Friday, March 31, 2006

Science Friday

Science is hot, hot, hot.

Gone are the days when the science teacher asked, "Any questions?" and you'd think, "Yes. Will someone just kill me? I'm already bored to death."

Now programs like Mad Science, National Geographic Everyday Explorer and others are teaching science the way it begs to be taught: with excitement. Why should science be exciting? Because the world is a wonderous place and science helps us understand it little by little. Not by memorizing bold faced words, but by observing snails, stars and the explosive relationship between baking soda and vinegar.

With the T.V. show American Inventor, grownups are getting in on the act, too.

To celebrate this new trend, we're starting science Friday on this blog: a mix of health and science news, cool links, fun facts and explosive experiments. Hopefully it will offer you some interesting information or activities whether you're a grownup or kid who loves science, or thinks it is as boring as hypothesizing on how fast paint will dry.

It's named for Talk of the Nation's Science Friday, an NPR show during which host Ira Flatow discusses topics ranging from stem cell research to the science of happiness. Check for programming information, and lots of cool health and science tidbits, such as why wasabi tastes so darn good. Through evolution, the plant tried to make itself taste bad so that us humans wouldn't eat it. But it turned out it was so bad it was good. Wasabi with that?

Today's interesting link is You can make your own computerized tornado by altering the weather conditions, and then watch it destroy a house and barn.

Finally, from my little scientist...Johnny's Fact: Did you know whales need to come up to the surface for air? They used to live on land. They're like us. They're mammals.

If you know an interesting scientific development or fun experiment, please share it in the comments.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

The God of Found Things

Reminder: Don't forget to send in your funny/cute kids' prayers and kids getting things mixed up stories. I've gotten one so far, and I know there are more out there. I'd like to write more entries with reader contributions, and this would be the first one.


The God of Found Things

I always thought there was a god of lost things, who mischieviously nibbled on socks and hid pens behind desks and threw grocery and to-do lists in the neighbors' yard. Soon the god wasn't satisfied with unimportant things and moved onto wedding rings, black and white photographs and first baby shoes. Finally, he devoured old friendships, happy memories, senses of humor, faith, ourselves, our way.

Now I think there is a god of found things, too.

Yesterday, during homeschool, we read poems from Shel Silverstein's A Light in the Attic, and a letter dropped onto the floor, as if from the sky. I hadn't noticed this letter when I flipped through the book earlier, looking for a poem about nose picking. In fact, I hadn't noticed the note in the 21 years I owned the book.

The letter was dated 12-25-85 and said:

Dear Pat & Rich, Luke, Bridget, Josh:
We enjoyed Christmas Eve Mass and supper and Christmas morning breakfast with you and the blessing from Fr. Caruso.
The good will, good works letters from Luke, Bridget and Joshua are perfect Christmas presents.
And I will enjoy the turnips, oysters and buttermilk to the last bite and drop.
While on the one hand we are glad that Christmas comes only once a year, on the other hand today proved again it is the best day of the year.
Hap and Deadwood.

It is in my Granddad's (whose nickname was Deadwood and who died a few years ago) handwriting, only more legible.

How did it get there?

Once, when we were in Boston, my mother-in-law found a videotape in her room of a Christmas past. Her brother, who died years ago, was in the video, and his girls, now in their teens, were little kids toddling around. We watched it on Christmas and wondered then, too, how the video happened to show up in her room.

That can't be coincidence.

My belief in the supernatural Lost and Found came early. When I was little, we prayed to St. Anthony, the patron saint of lost things.

Try it sometime:
St. Anthony. St. Anthony. Please come around.
Something is lost and can't be found.

One day, walking home from school, I lost a pinkie ring with two light blue rhinestones on it. It was a dimestore ring, tarnished and bent out of shape, but my brother had found it on the sidewalk a few months earlier and gave it to me. Like all siblings, we fought a lot, and the ring was like a truce.

So I was walking and crying dramatically and this girl in my brother's class, Amy, came over and put her arm around me. She asked what was wrong and I told her. Was it expensive? she asked. No, I sobbed. Well, that was it. She knew that if I was crying over a cheap ring, it had to be found on the double. I think we said a prayer to St. Anthony together, although that could be my poetic memory acting up. Amy showed me how to retrace my steps, and after walking half a block, we saw it sparkling on the middle of the sidewalk--at a place I thought I looked earlier.

I remember thinking then that what Amy did was the nicest thing anyone had ever done for me. And with umpteen aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents, people were always doing nice things for me.

That ring was always getting lost. I resorted to keeping it tucked away in a clown music box, and it still would go missing. To this day, that ring comes and goes as it pleases. One day it's in my jewelry box, the next day it's gone. Come to think of it, maybe I share it with the original owner, the one who dropped it on the sidewalk the day Luke picked it up. And the God of found things shuffles it back and forth between us.

Maybe the god of lost things and the god of found things is one guy. He's like Robinhood, robbing from the neglectful and carefree, and giving to the yearning and heartbroken. He lifts a five dollar bill off a dresser of someone on a good luck streak and drops it in the pocket of a guy who can't even afford a 99 cent Quik Trip chimichunga. Steals a wedding ring from a woman whose husband sleeps beside her and gives it to a woman who had the same kind of ring but lost it, and lost her husband, too.

And sometimes, this god robs things from us only to give them back later. Granddad's letter might have meant little while he was alive. It was, afterall, just a thank you note. But now that he is gone, it falls like manna from heaven. The boys listened quietly as I read it. And now I'll tuck it away in the drawer that holds the first stories the boys wrote and the caps they wore on the nights they were born.

The letter says Christmas is the best day of the year because it only comes once a year.

Likewise, found things are so precious only because we lost them in the first place. And the god of lost and found things knows that. As we lose friends and beliefs and little parts of ourselves, he looks under couch cushions and behind desks on our behalf and wants to scream, "You need to keep better track of things!" But he doesn't because he knows what it's like to lose something. He loses and finds his people on a daily basis.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Laundry Out the Wazoo

Someone told me that when you have your third child, the laundry spins out of control (Pun intended. Oh, yes I did!)

Now, how can that be? I thought. The baby's wee little trousers and boy-leotards barely take up a square foot in the washing machine. Nothing is out of control around here. Everything is very much under control. (Loud sobbing.)

Oh, who am I kidding? That person was right. Piles of laundry stand like Egyptian pyramids in our basement. Oh dear, when was the last time I did laundry? I'll tell you when? SUNDAY! #$%!

So what accounts for this explosion of dirty clothes, socks and towels? It's not those little unitards, I'll tell you that. No, it's having another mouth to feed. Those quick trips to the dungeon to throw in a white load turned into trips to the couch to nurse Baby J.J. and now trips to the kitchen to prepare snacks for him. He is one hungry boy.

Based on my keen understanding of baby sign language and the various intonations of baby cries, our pre-snack conversation goes like this:

J.J.: My life is a living hell!

Me: There, there, sweetheart. It's not the end of the world.

J.J.: What?! When did this happen?

Me: No, no, honey. I said it's not the end of the world. Mommy's here. Now, tell me. What's the matter?

J.J.: I'm (sniffles). I'm (sniffles, trying to be brave)....Hungry (totally loses it.)

Me: Well, that's not so bad. Let's fix you a little bite to eat.

J.J.: No (regains composure). I couldn't possibly. You work so hard, mommy. I'd hate to put you out. Well, maybe a little corned beef and cabbage. Just to be polite.

Me: Of course, sweetheart.

J.J.: And baby carrots, parboiled, something like that.

Me: No problem.

J.J.: A banana and a few strawberries. But only if they're ripe, and only if it's not to much trouble.

Me: No trouble at all.

J.J.: And a vine-ripened tomato. If you have one handy. Don't go grow one on my account.

Me: I have one right here.

J.J.: A little Veal Parmisan. A rack of lamb. Chicken Cordon Bleu. Just whatever you have. I'm easy.

So you can see, feeding the baby is a considerable time commitment.

Not that he's a Montel Williams baby. You know, the one year olds who weigh 200 pounds and their moms go on the show and say, "Montel, I don't know what happened. In hindsight, maybe I shouldn't have screwed the baby bottle nipple onto the two-liter of coke and put it in the minifridge in his crib. But that's something What to Expect the First Year doesn't tell you. So how could I have known?" And Montel, God bless him, nods sympathetically and suggests at the end of the show that a chapter be added to What to Expect the First Year so that this never happens again.

No, no. J.J. is built, as I've said before, like a Roman god. A little cupid Angel baby, who of course Mommy will fix a rack of lamb for. Of course I will. Who wants a rack of lamb? J.J. does. Yes, that's right, little Huggy Bear. Who's the original Huggy Bear? You are. Yes, you. Agoogoogoo, bugaboo.

Now, where were we? Oh, don't even get me started on the older two, who think this is Shoney's. They graze and graze. And I follow them around assessing the crumb situation. Then I begin to plan to implement a plan to clean it up. Hey, my children need to understand how the world works. In the real world, nothing happens without a plan to implement a plan.

So basically, it's either feed the children and my husband or keep up with the laundry. In other words, it's either us or the terrorists. And I choose freedom (fries.)

Monday, March 27, 2006

The Art of Small Talk is a Blank Page to Me

Do you ever notice how parties are easy for some people? They triangulate. Like atoms that have extra electrons, they connect into groups of three.

I was at a networking party this week--my first ever, actually--and everyone I talked to said they were new to their job, new to the city, and yet, a few minutes later, they were in cozy little triangles...talking.

I isolate. Look out windows. Read matchbooks. Play a little guessing game with myself called, "What business is that person in?" I introduce myself to see if I guessed right. They walk away when I make small talk.

What on earth do other people talk about? My conversation topics bore even myself. "What neighborhood do you work in?...Oh, yes, that's a lovely neighborhood with the old Victorian homes. The old Victorian homes are so lovely in that neighborhood. Lovely how the Victorian homes are so old in that neighborhood." That's not conversation. It's rearranging words. Like a damn Dr. Suess poem.

I know it's just me. My friend Kara was in a sorority in college. During rush week, the girls would discuss the new candidates. When the other girls said an incoming freshman was hard to talk to, Kara had no idea what they were talking about.

She thinks everyone is easy to talk to. That's because Kara can talk to anyone. Actually, I have two friends named Kara, and they both can talk to anyone. And by talk, I mean talk turkey. Say you were adopted. Kara would know that within two minutes of talking to you. Thinking about breaking up with your boyfriend? Three minutes. Trouble at home? Four minutes. Unhappy in your job? Five. And so on. Some people have a knack for that. Not me. I can't even find the bruschetta.

Others are walking around with cute little plates with toasty bread and the tiniest cherry tomatos you've ever seen on them. A kindly man tells me where these appetizers are. Still, I realize that I'm eating some guy's cold cheeze fries at the bar. I thought it was a second buffet, but I guess not.

Like I said, I'm at a networking-type party. People might have work to offer me, but I can't even figure out how to get a glass of wine. It goes without saying that I forgot my business cards at home. Bottles and glasses are set out on a table. A wine representative is talking about how the vineyards starve their grapevines until they are ugly and straggly. Do I pour my own glass or do I need a one-on-one consult with the wine rep first? I don't want to reach behind the bar, so to speak. I mean, I'm not a neanderthal. But how is it that other people are drinking wine? There is nothing this guy could tell me about the wine that would entice me to drink it more than I'm already enticed. I have three children at home, for God sakes. It's my first night out in seemingly years. I don't care if the vines are supermodel skinny--or Jaba the Hut fat, for that matter--I'll give it a whirl.

Meanwhile, networking-wise, I have nothing to offer anyone. Unless they happen to need to know the line of work the guy with the wire-rimmed glasses, white shirt and tie is in. (He's a restaurant manager.) Or the slightly sweaty guy with his shirt untucked (He's a young doctor. Actually, I know that he's a writer because I saw his picture in a magazine, but if I had to guess, it would be young doctor.) Or need a recipe. For disaster, that is. I have several. Or if they need advice on children. Or not advice really, but reassurance that you can pretty much do whatever the hell you want and, as long as you love them and spend time with them and listen to them, they will grow up with whatever personality--be it impossible or easy-going, gregarious or shy--that the lord intended them to have. No one wants to know that. It's like telling someone the end of a movie.

Thankfully, I know the restaurant hostess, and she is someone who, like the Karas, can talk to anyone. Her sister, who I know from high school, is having a baby. So the hostess said I should call her mom to get on the guest list to the shower. To the hostess, I'm sure a conversation like this would flow quite naturally. For me, it would be a little awkward. "Um. Mrs. So and So? Hi. It's Bridget. I'm just calling because I heard there was a baby shower and I thought you'd probably want to invite me. Right. Well, of course I understand. Yes, that makes sense because I haven't seen your daughter in a couple years. So. Okay, well tell her hi. And she can call me. You know, for parenting advice. (Screaming in the background) Hold on. I thought I told you boys not to punch each other above the shoulders or below the belt. Now one of you has a crooked nose...Hello? Hello?"

So I had the good fortune to run into a gregarious person, first, and next, someone who was willing to talk turkey. At every party, someone cuts the crap and just puts herself out there. With no prodding, she talks about family. About the past. What she wishes she did and didn't do. About what she wishes she didn't do and did. I love people like this.

You realize, in talking to the turkey talkers, that everyone at the party has something important to say--maybe even some peice of the puzzle that would solve the riddles of the universe. In most cases, you just have to ask the right question. And I'm pretty sure it's not, "What line of work are you in?...I knew it. You've got general manager written all over you. So, this is really, like, a fun place. A place like this is really fun. Isn't a place like this fun, really?...Oh, okay, see you later then."

Kara would know what the question was. I was just proud of myself when I found where the appetizers were.

Pot Luck Anniversary

To celebrate our sixth wedding anniversary last night, we had a pot luck dinner. Justin brought crab dip and club crackers. Johnny and Richie brought a chocolate cake with white icing. J.J. brought his appetite. And I brought a pot (luck) roast. At least, I think it must have been lucky because it's the first time I ever prepared a hunk of beef that you could actually chew.

It was so romantic. No, romantic's not the right word. More like rofrantic. Loud and unruly. You know, a typical family dinner, only by candlelight and with a tiny, messy wedding cake as the centerpiece.

Richie kept singing "Happy Birthday" at the top of his lungs. The dog licked au jus off of J.J.'s toes. The cat stalked us the whole time, smelling meat and thinking it was us.

"Let's play the guessing game!" Johnny announced. "What has eyes but is not an animal?"

"Tigers?" I guessed, playing along.

"No, it's potatoes," Justin answered, matter-of-factly. Good job, honey.

Justin asked what the fastest animal was. The raptor, Johnny guessed. A discussion followed on whether dinosaurs qualify as animals. I think they are monsters. But that's just me.

I asked what candles were made of. Wax, in case you were stumped on that one.

It was Richie's turn.

He asked, "Who is throwing cake?" as he tossed a little chunk across the table.

"Uh, you are?" Justin guessed.

"No. Booty in the butt," Richie answered, laughing in a deep, country music singer cackle.

You might ask why we chose a family dinner over a comparably romantic getaway to--say, a Municiple Auditorium wrestling extravaganza. It's because, judging by the Oprah Whinfrey Show Debt Diet, cheap is the new thin, and we are on the Atkins diet. We only spend money on meat.

Anniversaries are wierd to me. You're standing by your bed, matching socks and you think, "Six years ago at this time, I was freaking out. Shaking in my boots. Steadied only by my future husband, who was not nervous at all, never has been nervous and never will be nervous. Except, curiously, when leaving messages on answering machines."

We were married in Woburn, Mass. in the midst of a beautiful dinner put on by Justin's parents. Justin's mom made the cake--which I tried to copy last night, in a miniature version, to no avail. A year later, we had the wedding blessed in the church in Kansas City and had a beautiful reception put on by my parents. The cake was covered with sugared fruit. I didn't replicate that version, either. In between those two events, we had our first son, Johnny. Technically, he attended both weddings. It wasn't exactly a traditional set up. Not by post-Queen Victoria standards, anyway. But wonderful all the same.

Weddings through the ages have run the gamut on traditions. In Biblical days, a couple went into a tent and came out married. I don't think we have to ask what went on in that tent. It's pretty obvious that they ate s'mores and told ghost stories.

You know the saying "tie the knot"? That's not a bad saying. It refers to an ancient tradition in which the couple loosely tied twine around their wastes during the wedding ceremony as a symbol of becoming one.

Even the white wedding dress was a trend set by Queen V. Prior to her wedding, women wore whatever color they liked--or had in their closet. Who could afford a new dress? But people made little traditions--whatever they could afford to ensure good luck and fool the demons lurking around every corner in those days.

We have the demons to thank for bridesmaid's dresses. They used to all wear the same style dress as each other and the bride. If a demon had his heart set on kidnapping the bride, he'd have to figure out which one was the bride first. You think that's silly? Superstitious? Well, consider this statistic: Not a single bride was kidnapped by demons while that practice was in place. And to this day, bridesmaids still dress sort of like brides, wearing long dresses as opposed to cut off shorts and tube tops. Still no kidnappings. Coincidence? I think not.

You might wonder how I know all this. By pulling it out of my butt, of course. No, sorry, that was Richie talking. I actually did an article on wedding traditions for a magazine one time.

I love weddings and Justin and I were blessed with two. We even have two anniversaries each year--which comes in handy in case one of us forgets one of them.

Pot luck, by the way, was the wedding feast of the peasants in the middle ages. You brought a blackbird pie or whatever and that was your entrance fee. Then you feasted and played games and basically it was a great big Renaissance Festival, minus the strange subculture of the workers, who heckle you relentlessly as you try to slay the dragon.

Can they not see that the dragon is pretend? That everyone around them is wearing jeans and a t-shirt as opposed to velveteen frocks? That they are the only ones talking like pirates and making inappropriate cleavage references? And yet they stay in character all day--even all year--long. I see them marching at the St. Pat's Parade. Carrying the "king" in a hand held carriage while "his highness" yells at them. I'm like, he's not the real king. You will not get beheaded if you set him down and say, "You know, Larry, I just don't feel like there's a lot of room for growth in this position. So I'm pursuing a career as an Elvis impersonator."

Okay, neither here nor there.

So maybe a pot luck is not such a strange anniversary meal. Everybody brings something to the table. Just like friends and family at wedding celebrations.

Watching our wedding video--and yours, too, maybe, you see this play out on the dance floor. First the moms and dads and aunts and uncles and second cousins and friend's parents dance to oldies songs and they're your foundation, your role models. Then your friends, after having a few beers, are out there, dancing like the Beastie Boys to my Midwestern eyes. And they're, well, they're your friends. You'll watch them get married and the friendship will change but not the love, hopefully. The camera flashes to younger brothers and cousins and you hope so much for them. And then you get out your pen and rank everyone at your reception according to their dancing abilities. The top ten, anyway. I'm sure everyone has that list tucked inside their wedding album somewhere. Okay. Maybe not.

At our wedding, Justin and I danced to Nat King Cole's song, which goes, "The very thought of you and I forget to do the little things in life that I ought to do. I'm living in a daydream..."

This love-induced stupor sounds so different from the chocolate cake crumbs and pot roast juice of family life. Where people feel free to yell in agony because their socks are bunched up in their shoes. To pinch someone just to give their hands something to do. To throw cake as a punch line that no one but themselves and their baby brother thinks is funny.

And yet, this is how I still feel. The very thought of my husband and I forget to do the little things in life that I ought to do. Or maybe I'm just an airhead.

Anyway, romance is the perfect precurser to family life, when you pretty much have to forget all the things in life that you ought to do: dishes and dust and weed control--and deal with the thing that you need to do. Which is loving a family. And saying things like, "Mark my words, Richard Kenneth. If you throw one more morsel of cake, I will take it away from you. And that goes for the ice cream, too, mister. "

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Fish Fry Heaven

We went to our friends Neil and Sarah's house for a fish fry on Friday. It was delicious. Neil fries fish southern style--throwing catfish in a fry daddy and serving the pieces with Vidalia onions. The fish smelled so good cooking that Neil and Sarah's dog tried to lick the boiling oil. Luckily, they saved her from herself. Neil said he liked his fry daddy so much he was going to buy a bigger one. Two bigger ones, in fact. Sarah made chocolate pecan pie. Justin and I competed for the leftovers the next day.

In Kansas City, the food can go either way: southern (cornbread, fried chicken, pecan pie) or midwestern (barbeque. Or maybe that's southern, too.)

Anyway, fish fries can also go either way: southern--a potluck party featuring cornmeal battered fish and hushpuppies, or Midwestern--a Catholic tradition that in places like Milwaulkee became a Friday night mainstay in restaurants even outside of Lent. (I think the rule used to be you couldn't eat meat on Fridays all year. What a horrible sacrifice! Fried fish every Friday. I couldn't live like that.)

Seriously, I never understood how eating fish and drinking beer made it onto the list of Lenten sacrifices. While squeezing lemon slices onto a second helping of fried white fish at a church fish fry, watching my kids eat something other than candy with wild abandon for the first time, since, well, since last Friday, laughing with friends you didn't know were going to be there, paying the Ladies Auxilary to the Knights of Columbus--the Damsels of Columbus, if you will--for a slice of chocolate cake, I always half expect a priest to come in and "catch us." More likely, he gets some grub for himself and digs in.

Three things bring people together: fish fries, barbeques and cookouts. Well, other things bring people together. Baptisms. Weddings (Justin and mine was six years ago to this day, in fact.) Christmas. Funerals.

But few things draw large groups of people together for no reason other than the food itself.

If someone says, "We're smoking some ribs tonight. You want to come over?" you don't ask, "What the occasion?"

Because they would say, "We're smoking some ribs tonight."

Now fish fries, in Kansas City at least, sort of have a reason: Lent. Catholic churches host Friday fish fries because you can't eat meat. Some are southern, or cornmeal based, others Midwestern, or flour based. They all involve children running around like mad. Fish fries are a favorite among young families, the parents of which used to drink beer for dinner on Fridays but now need to provide sustenance for their children.

I never know what to cook on a Lenten Friday since Justin doesn't consider popcorn to be dinner. Neil and Sarah mentioned at their house that men just don't think of side dishes as a meal. Come to think of it, maybe we have the all-male priesthood to thank for fish being allowed during Lent. Dinner just isn't dinner without an animal getting it's head chopped off, as far as men are concerned.

To a vegan like me, it is sickening. That's why tonight, for our anniversary, I'm making a pot roast. Here in the Midwest, our cows are so hearty and prize-fighter tough, we harvest meat like wool. Shave off a little and they grow it right back. At least, that's what I tell myself when I think of those poor, dumb cows that unknowingly entertained our family during drives across Kansas for vacation in Colorado.

"Look!" my brothers and I would say. "A cow!"

"A cow standing in a pond!"

"A cow eating grass!"

"Three cows in a pond!"

"Another cow eating grass!"

We could play that game for 12 hours. The cows didn't even know we were talking about them. They were so dumb.

Nothing against real vegans, but I don't think non-animal food has the same draw as fish fries and barbeques. It's not that I don't like vegatables, fruit or other veganables, such as, um, corn oil or dry bread. I just don't trust people who choose personal convictions over food to take dinner seriously.

I learned this through countless times of getting burned at suposedly all-you-can-eat vegan buffets. Countless, at least, if you can't count to one.

One time, my friend and I went to a Hare Krishna rally because it promised free food (vegetarian, of course.) It turned out that by free food, they meant a free performance about food. It was a pop opera decrying the evil of McDonalds. It's a good thing french fry rhymes with cry because that made for heartwrenching lyrics. But because my friend and I had hearts of stone, we got the giggles so bad we had to leave in the middle of the second song. We booked out of that theater at lightning speed because we hadn't read the brochures they gave us to know if the Krishnas were a peaceful people.

They look pretty peaceful, though, so we'll probably go to hell for laughing at their peace-loving religious event.

I just hope they have fish fries down there.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Crazy Parade Crime Blog

I was going to read the comments on the Kansas City Star's crime blog--which, on the topic of the St. Patrick's Day parade has over 300 posts--and make a few jokes at the posters' expense. Seeing a suggestion about moving the parade to the weekend, for instance, I was going to say something hilarious like "Well, that would solve the problem. Because teenage trouble makers are too busy shopping at Home Depot and attending church on the weekend to go to a parade."

Talk about funny.

But what I saw on the blog wasn't funny. It was racist. See for yourself on the parade blog listed at Someone suggested that a separate parade be held on Troost--the historical divider between white and black neighborhoods in Kansas City--with entries like the Marching Cobras--a black marching band that is one of the best acts in the parade--headlining. Someone said all the black teens at the parade were dressed like thugs. That the black community needed to get a handle on their youth. Someone even said that black people should go back to Africa. Racism is alive and well in Kansas City.

Not everyone took the parade violence as an opportunity to say ridiculous things like "It's not racist to realize we should all be careful around blacks." Bizarre tangents abounded on the crime blog. One poster blamed the problem on the parade committee not being practicing Catholics. This resulted in an apparent argument over whether the parade should be turned into a Mass.

Some black posters said white youths called them racial slurs. Other posters encouraged people to realize that most people standing in the black section (yes the parade was segregated, not by law obviously, but segregated all the same) were minding their own business. It is amazing that in 2006, that does not go without saying.

People raised the issues of Kansas City's crime problem and segregation problem and public school problem and arena spending problem. It's amazing how a specific topic can explode into a million grievances. I see it happen on my neighborhood yahoo group e-mails. Mention a shooting and you'll get a single post in response. Mention Aldi's discount store moving into the neighborhood and you've got a debate about gentrification, prejudice, affordability and poverty. Talk about a commercial business--a party bus--apparently operating out of a neighbor's driveway and a simple question of city codes becomes a lively discussion about individual rights, neighborly compassion and that phrase that makes it into every controversial yahoo topic--white trash.

On the yahoo list, people generally make really rude comments or poke fun at the rudeness of it all. Obviously it's more fun to read the latter. But like I said, the whole St. Patty's Day parade blog isn't funny. It's scary.

It's no secret that Kansas City has a violence problem. A segregation problem. A racism problem. A poverty problem. Now the city has a parade problem, too. I mentioned in an earlier post that I saw two arrests being made, police and a helicopter chasing after something. I saw kids who to me looked like they were looking for a fight. This is based on my experience of seeing guys in college and high school who were looking for fights. Unfortunately, kids pick certain venues to fight. When I was in high school it was a fast food restaurant called Kentaco Hut and a street in an affluent neighborhood next to a park.

The police broke up several fights at the parade. Is the parade now one of those places?

I don't envy the cops who have parade duty. I also mentioned earlier that I saw a man telling a police man who was trying to help him not get run over by a float shove away from the cop and say "Get your hands off me." That guy was white, by the way.

It's true that most of the parade was peaceful and fun. That the parade organizers bend over backwards to make it a family event. But I'm sure that matters little to the family who got pulled out of their car and beat up by a group of people. That is the craziest thing I've ever heard. Well almost. The craziest thing I've ever heard is blaming everything that happened at the parade on the fact that black people were there. Yet so many on the crime blog said just that.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Hank Williams: Lost Highway

Last night Richie, 3, lay on the couch, having thrown up earlier. J.J. cried, covered from eyebrow to bellybutton in smashed carrots. Chicken noodle soup was sloshed from the kitchen to the dining room. Johnny bounced up and down on his chair like it was a trampoline. As usual, our house resembled a Loretta Lynn song, minus the drunken husband, Doo. Remember the line in The Pill. "You're callin' from a bar? Get away from thar. Not you, honey, I was talkin' to the baby."

I felt a little guilty walking out the door, having read Justin the riot act in the morning for not pitching in enough around the house. He did not, by the way, read me out for not working much outside the house.

But not that guilty. These type of disasters happen five times a day, so better him than me this time. And I knew that daddy knew just the medicine for Richie's tummy ache: Sprite and Spiderman cartoons.

My aunt Mo and our friend Stephanie waited outside. We were going to the play Hank Williams: Lost Highway. Mo's new year's resolution was to go to every Kansas City Reperatory play. As a busy mom and school principal it was her way to take two hours for herself every two months. Pretty selfish, when you think about it. She should resolve to do more for others. I'm sure she could squeeze a few more minutes in there between cooking for her neighbors and babysitting everybody's kids.

We met our friend Betty there. Running late, we were seated in the upper balcony. But Mo quickly snuck down to our third row seats. The rest of us were too chicken to follow her. As we watched Mo inch her way down during the dark parts of the play, Betty called it blog fodder. Or blodder, if you will.

All I knew about Hank Williams I learned from listening to the Hank Williams, jr. song "Family Tradition." I knew that he drank to get drunk, rolled smokes to get stoned, and got drunk and sang all night long. In high school, my brother Luke loved Bosephus--Hank jr's nickname. We'd listen to him in the Caprice Classic. One time my brother, his girlfriend Eileen and I went to Hank Williams Jr.'s concert and he never made it to the stage. He was too drunk. We didn't get our money back, either. After that, the radio station we listened to wouldn't play him for a while. Then one day, we were all riding in the front seat because it was snowing in the backseat and a David Allen Coe song came on. My brother thought it was hypocritical for the radio station to play one honky tonker and not another. But we remembered that they had played a Hank song earlier, only without fanfare. The ban ended quietly. The radio station couldn't stay away.

The play showed that there was more to Hank Williams than his honky tonk reputation.

According to the play and playbill, Hank Williams grew up in rural Southern Alabama, under the firm and loving hand of Mama Lilly. She bought him his first guitar, enrolled him in singing school, and managed his band. Margaret Bowman played this role with a stern attitude masking a sense of humor. You got the idea that even as she yelled at band members to straighten up and fly right, she was laughing at their smart aleck comments. She hilariously calls Audrey, Hank's girlfriend and future wife, "Tawdry."

The one thing the two strong-willed women agree on is that Hank shouldn't take his pain pills with booze. Hank suffered back pain from spina bifida.

After dropping out of high school to play in honky tonks, it took Hank and his band, the Lonesome Cowboys, just 10 years to make it to the Grand Ole Opry stage. He got fired three years later because of his drinking.

Actor Van Zeiler played Hank's character to perfection. Full of contradictions, Hank had both common sense and an apparent desire to die young, a good natured dry wit and a tragic case of loneliness. His marriage was miserable, but you got the idea that he wouldn't have it any other way. Band members, initially drinking as much as he did, eventually tried to get him to slow down and finally left his side. He was en route to a reunion concert, but never made it on stage. He died at age 29 with alcohol and morphine in his system.

Now, I love stories about singers. Coal Miner's Daughter. Ray. Haven't seen Walk the Line yet because my friend Joaquin and I are on the outs. Long story. Don't ask. Well you can ask, but I won't answer. I was supposed to go to the Oscars on his ticket but I changed plans at the last minute to watch them at home. There. You got it out of me. But this is the best I've seen.

In the end, Hank plays an old church song "I Saw the Light" in what looks like heaven. The tragedy and joy are still there. The hellbent addiction isn't.

What makes singers drink? Betty and I talked about this on the way home. She thought maybe it was for courage. Singers are often shy. As Hank's friend Hoss, played by Stephen G. Anthony, said in the play, Hank was only happy fishing out in the middle of nowhere, or on stage--out in the middle of everywhere.

Hoss, part clown, part psychologist, also made this observation: People who could handle the pain gathered around to hear the songs of someone who couldn't. Hank was the way he was because someone heard him sing. Now I subscribe to the Charming Billy theory of drinking. An alcoholic always has a reason to drink but never needs one. Still, chronic pain, a life spent playing in bars, and a poet's front row seat to all the loneliness and heartbreak in the world--none of this could have helped. Sometimes it's better to watch the Lost Highway from the roadside cafe, to sit in the back row for the lonesome tragedy. Instead, Hank Williams drove the car and climbed on stage.

Go see Lost Highway if it comes to your city. It is the best character study I've ever seen.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Good Job, Matt Suter

Another short blog today due to another paid assignment (Yea!) with the Liberty Symphony Orchestra.

I just wanted to congratulate Matt Suter of Fordland, Mo., for surviving a quarter-mile ride on a tornado. Kevin Murphy of the Kansas City Star wrote an article in yesterday's paper about the 19 year old, who survived the longest tornado flight on record during the March 12 storms.

After being knocked unconscious by a flying lamp, Suter was sucked out of the trailer that he lived in with his grandmother. The tornado lifted him into the air, carried him 1,307 feet and dropped him in a field. He awoke next to a piece of paper that had also been carried from the house. Worried that his grandmother and uncle were injured, he ran barefoot down a gravel road to the home of a neighbor, who called an abulance for them. They are recovering at a friend's house from injuries. Suter received five staples on a wound to the head.

Experts say that it's amazing that flying debris did not injure Suter more seriously.

The story ran in The Springfield News-Leader, and the national press picked it up. Now Suter might appear on the David Letterman Show.

The article in The Star says that Suter always wanted to see a tornado and said, "I guess I was lucky that night."

Now that's a positive attitude that is nice to see in the youth of America.

To read the full article, go to

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Thank You Eolai gan Fheile

I got a nice e-mail today from Eolai gan Fheile saying he linked to my blog about the St. Patrick's Day Parade. His blog,, describes goings-on in K.C.'s Irish community, links to other sites, and has funny tidbits sprinkled throughout. I hope he doesn't mind too much if I call it the People Magazine of Kansas City's Irish. You should check it out.

He gave my blog entry a nice write-up, and hopefully no one will want to kill me after reading it. Suffice it to say that in my younger years, the pen was stupider than the sword. I bend over backwards now--to the point of my head coming through my legs--to be a consciencious columnist.

Short blog today because I have a paid gig this week, writing about universal design for Kansas City Homes and Gardens. That is a style of home that allows handicap accessibility, whether you need it now or in the future. Really neat to see.

I'll tell you all about it in great length, of course, at a later date. I mean to the point where you're falling asleep, and saying, "We wanted the sitcom, not the miniseries. The brief, not the Sunday special report. The haiku, not the Illiad. The "hi-mom-it's-a-girl" collect call, not the four-hour phone conversation with your sister. The Baby's First Bible, not the King James version. The "sunny skies tomorrow" blurb and not the Doppler Radar report complete with footage of the weatherman and his dog's visit to Olathe Middle School. The...well, you get the picture.

Thank you for reading.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

March Misery

Can you remember what candy you got for Christmas at age five...but not what you ate for lunch yesterday? Do you know the exact marks on your second grade report card...but not one thing you accomplished yesterday? Do you lose hours at a time...having no idea what you did between 8 a.m. and 10 a.m. yesterday? Join the club.

To combat this short term memory loss, I sat down last night and tried to piece together the day.
It was dark, dreary, drizzly, bone-chilling, miserable. Slicker than snot on the streets. Fender-bender city. Not that I ever made it outside, or out of my pajamas, even, but that's how I imagine it was.

The boys wanted to watch two movies in the morning. Usually I don't let them watch T.V. for that long, but I had a ton of stuff to do. Only, I don't remember doing any of it. I assessed the damage in our house: dirty clothes, shedding dog, dirty dishes, clean dishes that I am too lazy to reach up high to put away, unmade beds, unopened mail, graham crackers mortared onto the high chair...but hopefully another agency is responsible for taking action on all this. Come to think of it, I made fart noises on the baby's belly the whole time. Well, that was productive.

And I also came up with an ingenious plan to teach Johnny and Richie how to count by tens: glueing 10, 20, 30 black-eyed peas to construction paper. We glue black-eyed peas to everything around here. I bought them to cook on New Year's Eve for good luck, but found out they take hours to cook. If I was going to dedicate that much time to making good things happen, I would sit down and come up with a reasonable career plan and affordable childcare and not just shrug and say, "I know. I'll be an at-home mom and a newspaper columnist."

Then we read the bible. My boys love the bible, with naked Adam and Eve, and bad old Cain, and good Noah and his ark. "Was Cain a bad guy?" Johnny, 5, asks. "Why did Adam and Eve didn't care if they were nakey?"

Throughout the day, the boys taunt me with questions like these that I can't possibly answer. Last night, Johnny asked, "Are leprechauns endangered? Why are there so many humans and not many leprechauns? Are they almost extinct? What is happening to them?"

Who do I look like? Jane Goodall? I have know idea what the status of leprechauns is. I'm a mother, not an anthropologist, though I am getting pretty good at observing strange human behavior. Like when I looked over at Johnny in the movie theater the other day and he was wearing the greasy popcorn bag like a hat.

That's what I wanted to say, but instead I said, "The forests are becoming suburbs, so leprechauns are losing their habitats. They're endangered, but not extinct. They were in the parade, remember?"

It's wrong to lie to my children like this. Especially since they believe me. But I am too ashamed to admit that I do not follow in the news the plight of the leprechauns. I just follow the messes in our house and contact whichever agency is responsible for cleanup.

What else happened yesterday? Let's see, I finally sent the kids upstairs to the playroom so that baby J.J. could sleep and I could clean. Within five seconds they were downstairs, jumping out around the corner saying, "Boo!" only it sounded like "You! Can't be alone for even one minute to clean this house."

"That was so funny," I heard them say on their way upstairs. It was so funny, in fact, that I forgot to laugh.

The house was at last picked up and they came downstairs to watch yet another movie, which I agreed to so that I could do whatever it is that I do. I think I checked e-mail and kept all the messages new in order to respond to them later, when I was more on the ball.

You know those expressions Carpe diem and Be here now? Yesterday was not one of those days. I guess the boys were fighting a lot, something that I don't even notice anymore. Richie fell asleep while I scratched his back and Johnny said he felt grouchy because Richie was always saying "poopy" and "butt" to him.

Now I thought this was mutual, but I didn't say so. Not right then. Because tears filled Johnny's eyes and I thought about how often the oldest gets blamed for a fight he didn't start and didn't want but had the type-A personality to finish. It's hard being the oldest, I think. Even as the middle child growing up, I always felt sorry that my big brother had to put up with my antics. Even as I tried to drive him crazy I thought this.

I told Johnny various situations where Daddy and I called each other poopy heads because we both wanted to play with batman or drink out of the red cup or whatever. And how Johnny and Richie had to put us in timeout. And we hit and kicked each other and chanted "Booty in the butt," and had to stay there all day. At night time, we fought over who got which side of the bed.
But finally we made up and decided to do a better job the next day. I don't think this story taught the lesson I wanted it to, but at least it made the boys laugh. Richie even woke up long enough to giggle and say, "Booty in the butt. Booty in the butt." Oh, why do I encourage them so?

Yes, it was a dreary, bleak, blurry day. Not the kind of day you envision when you decide to stay home with your kids. Not once did we sit down and do a puzzle together or lipsinc oldies songs. Not once did I pull somebody on my lap and say, "Hey, did you give me a hug yet today?" We shared some laughs but basically we all just stomped around the house like the seven dwarfs: Sneezy (Justin, who was sick,) Sheddy (Benny, our dog,) Bitey (Skippy our cat,) Hungry (J.J.,) Grumpy, Grumpier and Grumpiest, (Johnny, Richie and I.)

At one point Richie took a sip of water and yelled at the top of his lungs, "Take it. Take it. Take the cup!" simply because he didn't want to hold it for one second longer than he needed it.

I followed the advice I read in the Parents as Teachers newsletter and ignored this outburst. I wish.

Instead I yelled, "Can you hold the cup for five seconds while I put the toothpaste on the toothbrush? I only have two hands!"

"I can't! I can't!" he screamed.

"Say please, at least!" I yelled.

"Please! Take it!" he screamed.

"Okay!" I took the cup.

In hindsight, who holds the cup is a silly fight. Maybe not for a three year old. But for a 29 year old it is. I'll try not to do that again today.

Note to mother nature: We need sunlight. ASAP. You, of all people, a mother, should know that this cloudy, snowy, March mess is not funny. We are like shut-ins here. I'm just going to come right out and say it. You, Mother Nature, are a poopy head.

Monday, March 20, 2006

People Who Love People

Waldo - What is the allure, exactly, of People magazine? Why will I let a mile-high pile of laundry block the entrance to our kitchen in order to read the rag its entirety?

Why do I care that Nick Lachey is "Single & Loving It"? That Keira Knightley said of her Oscar gown, "I'm strapped in. It keeps me upright!" What? The reporter who quoted her on that should have asked, "What the hell does that mean?" But I'm sure his follow up was instead something like, "Are your boobs real?"

Why do I also tsk, tsk Prince when I read that Three 6 Mafia, after their Oscar win for the song "It's Hard Out Here For a Pimp" was denied entrance to The-Artist-Who-Should-Be-Known-As-Professor Plum's party? I'm sorry, but if somebody thanks Jesus and mama up there on the stage, and not just "all the wonderful staff at universal" or whatever, I think they should get a free pass to all the parties in Hollywood. And I think somebody (Prince) is jealous.

No, I shouldn't waste my time on this drivel. And yet, after three hours of herding my children at the St. Patrick's Day Parade on Friday, I collapsed on our couch and said, "Mama needs some one-on-one time with People Magazine, so quiet time is for real today, all right?"

And I perused the magazine as though I was reading a long letter about my friends. Like Rachel, or Jennifer Aniston, as they call her in the biz. She steered clear of the cameras on Oscar night to allow the best costume design winner her moment to shine. That's Rachel for you. So humble. So selfless. Brad Pitt is a dirty dog, as far as I'm concerned. Now Vince Vaughan, there's a keeper. And don't even get me started on that clown Ross.

I know I'm not alone in my love of People magazine. One of my friends waits on her front porch for the mailman the day it is to arrive. I know a lawyer who shares a subscription with her lawyer friend and they pounce on it the day it comes like a defendant who keeps forgetting he has the right to remain silent.

I'm too cheap to buy a subscription, but I read my mom's old copies like it is my job.

Perhaps we're interested in the celebs because we like their characters on T.V. and in movies. We expect that they have the same sense of humor, zest for life, and I'm-going-to-follow-my-heart-come-what-may-when-I-think-of-a-day-that's-gray-and-cloudy-I-just-pick-up-my-chin-and-grin-and-say-hey attitude. Most celebrities fall short of that expectation. Who wouldn't?

I also mistakenly expect stars to be like my friends and family, only more glamorous. But it's a different world out there, apparently. For instance, on Oscar night, most stars in the crowd refused to laugh at themselves during host Jon Stewart's monologue. He'd poke fun at Hollywood for judging women on their looks and paying men more, doing the exact thing the movies they make decry, and no one laughed. That was a clever observation, I thought. And yet, total silence. I mean, even kings allowed jesters to poke fun at the royal family. Even my five year old laughs at himself when you give him a hard time. Most people think being roasted is a form of flattery. Not Hollywood, apparently. When Jon Stewart said "Ring of Fire" was a remake of "Ray" only starring a white guy, lead actor Joaquin Phoenix looked serious enough to shoot a man in Reno. Just to watch him die.

And yet, I read the caption to his after party photo. "Nominees Heath Ledger and Joaquin Phoenix shared a laugh." Now he laughs. They must have been making fun of someone else. Joaquin, love him or hate him, he keeps you on your toes. Shoot. I'm thinking of them as friends again.

The thing is, I have no desire to actually be friends with the stars. Sorry, Rachel, Monica and Joaquin. No thanks. I have plans that day. I like my own friends, thank you.

And yet, I read about their elegant updos. I note that diamonds are now a guy's best friend, too. Maybe it's that I want to be a star like them. And I like to think that if I were a star, everything from dirty laundry to broken-down cars to sleet and drizzle would disappear. When I read People it does disappear for an hour. It's like watching a movie. Of course stars have their own problems. Like that stinking Papa Ratsi, who gets blamed for everything from marriages breaking up to Britney Spears not putting her baby in a carseat. Shame on him. And he's a father, for God sakes.

It was so bad on St. Patrick's Day that I even read the article about a day in the life of Ryan Seacrest, an E! reporter. I'm sorry, but just because you interview a star doesn't mean you are a star. If that's the logic, then everyone who interviews the president is the president. They'd have to call in a new White House press core to interview the new presidents. But then the new journalists would be presidents. Eventually, they'd run out of real reporters and call in the entertainment reporters. And then Ryan Seacrest would be president. But he can't be president because he's a hollywood star and hollywood stars can't be president. Oh wait a second. I guess that logic does work.

Regardless of whether or not Seacrest is a star, I read the whole article, and it's a good thing I did. Under a photo of Seacrest getting a manicure, he is quoted as saying: "There's nothing worse than a dangling piece of skin."

Well, that's a relief. I used to worry about kidnappings and money and deadly meteor showers. Now come to find out there is nothing worse than a hangnail. All I have to do is schedule a manicure at You Hit the Nail on the Head or some such pun-named salon and everything will be okay.

So that's why I read this magazine. It's an escape from reality. Not that reality is bad. Reality is great. On Friday, I had just gotten back from a parade with my dad and kids and brother. We are all happy and healthy. We have a big family and good friends. For all I know, our lives are better than the stars' lives. They might suffer from depression or be getting a divorce or even have a dangling peice of skin.

But sometimes you need a vacation to the land of champagne wishes and caviar dreams, where all the world appears to be one long and beautiful movie. Unfortunately, the director is Papa Ratsi.

In another matter, the service I bought from Go Daddy worked. This blog is now on and You can search "greetings from waldo" on either site and come up with the blog. I think the Waldo dateline at the beginning will help that happen. We'll see. I thought it would be easier to remember how to google the site then type in the whole address. And maybe some strangers out there will be bored at work and google themselves and and then say, "Oh, what the heck, let's see what 'greetings from waldo' turns up."

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Kansas City Parade: History and Violence

The Kansas City St. Patrick's Day Parade began 33 years ago with a small band of brothers marching from one bar to another. Now, organizers cling to the tradition even as violence flies in the face of the steps they've taken to make it more family-oriented. It begins earlier than it used to. The parade committee installed barriers to keep the crowd out of the path of floats and vehicles. This year, the parade even had a Walt Disney theme.

Still, according to Kansas City Star reports, 10 fights broke out, two men were arrested for aggravated assault, one for carrying a concealed weapon and one for narcotics possession. Shots were fired. People beat up a family in a parking lot. Police almost shot a kid carrying a toy but real-looking gun.

Who knows what incites this type of violence at a parade? A couple years ago, gunfire at the event sparked efforts on the part of the parade committee to make it more family-friendly. Some people thought the parade should be cancelled.

Should a parade be cancelled if violence occurs? Is tradition a good reason to keep it going? To the families who have floats in the parade, maybe it is. For tradition's sake, I like to go to the parade, and my family's not even in it.

When we were little, my mom would take my brothers and me downtown to the parade on the city bus. It was like a school bus on the way to a field trip, only with grownups singing intead of kids. I remember one lady standing and swaying at the front of the bus, leading the passengers in Irish songs like the "Yellow Rose of Texas." Wait a second...that wasn't an Irish song. I think that woman might have been drunk.

At that time, the only danger at the parade was some drunkard burning you with a cigarette or spilling beer on your lederhosen. (For some reason, my mom would dress me in an Irish sweater and lederhosen, and as we marched in the parade, grownups would heckle me for wearing German clothes.)

This year, my family went and had fun until we wove our way through the crowd on the way to our car and saw two arrests, two police officers running after something and a guy yell at the police who were just trying to help him cross the street, "Get your hands off me!" It does make you worry that if a shot was fired--even in the air--it could hit one of your kids.

Until then, the kids enjoyed all the Mickey and Minnie mouses marching by, and the Marching Cobras, some of whom wore snake heads. I liked the radio station with the Chiefs themed Elvis and the various portrayals of Snow White and the Seven Leprechauns.

Suggestion for shortening the parade next year: The seemingly thousands of convertible-riding city, state and county politicians all ride on one float. With the right seating arrangement and hidden microphones broadcasting what they are saying between clenched and smiling teeth, this float could win best in show. Heck, they don't even need microphones. With the current hands-on political climate, someone could just hand the officials boxing gloves and debate topics.

My boys, who are more like gas than solids, bouncing off whatever holds them in, had a hard time standing still. They'd bump into the other kids standing in the front row and that caused some problems. Also, Johnny, 5, kept reaching into another lady's stroller looking for food and drinks. Because, you know, I don't feed my children. It's not like Johnny ate five sweet rolls that morning at my cousin Chris's party.

"Our stroller looks just like yours," I explained to the woman.

"Does it?" she asked, in a skeptical voice.

Was she implying that my son was a thief?

"Listen, lady," I said. "If my kid was a crook, do you think I'd let him waste his time stealing wet wipes and animal cracker crumbs from your pram? Please, there are enough suits down here to pick pocket a lifetime supply of cash. Not to mention breathmints."

No, not really. Because that is how parade violence happens.

After we passed the live Cops! show, we crossed over to Main Street. My dad pointed out the old Tom Pendergast office, a house-sized yellow brick builing nuzzled between five-story buildings.

"That's a little building for a big boss," I said.

"That's what he was about," my dad said. "Helping the little guy."

Pendergast, whose gambling addiction led to his downfall later in life, ran Kansas City's political machine for a long time. He didn't actually hold office, but he got people elected. During prohibition, he made sure nothing was actually prohibited. If anything Kansas City went through an Uninhibition Era. Basically, Pendergast knew how to pull strings, which I'm sure doesn't happen in politics anymore. Just ask all those guys in convertibles.

Anyway, he got out the democratic vote, as they say now. And he didn't need a Rock the Vote concert to do it. Instead, when people stood in line at that little brick building and asked him for help, he helped them. For instance, he gave poor people coal in the winter.

"If you do something nice like that for people, they'll vote for you for the rest of their lives," my dad said.

Pendergast, was, by the way a Kansas City Irishman. He went from running a bar down by the river to running a city, part of a proud Irish tradition Pat O'Neill writes about in his book "From the Bottom Up."

When you think about it, you can see why the parade, a symbol of that tradition, means so much.

However, for a kinder gentler event further south on Grand, my cousin Chris and his wife Emily held the first annual Brewster-Hiley-Hair-Jones, etc. parade during their St. Patty's Day breakfast this year. They passed out little Irish flags and some of the kids decorated their bikes and big wheels. Cars honked as the kids peddled and scooted their way around the bend onto the Trolley Track Trail. Everybody loves a children's parade.

Then the grownups helped the kids uphill from Brookside Boulevard, a steep incline that used to be the bluffs of a creek. Most said they weren't going down to the big parade this year. It was too cold and they'd already been to the Brookside Parade a week before.

Chris asked Johnny to be the grand marshall, which is right up his alley. Richie was the caboose. In his typically sunny outlook, he looked at all the kids a block ahead of us and then at the empty sidewalk behind us and said, "Look how far we went."

Very far, indeed. Happy St. Patrick's Day, Kansas City's Irish.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Extreme Home Makeover

Nana and Papa got home last night at 8 p.m. A small crowd gathered in the remodeled kitchen and not the whole family and work crew, who, as I mentioned yesterday, were probably out on the town for St. Patrick's Day. That was just as well because Nana and Papa were tired after their drive in from Wichita.

Four of Nana and Papa's children and six of their grandkids were there. The architect, Chris, and my uncle Dan came over to see how Nana and Papa liked it.

They kept saying, "It's just beautiful," and "Isn't that something?"

My aunt Mo videotaped the whole thing, so it really was like Extreme Home Makeover. The kitchen now has two ovens, five burners, a refrigerator with an ice maker, granite counter tops and natural stone backsplash, lots of cabinets and walking around space, an eight-seat table in the middle of it all, and the washer and dryer in a little room to the side.

That is what started this all. Nana and Papa planned to move to a retirement home in the suburbs. Washing clothes in the basement and cooking were getting to be too much. But the family held a meeting and encouraged them to stay in the old house, where most of their kids and grandkids live or work ten minutes away. Now our family is bringing them meals and this remodel moved the washer and dryer upstairs.

We tested out the kitchen last night, not cooking but talking around the table.

I have so many memories of sitting around the kitchen table. My mom would pick us up after work when Nana and Papa were watching us. Papa would be eating saltines and butter. I'd ask for one and Papa would put a big slab of butter on it and keep asking, "Do you want another one?" until I was full. That was a switch. Usually grownups tried to get you to stop eating appetizers. Papa tried to get us to eat more.

Nana would laugh at some story my mom told and stir a pot on the stove.

When I was little, some of my aunts still lived with Nana and Papa. I remember my aunt Mary tape recording my cousin Ryan and I singing Yankee Doodle Dandy at this table. Then she interviewed us so that our parents would have our voices recorded for posterity. My mom still has the tape.

At parties, people were always laughing around the table. Sometimes they were laughing with you, other times, at you. Like when your face registered sheer horror when your mom announced, "We just got back from Jones Store getting Bridget her first bra."

When you're in a big family, you learn pretty quickly not to get embarrassed easily. Or else you spend your adolescence in a constant state of panic. I picked the latter. A smart choice, I think.

The new kitchen is like the same old kitchen only better. "It still has a soul," said one visitor who came to see the progress last week.

I tried to describe the soul of Nana and Papa's kitchen in a Christmas present to them this year. I got the recipe idea from my sister-in-law Sarah, whose father wrote a similar tribute to her Nana called "Eat Something." Now it is displayed in Sarah and Josh's kitchen. This was the Christmas present:

Recipe for a Happy Family
From the Kitchen of: Nana and Papa Gaughan

1. Lay one faded tablecloth over a big oval table.

2. Add ten children, 18 grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren. Each should have different talents and personalities. Some should be doctors, others, craftsmen, some businessmen and women, others, artists and teachers.

3. At times, this mixture can be too spicy. You can temper it with a sense of humor or blue cheese.

4. Fill the pots on the stove with Papa’s baked beans and Nana’s grits, Papa’s awareness that butter makes everything taste good and Nana’s health consciousness.

5. Stock the cabinets with Malta Meal, Tang, Velveeta and a delicately balanced mixture of strictness and understanding.

6. Add heaps of laughter and a teaspoon of tears.

7. Stir constantly until the mixture becomes thick with stories and love.

8. If the family tales become tall, stretch them until they are taller.

9. If the love bubbles over, catch it in bowls, add ice cream and serve it to the grandkids for breakfast.

10. All this commotion in the kitchen is bound to create a lot of dishes. Just one last word of advice: Do not tell your husband about a clogged drain until he has eaten a decent meal. You can cover up the evidence by laying a dishtowel over the sink.

Tomorrow...St. Patrick's Day in Kansas City.

Friday, March 17, 2006

ETA: Unknown

The big question is when will Nana and Papa get home? If they arrive today, on St. Patrick's Day, everyone will be scattered to the seven winds, or else three sheets to the wind, and might miss the Extreme Home Makeover style homecoming we have planned for Nana and Papa.

While they were in Phoenix for the winter, my uncle Dan managed a kitchen and bathroom remodel for them, bringing the washer and dryer upstairs and enlarging their galley kitchen. My husband and other workers put in a lot of nights over there, and in recent weeks, the whole family has helped dust, scrub, put away the thousands of canned goods my Papa purchased at the Air Force commissary and organize the millions of calculators Papa also has.

I think we all have those items that we can never have too many of. For me, it is legal pads. They are stashed everywhere in our house. When I worked at the newspaper, I carried a little one even out to dinner in case big news happened, like a parade broke out or someone staged a pie eating contest.

For Nana and Papa it is calculators and crossword puzzle dictionaries. And blenders, my Aunt Mo pointed out. Mo is in charge of putting the kitchen back together. The responsibility came to her by default. She's the only one who knows what's going on.

Yesterday, my mom and I went over to help. While my mom hung pictures and my cousins took the boys to see Shaggy Dog, I dusted and vaccuumed and ransacked the cupboards for food for my hungry baby. The bagel and cream cheese he ate for lunch just didn't cut it.

I'm sure having me there helping was like having a teenager. "Where's the broom?" I'd ask. "Have you seen the clorox? Are we putting the calculators all in one place, or making sure there's one in every room, like you do with crucifixes and kleenex?"

Mo actually has a teenager. She came to help wearing a gorgeous hot pink satin tea length gown, cropped denim jacket, cowboy boots and cop sunglasses. She had just bought the $200 dress for $30 at a resale store. Let me tell you, I am going to start dressing like that to clean my house. It won't make me a better housekeeper, but at least I'll feel like a badass.

Nana has been so excited to see her new kitchen. For years, she cooked dinners for her 10 children in her little kitchen with the big table. At that time, the kitchen drain was always clogged with the remains of goulash and chicken tetrazini and grits and she'd lay a dishtowel over it so that Papa didn't see the plumbing task ahead until he had a full stomach.

When I was little, Nana would babysit me and I'd sit at the big table while she worked in the kitchen and told stories about what things were like during the Great Depression and how her mom and dad and her used to sleep outside on beds in the summer because it was so hot and how she used to listen for Papa whistling down the hallway of the apartment building where he lived with his sister and Nana lived with her mother. Papa, who was older than Nana, actually chaperoned her and her date to a high school dance as a favor to Nana's mother. Nana had a big crush on him. It was one of those rare cases where a long-time crush blossomed into love.

That table is in the basement now. As a surprise, my uncle redid part of the basement so the kids can eat dinner down there. Our family--with 10 kids and their spouses, 17 grandchildren and their spouses and boyfriends and girlfriends, and seven great grandchildren--had outgrown the kitchen and dining room tables and living room card table, and people were eating in shifts. Now everyone can eat at the same time.

So we all plan to be there when Nana and Papa arrive from Wichita, where Papa's sister Mary lives. After the long drive from Phoenix, Nana will be happy to be home. I'll let you know how the Extreme Home Makeover homecoming goes.

Now for today, St. Patrick's Day, the second biggest holiday in Kansas City after the Chiefs vs. Raiders game. The parade is Downtown at 11 a.m. This started years ago with Mike Murphy, a local radio personality and a few others marching one block. Now I don't actually know where it ranks in bigness but suffice it to say that every old Irish family and anyone trying to sell something or get re-elected is in the parade. Now there's a rule that all parade entries have to have some green on them so, you know, the UPS truck tapes a peice of green crepe paper on the side of the truck.

The Kansas City Star always campaigns to get the parade moved to the weekend, so that downtown commuters can actually get to work without calling on St. Patrick to perform a miracle. But parade organizers say that would break the tradition. Anyway, for many in Kansas City, today is an unofficial holiday, like the Royals home opener, Mardi Gras, the day after the Chiefs versus Raiders game and anytime it snows or is sunny.

When I was little, my mom would pull my brothers and I out of school on St. Patrick's Day and dress us in Irish sweaters and anything else European--lederhosen, for instance, and march us through the downtown streets. That's how a lot of Irish families who didn't have a float would show their spirit. But now it's more organized. I think you have to be registered.

So we'll just watch. One year, we watched my cousin Chris propose to his sweetheart, Emily. Now they have a breakfast party every year. It starts in 40 minutes in fact. I better get my little leprechauns dressed. I'll tell you more about the big day tomorrow.

Slainte. That means cheers in Irish. And Pog M'Thoan. That means something obscene in Irish and I don't really mean it. It just sounds festive.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

E-mailer's Paradise

"Oh, never drink coke out of a can," my mom told my aunt, cousins and me across the dinner table. "A woman drank a diet coke out of the can on a boating trip and died of rat pee. The rats run around the factory and pee on the tops of the cans. I'll forward you the e-mail."

Sure enough, I got the e-mail the next day. A woman really died of rat pee. Or else some wierdo lied and said she did.

Where would we be without e-mail? Now, I'm confident that this story would have made the rounds. There has always been a campaign to get people not to drink pop out of cans. My grandma, Mume, said the little circle thing could break off, fall into your 7up and wind up in your throat. I think this actually happened to her friend. Mume also said you should never bite into a Dorito, but should break it into little pieces before eating it. Her friend also choked on a Dorito, she said. I wish Mume had e-mail when she was alive because she would have had a field day sending out messages about various hazards her friend encountered.

But other exchanges never happened without e-mail. When my brother got married, he communicated with his groomsmen via e-mail and directions to the tuxedo place would turn into fights about who was the best high school football player. Then someone would call Josh "groomzilla." People just don't talk smack like that over the phone or in letters. You might wonder how I knew about these e-mails, not being a groomsman. My mom told me about them.

Witness the March Madness pool. My cousins and cousins' cousins have done this for years. It used to be circulated on paper and you'd talk about it on St. Patrick's Day or other get-togethers during the tournament. Now, the picks are computerized and you post comments on the Web.

For some reason, everyone always has the wrong name when they post messages. One year, my mom was Justin Heos, my husband. So she'd send messages giving my dad a hard time and it looked like Justin was making fun of his father-in-law left and right.

This year, my cousin sent an e-mail explaining why his name on his posts is something like Larry Miller. He said he picked an alias so that his kids dodn't get caught in a gambling sting like poor Mrs. Gretsky or little Petey Rose. My dad e-mailed back that there were beds available at Three Rivers--if he didn't get help there, get help somewhere.

I know exchanges like this happen in March Madness pools everywhere. When Justin played fantasy baseball with his friends, they did the same thing, only with Boston accents, so their names were The Clippahs and what not. Justin told me all about it. (Just joking. My mom did.)

I thought this was funny because I didn't know people realized they had accents. My friend once said, "I talk like the people on T.V. talk," but she sort of has a Kansas accent.

When we first met, Justin had a Boston accent and said the weather saying like this: "Red sky at night, sailahs delight. Red sky at dawn, sailahs by wawned."

"That saying doesn't rhyme when I say it," I said.

But he didn't believe me. Now, sadly, Justin talks like a Missourian and has to find new poems to forecast the weather, such as, "Warm winds in Loredo. Here comes a tornado."

All I know is when I open my e-mail each morning, my mother-in-law has sent me a song called "Cheney's Got a Gun," my mom has sent me a funny foreign television commercial (they can get away with murder in their advertisements abroad,) my neighborhood chat group is advocating the legalization of drugs because, hey, it worked in Switzerland, my Web site host company has sent me 50 e-mails regarding who knows what because I deleted them all--eliminating junk mail in a single click, and I hear from a couple friends. I love it.

People say e-mails are the death of written letters. I think they've replaced phone calls more than anything, or answering machine messages to be more accurate. They usually have more information and are funnier because people have a few seconds to think before writing. They've also changed the dynamics of joke telling.

Now people say, "Did you hear the one about the Irish brothers? I'll e-mail it to 'ya."

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

It Doesn't Matter If You Win or Lose...Yeah, Right

I'm coaching my son John's 6 years old and under soccer team this Spring. On Saturday, I went to a mandatory coach's meeting for the recreational youth league. It's a great program, teaching good sportsmanship first and foremost and requiring that all players get equal time in the game.

I agree with all that. And, of course, the no sideline smoking policy goes without saying. It didn't go without saying for my soccer coaches, though. I remember one guy quit smoking during the season--or maybe he just gave it up for Lent. Anyway, during one game, he paced the sidelines, his face turning beet red as he tried to decide who to yell at more--us or the referrees. Finally, he threw down his clipboard and said, "That's it. Either I have to start smoking or quit coaching."

Everyone thought that was hilarious.

But I digress. Another good rule the league has is parents not being belligerent. That one's a good idea, too. When I was in school, a couple dads got into it at a game and got hauled out of the gym and it caused some discomfort between the two families, who went to the same school. Yes, the fathers were fighting and on the same team.

Memories. But times have changed. Those kind of things can't and shouldn't happen anymore.

Surely, however, times have not changed so much that it doesn't matter if you win or lose. That's the one philosophy I heard this weekend that I just didn't understand.

It doesn't matter if you win or lose.

If that's the case, then why play soccer? Why not play duck pond, the game where everyone's a winner?

Granted, to my five-year-old son, it doesn't matter a great deal if he wins or loses. It's the first question he asks after a game, but a little ice-cream softens the blow of a loss.

But some of the kids in the league are 10, 11, 12 years old. When my teamates and I lost a game at that age--a close game or a grudge match, we cried our eyes out. If someone had said to me, "Well, it doesn't matter if you won or lost, it's how you played the game," I would have thought he was a crazy person.

Don't get me wrong. I've been on and coached plenty of losing teams and it wasn't the end of the world. It wasn't even the end of the beginning of the world. But it mattered. It got to us.

It should get to you. That's how you learn to deal with disappointment. To do better next time. To want it more next time.

At the meeting, a man pointed out that only 1.5 youth players in a million grow up to play sports professionally. He said that statistic might cool the jets of parents who got overzealous. Parents, yes. But kids really should want to win, career goals not withstanding.

I knew as a youngster that I wasn't going to play professional sports, but I still wanted to win. Not to the point of being a bad sport. We got in big trouble if we did that. But to the point of playing our hearts out.

My brothers were good athletes. I remember stomping on the bleachers during close championships played in the Christ the King gym, trying to drown out the other team's rhythmic chants. I remember the announcer instructing us not to that. The bleachers would break. I remember feeling crestfallen when my brothers lost their games and exhuberant when they won. And that was in grade school. Those games were a big deal.

I remember my dad, who played high school and college football and coached grade school football, had two reasons for why your team lost. Either the other team was simply a better team or they wanted to win more.

Maybe I'm too old school. And don't worry, I'm not going to throw my clipboard down on the field during the six and under games. I'm not going to give speeches along the lines of, "You've got to want it so bad you can taste it!" No, no, no. I just want to teach these little guys how to play and how to be good sports. But they'll probably want to win. It's instinct. I mean, my boys compete to win who gets their socks on the fastest.

True, in the big picture, winning a youth soccer game doesn't matter much. But some day, winning something will matter to these kids. Whether it's getting the girl or boy, battling injustice, or teaching your kid long division so that he passes math, winning will matter. Talent and fate will help them succeed to some extent. But if they remember how to win--or how to lose and try again, they'll be that much closer to victory.

Sometimes wanting it is enough. Other times, you realize that you're up against someone with more talent and the same amount of heart and work ethic that you have. These are important lessons that youth sports teach.

If winning or losing doesn't matter, it waters down those lessons. I think it does matter if you win or lose. It may not matter to the league, as a matter of policy, but I hope, in the hearts of the players, that it matters. And I suspect that it does.

Thank you all for your encouraging words yesterday!

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

It's a Blawg, Dawg

It's the ultimate naval gazing. Blogging about blogging. But I wanted to write one column about the subject to thank you if you are reading this and explain why I am keeping a blog.

First, thank you if you are reading this. And thank you if you sent it on to someone else. And thank you for not making fun of me for having a blog. At least not relentlessly, anyway. I really appreciate it.

Second, I don't write the blog at 3 a.m. I don't wake up that early, though I might as well because everybody else in our house does (except my husband, who I mentioned earlier can literally sleep through two marching bands playing within feet of him.)

At 3 a.m., the boys realize they are a. hungry, b. wet, c. scared to be alone (even though three of them sleep in one room), or d. wanting to talk about how to rearrange the furniture in the house. Still, I go back to sleep until 5 a.m. or so. It's the earliest I've ever woken up in my life, but writing at nap time doesn't work because there's no such thing. It is a myth parenting magazines perpetuate for God knows what reason. To make us feel inadequate so that we buy more of their magazines, I guess.

The purpose of the blog is because I love to write and having people read it makes it a lot more fun. But I also need to start pitching in financially around here.

When I started this blog, I got a little carried away. I checked out a book from the library, Julie & Julia, written by Julie Powell, a blogger who cooked the entire Julia Child "Mastering the Art of French Cooking" cookbook in one year--very entertaining. I'd check back in the afternoon for comments. I'd ask Justin to read the blog. One day, we had no food in the cupboards and Justin asked, "Are you just blogging now, or do you still go to the grocery store?"

Basically, I was obsessed with it, which was okay because if it wasn't the blog it would be learning to knit or making decorative spoons. But I'm sure Justin would, for once, like me to be obsessed with something that either a. made money or b. related to cooking better dinners (see above.)

When thinking about a subject for the blog, I considered combining the two by doing a knock off of the book I read. This would solve the problem of me not having my own imagination, save us money, and, if nothing else, at least make dinners interesting. It would also eliminate trips to the grocery store, replacing them with squirrel hunting expeditions. My sons would so dig that.

Let me explain. The Julie/Julia Project blog was very successful and became a popular book. But I can't afford to cook like that. I mean, lobsters might cost $6 a pop in New York, but here, those would definitely have to be substituted with crawfish or even land bugs. Also, my life is not as interesting as the narrator's and if it was, I certainly wouldn't have the guts to tell anybody about it.

What if instead, I cooked the entire Poor Folks Cook Book, I wondered. My mom inherited the book from a patient. Written and self-published by Mrs. W.R. Waites of Lucedale, Mississippi, it's sole intent was to teach women like myself how to save money. Needless to say, there is plenty advice on how to skin squirrels and opossum.

I'm not going to tell you why I shot down that idea down, because the truth is, I'm still considering it.

But back to the making money subject. My goal is to either have a weekly family newspaper column similar to some entries in the blog or attract more readers to the Web site in order to make money through advertizing.

You might have noticed the ads for rabbit hutches and swim team fundraising opportunities at the top of these blogs. I'm sure you all went out and bought 10 or 11 cages for all your pet bunnies and then went door to door selling candybars even though you don't even know anyone on swimteam. Witness the power of advertizing. The google computer worm or beetle or sloth or whatever it is "crawls" this blog each day and basically reads you, the readers', minds to determine what advertizements would interest you. I hope you don't mind. I think it's doing a great job. I especially like when I write about glorious food and it advertizes weight loss opportunities. What's that supposed to mean? Is the crawler calling my baby fat? He is built like a god. Cupid, to be precise.

Now, when I tell people I want to write a family column, you know, like Erma Bombeck only not as funny, or sad, or poignant, or vivid, or good, they are usually very encouraging. But some people suggest there's a lot of competition out there. I find that hard to believe. Who would want to hang out at home all day and write? What is the fun of writing stories without interviewing people who hate you because the national press didn't interrogate Bush hard enough on the weapons of mass destruction and that means you're going to screw up the pumpkin pie eating contest story?

One editor I pitched the idea to suggested that if he wanted a family column, he'd write it himself. Right. And I suppose a smart aleck voice narrates his entire life like it does mine. I doubt it.

"And at that moment, the ludicrously self-assured writer erroneously suggested that I do not constantly narrate my own life. Aux Contraire, ma seour..."

Well, maybe he does. Maybe we all do.

(Above scene is a knock-off of Scrubs, as I'm sure my sister-in-law Erin knows.)

So, as a contingent plan, I'm trying to attract readers to this blog. I realize it's an arrogant assumption to think that people would want to read about my hellacious trips to the grocery store when they could read blogs about celebrities and politics, but it's the only arrogant assumption I have. To that end, I sat at this computer last night and tried to navigate the trail wizard or whatever it was I bought from Go Daddy--the people with the extremely tasteful Superbowl ad--that's suposed to attract people to this site.

I could have hired a chimpanzee to do this for me and gotten better results, but I didn't want the animal rights people coming after me. I typed in a bunch of stuff and have no idea if it worked. On the upside, I ran across some interesting blogs--like ones by moms who obviously have the same person narrating their lives as I do, and ones by teens who are stuck in awful high school situations. There is even a blawg search engine--you know for blawyers. My dad should do that in the insanity category, if there is one. (Not that he is insane, but his clients are, at times.) My brother Josh told me about a lawyer on Arrested Development who had a law blog and also his name was lawblaw. It was the Lawblaw Law Blog. I'm sure I have that wrong. Let me know if you watch the show.

Anyway, if you ever wanted to find a character for a novel, the blogosphere, as we call it in the biz, would be a good place to look. There is one homeschooling mom who has a blog about how, as the woman, she is the weaker vessel and needs her husband to be the boss of her. Is her husband a nice boss? I wondered. Just shows to go--not everybody thinks like you and the people you know. Oh, who am I kidding? I'm talking about my own blog. Please excuse the self promotion.

So that is the story of this blog. I still haven't found a topic, except being a mama in the Midwest. This is because I don't have the time or inclination to do anything but be a Midwest mom. And cook squirrels, possibly.

I know that writers are not supposed to write about writing. That's why in Flashdance, you didn't see the main character peddling articles to Reader's Digest. No, she was dancing her heart out. But, just this once, I wanted to explain why I'm writing the blog and especially thank you for reading it.

And at that moment, I realized just how thankful I was for people reading this blog...

Monday, March 13, 2006

A Swimmer Named Joe

In high school, I coached a youth swim team for a city pool in Kansas. We had some good swimmers. A lot of hard workers. But we lost every meet. There were better coaches and bigger teams.

In fact, we were so small that I'd have to fill freestyle heats with swimmers who only knew the dog paddle. I stood by the edge of the pool, on the pretense of cheering, but really was prepared to dive in and save their lives. They always made it. And they must have thought they were close to winning with the way I was in their face the whole time.

Some kids won individual heats and that made the rest of the team cheer.

Joe was about 10 years old when he joined the team. Nicest kid. I got the impression that he'd never swam before, just played gutterball with his friends at the pool. He hung out with the wild kids, but he had the vocabulary of a bookish person. He'd come to practice and meets in faded swimtrunks. He never had goggles, which didn't matter because he wouldn't put his face in the water anyway. I tried to teach him to breath to the side, but he wouldn't do it, and that made it hard for him to swim fast.

He did everything else right.

At practice, he'd ask a lot of questions. "Do you hold your hands like this (fingers together) or this (fingers apart)? What did you mean by lift your elbows? What's a flutter kick? How do you glide?"

He'd stand there and think about each answer. Then he'd say, "okay" and get in the water and do exactly what he was supposed to. Never complained. Always worked hard. Swam hard at the meets--thrashing around like crazy even when he saw that everyone was a mile ahead of him. (He had a clear view, obviously.) He was the perfect kid to coach.

But I always knew that his hands could be fins, his feet fishtails, and none of it would matter if he didn't put his face in the water. It came down to being scared of the water. And as a coach, there's not much you can do if a kid is scared of doing what he needs to do.

Then toward the end of the season, Joe came to a swim meet wearing speedos and goggles. His friend Chris, who also swam with his face out of the water, was laughing at him like crazy for wearing speedos. But Chris, who had long hair, was wearing a swim cap that day and was embarrassed for himself, too.

Joe asked me, "Do you breathe to both sides, or just one?"

I suggested he take four strokes and breathe to the right side, for starters, but I didn't think he'd do it.

"Do you breathe out and in to the side?" he asked.

"No, you just breathe in to the side and breathe out in the water," I said. I honestly thought he was asking for someone else, like his friend Chris, who didn't breathe to the side only because his thrasher hairstyle got in the way and he refused to wear a swimcap, until that day.

Joe stood there and thought about it and said, "okay."

When they fired the gun for his heat, he jumped in--that was the other thing, he couldn't dive.

Then I watched him lift his elbows like he was supposed to and cup his hands like he was supposed to and flutter kick fast--not in giant thumps--like he was supposed to, but this time it mattered because his face was in the water.

I couldn't believe my eyes.

"Yes!" I yelled, pumping my arms. "Go. Go. Go!"

Though it was 90 degrees on that 5 p.m. concrete pool deck, I felt chills. Tears filled my eyes.

Joe closed the gap between himself and those who dove in the water. He took like 10 strokes before taking a breath. He was fast. He looked like a kid from Lenexa (the league powerhouse.)

"Go, Joe!" I was yelling like those kids in the G.I. Joe commercials.

I'm sure the other coaches didn't understand my reaction over a swimmer who was simply doing what he was supposed to do. You wouldn't get it if all your swimmers came to you as four year olds who already knew how to breathe to the side. If you could fill your fast heats with three swimmers who knew how to do a racing dive and your slow heats with kids who were, well, fast.

Joe didn't win the race, but he came close.

After he climbed out of the pool and heard his time, which was like a minute faster than his last race, I said, "Joe, you did it. You breathed to the side."

"Yeah," he said like it was no big deal.

I always think about Joe whenever I coach or teach someone. You think you're making no difference. What you're teaching doesn't click. Then one day--and you might not even be around anymore--they take off. You never know when or why it's going to happen.

Maybe Joe looked his fear in the eye and decided he was tougher. Maybe he thought, "My mom bought me these goggles today so I better use them." Whatever the reason, he did what he had to do to swim fast. I wouldn't trade a swimmer like Joe for a thousand Lenexa swimmers. He had to work twice as hard and put a thousand times more heart into the race in order to beat other swimmers.

I hope he remembers that day whenever he faces something difficult. Situations where he's not the smartest, suavest, fastest or most naturally talented, but needs to win anyway. I sure do.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

'Tis the Season for Green Beer

Guinness ran a hilarious ad campaign last March. A houseful of guys ran down the stairs like it was Christmas morning, but instead of presents under the tree, there was beer. It looked to me like an attempt to transform St. Patrick's Day into St. Patrick's Month in order to sell more Irish beer.

They succeeded. Target sells St. Patrick's Day Greeting Cards. Green lights on houses abound, and Boulevard, Kansas City's own beer, has a St. Patrick's Day ad campaign with Uncle Sam dressed all in green. It's for a beer that's both all-American and Irish. Just like St. Patrick's Day in this country.

Like it or not, and I like it, St. Pat's is becoming the March version of Falloween, formerly known as Halloween. Expect to see a leprachon carved out of potatos on the cover of Martha Stewart's Real Complicated, I mean, Real Simple magazine.

But here in Midtown/Brookside/Waldo, all this is beside the point because we have always celebrated St. Patrick's Season. When the snow melts and the last Christmas trees make their way to the curb, and the cold rain freezes on window panes, it begins. From February through March, we bring our kids to bars to hear Irish music. We go to parades. We wear "100% Irish" pins, which we found in our junk drawer and have know idea how they got there.

Are we Irish? Maybe. Yesterday, at a St. Patrick's party, I saw a girl wearing a "Kiss Me, I'm Portuguese" T-shirt.

I'm 25 percent Irish. My Papa--John Patrick--the Irish one in our family, tears up when he hears Irish songs like "Four Green Fields" so we sort of stuck with that nationality. My dad--Richard Trosper, on the other hand, doesn't cry when he hears his ancestral English folk songs like "Sing a Song of Six Pence." He likes Irish music.

Everybody does. It describes the mixture of hard work, homesickness and hope that met all of our immigrant ancestors--be they Irish, Polish or Sudanese--in America. "Sing a Song of Six Pence," on the other hand, talks about a blackbird pecking off a woman's nose.

I'm sure it was code for some political struggle back in the day. Based on my keen understanding of English history, the whigs were taking the royal family to task for their bird population control policies, but that has no bearing on the poor and hundled masses that continue to bust their arses to give their kids a better life in America.

To see what I mean, go see Eddie Delahunt. His Web site is linked on this blog and he plays all around town throughout the year. Eddie is from Dublin. His music--and he writes a lot of his own songs--shows why everyone can relate to Irish songs. They tell stories of homesickness and having fun even as sadness hangs over you like a February rain. We've all felt homesick at some point. You can feel homesick even in your own home--the yearning for that cozy, unlonely feeling you should feel, but don't.

Interestingly, Eddie once said that Simon and Garfunkle's "The Boxer" is the perfect Irish song. But it says nothing about Mama, trains, getting drunk or prison, oh wait, I'm thinking about the perfect country western song...again.

For our family, St. Patrick's Season started yesterday. We were a little late in the game, but our little leprochauns do better at the outdoor Irish activities. So we went to the Brookside St. Patrick's Day Warm-Up Parade.

But first, we went to the Shamrock Shindig.

My brother Josh, before he married his Italian lass, Sarah, lived with four buddies from grade school. We all went to St. Elizabeth's, and the school picnic was called the Shamrock Shindig. They live in Brookside and have a pre-parade party named after this picnic.

Because they are in their early-twenties, the party reminds me of what I would have experienced in college if I wasn't so busy studying and saving the world. And that, my un-Irish friends, is called a bunch o' blarney.

Seriously, they are a great bunch of people. And it's nice to have your children not be the wildest people at a party, for once. When one party-goer suggested that Johnny, 5, clear the game table of all it's beer, Johnny looked at him and said, "I don't think so."

By game table, I mean drinking game table. Some of the guys were playing beer ping pong. You try to get a ping pong ball into a cup full of beer. Then you drink the beer. Johnny asked to play and I said that would be all right, minus the beer drinking, obviously.

He and Richie decided to dig in the dirt instead.

The great thing about Josh and his friends and my cousin Brett and his friends, who were also there, is they shoot the breeze with everyone. So they'd sit down beside the boys and ask them what was going on at the subterranean level of the yard.

We ate hotdogs and hamburgers and the kids drank rootbeer. I would have drank a beer if I didn't keep forgetting I had one and knocking it over with my foot. Motherhood has destroyed my attention span, which is actually a good thing when it comes to drinking beer.

My cousin Brett carried baby J.J. in the backpack for a while, and stood in the shade the whole time so that the little guy wouldn't get a sunburn--it was a beautiful day in Kansas City. Some people wore funny outfits. My brother wore a T-shirt that said, "Mom, Dad, I'm Gaelic."

Josh and his friends moved the party to a bar along the parade route and Justin, the boys and I went to the parade.

The kids sat on the curb with their friends and caught candy. Justin fell asleep because he was sick, I mean really sick--not from too much green beer--as some guys in a float suggested as they laughed and threw candy at him. You know the saying, you can sleep through a marching band walking through your living room? Justin actually slept through two marching bands passing by within feet of him. What a great dad, to rally and go to a parade with your family when you feel terrible.

But that didn't stop me from saying between my teeth, "Wake up. People are pointing at you."

After the parade, a leprochaun gave the boys lucky Irish rings. Richie's made him run faster along the Trolley Track Trail that led us to our car. Johnny asked if his ring would still bring him luck if he didn't wear it. I thought it would. The luck of the Irish, after all, is a powerful thing. You get what you get and declare yourself lucky for having it.

Example: you must park two miles away from a parade. You pray, "Dear God, thank you for the opportunity to exercise on this fine day. We are the luckiest parade parkers in the world."

We finished off the day with another party, thrown by our friends from church. They had a pinata for kids and tables where they could decorate their own green cookies. Then they carved potat-o-lanterns. Just joking. But I think Halloween actually did start in Ireland.

Man, the Irish sure know how to rock the world with their holidays.

And if you think I've blown my wad on the subject of St. Patrick's Season, think again. There's still the big downtown parade to write about. And my cousin's party. And Eddie's holiday performances.

Yes, the holiday is a big deal around here. Even before Target's cards, my friend Gram sent St. Patrick's Day cards instead of Christmas cards. And my son John just asked this morning "Is it St. Patrick's Day yet?"

And so I say to you in my annoyingly fake Irish brogue. "Top o' the morning to 'ya."