I stared at them I had the sensation of the wicked witch when Dorothy's house landed on her and her striped-stocking feet shriveled and curled up and away from view.

   Then my empty stomach started growling, LOUDLY.  Nice. 

   Silently, I scripted excuses and apologies for my overall appearance, as if anyone would actually say anything aloud.  As if anyone in the world noticed or cared but me.  And of course the dental assistants always look perfect and gorgeous.  Must be nice to wear closed toe shoes and take care of yourself and eat a reasonable breakfast and not run late!  Just for extra fun, that day some visiting students were there, including a guy who made me feel even more awkward, if that's possible.  I think he was actually, umm, not really into girls, but for difficult to explain reasons this made me cringe even more.  I felt soooooo juuuuuuudged.

   It got so, so much worse.

   After about thirty more minutes of waiting, during which time I made some delicious progress on my Stieg Larsson book, the dentist appeared behind me.  My chaise-lounge type chair was facing away from the open hallway, so I only saw him peripherally. 
   He sat on one side of me while the gorgeous assistant stood on the other.  Someone switched on an exam light that seemed unnecessarily bright and aggressive.  I have been to the dentist millions of times in my life, but this was the first visit when I felt like I had been abducted by aliens and placed under the scrutiny of  a lamp with the power of the sun.  It was just plain rude.  My feelings were hurt.

   The upside to the next part of this sad tale is that suddenly my stubbly shins and unpainted, unrefined feet were the last thing on any one's mind.  Then, and for the next two hours, all that really existed was the lower half of my face.  And even after they numbed my gums and filled my blood with Nitrous oxide, my thoughts were as crisp and paranoid as ever.  This is the feeling of being naked.

   So I laid as still as possible, worried as much about my sunburned bottom lip, the zit on my upper lip, the conspicuous absence of makeup, and other unwaxed, unmentionable things, as I was about the drill whirring dangerously close to my right ear.  Oh, and my stomach was still growling.
   The only thing that made me feel better was hearing the dentist say in his surfer speech to his in-training assistant, "See?  This is how gums are supposed to heal.  This is a best-case scenario."

   At least I did one thing right that morning.  I may have slept late, skipped both exercise and nourishment, and done almost nothing to groom myself, but by-golly I know how to heal my own gums!  And so for the rest of the day I floated around running errands in town, wildly unkempt but with the confidence that can only come from a healthy mouth.
   I forgot to tell you that before leaving the dentist's office, I scheduled my next surgical appointment.  For a Monday.  First thing in the morning.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

They are Definitely Growing Up

   With each of my two children, both girls, I have experienced dozens of corner-turning moments, lots of times when we were certainly crossing thresholds that held bittersweet significance.  And as crucial as each moment felt while we were in it, each of them in fact passed and moved us onward toward another bigger milestone, another dose of pain and pleasure. 

   Some occurred simultaneously for both girls; others shine in my memory just for one sister or the other.  And I am well aware that as grown as they seem today at 15 and 13, still more growth is in store and more separations and reunions loom in the future.  Still many more thousands of miles are left in their life journeys. 

  That is perhaps the strongest evidence that growth has happened:  I can now better separate my need to be close to them from their need just to live their lives as separate, unique human beings.

Or dinosaurs.
  Infancy held a dozen revelations every hour.  I loved becoming acquainted with their tiny, beautiful faces, that sweet baby fragrance, their miraculous sounds and overall delicacy.  Learning how to soothe them, following the swell of breast milk, and drifting into the bizarre sleep patterns of those first weeks of life were joyful if mysterious times. 

   Returning to work after six weeks of maternity leave, though, that really got my attention.  I had certainly never hurt so badly before and thought I would never hurt so badly again. 


   I cried hot, vicious tears on my drive from daycare to office, and not just that first day.  It happened on lots of morning drives.  And again when Preschool and Kindergarten started.  Oh, and Middle School.  Oh, and even present day, every single time I drop them off after spending an amazing day together.

   A gentle note to new parents: 
Even if you think today has brought you the hardest lesson,
the deepest pain, the sorest disappointment, etc,
It gets worse. 

Today is AWESOME
compared to what tomorrow might be.
Enjoy it for all it's worth.

On the other hand,
it also gets much better in surprising ways.
Rejoice in every detail.
It is all part of an amazing plan,
and you will be okay with plenty of love.

    Seeing each of the girls walk independently for the first time, both toward me and away from me, those moments convinced me that life was speeding by too fast.  I had no idea that in about five or six minutes I would be enrolling my oldest in summertime Driver's Ed.

   Realizing they no longer needed me to wash their hair at bath time, that stung a little.  It took a long time for me to appreciate the additional free time in the evenings, but I have to admit it is wonderful to have taught them little things like that, to know they care about themselves as young ladies and can take care of themselves.  Now I look forward to maybe washing a grandchild's hair one day. 

One of my all time favorite activities for kids:
Letting them soap and shampoo themselves in the sunshine
after a long day of playing outside.
Just rinse with the garden hose, find some clean dry pajamas,
and go soak up some air conditioning and yummy treats.
Your neighbors will hear the delightful giggles,
and at bedtime you will be afforded some extra cuddling.

   When I noticed that conversations about boys had begun to electrically charge the air, I saw my chickens differently. 

   When my youngest tried on swimsuits one spring and I felt that salty pang of protectiveness, "Don't anybody look at her!!!" I knew things were changing again.

   Am I the only dorky mom who felt nostalgic when her kids perfected cursive?  When this happened in our home, I was in shock.  Like everything else, it seemed like only yesterday that we were practicing their crayon-grinding ABC's.

    I knew I was losing my place of authority and guidance in their life when they started telling me about their plans instead of asking me what would be alright, what the family had going on.  And the tone of voice that comes with that shift in power is something a mother cannot forget or ignore.  I am so happy to have lots of video recordings of more innocent times to remind me that there were many years rich with laughter and trust and joy that preceded this darkness.

And then, of course, one day they just up and got tattoos.
Look at her tough expression.  Rebel.  xoxoxo

   So I cannot reduce my feelings and memories into a single moment when I realized the girls were growing up.  They have been growing up ever since they were born.  Difficult circumstances have brought certain things along more rapidly than I would like, but I suppose there would never have come a day when I would be ready to send them out of the nest anyway.

Lorikeets at the Oklahoma City Zoo
Autumn 2003

   Time is fluid but strong, an ever moving river, very much beyond our control and sometimes even our understanding.  Our main job is to love without limits as constantly and as thoroughly as we can.  This goes a long way toward easing the sting of lost time.  Realizing that growing up, moving on, and being happy is exactly what children are supposed to do is a deep, meaningful comfort to parents who hate the echo of an empty nest.

   Count your blessings.  Relish the details of today.  Enjoy your memories and trust that you have thousands more happy memories yet to be made.

Above all, believe in the power of love.

Red Writing Hood          Mama’s Losin’ It

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

No Lifeguard on Duty

   To cap off our tenth anniversary celebrations, Handsome and I are spending the week soaking up some bright skies, saltwater, and a glorious absence of deadlines.  Worthwhile stories abound and a few series finales are in the wings, so once I get back to the keyboard it will be in overdrive!

Taken in Mexico while honeymooning, July 2001

In the mean time, I have some fun to have.  

Friday, July 15, 2011

Romeo and Juliet Revealed

  Exciting Update!!!
Since the last CS installment, I have received an enthusiastic green light
from Romeo & Juliet to share their actual names and faces.
For some reason they still would not give me their Social Security Numbers,
but next time they visit I'll be sure and collect fingerprints.

For now, I am very pleased to introduce to our beloved friends and readers...

Drum roll please...

Josh and Megan!

These are the happy faces we saw that first tense evening.
These are the smiles that have graced our home twice now.
These are the people whose easy friendship we hope to retain for many years.

Thank you for encouraging me to blog
and for letting us share this story, Josh & Megan! 
We think you're the Bee's Knees.


   Where we left off, the evening had drawn to a satisfying close.  I expected to barely sleep that night, despite significant physical exhaustion.  Just a few hours prior I was worried about imminent death or at least failing as hostess to two perfect strangers.  But now we had struck an easy rapport with these fellow planet explorers and had peeled ourselves away with some difficulty so everyone could get a good night's sleep. 

   Handsome and I found our way into bed, stretching and wringing the last bit of energy out of our joints then moaning gratefully into the smooth cotton sheets and pillowcases.  I listened as the farm finished quieting down, counted some of my very favorite blessings, and hoped that Romeo and Juliet were finding their flip out couch comfy enough.
  We were smooching in the dark, long and soft, when I heard it, the second most terrible sound I could have heard at that moment:  Pacino.

   He was belting out several long, panicky, not at all melodious alarms in the living room, clearly confused by and opposed to the fact that our otherwise delightful visitors were spending the night.  In HIS downstairs territory, no less.  It was loud.

   It was very loud.  And off key.

   I was only slightly surprised by his change in mood.  Pacino is, well, about as flaky as a croissant.  And he has little tolerance for things not going his way.  It just so happens that "his way" changed the moment Momma & Daddy turned in for the night, leaving him alone with Romeo & Juliet. 

In retrospect, maybe I shouldn't have shared
with the bird all of my violent knife concerns.

   Anyway, we both laid there in bed, frozen in the moment, knowing for ourselves that it would pass quickly but wondering what type of reaction Pacino's sudden noisy onslaught was garnering from Romeo and Juliet.  Yes, we had sort of warned them he might do this, but so far the macaw had behaved himself.  You might even say he had a little crush on Juliet, and she was super sweet to him as well.  They had just danced the night away.

   Would this noisy fit enrage our guests?  Frighten them?  Hurt their feelings?  Cause them to flee and seek another empty couch for surfing?  Anything was possible. 

   Handsome and I stared at each other in the dark, silently agreeing to wait it out and afford Romeo and Juliet some privacy to deal with it in their own way.  About ninety seconds later, the banshee composed himself for the second time that night.  The farm was again blanketed in heavy silence, and somehow we drifted off to sleep...


Thursday, July 14, 2011

Marriage Rules We Break

   Some people say that you have to know what the rules are so you can break them.  I have over the years spent a fair amount of time reading about how other people do things and trying to absorb the wisdom of the ages, especially when it comes to either running a home or maintaining relationships.  So I know there are certain things the best advice sources will always tell married couples to do, but my boy and I don't always agree. 
Just for fun, as part of our Tenth Anniversary Week,
here are three long accepted rules
that Handsome and I tend to, well, shatter:
"Never eat dinner in front of the Television."  We do a lot better job obeying this rule when the kids are home, circling the four of us around the dining room table in a more traditional way,  practicing good manners and such, but especially when it's just the two of us Handsome and I have a great time watching funny stuff while we fill our bellies.  And frankly I am done feeling guilty about it. 
   By the time dinner is ready we've already shared the day's headlines with each other, and decompression from the stressful things which we cannot remedy is vital to our mental and physical health.  So who cares if we watch a couple of commercial-free comedies while enjoying good food?  Laughter is incredibly binding AND good for digestion.  And we'll always have nights out at fabulous restaurants to prove to each other we still can mind our table manners and be good dates. 
   One final note, DVR is the best thing since sliced bread.  Agreed?

"Do Not Go to Bed Angry."  Umm, yeah right.  Sometimes people who love each other fight.  Sometimes they fight late in the evening when it is already almost bedtime; in fact, for us I tend to think it is often exhaustion that contributes to the fray in the first place.  And even if the arguments have all been finished and the right words have all been uttered, sometimes the hot, brittle air is not yet cleared. 
   Call me crazy, but I think that going to bed angry (or at least super annoyed because he sure didn't sound sorry or she didn't look relaxed no matter what they said...) is a better choice than not going to bed at all.  That might mean less cuddling in the dark and a cooler reception when the roosters crow, but you know what they say about absence...  If you are in love then you will miss each other after a lonely night sans-passion.
   The fresh light of morning can sometimes burn off the residue of tension better than can one more round of late night deliberation. I am not suggesting you ignore the scripture that advises against letting the sun set on  straight-up wrath; just that once in a while, when it serves you both, sleep on it.  But if you do, please determine to walk softly in the morning, looking for the first opportunity to hug and smooch, not reignite hurt feelings.  xoxoxo

"You Have to Work at Your Relationship."  Balderdash.  Actually, we work enough in life already.  Maybe it's just plain good luck, but Handsome and I don't feel like this is necessary.  It seems like genuinely enjoying your relationship is a whole heckuva lot better than working on it.  In fact, working on it tends to be when we get into trouble (see #2). 
   Sure, your union may need tending now and then, a spot of nurturing perhaps, but think of it in healthy, green, growth-based terms, not arduous, sweaty, unpleasant ones that elicit thoughts of time cards, obligations, and tool boxes.  Seriously, the next thing you know the word "talk" will cause nausea and hives. 

   So there you have it.  Three old fashioned rules that Handsome and I have gradually decided, through trial and error, do not apply to us.  We break a few more, but those are none of your beeswax. 

Happy Romancing...  xoxoxo

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Double Standards

   Because Handsome and I have designed our life around some pretty distinct roles, some traditional and some not so much, we definitely encounter noticeable differences in opportunity, advantage, responsibility, credit, freedom, etc, etc.  Score-keeping folks might immediately raise those red flags and say "Whoa, sister, check yourself," either in my defense or his, depending on your perspective.


    He gets to travel more and be out in the world with lots of smart, interesting people, but I get to lounge around more, should I so choose.  He has friends through work; I have, well, honestly I have more friends than I know what to do with.  PLUS I get a bunch of his friends at work too, so that is awesome. 

   My man in India, 2009.
He was on a team from our Great State
working to help that country establish
natural gas delivery systems.
I am so proud of him!
I missed him so much.

   People seem to give me credit for everything that goes right around the farm, just by default.  This is flattering but completely unfair.  If we throw a party, I get the compliments.  They are appreciated, but the truth is that I could never spend time doing this fun, extra stuff if I had to leave every morning to earn a paycheck.  And I could never keep a flower bed if I had to spend my time smoothing, mowing, and weeding acres of grazing space, a job he does really well.  The reverse is also true; he works hard constantly in order to provide all of this that we can share with loved ones, so he has little time and energy left to reach for the extras.   

For us, freedom ringing all boils down to teamwork.

   He knows that I'll make sure all the housework, shopping, miscellaneous errand-running, animal feeding and watering, etc, is always done before he drives home in the afternoon.  He also knows I will cook as often as he is hungry or more and that I will entertain three and a half times as much as he asks me to.  These are not degree-earned skills, but they are things he values in a home life which I am thrilled to offer to the guy of my dreams. 

World's Cutest Rescuer of Turtles

   Generally speaking, I take care of stuff around here so that when he is done doing amazing things at the office (I am so not exaggerating) he comes home to hours and hours of free time.  Of course, several days a month he still changes out of his suit and works his guts out around here on hard-labor type projects I have no business attempting.  Things like mending barbed wire fences, trimming the horses' hooves, bleeding brakes on our cars, squeezing out the wet chamois for me, removing ticks from the dogs, etc. 

Oh wait, does the Modern Independent Wife remove animal ticks herself? 
Another reason I do not want to be in this club.  Because that is grody. 

   I get to wear cutoff jeans, flip flops and tank tops all day if I want to.  He gets to has to shave his face and layer up in a nice looking suit five days a week.  (Shaving my legs is technically optional for me, but I make sure to do it for him, so he will go to bed happy, so he wakes up rested for that suit the next morning, so I can afford to stay home and wear cut offs one more day.  It's kind of a pattern.)

   Here's a biggie:  He has complete control over our finances, and I know very little about them.    He has that mammoth burden, too.  I might not know every detail, but I also don't have to worry about every detail.  Do you need smelling salts?  Some people really have a hard time with this one, but I have to say what a relief it is for me.  He cares and provides for us in ways I didn't know were even possible.  This is just a strength he brings to our little unity table, and I would be foolish to not accept and then build on it.  And to calm your Independent Person's fears a little, rest assured that I have more than enough plastic in the back pocket of my cut off jeans to keep me from being a sheltered little Missus.

   He likes lots of expensive toys like cars, electronics, etc; I am perfectly happy to scour garage sales for clothes, home decor, and furniture, but I definitely like a roomy grocery budget so we can eat well and be healthy.  It's super groovy. 

What smacks of imbalance is exactly what gives us each whatever we want most.

   I once heard a speaker describing fulfilled marriage using the always popular sports metaphor, this time employing football:  He talked about how silly it would be to only fight for the fifty-yard line, never the end zone.  He said that rather than diluting your mutual happiness by always compromising (isn't compromise usually celebrated as the best scenario?), which really leaves both people only halfway satisfied (implying you are both also halfway un-satisfied), why not strive to score touchdowns for each other more often?  Generously give of yourself until the other person gets everything he or she wants and needs, and chances are the time will soon roll around when your partner does exactly the same loving thing for you.

   The application of this football metaphor is crazy hilarious in this house because we are strictly a commercials-watching Super Bowl couple!

   What Handsome does frees me up and protects me, just as what I do refreshes and inspires him.  This is symbyosis, folks.  This is not a purchase of services rendered or an archaic game of dominance; this is two very (very) different human beings caring for each other in the midst of an ever changing world.
   Speaking of ever-changing, throw into this mix the unorthodox and unplanned condition that the two beautiful teenaged daughters who used to occupy every day of our life now live with their Dad, and you have a whole new vacuum to fill.  Guess who gets the brunt of that pain of rejection?  The man who is expected to provide and sacrifice when duty calls.  One of the most blatant double standards a person could endure.

Christmas 2006

   With regard to this, of course, we both know that every day is subject to change.  At any moment I might get that wonderful text or email or phone call that says "I want to see you!" and the life that's been humming along comes to a happy, screeching, wonderful halt.  Handsome and I know how to throw that emergency brake on, allowing life's marrow to flow where it is needed most.

An unexpected day at the farm with my Chickens
May 2011
   The way we have designed and discovered our life might not work for everybody, but it works like gangbusters for us.

   I really believe that double standards work just fine as long as the purposes are loving and nourishing, as long as the uniqueness of each person is fulfilled, and as long as each person is contributing to his or her fullest.  Neither person is being taken for granted or abused.  I know we are not above complaining once in a while, but overall we are more than just happy.  We have hit a stride that I think a lot of people take decades to discover.  And this is just our first one.

Happy Tenth Anniversary, Handsome.
I love you Always, Now, and Forever.


Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Our First Decade

   Later this week Handsome and I will be celebrating our tenth anniversary.  Ten years of marriage and all of the adventure, chaos, romance, pain, joy, doubt, fulfillment, relief, strength building, learning, and bliss that comes with it.  I can think of many more applicable nouns to cram into that sentence, but my beloved unpaid editor might have a stroke over the breathless abuse of commas.

   Next week we will be off on a seven day road trip, just the two of us, soaking up some highway miles and fresh perspective.  Escaping back to ourselves and injecting life with lots of new memories.  So this week, in between finishing projects at the farm and losing fourteen and a half pounds before my dreaded beach reveal, I would like to share some of our best memories and also some things we've learned in these first ten years as husband and wife. 

July 14, 2001.
"I like your sleeves, they're real big."
"Thanks.  I made 'em myself."
Who knows the movie?

   If you have marital seniority over us, you may scoff at these "lessons," just as our future selves might do if they ever look back and read this silly blog.  If you are a newlywed you might also scoff.  Some of how we see life now is a lot different than how we did ten years ago.  This is only our experience, only our truth.  And  we are constantly searching for more of it.

   Stay Tuned.  xoxoxo

Friday, July 8, 2011

All Systems GO as Early as Possible

   Multitasking is a bizarre challenge for me sometimes.  My easily distracted mind (already filled with imaginary things) cannot always afford to be spread thinly among more than two topics at once.  Handsome is way different.  He is like a high performance engine that can only run well at extremely high RPMs.  By comparison at least, I am much more like a bicycle.  Or a unicycle that can barely keep its balance.

   So all of you fantastic people who can successfully operate eight or nine projects at once are, well, I am sorry, but you are annoying.  No offense.

   That said, when it comes to housekeeping I do find that a quick five or six -point morning routine is effective.  Let's be super cool and call it "All Systems Go."  That makes me feel more like an astronaut, which is AWESOME.

   Pretty much, just identify the major operating systems in your home and layer them in a way that gets it all done efficiently.  Then step back as autopilot and watch it all come together.  Or fall apart, depending on your particular stream of luck that day.

   Around here the systems are:
  • watering grass and gardens
  • laundry and ironing
  • feeding and watering animals
  • tidying up and making comfy spots comfier
  • dishes, food, etc.
  • floors
   Obviously there are details not mentioned here, but these are the different systems.  These are the general types of jobs that can be layered and set in motion, not necessarily tended to minute by minute.  And when I manage to get them all on "Go" early in the morning, the day just seems to unfurl itself so nicely.  And I am more free to swim in imagination. 

   Oh shoot, I forgot "Facebook."  Let's include that too.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Metabolizing Lemon Cake

   Thanks for enduring my longwindedness on this book review.  In case you haven't read the preceding essays and are interested in doing so, here is an overview, some talk of our lucky phone conversation with the author, and thoughts on Joseph becoming a chair.  Following is probably the last piece, and I really hope it encourages you to find this book and read it!  If you've already read it, please share your thoughts!

***** SPOILER *****

   It should come as no surprise that reading The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake had great impact on my eating habits during those weeks.  The bright blue volume was slipped into my purse when I went on a trip to Texas.  I read page after page while feasting on one incarnation of Gulf shrimp after another.

I guessed that the proprietor of the waterfront, open-air cafe
where this gorgeous salad was purchased felt chronic optimism. 
She tried to see the negative in her life but was endlessly plagued
by the perfume of the ocean and the smiling energy of cash-rich tourists.
She quietly provided me unlimited refills of Diet Coke
while I sat in her clean, sunny dining room and read about four chapters.
This was a favor that only one optimist might pay to another.
The avocado grower, on the other hand, had a serious gambling addiction.
His ripe green fruit tasted of risk and bankruptcy.

   It bears mentioning that as the big date for our book club meeting approached, most of us were researching lemon cake recipes.  We always make book club night a pot luck affair, reliably providing enough food to feed three times as many women as we host.  So, on the evening in question I expected to see at least one tall, layered, chocolate-frosted lemon cake on the table, just like the one on the cover.

A typical book club spread.  We never leave hungry.

   But no!  We all considered it, and we all decided that surely someone else would jump on the opportunity.  So rather than ending up with seven lemon cakes, we had exactly zero.  Great minds think alike.  Then they second guess themselves similarly.
   In keeping with the many lively debates surrounding this reading selection, we Oklahomans (plus one Texas transplant) had a hard time with the use of chocolate frosting on a lemon cake.  Is this a California thing?  Because all any of us Land Run Ladies could imagine using was either butter cream, vanilla glaze, or maybe cream cheese frosting.  The devil is in the details.  Onward we go...

Our members started assembling about
two hours before Aimee was due to ring us.
It felt like Christmas Eve around here.
We tested the land line, which is rarely used these days,
about a hundred and eighty-six times before 7 pm, CST.
Then when the phone rang promptly and at its maximum volume,
I had a mild heart attack.

   Okay, metabolizing.  We posed to our gracious author guest, Aimee Bender, some very grassroots questions about how she arrived at the idea for this book.  She offered the most satisfying answer:  it had occurred to her in talking through things with her friends that people tend to use the imagery of food and consumption when referring to how they react to ideas.  "Let me digest that and see how I feel..." 

   Brilliant!  Seriously, that is true.  People love to use an edible vocabulary whenever possible.  I have been known to call all sorts of things "delicious."  Things you would never, ever put in your mouth, like an orange and pink sunset or a single weeping violin.   Yet these things certainly evoke emotions, and relating those experiences to people using an edible vocabulary is really effective.

   Anyone who enjoys the smorgasbord variety of expression available in language can appreciate that Aimee found lots of pleasure in writing about food.  Talk about a fun and relatable vehicle for your idea!  Not everyone feels exactly the same grief, but we all know what salty is.  We can basically agree on the differences between bitter and savory, and just try to describe good chocolate without reeling in a few sexy expressions...

   The notion that a person might be able to literally detect the emotions of another person preparing food is a clever extension of what we all do already.

There must be a primal relationship between eating and reading.
Perhaps nourishing your body while you nourish your mind?
Whatever the truth behind the practice, it keeps me on the elliptical machine.

   Two or three of our members found Rose's adult life to be told in a more flip way than was her childhood.  One commented that she felt less and less empathy for Rose the more her tasting talent evolved.  This is interesting.  It reminds me of an old joke that tries to explain why children are born as adorable babies and not frustrating teens.  I don't really know the entire joke; you'll have to imagine it for yourself.  Okay?

   An element of Rose's character development I found especially delightful was that as her skills became sharper and the feelings more intense, her physical appetite changed.  She craved hand-prepared food less and less, turning more frequently to overly processed, factory-made junk.  No human source was numbed enough to insulate her from feeling their strong, messy emotions.  

      To this, Aimee replied that she was not trying to make an overly political statement, just that she was happy to call attention to a different way of looking at the issues of food origin, processing, health, animal handling, etc. 

   Here is where a tape recorder would have been a real benefit: this was a tremendous thought-provoker, but I cannot find notes on exactly what she said!  Grr...

   Anyway, the timing of such a statement, even in fiction, even in science fiction, is just great.  How many of us are taking a second glance at localvorism?  Are you growing a garden, or do you prefer to bake your own breads and cakes rather than use mixes?  I for one have on my 2011 reading list the title, "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle:  A Year of Food Life." 

   Big, juicy kudos to Aimee Bender for making that conversation a lot more palatable!  (Sorry, I could not resist.)  I thoroughly enjoyed the adventure, and I cannot wait to see how this book is handled in twenty years.

Top Five Shows I Wish Would Return

   As a kid I didn't watch all that much television, at least not by today's standards.  My Mom was vigilant about keeping us from becoming video zombies.  She trained us to look at the paper TV guide every week and mark what shows looked good to us, what shows were worth the expense of time and daylight.  Remember when you had to watch shows pretty much right when they were aired?  No DVR in the 1980s, man.  And taping shows to VHS rarely happened.  It required great electronics skill, a massive coordination of hours and minutes, and relatively expensive tapes.

   I cannot remember exactly, but it seems like we were allowed an hour or so per week.  We might have been allotted more time in front of the tube when school was out; I can't remember.

   The funny thing is, even though I sometimes complained, that really seemed like more than enough time.  I was way busier playing outside, learning how to do penny drops from the metal swing set frame, perfecting round offs and attempting handsprings, riding banana-seat bikes, and of course having those all-important crushes on boys who were too old for me... 
   Television was more of a family affair in our home than an isolating activity, something that with time and distance I see was unique.  For this and so many other reasons, I am grateful to my parents.  They trained me to use TV as a respite at the end of a full week, not the backdrop of my life and certainly not the focus of any day.

   Having said all of that, I did grow up having some fave shows that would be ever so great to see again!  Beyond syndication, beyond rebooting, just more of the good stuff.

I Dream of Jeannie.  I wanted a secret room like her plush genie bottle soooo badly...  And I liked Major Healey okay, but oh my goodness, why in the world did she have to keep messing things up with Major Nelson???  What a romance!  What a fantasy to have that kind of power and beauty.

Fantasy Island.  "Boss, de plane!  De plane!"  Speaking of fantasies, this show sent my preadolescent mind into high gear.  What a fascinating thing to glimpse into what people believe will solve their problems versus what truth already lies within their own grasp.  And when I first stepped onto the grounds of a Mexico resort on my honeymoon with Handsome, I felt like Mr. Roarke might emerge at any moment.  Yes, new episodes of Fantasy Island would be a cool thing.

Dukes of Hazzard.  I would love, love, love a comeback TV show of the Duke family and their misadventures, not just a lame movie starring all the wrong people.  Gyoog, gyoog, gyoog!

Reading Rainbow.  Oh stop it...  Don't judge me.  You know this show was impossible to ignore.  It was a quiet time standby for my thousands of babysitting victims.  Err, clients? 

The Cosby Show.  What television parents had more wisdom and love to share than the Huxtables?  Not even Aunt Bea in Mayberry, I am convinced of it.  "Come here.  Come here, come here, come here!"  And Lisa Bonet's character was a major style influence on my life, even though it took me years to share that with people.

   So there you have it.  The top five shows for which I would happily sacrifice all past, present, and future episodes of reality television and extreme making over in order to watch new again.  If any of you are fancy-pants enough in the entertainment world to make this happen, I will bake you cookies once a week for the rest of my life.  Just don't tell my Mom how much time I spend watching it all.

Mama’s Losin’ It

More Lemon Cake: Why a Chair?

  This is slice number three in a small series of discussions over the book The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake.  You can find other pieces here and here


NOTE:  This is not a transcript of the speaker phone interview. 
I am so perfectly dorky that I do not have a tape recorder,
so I just desperately scribbled a few pages of notes
and am paraphrasing the best stuff here. 
   Okay.  So, for those readers who were less than enthralled with Aimee Bender's unique science fiction, Joseph's metamorphosis into his grandmother's card-table chair was easily the most blamable element for a bad aftertaste.  Easily.  And even for those of us who got happily sucked in (I loved the entire book), this element was still, umm, different.  So different it is tricky to explain. 

   About ten minutes into our phone call with the author, the group approached her with our concerns.  I held my breath, accepting but hating the possibility that challenging such a bold move on her part could scare her off or (worse) really hurt her.  The business of creating something and sharing it with strangers can make one incredibly vulnerable, you know.  But our telephonic guest did not sound wounded and hang up; she delighted us with laughter and answers.  More proof that she has "devalued" her own voice in favor of the collective experience.  (Her word choice.  This struck me, how a talented writer finds purpose in actively devaluing her own words!)

   This may have been the point of the call when Aimee shared Bob Dylan's analogy of a cup dipping into a river of music.  She reinforced to us that throughout the writing process she just intuitively followed the story, discovered it, and then articulated it for the reader.  The details and mysteries remained as closed off to her as they were to Rose, the voice of the story.

   Intuitive is a word that whispered and echoed through my head about a thousand times as I read this book.  Anyone else? 

  The chair.  Let's back up.  Joseph clearly had a skill, like his sister and, as we would soon discover, their father and grandfather.  Joseph's skill was the ability to disappear, blend into his surroundings, and eventually morph into furniture. 

   Why not a beautiful table or an armoire?  Why a chair?  For some reason this rubbed a few readers wrong, even those who boast a fertile imagination.

   Aimee described her choice of a chair by asking us what is more personal than where one sits?  And when asked, why not a chair built and carved by his woodworking mother, Aimee proposed that the grandmother's humble, mechanical chair was far more removed, less intimate, not only because of her physical separation from the family but also because of their mother's great chasm of emotional distance from her.  And let's not forget that Joseph had worked hard to extricate himself from his mother's life during all of those "incestuous" Sunday evenings spent removing splinters.

   I would like to humbly submit that both Rose and Joseph had distance from their grandmother imposed on them by their mother, that it was not their choice at all.  So Joseph might have made his choice of furniture based on a yearning to connect.  Bitterness is a burden we can place on loved ones unfairly, without even trying.

   The group discussed Joseph's method, his practicing and perfecting of metamorphosis, and the unmistakable odor of suicide in what he finally accomplished.  How interesting it is that he chose to stay as a chair rather than leave through the exterior door his mother had supposedly built just for him.  We assessed the powerful, ghostly sight of an empty chair at home and the portability and quietness of the chair for Rose, who intended to keep him near her, albeit in a supply closet at work. 
   Aimee expressed with painful precision the messages that are conveyed by an empty chair.  She pointed out to us what maybe we should have known instinctively: that a chair is one of the most personal pieces of furniture in a home, that seeing where a departed loved one has sat can remind you of his or her absence.  This washed over me suddenly, almost violently, knowing so well the impact of seeing empty chairs at our own dinner table now, missing the girls as we do.

   There is more to come, folks.  This may seem a bit tedious for one book review, but I personally cannot overstate the effect this book had on me.  Love me some Lemon Cake.  See you soon!

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Aimee Bender: Author, Teacher, Ladle, Giver

   You may or may not have seen my review of the book The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake.  It was penned by Aimee Bender and was the topic of our book club's discussion dinner this month. As mentioned before, a new friend of mine (hi Julia!) connected us to this fresh author who very graciously devoted over half an hour of her personal time to call Oklahoma for some Q & A.  She willingly indulged the World's Coolest Book Club (we're still working on an actual name and mascot; I'm pulling for Lingonberries) with questions, remarks, answers, and creative explorations.  I will not pretend to be such a worldly and cultural person to have a ton of experience with author Q & A, but I do have enough under my belt to say that this lovely woman blew me away.

   Of the group of about ten women who read the book, seven of us could attend the dinner.  We all contributed to what would become a simmering gumbo of reactions to this unusual piece of literature, but the one sentiment we shared was gratitude to Ms. Bender for her generosity and openness last Thursday night.  With gentleness and humor, sincere artistic curiosity, and humility that almost had her surrendering ownership of the story she had crafted, Aimee offered the seven of us via speakerphone a glimpse into her soul and into her writer's world.

   That is a good example of how easy-going she was; I felt immediately comfortable and called her by her first name throughout the interview, and she didn't seem to flinch.  I caught myself way too late and now am hoping it was okay.  xoxo  She's lucky, I suppose, not to have been attack-hugged through the fiber optic lines.

   Whether you are a writer at heart or an avid consumer of the written word, these thirty five minutes would have left you fuller and more inspired than you were.  One or two of our readers were less than enchanted by the science-fiction twists of Lemon Cake, so much so that they almost didn't like the book as a whole by the end, but then hearing from Aimee deepened the discussion tremendously. 
   We flew through so many words and emotions that I could almost write a book over just the discussion of this fascinating book.  This reinforces my standing opinion that Lemon Cake will become a classic read for those bent on intimate family studies and emotional development topics.  For review purposes, though, I will hand pick some of the most glowing subject matter and trust that you might read the book for yourself then seek out some savory answers. 

   That is exactly what the author herself encouraged as we began the conversation!  She wanted to know what meanings we found in her book.  Wait.  Are you kidding me?  Is this a trick, or a mysterious question-that-leads-to-its-own-answer?  Nope.  She was innocently intrigued by how the story affected others, what they saw in it, etc. 
   One analogy she made was a reference to Bob Dylan: he considers himself not a songwriter but a ladle, a cup, just dipping himself into a river of music.  As Aimee's soft, easy voice painted this picture for us over the miles, seven heads nodded slowly, approvingly, all around the room.  We got it, and we universally accepted her invitation to take her story for our own devices.

   But we remain readers, not novelists, certainly not writers of this story, so we were still brimming with questions which she indulged patiently.  In the next few days I'll try my best to share the insights.


Friday, July 1, 2011

Just for Today

I will not strike back, even if I am right. 
I will practice peacemaking.

I will be pleasant and presentable
From early morning until late at night.

I will pray for my “enemy.”
I will try to learn something from everyone
Without expecting to learn it all from anyone.

I will have a plan and a program.
I may not follow  it exactly,
But I will strive to be a better steward
Of my time and resources today
Than I was yesterday.

I will count my many blessings.
I will revel in this beautiful life
And continue to hope for tomorrow!!

I will show fearless love!!
I will actively choose to do
The bravest, gentlest, most loving thing.

I will do my best at everything.
I will remember to consider
My signature and my legacy,
As well as my capacity for witnessing.

I will lift someone else’s spirits.
I will exhibit optimism
And walk by faith, not by sight.

I will learn something useful
And strive to make a real difference today
in the lives of those I love.

I will do a good deed in secret.
If I am found out, I will try again.


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