Friday, April 28, 2006

People Who Love People II

My mom got me a subscription to People for my birthday and two issues have arrived so far.
The first focused on how Katie Holmes is under Tom Cruise's Scientological power. She's walking around like a zombie, apparently. Um. That's called being pregnant.

But now she's had the baby, so I'm sure Tom has lots of advice from his postpartum days. What, Tom Cruise never went through childbirth? I just assumed that since he was an expert on postpartum that he had a partum. That's wierd.

Actually, I like Tom Cruise. So he's a scientologist with strong opinions. Who isn't? Without hard-headed scientologists, where would we be? There'd be no theory of relativity. No vaccination against polio. No Teflon. No studies that show Teflon is bad for you. Wait a second, those were scientists. But I'm sure scientologists contributed a lot, too.

In the next issue, two mamas and their babies were pictured on the cover. Gwyeneth Paltrow, who looks like a normal person holding her son Moses, and Donald and Melania Trump, who are glaring into the camera, not smiling, holding son Barron against a backdrop of solid gold walls in their penthouse. Melania is wearing a plunging neckline. I mean, when you've just had a baby every neckline looks plunging, but this one more so.

I can just hear their conversation with the photographer.

Donald: Will this scowl scare my apprentices? What about Martha Stewart? Will she be scared?

Melania: Are you getting this cleavage? Is the dress revealing enough?

Photographer: Uh guys. I can't see Barron.

Donald and Melania: Who?

Photographer: The Baby.

Donald and Melania: Oh, right. Right.

You know what I love in People? The interviews with the stars who are just starting to make it. Like Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, who plays Eko in Lost. He still remembers sleeping in parks and doing odd jobs that he wasn't that good at to make ends meet. He said he prefers talking to people to signing autographs.

It reminds me that stars are "just like us." This is a regular feature in a different magazine that my brother makes fun of. It pictures the stars going about their business and the captions say things like:

They drink coffee--just like us.
They eat ice cream--just like us.
They snort coke--just like us. (That's the part my brother adds.)

Here's what Superman actor Brandon Routh does just like us. After a long day in the flying harness, he gets a massage and drinks green tea.

But don't tell my son Richie that. As far as he is concerned, Clark Kent relaxes after a tough day at The Daily Globe by tossing about 50 bad guys into outerspace.

Oh, to be young and believe every facade you see is true. The stars always look good, though, don't they? Hollywood must be like the fountain of youth.

Well, I'm taking my People magazines, and more importantly, Baby J.J. Kiss-Love, on a plane today to Denver, where my mom, my aunts and I are visiting my aunt Kathy, who has been sick. So this blog will return Monday. Have a good weekend!

Thursday, April 27, 2006

To Honk or not to Honk? Depends on Which State You're in

My mother-in-law just sent me a hilarious e-mail about driving regulations in Massachussets. The first rule, it said, was, "It is tradition in Massachusetts to honk your horn at cars in front of you that do not move three milliseconds after the light turns green."

In my years of being married to a Massachussetts native, I've seen a lot of similarities between Kansas City and Boston: friendly people, loyal sports fans, families that stick together. But driving isn't one of them.

For instance, someone once honked at my uncle in Kansas City when he didn't obey a green light fast enough. He sat there until the light turned yellow. Then he sat there a little longer. Just before the light turned red, he burned rubber through the intersection, leaving the teenagers in the car behind us to sit through another red light. He was teaching them a valuable lesson. You don't honk your horn in Kansas City.

There's only one exception to that rule. It's not when someone is driving so dangerously that they are likely to kill someone. No, that situation calls for tilting your head to the side and making a smart aleck remark, like, "Lady's and gentleman, welcome to amateur hour on Wornall Road."

No, you can only honk if you think you know someone in the car in front of you.

Example: "Is that Margaret? Her hair is different but I think it's her car. When did she get a dog? I'm going to honk and see if it's her. Beep. Beep. Oh, no. It's not her. That woman's going to think I honked at her because she ran the red light!"

Why the difference in honking rules between Kansas City and Boston? It's a matter of dialect. In Boston, honking is a kind reminder to someone that he drives like a horse's ass. However, in Kansas City it means something stronger. Something along the lines of, "I wish you were never born."

So in Boston, honking is intructive and in Kansas City, it is mean. No one wants to be mean. Therefore, you can drive as inconsiderately or obliviously as you want in Kansas City without getting honked at.

My grandmother, Mume, God rest her soul, used to drive in 40 mile an hour traffic along three-laned Ward Parkway and come to a complete stop to show me where a lady she knew lived. And that would be okay except that she would sit there and gossip about her for 15 minutes. People swerved around us. Stared at us. Cursed us. But no one honked.

In Kansas City, you could cross three lanes of traffic with no turn signal going 20 miles under the speed limit, throwing banana peels at the cars behind you and people would show their disapproval by rolling their eyes and muttering, "Look at this lady."

And if someone honked, you'd think, "What the...? Oh, I'm sorry. I guess it's my fault that I realized at the last minute I needed to turn left and my turn signal was broken. You know, maybe my car isn't as fast as yours and maybe I can't stand the smell of banana peels for as long as you can. But at least I'm not rude."

I think I speak for everyone in Kansas City when I say we've all been in that situation. Or maybe it's just me.

Another rule in the e-mail said, "In Massachussetts, flipping the bird is considered a polite salute. This gesture should always be returned."

Now this is actually true in Kansas City, too. I can't tell you how many Kansas Citians have flipped the bird at someone who cut them off only to realize it was their Aunt Virginia. They raced home to call her and say, "Did you see the new ring on my middle finger? I tried to show it to you in traffic today. No, of course I wasn't flipping you off. Why would I? You should cut people off at a moment's notice going two miles an hour. That is your God-given right."

I almost thought I ran into a second exception to the no honk rule the other day. People conducting a small peace rally on Ward Parkway carried various signs along the lines of, "Honk if you want to outsource Bush."

Now, Missouri is a swing state, so about half the people should be honking, right? But because of Kansas City's no-honk rule, there was total silence. Then someone honked.

Just as I reached for my Missouri driver's manual to jot down the new rule: "Honking in support of/disdain for political protesters is now okay," I saw the protester's absent minded wave grow more vigorous. She smiled and shouted something to the honking driver.

Something like, "How is Bob's mother doing?"

For all I know, the driver that honked loved George Bush.

Some rules were not made to be broken. Except for by Mume. She honked at everyone. Especially when cars zipped by us like we were sitting still on Ward Parkway. Which we were.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Saying "Good Job" is a Bad Job, Parents

You know, as a parent, when you do something wrong. When I was working, I was the last parent to pick up Johnny at daycare one time. That was more than a year ago, and he still brings it up.

Often, I get in arguments with my 3 year old, Richie, over things like eating carrots. Arguing with a child, a teacher once told me, is like mud wrestling with a pig. You both get muddy, but the pig enjoys it. But I don't think either of us enjoys it. It's just that Richie doesn't know any better.

Also, he thinks that by yelling, "That's not a big idea!" he wins the fight, even as he sits in timeout. And somehow, I always feel like I lost.

There are plenty of mistakes to be made in parenting that become clear as soon as you make them.

But parenting experts can't keep their jobs if they tell you about obvious mistakes. Instead, they have to find obscure errors. Things you're doing wrong without even knowing it.

Like telling your children, "Good job."

That is way too vague, a recent Associated Press article said.

They need not only specific praise, but gender-specific praise, says British parenting counselor and consultant Elizabeth Hartley-Brewer in the article.

Praising boys in flowery superlatives, for instance, makes them "uncomfortable."

Make no mistake. Boys need praise. It's just that if you praise them, they will feel responsible for your happiness. So it's a wash.

Don't even get this expert started on girls. If they hear, "Good job," they feel good. Temporarily. This kind of praise starts them on a downward cycle of needing approval for every little thing they do.

I imagine that before you know it, your daughter is a grown woman brushing her teeth, thinking, "No one is saying anything. I'm brushing every last tooth in my head but not getting any compliments. Am I doing this wrong?"

And parents only have themselves to blame for praising her unspecifically.

What to do? Substitute "clever," "thoughtful," and "creative" for "good."

But don't be too wordy, lest the children misinterpret your words.

Example: You say, "That's a clever creation. What a thoughtful child!"

The child broods. "What did mom mean by 'clever'? And since when am I a 'thoughtful' child? Whatever happened to 'good job'? Is mom making a vague reference to my work ethic?"

Again, all your fault. You should have never praised him so wordily.

So here's what you do, the article says. You ask questions. Ask them what they were thinking when they painted something.

After reading the article, I think that's too vague and leaves room for misinterpretation, due to the popular catch phrase, "What were you thinking?"

Instead, I recommend asking specific questions like, "That's an interesting choice to color the elephants blue. Is that a reference to the Republican states?" and "Who are your major influences?" and "In spite of your obvious political references in your art work, you seem to have stayed out of the political limelight so far. Was that a conscious choice?"

When I ask these things, Richie might just keep coloring, seemingly oblivious to my parenting skills. But I can see his self-esteem swelling. Or can I? Am I doing a clever job? I am? Well, what is that supposed to mean?

All I can hope for is that when he grows up, he'll be happy. No that's not all. On Mother's Day some year, I'd like him to tell me, in whatever words, actions, or facial expressions he chooses, "Good job."

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Dandelions...Demon or Delight? Wildflower or Weed? Something to Eat?

Dandelions grow in our yard like weeds.

Johnny and Richie say with pride, "We have a lot of dandelions," as though we must be doing something special to have a patch of weeds in our yard. Other neighbors have only figured out how to grow grass.

When the flowers transform into ghostlike white globes, I blow the seeds off the stem to make J.J. laugh. This creates more dandelions, I know, but, you see, I just can't get enough of this magical plant. That's why we let them grow wild and free in our yard.

No, not really. They grow in our yard because I'm lazy. I could say "busy" but I know that my Nana, who had ten children, weeded her yard by hand for years. Then again, she didn't get a subscription to People Magazine for her birthday. (Thanks, Mom!)

I've heard of a little something called weedkiller, but my children eat too much dirt from our yard to make that practical.

Laziness aside, I've always liked dandelions, with their sunny blooms, which my friends and I used to rub on our eyelids. If they turned yellow, we were boy-crazy. Thinking back, dandelions make everyone's eyelids turn yellow. What an unreliable experiment!

At the library this weekend, the boys and I discovered a new use for dandelions: food. In fact, that is how they got here. European settlers brought them to America as garden plants. They used the leaves for salads or cooked greens, the flowers for wine, and the ground roots for a hot coffee-like drink, which the book we checked out called "interesting." Translation: "disgusting."

I have to think dandelions were not as common in Europe as they are here. Because while I like weeds as much as the next person--more, probably--I wouldn't dig them up and take them with me to another country. Especially not the land of freedom. They don't need any encouraging.

We decided to make dandelion salad. Johnny, Richie and I harvested the tender leaves from the flowers. This served two purposes. It gave neighbors the illusion that I was weeding our yard and gave us something to do in the early evening since Justin was working late.

The boys washed the leaves for half an hour in the sink, appeasing my paranoia about pesticides, enjoying themselves, and using up the water we conserved by not watering our grass. I boiled a dozen eggs. The recipe, handed down from German settlers, called for eggs and weeds. Do those Germans know how to party in the kitchen, or what?

After all this, I saw the cautionary advice at the bottom of the recipe: Do not use weeds that have been sprayed with pesticides. Check. Do not use weeds that have already flowered, as they taste bitter. Oops. I poured poppyseed dressing over the salad, hoping for a bittersweet taste, and dished it onto our plates.

Richie, 3, looked at it, perplexed. "Is this something to eat?" he asked.

Then he asked for ketchup. I poured some on his plate, thinking, "That's a wierd thing to dip your dandelions in."

Totally ignoring the heap of salad, he pointed to the ketchup and said, "I need something to dip in there."

He went in the kitchen and got a baby spoon. He loves ketchup, eats it straight off his plate.

Johnny, 5, was more charitable. After tasting a small bite, he said, "Would this taste good with salt?"

The answer was no, unfortunately. But you know what would make the salad taste better? Not eating it. The leaves were so bitter that my coffee tastes sweet right now compared to the aftertaste of the dandelions after two teethbrushings and a good night's sleep.

After tasting the dandesalad, Johnny fixed a reprise of the saltines, butter and jelly for Richie and him. J.J. had already eaten baby ravioli. I ate the dandelions because, frankly, we worked so hard on them. So that just left Justin.

When he got home, he tasted the salad and said, "Ooh. That's funky."

I don't think he meant like "comadina."

He ate leftovers.

But I'm not giving up on these little powerhouses yet. They don't suck up all the nutrients in the yard for nothing. They are an extremely healthy food and free for the taking.

One recipe is for fried dandelion flowers. They're covered in egg yolk, rolled in cracker crumbs and fried in butter. Now we're talking. We just have to find the field where the wild crackers grow.

Note: Thank you for reading this blog. If you ever want to send the Web site address to someone, you can e-mail it by clicking on the envelope at the bottom of the entry next to the word "comments." I think that works. Sorry yesterday's entry didn't post until late. There were technical difficulties, I think. Tomorrow you can look forward to a story about the boiled Stinging Nettle I'm preparing for dinner tonight. Just kidding. We will eat a real meal tonight--especially to celebrate Justin's new job as a construction supervisor. Congrats to him!

Monday, April 24, 2006

The Growth Spurt: A Reminder that Time Travels Fast

When Johnny, 5, woke up a few mornings ago, his baby teeth had shifted a quarter inch to make way for permanent front teeth. I kept lifting his upper lip to see what happened. I've never seen someone change so much in one night.

"Does your mouth hurt?" I asked.

No, he shrugged.

Getting older all of the sudden may be no big deal to him, but it is to me. It happens so fast. I mean, I know parents say that all the time, but it really does happen in spurts.

Last night, Johnny talked to his Nana in Boston. He probably said "actually" 10 times in the conversation.

"Actually, it's really hot here. I turned to liquid. Actually, I'm just joking. But actually, it really is hot here..."

"He sounds so much older," she said. Even his voice was different, she said. Did he have a cold?

No, just a case of the growth spurts. He suddenly looks and acts older.

At 9 p.m. last night I came into the living room to find Johnny coloring a poster behind the couch, where Justin was watching a poker tournament.

"What's he doing?" I whispered to Justin, meaning that it was past his bedtime and we'd already tucked him in.

"He's hanging out," Justin said.

Is he old enough to hang out? I wondered. What's next, drumming sounds coming from the garage?

After Nana talked to Johnny, she said her friend used to say, when her boys grew up, "I miss Tonka trucks and Oreo cookies."

You miss this little boy time, she said. If this is how fast it goes by, I miss it already.

"Who wants a snack?" Johnny asked, coming around to our side of the couch. We didn't say anything, since it was practically past our bedtime.

"You don't have to make it. I'll make it," Johnny said, heading to the kitchen.

He came back in with saltines, butter and grape jelly. "Oh, I forgot a thing to cut the butter with," he said, laughing.

Pretty soon, we had crackers heaped in butter and jelly, which were actually pretty good, actually.

As we ate, Johnny listed all the things he knew how to make: butter and jelly sandwiches, just butter and bread, just jelly and bread, just butter and crackers, just jelly and crackers, clompaste (his recipe for pears, marshmallows and chocolate sauce,) and flompaste (the same thing only with honey, too.)

"When I was five, I didn't know how to make anything," I said.

"I always look older," he explained. "When I was three, I looked four. When I was four, I looked five. When I was six...No, I mean now I look six."

Maybe the oldest child always acts a little older, too. Trying new things. Asserting independence. They trick you, at times, into thinking time stands still. This happens when you're in the grocery store holding a baby and your oldest child goes ballistic because you won't let him run through the aisles with his hand held out knocking down whole rows of food. And a few shoppers stop to critique your parenting style.

You need a reminder that life really is a sprint, as much as you wish it was a marathon. So the oldest speeds through growth spurts as a warning to mom and dad.

It goes fast. You hear it all the time, but you never know just how fast until it's gone. Hence, the growth spurt, a glimpse at the speed of time.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

From Batman and his Butler to a Tragedy in Pompeii, the Library provides Opportunities to Read Together

We get to the library and Richie, 3, finds the comic books. They're in the teen section, scattered between Lindsay Lohan on the cover of Seventeen and that wierd looking kid on the cover of Mad.

We've never been to this library. It's a mile or two east of our library, which we live a block away from. So the boys are like kids in a candy store.

"Here's Robin!" Richie says, pulling out a magazine with a masked and troubled adolescent on the cover.

I check it to see if it's "PG-13." That means it has guns, scarier bad guys than usual or superhero women busting out of their shirts (more than usual.) Several don't pass muster. Also, Richie has to read every book before he decides whether he wants to read it. So we're not getting anywhere.

Johnny, 5, meanwhile, chooses 12 nonfiction books about nature, evolution and animals. Here, I find a couple books with dandelion recipes. We have a huge crop that we might as well cash in on.

My book club is reading "Good in Bed," which I request at the front desk as J.J. tries to suck milk out of my shoulder blade and Johnny and Richie run circles around us. I imagine the woman thinking, "Are you sure you don't want "Good at Family Planning"? But they had it. They have everything at the library, from Teen People to tax forms.

You can check out a novel with a vapid narrator and no sense of irony (see the young adult paperback section,) or Pride and Prejudice. You can look up something your mom doesn't want you to see, which perhaps the three teenagers huddled around the computer next to the comic books, whispering and darting their eyes around the room, were doing. Or you can write a book report.

And it's all free. You don't get those rates at the video store.

But that's not the only advantage the library has. It has so many more windows on the world. Some books are like 100 movies. Johnny and Richie love the video store, but they don't sit in the aisles and yell out trivia like, "Guess what's under the ocean? Lava!" and "Robin and the butler are friends!"

Batman's butler fascinates the boys for some reason. When playing Batman and Robin, he is their fourth favorite character to play, after B&R, of course, and the Joker, but before the Penguin, the Riddler, Two-Face and Harley Quinn--get it, like a harlequin?

Richie finally found three books he liked: Robin, Superman, and Supergirl.

We got to the checkout with 18 books, owing $7 in late fees, which the woman said we did not have to pay but just should be aware of. So I'm aware of that now.

Dropping off a couple videos on the way home, I wondered if people read more or less books since the dawn of T.V. The good thing about movies is you can watch them together, making comments like, "What is he thinking?" and "Get a grip, lady," whereas reading a book is a solitary act. You can talk about it afterwards, at book club, but laugh at a paragraph and you laugh alone, cry at the end of a book, and you cry alone.

But there's an exception to the rule. Reading aloud.

When your kids are little, you can curl up on the couch together, and dive into "Totally Amazing Natural Disasters."

Most haunting photo: statues depicting a family in A.D. 79 Pompeii, Italy. A volcano rained fiery ash upon the city, burying people. The ash turned to rock, and the bodies decomposed, leaving molds of the people. Archealogists filled the molds with plaster, creating tragic statues of people curled up like babies. They didn't even know they lived near a sleeping volcano. As their city was destroyed, they thought the gods were punishing them with fiery rain and a falling sky.

"That is so sad," I said.

"That is really sad," Johnny echoed.

Next we read "Robin," Richie's book.

Most inappropriate scene for a little boy and preteen audience: when Batman accuses the butler of visiting Mrs. Drake at the clinic too often.

Batman: In her vulnerable condition, she could easily mistake kindness for something else. Better cut back on the visitation, so she doesn't jump to such conclusions.

The butler: With all due respect, sir, that's not an appropriate order. It's well outside the purview of our professional relationship.

Batman: What? Alfred, I ----

Butler: Will that be all, sir?

Batman: Alfred...are you in love with Dana Drake?

Butler: Sir!

Boy reading the comic book: zzzzzzzz.

Well, I enjoyed the passage. Finally, a chance to practice my British butler accent. Even if the boys were flipping the pages to see what came next just as the butler was taking Batman to task for thinking a superhero can discuss women with his butler. Some people don't learn anything at boarding school. Highly inappropriate. Sir. Sir. Sir. For the love of God, just let me answer the door and manage the maids! Good God, Sir.

There's nothing like reading books out loud. In fact, I bet this is what people did before movies. Read to each other. Not just grownups to kids, but grownups to each other. Did they laugh and cry out loud, I wonder. Heckle the characters? Tell the butler to lighten up?

Maybe there is a book that would shed light on all this.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Running with the Wolf Pack

Johnny, 5, picked up a piece of green algae from Rock Creek and said, "Slime. Slime. Slime."

"Don't pick that up, Johnny," my cousin Kevin, 7, said matter-of-factly. "It's gross."

I watched in amazement as Johnny put it down. If I had said what Kevin said, Johnny would have put the algae in his hair and done a voodoo dance as the creek water dripped down his face. Just to make me cringe.

When little boys get together, they form a sort of wolf pack. The alpha is the oldest, and strangely, the younger cubs follow him. They gladly listen. No one listens to mama wolf, on the other hand, unless she growls. But that wasn't necessary last night as we hiked along the trail. Little boys tend to be wise leaders.

Remembering our last trip to the creek, the boys prayed on the way. To them, it is a mysterious place, requiring strength from above before the scramble down its banks to the ankle deep water.

"I hope no bad guys wrote bad words and I hope God brought a new statue of Mary," Johnny said.

"I hope no dogs got killed by the creek," Kevin said.

"I hope Nana gets a bandaid," Richie said. Nana, who lives across the street from the creek, was hurting badly yesterday from her fall downstairs a few days ago.

Once at the creek, Kevin, the leader of the pack, made a rule that he and Johnny had to let Richie keep up with them. Richie, 3, who ordinarily wouldn't put up with getting a drop of water on his shirt, crawled under thorn bushes and walked through reeds taller than him to keep up with the pack.

The boys investigated a mystery. Or looked for one to investigate, rather. They saw handprints lacking thumbprints--obviously pointing to a conspiracy to steal people's thumbs, Kevin said.

Neither of Johnny's prayers came true. The statue of Mary was still missing and bad words were sprayed on a nearby tree.

Reading the white spraypaint, Kevin said, "It's the worst bad word word in the whole world. The f-word."

Richie examined the writing on the tree and looked at me gravely.

"It says, 'Butt in the pants,'" he said.

He wrinkled his nose at the nerve of some people. He would never use such language. It's not like he walked through the house chanting it earlier in the week. No. He uses nice words, like "pantsy pants," "bubble bottom" and "butt(on.)"

The boys followed Kevin through the cement tunnel under the street. On the other side, Kevin showed them "Indian boats," hollow milkweed pods, which they floated downstream. They looked for the widest places in the creek to cross at their peril. Finally, Kevin slipped down the banks and got his feet wet. Naturally, that meant everyone waded through the creek from then on.

When I was growing up, "peer pressure" was the big bad wolf of childhood. There was a "peer" lurking behind every tree, urging you to smoke a cigarette. We had to plan how we would say no. Mine was going to be something like, "No thanks. I don't want to die today." I was disappointed when I never got to use it, but had to pressure my peers to give me a cigarette instead in high school. People are a lot stingier than the anti-tobacco people think.

So to avoid the negative connotation, I'll call what happened yesterday "pack pressure."

When it was time to go home, Kevin sprinted to the car, and Johnny and Richie followed after him, pumping their arms. No arguments. Pack pressure is the big good wolf of childhood.

Friday, April 21, 2006

The Best Laid Plans...

Let's make a plan.

Those are Johnny's favorite words. Most of his plans leave me speechless. I am, after all, a practical grownup and he is a 5-year-old dreamer.

For instance, he said that when he turned six he'd row a boat to an African wildlife preserve, pick up a chimpanzee and have it play on his basketball team. But that would never work because Johnny doesn't play basketball. He plays soccer.

He said that when his 3-year-old brother Richie's superpowers kicked in, he would fly Johnny to other planets, where he would drill into the core and take samples. Later we would run various tests on these. But the problem is, Justin is using his drill for work.

Of course, I haven't mentioned these minor details to Johnny. I just say, "That sounds like a great idea."

The ideas just keep coming. He must trip over them on his way from his bedroom to the living room in the morning. Just yesterday, his plan was to build an underground playhouse in our backyard and glue his shell collection to his bedroom walls.

Not all his plans involve fun and adventure.

My Nana fell in her house the other day. She is recovering at home and will be okay. But when she first fell, I said, "Let's say a prayer."

Johnny, on the other hand, paced between the dining room and living room, saying, "Let's make a plan."

He came up with one just as we clasped our hands. He squirmed in his seat as Richie and I offered our intentions.

When it was his turn, he said, "I pray that we get $100 so we can get Nana a butler."

His eyes got big and he sat back, as if to say, "How did I think of that? A butler would solve everything."

Wouldn't it be great to have such confidence in your wild ideas? To sit down at bill paying time, for instance, and say, "I know. We could dig for lost treasure on an island in the South Seas." Or, "We could always become Hollywood actors. I hear they make a lot of money."

The funny thing is, some grownups do carry out outlandish plans.

Hydroponics comes to mind. The children's museum I take the boys to has a little garden like this, in which plants grow without soil in a bed of what look like, but aren't, cedar balls.

I imagine the scientist behind this picked a tomato from the vine one day and said, "Lose the dirt, man. You can get nutrients from other sources. It would be hydroponic. Hooked on phonics. Ebonic. Why, it would be Grease Lightnin'." Or something to that effect.

Or I think of Madeleine L'Engle, whose book "A Wrinkle in Time" became my favorite when we read it in Mrs. Walsh's sixth grade reading class. The book about traveling through space is a children's classic, but it must have seemed like a crazy idea at first. The plot came to L'Engle while she was raising three children and reading Einstein's writings on quantum physics.

I imagine her saying, "You know who would love quantum physics? Children. They would gobble it up like astronaut ice cream."

People have had crazier ideas and bigger plans. Many have failed, rendering them short-sighted fools. Others have succeeded, making them geniuses with tremendous foresight. But they all started with a spirit that can be summed up in four little words, "Let's make a plan."

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Pretend Earthquakes

Yesterday's homeschool lesson was on earthquakes.

We learned about the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, a tragedy that took 3,000 lives. It was the deadliest earthquake in U.S. history, but not in the world. Last October, an earthquake in Pakistan killed 73,000 people. The Tokyo earthquake of 1923 killed more than 100,000 people. I left those facts out of the lesson, obviously. My kids are only 9 months, and 3 and 5 years old, though only one of them was listening to me. This became clear when Richie, 3, asked, "But why does Robin wear a superhero mask?"

We talked about how earthquakes happen when the earth's plates shift at a fault line. San Francisco is built next to the San Andreas Fault.

I've never been in an earthquake. I just read about them in National Geographic last month. I can't imagine the fear of not knowing where to go. In a tornado, you go to the basement. In a flood, you go to higher ground if you can get there fast enough. But where would you turn to avoid the wrath of falling skyscrapers, collapsing houses and runaway cars?

Of course, I tried to avoid this doom when discussing the lesson with the boys. I told them that in earthquakes, people go to the middle of a field for safety. It's the opposite of a tornado, I said. I have no idea if this is true. If it is true, it's also completely impractical for city dwellers.

Finally, we created an earthquake. We laid down a newspaper broadsheet and built a city of blocks on it. There were sky scrapers, houses, cars, and a bridge leading to the middle of the ocean. This would come in handy if...hmmm...if you were a whale who drove a car, perhaps?

Building a city is never easy. But engineers/builders Johnny and Richie had an added challenge: Baby Godzilla. J.J., 9 months old, whose hands are the size of a grown man's, did his army belly crawl across the living room and swiped at the buildings like a grizzly bear batting a fly. Luckily, the 3 and 5 year old builders thought it was funny when they had to start over.

When it was time for the earthquake, we tore the newspaper at its crease, which represented the San Andreas fault line, and watched the buildings crumble.

Pretend destruction is fun for boys. In their minds, the pretend people had escaped to an open field by the time disaster struck. So as the blocks tumbled to the floor, Johnny and Richie crashed cars into each other. Superman swooped in, not to save the day, but to knock down the blocks that were still standing.

Richie yelled, "Bubble bottom!" as some sort of battle cry. J.J. started screaming.

"Stop. He thinks it's a real earthquake!" I told Johnny and Richie. When they paused, J.J. belly crawled over and grabbed two blocks with his man hands. It turns out he was screaming not out of fear but because he wanted to tear stuff up, too.

Afterwards, Johnny said, "That was fun" and Richie said, "That was a nice day."

I refrained from saying, "But you know what isn't fun and isn't a nice day? Real earthquakes."

Because really they're too young to think about that. But the lesson definitely turned out to be more of a hoot and hollerin' good time than I intended it to be.

It made me wonder, why is knocking things down so fun for kids? For that matter, why are so many looming pretend disasters fun for them. In our backyard, a flood always lurks around the corner, and Johnny moves his hundreds of plastic dinosaurs, animals and superheros, who are naturally exotic pet owners, to different areas of the yard to save them. Volcanos are another favorite at our house.

Maybe the fun is being bigger than the disaster. Since the dawn of time, nature has drawn us to fertile floodplains and volcano valleys, and then struck without warning. Is it any wonder that we want to turn the tables? Not to stop the volcanos and floods from happening--because they serve a purpose. But to decide when they happen. So that everyone can get to safety in time.

Children stage disasters to outfox them. A flood happens almost every day in our backyard. And not a single animal has ever been swept away. We explode baking soda volcanos weekly, yet no dinosaur has ever been burned.

Scientists try to predict when disasters will occur. In the case of earthquakes, the article said, scientists know where they are likely to happen, but not when. To a child, however, they happen whenever the people are safe.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Bob Dylan and Merle Haggard

What I need is a band. People to make me sound better. Mothering and writing are lonely jobs. How much easier would they be if a few "strangers"--quote unquote--could pick up the slack?

I came to this conclusion last night while watching The Bob Dylan Show, a concert at the Midland in downtown Kansas City. My brother Luke gave my dad and I tickets for our birthdays, and we went with my aunt Mo and cousin Addie.

The Midland was an old studio-owned movie theater. Gilded in gold, it's chandeliers are bigger than Cary Grant was in those days, and it has 50,042 cherubs inside it. Can I get a confirmation on that? Yes. That is an accurate figure. My band counted 50,042. See how that works? A band can take care of certain things. Fill in the blanks, whether they be in a song, or in my case, the drudgery of counting decorative angel babies.

Merle Haggard's band is called the Strangers. Time has been kind to Merle Haggard. His voice, when singing classics like "I Think I'll Just Stay Here and Drink" and "Mama Tried" is as beautiful as ever. But the Strangers help with the HeeHaw aspect of the show. The jokes some country singers incorporate into their acts. My favorite was when he sang "Are the Good Times Really Over for Good?"

He sang, "Before the Beatles and Yesterday
When a man could still work and still would"

Then he asked his band: "Remember when you could steal wood?"

Bob Dylan on the other hand, needed a little help in the music department from his band. I know there are people who would try me for treason for saying that, but my band agrees with me on this. Dylan's voice is not what it used to be. My dad said that Dylan's voice was never good in the first place. It was his songs that people liked. My favorite that he played last night was "The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carrol," a ballad of a 51 year old maid with 10 children who was killed by a 24-year-old tobacco farmer at a society party. It goes, "You who philosophize disgrace and criticize all fears/Take the rag away from your face./Now ain't the time for your tears."

With the help from his band, he put on a great show, I thought.

So what could your band do for you? They could make you appear not just as one person but as an entire show. You could apply for jobs as The Sally Martin Show or RSVP to wedding invitations as Don Jackson and the Buckin Broncos. You would be larger than life.

Not only that. They could help you with areas you struggle with--be it singing or typing or creativity. When I took a writing class last summer, the number one question I got after reading my essays was, "Wow. Do you have an agent?" No, I'm just joking. It was, "What is your point?" The band could give my essays a point. And spice things up with funny jokes and political commentary. Their job would be to read newspaper stories that don't involve celebrities or trends and form opinions about them.

And they'd pitch in with my main job, too, loading the dishwasher, going to the grocery store and tidying up the backyard while I homeschool the boys. Or at the very least, they would play background music and laugh at my jokes while I did all this. In short, they would make me look good.

What would I call them? The Haggard Housewives, probably. I don't know, it's up to them. And now imagine their guitar riffs getting louder and a drumroll concluding this blog.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Grownup Market for Mr. Men and Little Miss Books

The other day I was reading Mr. Men books to my sons. As a kid, I collected these books, which included Mr. Happy, Mr. Busy, Mr. Messy, and on the female side, Little Miss Tiny, Little Miss Bossy and Little Miss Sunsine. She was my favorite.

You could tell if your book was old or new based on the number of Mr. Men and Little Miss characters printed on the back cover. At that time, I thought the author, Roger Hargreaves, had covered every personality trait there was. I was surprised that he could come up with new ones.

Now I can think of a few additional characters. In fact, there is a whole market the Hargreaves family is missing: grownups. Mr. Bounce, Mr. Mischief and Mr. Happy are adequate descriptors for children. In fact, I have three Mr. Men who fit those names perfectly right now. But grownups have more nuanced character traits.

The books, as they are written now, show the flawed characters, like Mr. Messy, being changed by the end of the book, and the perfect characters changing others. Wouldn't it be therapeutic to read about that annoying person in your life being rehabilitated by the end of a book? Or to watch an always giddily happy character transform the world with her smile instead of leaving people wondering if she is on drugs?

These are some characters I propose for the series Mr. Men and Little Miss: All Growed Up: Little Miss Holier than Thou. Mr. Takes Credit for Work He Didn't Do. Little Miss Underhanded Compliment (Example: You look great--better than the last time I saw you when you were in that hot dog eating contest. We didn't have to guess who would be the victor that day. You won, right? How did you lose the weight? Are you sick or something?) Mr. Flies Off the Handle for No Apparent Reason.

I'm sure you can all think of your own characters for this series. And it wouldn't just have to be flawed characters. There could be sweet ones like Mr. Who Needs a Hug and Little Miss Remembers Everyone's Birthday. Mr. Surprise! I Made Dinner Tonight and Little Miss Works Her Booty Off.

It turns out some new characters have been created in this series, including, Mr. Good and Little Miss Scary, who sounds interesting. Roger Hargreaves died in 1988, but his son Adam carried on his legacy. These books are so cute that when I looked them up on Amazon, two reviewers said they were the best piece of literature they'd ever read. Based on personal experience, I'd say those reviewers were the author's mother and his mother's alias. But I could be wrong. Personally, I think it's time for Mr. Happy and Little Miss Sunshine to leave Happyland and enter Grownupland.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Easter Monday

Easter weekend brought new life in the form of a wedding, a resolution and a bunny costume.

My cousin Ryan got married on Saturday to his lovely Delmynique. As they danced to Nat King Cole's "Unforgettable" at the reception, I looked around the room, amazed that any of the couples got together. Not because they were odd couples--they weren't. And not because they found someone who agreed on how to raise children and what to spend money on and how to disagree. That would be amazing, too. But so many people say they fell in love within the first five minutes of talking, obviously before they settled on an adequate "miscellaneous" budget amount. So the amazing part to me is how people met in the first place.

Delmynique was born in El Salvador and Ryan in Kansas, and yet, here they were, dancing in a union hall decorated in white and red in Missouri. The best man, my cousin Curran, sat with his girlfriend Maria from San Diego who Curran met while living in New York. Across the table, our friends Eddie and Betsy looked on as the newlyweds danced. Eddie is from Dublin and Betsy, Kansas City.

What winds of fate blow people together from opposite sides of the continent and opposite sides of the ocean? Circumstances look ordinary: a job, a mutual friend, a chance hello. But told together, the tiny coincidences make love stories.

My aunt Maureen sat beside me. My uncle Mike, the father of the groom, worked with Maureen at a hospital and arranged a blind date for her and my uncle Jerry, his brother. Now Jerry and Maureen are married with four children and Mike is occassionally called Dr. Love. Sitting at the table, Maureen said that she and Mike worked together years earlier at a different hospital. She also worked with a great uncle. It's as if fate had backup plans. In case she and Jerry didn't meet one way, they'd meet another.

Who knows how it all works. But here we were, eating beef and tortillas at a rare joining of two cultures in the melting pot of America. More importantly, it was the joining of two people, the start of a new life together for Ryan and Delmy. So here's wishing all the best for them.

As for the new pink and white bunny suit that I picked up for our church, I didn't have to worry that a boy might volunteer to wear it and feel embarrassed. No, a girl wore it after all. Or a woman, rather. Me. The eighth grader was a no-show, so I put on the big fluffy suit and floppy ears. People took lots of pictures, so I'll look forward to seeing those at some point, say, on the 12th of Never.

The suit looks like the pajamas on A Christmas Story, and is perhaps a Ralphie costume and not a bunny outfit, after all. Since the face was open, my kids knew it was me. So that was a nice Easter surprise for them. Guess what, kids? Not only do you get to spend 24 hours a day with me at home school. I'm also the Easter Bunny. When I told you the Easter Bunny only brings candy to children who listen to their mommies, I meant it, didn't I?

Since the boys are not total idiots, they knew I wasn't the Easter Bunny. I told them mommy was playing a little joke on them and the real Easter Bunny would bring candy to our house after breakfast. Of course, he hopped by too fast for anyone to see him.

The resolution is to finish these blogs earlier so that I can do some laundry and be available to pour cereal at a moments notice, instead of saying, "Okay. Let me just finish this. Sentence. Um, one second." That drives Johnny crazy. And I have a little resolution for him, too. No more T.V. in the morning. Books from now on. I'm getting serious about teaching him how to read.

So these blogs will either get shorter or sloppier. Hopefully it's the first option. Happy Easter.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Baby ducks, bunnies, chicks and Jesus

Yesterday, my cousin Hannah and her friends helped Johnny and Richie dye eggs. We had 24, and minus the 7 that Johnny ate and the three that Richie ate, the Easter bunny has 14 to hide. Hannah called the boys over to watch the color pellets fiz in the vinegar. I used to love that as a kid. Or I would have. In my day, we had to use dandelion petals for yellow and our own blood for red. This was easy because the chickens bit us in several places as we stole their eggs.

As a kid, I actually had pet chickens. I think they were named Fred and Ethel. My pet finches were named that, but did you ever notice that kids name their pets the same thing over and over? We had seven turtles named Mac as kids and not a single Yertle.

On Easter Saturday one year, I found these pale yellow chicks in our kitchen in a cardboard box. My heart melted for those baby birds. Now I know that it was a weaker version of the feeling you have when you spend your first night with your newborn baby--an overwhelming sense of responsibility that doesn't scare you at all because the child is so darn cute. You can't think about all the things that could go wrong because everything feels so right.

I was about 10 years old. I'd been asking for Easter-themed baby animals for years and here they were. An answer to my prayers on a day that God had so much more on his mind.

But they never laid eggs. As they grew to be teenagers, I ached behind my eyes. At first, I thought I needed glasses. Yea! Something to make me look smart and call attention to myself, I thought. It turned out I was alergic to those darling, albeit awkward teenager stage, chickens. My uncle John and a kid who worked for him came to take them to John's farm to live in a coop.

John would tell me all kinds of stories about them. It was as if he spent hours observing my pet chickens among the dozens of other birds he had and farm chores he had.

"Yeah, they seem to be getting along with the other chickens," he'd say. "But I notice that Fred never lets Ethel out of his sight. They really stick together."

To this day, I dream of giving my kids baby animals on Easter. Anymore, it's not PC to give your kid a bunny on Easter. Apparently, when the bunnies become rabbits, they're not so cute and the families drop them off at the pound. But I think rabbits are pretty cute, too. So some year, when the boys are 10 or so, I'm going to give them one anyway. If you're going to get a pet, then why not on Easter?

It's kind of a wierd juxtaposition. The passion of Christ and pastel eggs and baby chickens. But it's all about new life. Something about baby animals makes us want to care for them. Are they cute so that someone would take care of them or is needing to be cared for the definition of cute? Which came first the chicken or the egg? Either way fragile things, like new life, inspire in us a call to do things right. To protect it and nurture it.

While my cousin, who loves babies more than anyone I know, and does a great job of taking care of them, dyed eggs and took the kids on a walk, carrying 30-pound J.J. in a front pack, I picked up an Easter bunny costume for her appearance after 9:30 Mass tomorrow. I say "her" because the costume is pink and white. My friend Jenny, who was in charge of getting an eighth grader to volunteer, didn't know that, so I hope that if a boy volunteers he is a very good sport. The kids will line up in their pastel shirts and ties and frilly dresses and bonnets to see the big bunny after they hear about a miracle that happened in a desert on the other side of the world.

My dad used to wake us up on Easter saying, "He is risen. He is not here" right before we searched for our Easter baskets, which held the sweet promise of Spring. And somehow it all went together.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Winter to Summer

We brought the summer clothes down from the attic yesterday and hauled the winter clothes back up. It seems like just weeks ago that we did the opposite. As I picked through the clothes in the bags and bins, I wondered where the time went.

It doesn't help that the kids grow so darn fast. J.J., at 8 months, will wear the T-shirts Richie wore last summer as a 3 year old. Johnny's shirts from last year would be halter tops on him. But I don't remember any time passing, just moments.

A red and white striped shirt with a blue collar has chocolate stains down the front. Johnny wore it last year on the weekend of July 4 for the first time. We were on our way to my aunt Mo and uncle Dan's farm and drove into some rain in Olathe. Thinking we'd drive through it, we kept going until it was raining so hard that Justin couldn't see the road. We pulled over with all the other cars and I thought we must be in the path of a tornado. The wind batted us back and forth. I called my parents, who were almost to the farm and had pulled off on a country road. Go back, they said. But it was too late. I tuned the radio to different stations, but none had the weather. T.V. stations break in to your favorite show to report a microblast in Iowa, but radio stations won't interupt "Oops I Did it Again" to simply let you know if you're going to die or not.

Richie and J.J. were asleep in the back seat, but Johnny started to cry. "Is it a tornado?" he asked. Now where would he have gotten that idea? It couldn't be because his mother was yelling at the dj, "Is it a tornado or not, you jackass?" and telling his daddy never to let her take the children out of the house again without their lifejackets and bike helmets on.

Still I said, "No. Of course it's not a tornado. The radio would tell us if there was a tornado. Because (under my breath) the radio is so god---- helpful."

The rain died down for a minute and Justin eased us back onto the highway to the next turnaround, where Johnny said he wished our car was Herbie so that it could cut through the field to get us home. Well, it would have to be a lot of fields, but I said that yes, that would do the trick. Safe at home, we watched James and the Giant Peach and ate fudgecicles, hence the chocolate down the shirt. We also found out that meanwhile, on the farm, my cousin Kevin had to hold onto a tree in order to not be blown away by the wind, people were down on their knees saying the Hail Mary, and a roof blew off a building that they were going to use as shelter from the storm. But everyone survived and there wasn't actually a tornado. Just wind. And flying roofs.

More importantly, no one got to see how cute Johnny and Richie looked in their July 4 attire. And now the shirt is too small. Curse you, Mother Nature!

A button down pale blue plaid shirt brings back a memory of a picture of Johnny. I can't remember when it was taken, but know that he looked so young in it. I mean, he is young. He's only 5 years old, but he acts so much older that I forget what a baby he is until I see him smiling without showing teeth in a picture. His skin looks so soft. His clothes are so little and uncharacteristically clean. How did that happen? I want to tell the kid in the picture: "Stay there. I'm going to raise the other Johnny, but when he moves out and paddles to Africa in a canoe with his pet gorilla, or whatever his plan is, I'm going to come back for you. Don't grow any older, now." But you might as well try to find weather coverage on the radio because it's not going to happen. Time, like a tornado, carries childhoods away and leaves grownups in their place. Although, you learn, when you're a mom or dad, to see the baby in every picture, from the criminal on the news to the soldier in Iraq and it is heartbreaking.

This year, everyone is in between clothes sizes, so we tried a new strategy called "If it fits you, feel free to it." I hauled a big yellow trashbag to the center of the room and let the boys choose their own clothes. Amazingly, every single tank top fit Richie, even the one that came down to his ankles. And every animal-related T-shirt fit Johnny, even the skin-tight ones. Luckily, that is the style.

It was 90 degrees yesterday, I think. You know it's time to change out the summer and winter clothes when it is too hot to go into the attic. The beauty of living in Kansas City is that it is always too hot or too cold in the attic, so you never have to face the array of broken, yet indisposable home goods or the box of "keepsakes" from grade school which includes a speech that you worked really hard to get an A on and yet your husband makes fun of you for keeping it (and all the other homework you ever completed. What? What's wrong with that? I worked my butt off to graduate grade school, honey.)

Johnny got MVP of the winter-summer changeout (not that we're a competitive household or anything) when he spotted a brown recluse spider crawling on the floor of the boys room right by J.J. It must have crawled out of the yellow trashbag. It didn't bite anyone thanks to Johnny's hawklike vision and a deadly spiderman flip-flop.

Now I know that by the end of the week, it will be 40 degrees outside and we'll all be shivering in our shorts, except for Richie, who doesn't need to wear shorts because his tank tops cover his entire body. At least I'll remember for a little while how fast the time goes. There's no stopping it. You can't even take cover in the basement from it. But when you know it's happening, and you can at least enjoy the ride on the tornado of time.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Sunny Birthday

Birthdays are a funny thing. If you make too much of them, the day goes by too fast. If you make not enough out of them, the day crawls along like all the other days. All you really need is a cake to balance this equation. And as Peggy commented yesterday, when you're the mom, you have to arrange for your own cake.

But the boys were sick, giving them the same energy level I have, which means we sat on the couch and watched a show about shipwrecks, then a show about tornados, and finally a show about the moon--did you know the moon formed when the earth collided with another planet? I hope that doesn't happen again.

So the cake making and buying went out the window. I already had a cake anyway at my birthday party on Saturday. Since we'd already celebrated, yesterday could be a low-key birthday. It's not like I was really any older yesterday than I am today. Every day we march closer to our death. Okay, that sounded a little more dramatic than I intended. What I mean is, I'm happy to turn 30. I don't feel old or anything. No older than usual, anyway, due to forgetting words for things like that dry stuff you eat for breakfast. My aunt calls those moments "fetal steals" because they usually happen when you're pregnant. But they also happen when you have small children.

It really was a perfect day. The boys took three hour morning naps due to their sickness and then we tackled a project outside. When you're a kid, you're always up for a project that involves water, even if your tummy hurts. So we washed the sandbox--a plastic boat that smelled like when you bring a turtle home from a farm in a bucket with a little pond water and grass in the bottom and drive for an hour in the hot Kansas sun with the air-conditioning broken in the car and the turtle thinks he's at a rest stop the whole time, so to speak.

Turtles might have been living in the sandbox. Three of our pet turtles ran away--or walked away, rather, while getting their exercise in our backyard. I sent Justin to post flyers I made for Coopy, my favorite turtle. The flyer had little strips of paper with our phone number that you tear off, and a turtle drawing. Not a photo, because let's face it, if any turtle was walking around Waldo, it was probably ours. I never saw these posters anywhere. Although it's possible that they were tacked up side by side on Finn's Waldo Bar community bulletin board. I haven't checked there.

Coopy is the only turtle who would sit and watch T.V. with me, so naturally I grew attached to him and await his return. Snappy, on the other hand, would hiss at me as if to say, "If I were a snapping turtle, I'd bite your head off and use it as a beach ball." It probably didn't help that I'd smile condescendingly and say, "But you're not a snapping turtle, Snappy. And that's the irony."

So we disinfected the possible turtle hide-out. Now that will be the baby pool and the holey pool will be the sandbox. It was a sunny day and everyone got along. Have you ever noticed that when kids get sick they act like grownups and when grownups get sick they act like babies?

The boys played in the hose and two cardinals splashed around in the puddles at the edge of the driveway. J.J. splashed at the side of the sandbox lid, which Richie had filled with water for him.

Justin and I were supposed to go out for dinner but stayed home. When kids are sick they need three things to get better: T.V., 7-Up and their mommy. But Justin and I did have carry-out and watched Lost (Are they in a mental institute or not?) We didn't have cake, but we had Klondike bars. So that's special.

It was the perfect day--didn't go by too slowly or too fast. I made a point not to do anything annoying, like call a place where you have to press 1 for customer service and 2 for sales and 3 to get disconnected and 0,0,0,0,0 until someone who doesn't want to talk to you talks to you. I got to talk to my friends and family on the phone. It was the kind of day you should create everyday but only end up creating on your birthday.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Her night/His night

Her night:

9:30 p.m. She finishes watching Arrested Development and worries that the lack of automatic dishwasher detergent is going to cause a cereal bowl and coffee cup shortage in the morning. Considers going to the drug store to buy some or doing the dishes by hand. Decides against it. Gives the dog and cat treats. Feeds the fish. Turns out the lights. Locks the doors. Cleans off the high chair. Rinses the dishes. Goes to sleep for what she thinks will be seven hours.

1 a.m. Awakes to, "Mom can't you hear me!" Realizes that a. her poor little 5 year old has a tummy ache and b. her children think she is awake and alert at all hours of the night, on standby to help them with big things like tummy aches and small things (see below.) She gives him medicine.

1:05 a.m. Baby awakes. 3 year old awakes. Nurses baby on the bottom bunk to appease 3 year old, who is in the top bunk. Feels every wooden support beam jutting into her back and neck. Wonders, Why did the manufacturers bother to put a mattress on this thing? She might as well be sleeping in a rowboat.

1:30 a.m. Checks on older son, who is now asleep on the couch with a fever. Feels his forehead. It's very hot. Tries to determine if he is delirious, which is easy because he is as talkative as ever. He is making remarkable sense, considering the time of night. He is less delirious, in fact, than she is. Feels his forehead again. His fever has broken. She goes back to bed.

2 a.m. She is awakened minutes later when 3 year old screams, "Mommy, I can't move my nose!" He is furious that his mother was not aware of this fact before he screamed it, proving the theory that her children think she is awake and on-call, not to mention clairvoyant, at all times. She runs into his room and sees that he needs to blow his nose. She realizes they are out of toilet paper and gets a washcloth. He refuses to blow his nose. She holds his hand until he falls asleep. And goes back to bed.

4 a.m. 3 year old screams, "My hand hurts," 10,ooo times, even as she massages it. He stops crying and she goes back to sleep.

5 a.m. 3 year old screams, "GET ME SOME WATER." She GETS HIM SOME WATER. She would feel sorry for the 3 year old except that these all-nighters happen about once a week. She goes back to bed, amazed that baby did not wake up.

6 a.m. Baby wakes up, nurses and eats cheerios. She wakes up for the day, having ignored her alarm clock for a full hour, since her children do a better job of alarming her anyway.

His night:

9 p.m. Falls asleep watching Arrested Development.

7:30 a.m. Awakes.
Wife says, "I was up all night."
He says, "Me, too."
Before wife, whose birthday it happens to be, laughs bitterly, and says, "I didn't know Pinochio was here this morning," he explains that he woke up with the three year old at 3 a.m. and could not fall back asleep until 4 a.m., just minutes before the hand tantrum. Somehow this makes her feel better. Until he leaves for work and she is stuck with a three year old who was awake in the night even more than she was. He is crying because he doesn't want the T.V. on. If that upsets him, then everything will. When oh when is bedtime?

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Small People Causing Big Problems

Wanting to distract the kids while folding the laundry the other day, I told them that people were living in our basement. Not just any people. Small people. No bigger than action figures. Except for the little small people. They are the size of Polly Pockets.

It was just a story--one that I'm sure I read as a kid. The trouble is, Johnny believed me. He sprung into action, gathering all the small things we had in our house. A small cereal box with half a cream cheese container stuck inside became a pull-out bed. A shell became a bathtub. A film canister is a hiding place. We made them little clothes out of construction paper. I just hope the people are flat so that they can wear them. All this went into a shoebox lid at the foot of Johnny and Richie's bunkbed.

Then John went down to the basement and said, "Hey, you all can come live upstairs. We have fun. We play and make volcanos. We don't even go to school. My mom just teaches us. You should leave this dirty, filthy place."

Our basement is, indeed, filthy. Why anyone would want to live down there is beyond me. But the thing about small people is they are so very shy. They have been stepped on and swept up and trapped when all they wanted was cheese. The world is an unkind place to small people, and through the years, their DNA hasn't forgotten that. They are terrified of even the kindest big people. Even ones that bustle around the house for two hours, gathering small things, and making clothes--or supervising the making of clothes, anyway--and bouncing up and down on the couch, anticipating their arrival, planning the games they will play, guessing their height and how many of them there are.

What have I done? The world has enough disappointments without your mom creating one. What will happen when the little people don't show their faces? Johnny won't take, "They're shy," for an answer, and I keep digging deeper and deeper. I don't have the heart to tell him that it's just a story. Besides, exposing a story as a lie, in our family, goes against the code of imagination. Only in the most dire circumstances do you confess. When a kid is having unbearable nightmares, for instance. And even then, you give yourself a loophole so that the next day you can say that you were lying about the story being a lie.

My mom is an expert in the storyteller's code. As a kid, I believed ants ate her cousin's friend's brain when the girl sat in the sun for too long, that her neighbor, who chewed on her hair, had to have surgery to remove a giant hairball from her stomach, and that a strange lady at the grocery store thought my mom looked like the woman's deceased daughter. The lady pulled my mom's leg so that she wouldn't leave the store. Just like I'm pulling yours, the joke went. But I wasn't familiar with the saying, so I just thought my mom had a long lost twin.

Later, my mom told my little cousins that a ghost named Miss Kiekbush lived in my mom's attic, a cranky, ornery old woman. My mom would take the kids to the graveyard just before a thunderstorm and read a note that said something like, "You need to cross the old bridge before the third roll of thunder, or else." And the kids would be screaming, "Let's get out of there," as the thunder boomed a second time. At no point did my mom say it was all just a story. Instead, she acted just as scared as the kids were to make it seem more realistic.

My Aunt Mary told my brother Luke for years that there was an Indian chief living on the land across the street from my grandparents' house. He'd leave Luke presents like drums and bow and arrows. Luke was never able to meet the chief in person, either. Mary never told the truth and Luke just eventually figured it out.

So you see, revealing the small people as characters in a story just won't do, even though it is breaking my heart.

Yesterday, Johnny found a thank you note from Bok, one of the small people, thanking him for the room. "It's awesome!" Bok wrote.

Johnny sat down and wrote his own note, inviting the little people to movie night. It's at night, Johnny assured Bok, since the small people don't come out during the day. He made them a new room in his special sailboat box and hid it under his shell collection so that they could live up here not just at night but during the day, too. He drew a map to the new room from the old room and left it where the old room was.

"And I'll play with Bok and Richie can play cars with Bok's brother..." he said, bouncing up and down.

Which would be worse, telling him I made the whole thing up or letting the small people disappoint him when they don't show up during our waking hours.

"Bok owes you an explanation for why he didn't thank you in person," I told Johnny. "He must have a good reason."

Indeed, Bok wrote a new note saying that there's this dumb rule in the small people world that says you can't let a big person see you until you've known them for a year. I'm sure Johnny will find a loophole in that rule. Bok's excuses will have to become more and more elaborate. Or I could just tell the truth. But that would be the biggest disappointment of all. I'll just stay in this corner I worked myself into, making up excuses for why the small people are so unbelievably shy.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Farm Fresh Milk

Every kid should get a chance to milk a cow. If you grew up on a farm, you probably got 5 million "opportunities" to awake at 4 a.m. to do that. But for us city folk, there's something reassuring about seeing where our food comes from. As long as it comes from a nice family farm just down the road, that is.

Johnny, Richie, J.J. and I toured the Shatto dairy farm this Saturday with our friends Matt and Leah and their kids Nicholas, Ryan, Fiona and Quinn.

The tour started in the barn, where baby Holsteins (the black and white cows) gave us love bites as we petted them. Two-day-old calves slept in a pen next to them. They were still breastfeeding--or is it teetfeeding with cows?--for the colostrum from their mothers. But we gave the others water in giant bottles that looked like props from a cartoon where the baby is really a cigar smoking, gravelly-voiced, bald old man. The calves nudged each other out of the way so they could drink more water. Human children haven't cornered the market on competitiveness, obviously.

Then Ginger came out. She was a Jersey girl, which means here not that Bruce Springsteen is going to take her on all the carnival rides, but that she produces creamier milk. Ginger patiently let all the kids milk her. They even snuck a sip straight from the cow.

You mean from the nipple? Justin asked when I told him about it later.

That's right. I said, "Just latch on to the teet, kids. They can't charge us for it if it's not in a milk bottle."

No. They squirted it into a Dixie cup and then drank it. Because while I disagree with the motto "Cow's milk is for baby cows" I do think cow's teets are for baby cows.

We watched the machines that milk the 160 mostly Holstein cows at the farm. They work like breastpumps, only with more suction things. Actually, it was interesting to see just how much humans have in common with these cows. Colostrum. Sleepy newborns. Rowdy older children. Producing milk (cows produce 7 gallons a day.) Grazing. Only we do it at Shoney's and they, obviously, graze in the fields.

This was all too much for J.J. The aura of milk was in the air. Why was milk being produced by the gallons and he had not been nursed in three hours, he obviously wondered. He fussed a little in my arms as we learned about the operation.

The milking starts at 4 a.m. (don't get any ideas, J.J.) and 4 p.m. Workers lead the cows in, clean up afterwards, feed the calves and cows and lead tours. The milk is pasturized on site and sold in area stores in bottles, like in the old days. The Shatto farm is family-run, a rarity in today's dairy world. According to the Shatto Web site,, low milk prices paid by dairy cooperatives for bulk milk caused surrounding dairy farms to go out of business in the 1990s. The Shattos decided to offer something different to milk drinkers--fresh, natural milk in bottles. People could even come out and see the milk being produced.

So here we were. As we sampled the orange creme milk and rootbeer milk in the gift shop, J.J. was ready to lose it. I gave him some strawberry milk to appease him. Pediatricians say you shouldn't feed babies younger than 12 months cow's milk, but the woman leading the tour said she fed her children raw (unpasturized) milk from infancy, so who am I going to trust. The dairy worker, obviously.

We ate a picnic lunch, the boys running around in the sunny field. Everybody had a great time. Well, almost everybody. J.J. hasn't been himself ever since. Finally, by interpreting the intonations of his crying, I determined what was wrong.

Me: What's the matter, baby?
J.J.: Where's the nearest psychologist?
Me: Why do you need one, sweetheart?
J.J.: I need to tell him my parents tried to trade me for a baby cow.
Me: J.J., the very idea! Why would you think that?
J.J.: I have my reasons.
Me: J.J., don't shut me out of your emotional life.
J.J. Mommy, you gave me cow's milk instead of nursing me.
Me: It was strawberry. You love strawberries.
J.J.: Well, for the record, I do. But that's not the point, mommy. You were trying to get me used to cow's milk so that the cows could raise me. Like Remus and Romulus.
Me: Remus and Romulus were raised by wolves, J.J.
J.J.: So the history books say. I saw you feed those baby cows bottles. You were going to trade me for a baby cow.
Me: Now why on earth would I do that?
J.J.: Because cows make milk and I just drink it.
Me: Well, did we trade you, J.J.?
J.J.: No.
Me: Then, you see, everything is just fine.
J.J.: Not totally fine.
Me: What would make you feel better?
J.J.: Do we have any of that strawberry milk?

Sunday, April 09, 2006

30 Is the New 50

Typing too fast makes me dizzy, so I will take this very slowly. My family had a surprise party for my 30th birthday last night.

Let me work backwards. Justin and I climbed into Josh and Sarah's car, me sneakily carrying a pint glass from the bar--their little birthday present to me, unbeknownst to them, ha ha ha. That'll teach them not to take steak salad off the menu, I thought at the time (2 a.m.) I was wearing a black hat with BOTOX written in rhinestones on it and a white BOTOX T-shirt--gifts from my cousin, who works for a plastic surgeon.

We had stopped in at the Regal Beagle--the Gaff--for a beer after the party, but stayed so that I could bestow on everyone my philosophy of turning 30, which is...I don't remember because until last night I didn't know I had one. It had something to do with neuron development because, you know, I am a brain surgeon.

The Gaff was Romanelli's, a steak and spaghetti place popular with the 70 and older set. Now it is the neighborhood hangout for everybody and their second cousin. We ran into my sister-in-law's cousin and my friend's cousins and some friends.

It was pretty empty last night, so there was plenty of space for people to stand in the middle of the bar and howl or take swigs from wine bottles or yell "Hey, Botox" and laugh. If you think I'm referring to myself doing those things, you are sorely mistaken. I was too busy acting like a know-it-all. I stood with Justin and the guys until I realized that I was the only girl at the table and went to sit with the girls. I gave a mini-lecture on brain development, which I'm sure they found riveting. At least I think I did. If I didn't, I should have.

Back at my parents house, J.J. was asleep for the night, after having a big day at the dairy farm, which I'll tell you about tomorrow. Johnny and Richie and their friends and my cousins were curled up on the couch watching Ghostbusters. The crowd had thinned out and my parents were going to watch the boys for the night.

Presents stood by the door, including a blanket my friend Jen gave me that is the stuffed animal fabric I wrote about in a blog, saying I wanted to uphulster the world in it. She read that and bought me the blanket, which I thought was awesome. My sister-in-law Sarah and her family and my mom gave me a gift certificate to Let's Dish, where you make dinners to freeze for later. We're all going to go together. The presents were awesome, but the presence of everyone was the real present. There were neighbors and friends and family. My brother Luke came in from Chicago. My cousin Curran came in for my party all the way from San Diego--or maybe he came in for his brother's wedding next weekend. No, it was for my party. Joe Joe, my brother's best friend from grade school, flew in from an island in the Carribean or South Sea or somewhere. Just for my party, he said. I'm not surprised. His life and my cousin's are all about me. If you weren't there, I wish you were. And if you were there, I'm glad you weren't not there.

Justin and I pulled up earlier in the night, supposedly for a small family party to celebrate Justin's April 5 birthday, my birthday on the 12th and my dad's on the 9th (today--Happy birthday, dad). Maybe next year, guys. This year, it is all about me. And Botox.

When we saw the cars, Justin said, "Someone must be having a party." Richie, who had gone to my parents house earlier, pedaled a tricycle to the backyard, naming everyone who was there. I began to suspect something when Johnny ran around back and yelled, "They're coming!"

Still, when I got in the backyard, and everyone yelled, "Surprise," it really was a surprise. So thank you to my brother Josh and sister-in-law Sarah, Luke and my mom and dad, Katie, Justin and everyone else who helped plan it or came to it. It was a great surprise, which is good because I'm sure all the surprises from here on out will be bad ones. Surprise! You have arthritis. Surprise! You need a hip replacement. Surprise! Your health insurance went up because of your age. Surprise! Your head feels like someone mistook it for a coconut last night while making Pina Coladas.

As Josh said last night, "30 is the new 40."

"No, 50," our friend Betty corrected him.

Neurologically speaking, they're both right. You see...oh, never mind. I was so much smarter last night.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Is T.V. the Enemy...Let's Watch It a Little More to Find Out

Is Sesame Street out of line to create DVDs for 0 to 3 year olds? That's what people debated on an AOL message board a few days ago. I hope Kermit, Grover, Telly and the gang held their ears during this debate because the grownups were IRATE over this whole thing.

One woman said that America was looking more like Rome everyday, what with all the teenagers drinking at parties. Okay, I blame Burt and Ernie for that. They've been at the center of controversy before and I think it's pretty obvious that they are Romans. Remember that skit where Burt was feeding pigeons--obviously a metaphor for teenage drinking, i.e. the favorite passtime of the Roman Empire.

This shows how naive I am: I didn't know there were still parents out there who didn't let their kids watch T.V. Apparently, it decreases their attention span and brain washes them.

But I grew up watching T.V. and I'm fine. C is for cookie that's good enough for me. C is for cookie that's good enough for me. C is for cookie that's good enough for me...

I'm sorry, sometimes these little songs pop into my head and I have no idea why. The point is cookies really are good enough for me. And they start with c.

No, that wasn't the point. Why can't I think for myself anymore? The point is Sesame Street is such a great show. I don't understand why it's getting picked on. Any show with Aaron Neville making a guest appearance to sing with Kermit the Frog has my seal of approval. Even if it was the official show of the Roman Empire back in the day, which it wasn't. Come on, we all know that the emperor's favorite was The O.C.

T.V. gets a bad rap, especially children's shows, probably because there is so much junk out there. But I give good T.V. shows their due. From Arrested Development for grownups to Sesame Street for kids, they're well-written and acted. How can such a showcase of talent be bad?

I guess I have a problem with people thinking kids are easily brainwashed. Like they are little robots that can be programmed. If that were the case, my kids wouldn't use my good spoons to dig for worms.

Kids don't like cookies because T.V. tells them to. Kids like cookies because they taste good. Cookie Monster, for the record, is trying to eat healthy on the show. Now, if kids start saying no to cookies and yes to vegetables, we might be in trouble.

Friday, April 07, 2006

How to Make a Model Volcano (but Good Luck Explaining Why Anyone Would Make a Real One)

Here's how you make a volcano: When creating the world, leave openings on the earth's surface for molten lava to escape, burying whole towns, like Pompeii, in a day.

No not that kind of volcano. Here's how to make a fake volcano:

1. In a small container, like a yogurt carton, put a spoonful of baking soda. You can measure an exact amount if it makes you feel scholarly, or dump in the whole box and curse it when you're unable to bake cookies or deoderize your refrigerator later in the week. It really doesn't matter (but don't blame me if you lose an eye in the course of this experiment. The pursuit of scientific knowledge requires certain sacrifices.)

2. Arrange the perilous situation you want to create. For instance, you can surround the container with rocks or a mountain made of play dough. Your kids will want to place dinosaurs or animals in harm's way so that they can run for dear life when the lava flow begins. Feel free to narrate all this like an Animal Kingdom announcer: "The dinosaurs sense danger, but face a difficult choice: Kronosaur-infested waters to the north or hot lava to the south."

3. Add vinegar (you can dye it red with food coloring to make it look more realistic.) Again, the amount you add is inconsequential. Are you having chili tonight? Then don't add the whole bottle. You'll want it for that extra kick.

4. Watch the lava flow as your kids make sure the animals outrun the disaster. Say, "This time, the brontosauruses find safety in the water. They live to die another day."

5. Your son will ask, "What makes volcanos happen?" You find this explanation in Animals and Nature, by Janine Amos and Andrew Solway, 1995, Scholastic, Inc. and Two-Can Publishing Ltd: "Volcanoes are holes, or vents, that go down through the earth's hard crust to the hot liquid layer below. When some volcanoes erupt, liquid rock and ash pour out and pile up around the volcano, forming a mountain in just a few years." Actually, that's how mountains form. But good enough. Time for lunch.

6. Not so fast. Next, your son will ask, "Why does God let volcanos happen?" You know you're in trouble when your child's whats turn to whys. But your college philosophy and theology classes should come in handy, right? There was the theory that nature had not yet reached perfection. And the one that said God created the world, gave it a spin, and left it the hell alone. And the one that everything happens for a reason. But the problem is, you never bought any of those theories. You never heard a theory that sounded plausible, so you finally you stopped thinking about it. So what to say? How to avoid the unsatisfactory, "I don't know."

7. "I don't know," you say. And you start thinking about it again.

8. You look around your own house and wonder why you let this disaster happen. Someone blew their nose on the roll of toilet paper and left the snotty part hanging there. And there are chocolate cake crumbs on your bed sheet and neither you nor your husband eats in bed so you can only conclude that ants carried them there. The baby's onesy looks like a dirty dustmop. In fact, ever since he started crawling, he has been your mop, poor little thing. But you're too busy applying bandaids and pouring glasses of milk and breaking up fights and drying tears and researching the cause of volcanos (and watching T.V. and writing in your blog) to do something about it.

9. Does God feel this way? you wonder. When he made time, did he subject himself to it? So that he has to prioritize like the rest of us. And housekeeping goes by the wayside because there is always something more pressing to do. He never quite gets a chance to repair the holes on the earth's surface because he's too busy taking care of people. Answering prayers. Mending wounds. Breaking up fights. Watching T.V. Blogging. Well, maybe not the last two.

10. But that can't be it because dirty floors don't hurt anyone and volcanos do. You still don't know the answer.

How to make a volcano is so easy to understand. Why anyone would make one is beyond me.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Baby's Got a Lovey

I always imagined my child would love a blankie or teddybear. He'd drag it around everywhere until it was tattered and dirty and we'd have to go out with a flashlight at night to find it under a swingset at a park. Then, when he went off to college, I'd have "the talk" with him, telling him that if people made fun of him for having a teddybear at the dorm then he could move home with mommy and daddy and go to juco. Then we'd all win.

It never happened with Johnny, now five. He'd hug a big stuffed bunny and then throw it on the floor. Sure, he wanted to sleep with certain things at night. It's just that they were a little unconventional: First it was his Tonka truck. Then his Spiderman boots. Next a giant carnival dog. And finally three Idaho potatos. None of them lasted long enough to achieve lovey status, which I guess is a good thing.

Richie never had one special stuffed animal he slept with either, although now he and Johnny sleep with 100 of them, and that's special, to follow the reasoning of the cable salesperson I spoke to yesterday. Me: Do you have any specials? Him: Road Runner is always special. Me: Silently waiting for the punchline.

Anyway, with my third child, my wish has come true. J.J. has a lovey--a small tan teddybear that he clutches in his crib to forget a bad day: a lost binkie, a nap cut short by yelling brothers, a sub-par dinner, too much "floor time" and not enough cuddle time. He lays his head down on it, and falls asleep instantly.

It's made of this soft new stuffed animal fabric, which is as soft as a duckling, a baby seal, a puppy, and Elvis Presley's blue suede shoes all rolled up in one. If we could uphulster the whole world in this fabric, there would be no more war. I'm certain of it. When people got cranky or selfish, they'd lay on their tummies, their legs tucked underneath them, their bottoms in the air, and just sleep it off, like J.J. does. I was in a cancer boutique--a store for people undergoing chemotherapy or recovering from mastectomies--and they had nightcaps that felt like this fabric. So people are aware of the benefits of this fabric for grownups, too.

On J.J.'s teddybear, the fabric is hardened in places because of sweat and tears. Teddybear makes it all better. J.J. has no interest in the stuffed animal except at bedtime. It should probably stay in the crib, where it won't be lost or forgotton. I remember being attached to a piggy pibbow and crying my eyes out when I forgot to bring it to a slumber party. I hope J.J. doesn't go through that, but it's worth it to have the peace of mind a lovey gives you. A little superstition that everything will be okay.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Children Humble Us

A couple days ago, I attacked our front yard fir tree with a green lightsaber.

"Hit it harder," Johnny, 5, said, as he pounded his side of the tree with a red lightsaber. Then he went to get a drink of his water, eyeballing me to make sure I didn't stop using the force.

Meanwhile, carpool cars inched by along our street: parents picking their kids up from the school we live across the street from. And I was alone, killing a tree with a plastic sword.

Children humble us.

Teenagers say their parents embarrass them. That's because parents lower their threshold for being humiliated for the 12 years prior to the teenage years.

Nothing embarasses me anymore. When I get left alone at the tomato stand my sons are having, so that it looks like I am so broke that I'm selling vegetables for 25 cents a piece in our front yard (which I am,) I don't hide my face. I just pocket the profits. Hey, my sons might be content to run their business into the ground while they play dinosaurs, but I for one know the value of a dollar.

But the most important lesson my children have taught me is that I'm always wrong. And I don't know what I'm doing. And I can't win. It's sort of a three-in-one lesson.

Just one second ago, Richie, 3, was crying in his room, screaming, "Oww. Oww."

I went in to see what was wrong and he said, "My nose...I can't put my finger in it."

His nose was stuffy and he didn't want to blow it. If you're not going to fix it, don't complain about it, I said. Now he's crying because he can't stop crying. He's going through this phase where mommy and daddy can't do anything right.

It's working because just last Sunday, I lay on our bed crying to Justin, "I can't do anything right."

Justin didn't say, if you're not going to fix it, don't complain about it. Thank you, honey.

Ironically, since I stumbled upon this new-found humility, I've acquired self-confidence. I e-mail editors to pitch my column. I call people out of the blue. A few weeks ago, I threatened to sue someone when I learned that he hadn't paid my husband and wasn't taking his phone calls. I realize that this wasn't very polite, but you know what? He paid us.

I think that when you stop worrying about how things look, you focus on how things are. By threatening to sue my husband's customer, I gave him an opportunity to do the right thing. By refusing to clear his nasal passages without the use of his finger, Richie took a strong stand against the Kleenex companies, who have tried to convince us for years that nosepicking is bad.

While attacking the tree, Johnny and I found a bird's nest tucked away inside the branches. The outside was made of twigs, the inside, soft brown grass, lint and hair woven together. It was perfect. And empty. Was it hard for them to leave the home they built so carefully behind? I wondered.

We filled a bird feeder with sunflower seeds to try to bring the birds back. Then we went on the opposite side of the tree and continued beating it with our lightsabers, my son because he had no ego to protect yet and me because I no longer cared about protecting mine. But we left the bird's nest alone. There are some things you shouldn't be humble about. I know that birds don't feel pride, so I felt proud for them of that nest, even though they ended up leaving it behind.

Happy birthday to Justin, the humblest guy I know, who is 33 years old today, and doesn't look a day over fast cars and freedom.

I haven't thanked you all in a while for reading, so thank you. Thank you Mary, Lexi, Jeanne and Peggy for leaving comments, and everyone who left them in the past, and of course, my mom, the MVP of comments. I'm sure I never embarrassed her in my youth. But mostly, thank you all for reading.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Chiefs and Royals, Pray for Us

If you live in Jackson County, Mo., don't forget to vote today. You might have blown off your democratic right and duty in the past, but this time, something important is at stake: Whether or not the Chiefs and Royals stay in Kansas City.

According to my husband, who read a Pitch article on his lunch break yesterday, the teams might move to Las Vegas if we don't step up and vote for stadium improvements. I, for one, refuse to send our sweet little ball players into that den of depravity. I know by watching the big screen at the K that most players, when asked which famous person they would want to be stuck in an elevator with, chose Jesus Christ. To send them to Sin City is just plain wrong. Not to mention how close they would be to the Raiders, the official team sponsors of Hell.

Come on people: it's a matter of religious importance that you vote for the improvements. Forget about yesterday's loss. Forget about today's hangover brought on by yesterday's loss. Vote yes on Questions 1 and 2. If you don't do it for God, do it for your fellow citizens. Do it for the stadium workers. Do it to keep our sportswriters in town. Do it to keep tailgating as Kansas City's favorite past time. Do it to stick it to the Raiders. Do it to cash in on your bet against the 50 to one odds that it would fail. Just vote!

Der Beauty is Underrated

I'm going to miss the softball game tonight. Yeah. I've got my Ugly Club meeting. Okay, so, see you at happy hour on Friday? You know it, baby! All right. Stay classy.

That's what people can say in Hamburg, Germany, where there is an ugly club, or "der ugly club," as we say in German, my eleventh language.

I heard about it on the NPR show Day to Day yesterday. Founded by Harold Gasper, it is the ugly people's way of sticking it to the man--the tall dark and handsome man and his beautiful buxom blond, that is. According to, Gasper and his wife founded the club because they were tired of beautiful people getting all the success. Go to the club's Web site, and click on "hitlist" to see for yourself whether you think the founders are ugly. (Question: The Germans haven't come up with their own words for "club," "ugly" or "the" yet? I couldn't live like that.)

Anyway, I think the Gaspers are quite nice looking by Midwestern standards. I mean, I don't live among the beautiful people of Southern California--or even southern Johnson County, for that matter--but I think I know ugly, or as we say in German, der ugly, when I see it.

The point of this report on Der Ugly Club, the local person on the radio said, was that beauty is overrated. Between celebrity magazines and jobs going to nice looking people, we lose sight of what is really important. Ruthlessness. No, he didn't really say that. But if we're going to talk about success hogs, I think we'd be wise to check out the beady eyes and melon heads of some of the billionaires in this country. Not all the good jobs go to beautiful people, right Mr. Wittig?

On the contrary, I think beauty is underrated. Oh, sure, Hollywood actors reap the benefits of facial symetry and sparkly eyes, but don't we secretly pooh-pooh their success? "Of course, I too, would be a billionaire if I looked like Reece Witherspoon," we say.

But for every Reece Witherspoon, there's "just another pretty face," someone written off for having such a shallow talent as being pretty.

Beauty is only skin deep, we say.

Intelligence is only brain deep, is what I say. Athleticism is only musle deep. Brain surgery is only hand-eye coordination and nerves of steal and having the organ you figure things out with figured out deep. So there.

Granted, these talents take a little cultivation. Hours of study or practice. The drive to succeed. And the heart to perservere when you fail. But beauty takes work, too. Not just getting manicures to avoid the worst--a dangling piece of skin--but finding the balance between confidence and humility, a sense of style and trendiness, being beautiful and being one of the "beautiful people."

Let's face it, God gave us whatever talents we have. I mean, I didn't just wake up one day and decide to speak German fluently. Der God deuchen me zis talent. It's our job to decide how to use our talents.

I used Reece Witherspoon as my example because I think she's a really funny actress. You can't just be beautiful. When you're ugly, you learn pretty fast to develop a kind heart, a quick wit or a keen understanding of neurology. It's a matter of survival. Beautiful people have to be wise enough to know that pretty is as pretty does.

I think funniness is one of the most beautiful things there is. But it's a gift our vazer in heaven gives us just like der beauty. I'm sorry. I keep slipping into my eleventh language, German, without even knowing it. Hey, every God-given gift has der drawbacks.

Beauty may not be the best talent you can be born with. But beautiful people have something to teach those of us who have had acne for 75 percent of our lives. How to make a good appearance. How to be self-confident. How to light up the room with a smile. And how to recognize that whatever we have, God gave it to us. And it's up to us to figure out ze reazon.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Are You a Boy? Take this Quiz and Find Out

You might be sitting at your desk, thinking, "Who am I? What am I? Why am I?" Here is a simple test to narrow that down a bit. This will help you find out whether or not you are a boy of five years old or younger.

1. When you see earthworms, do you...

a. Leave them be. They're good for the garden.
b. Pick them up, look them in the face and say, "Your head looks like your butt" and laugh.
c. Put them in your hair, like Medusa, walk into the kitchen and scream, "Moooom! Moooom! Come see something. You're really going to like it."

2. When you woke up today, you decided to wear...

a. Spiderman boxers and nothing else. You spent the rest of the day telling everyone, "They're not underpants. They're shorts."
b. A sweatsuit and cowboy boots.
c. A suit and tie.

3. What do you do to help get ready for a party?

a. Make a salad.
b. Whiten your teeth.
c. Track mud through the house on your way to the bathroom, where you wipe the dirt off your hands with wet toilet paper, clogging the drain. (Then go potty, completely missing the toilet and not feeling at all embarrassed about that. You were just aiming for the general vicinity of the toilet, anyway. So yeah for you. You did it!)

4. Which of the following sentences do you burp during?

a. "We're eating oranges, grapes and aahhrg-ples."
b. "I just burped when I said thaahhrg-t."
c. "I just burped ag-aahhrg."

5. What does it mean when your mom says, "Stop wrestling with your brother"?

a. What does what mean?
b. What?
c. Nothing. It's just words strung together at random.
d. I'm sorry. I don't speak English. Could you repeat that in another language, please?
e. It means she doesn't let us have fun. It's not too rough. It's so much---Oww. Johnny hurt my elbow! He's playing too rough!
f. All of the above.

6. How do you eat your food?

a. With utensils.
b. While running around the house because I can't sit still for five minutes.
c. Look. No hands!

7. What is on your shirt right now?

a. Pin stripes.
b. I Believe!
c. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Heroes in a Half Shell. Turtle power.
d. Mud, algae and insect legs.

8. What organizations do you belong to?

a. The Knights of Columbus.
b. A book club.
c. A union.
d. The Justice League, Teen Titans and Spiderman and Friends.

9. What do you have on your desk?

a. Pencil, pen, stapler, staple remover, papers.
b. Sword, sword, alligator, crocodile, victims of reptile attacks.

10. What is the last book you read?

a. The DaVinci code.
b. Pride and Prejudice..
c. Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Every Animal on Earth.
d. Robin: The Tears of a Clone. Yes. Comics are books. That's why they're called comic books.

11. How many gifts did you give today?

a. Why? Was it somebody's birthday? My anniversary? What did I forget?
b. One. My presence is your present.
c. 100. But don't worry. They'll grow back tomorrow. Dandelions grow really, really fast.

1. a: 0, b: 1 and c: 2.
2. a: 2, b: 1 and c: 0.
3. a: 0, b: 1 and c: 2.
4. a: 1, b: 2 and c: 3.
5. 5 points for any answer.
6. Randomly give yourself a billion points.
7. Make that a pillion. (5 pillion if your shirt says "I Believe!"
8. Declare yourself the winner.
9. Make that king of the whole world!
10. Tackle the kid who just said that.
11. Clear the stapler/alligator, paper/victim and pencil/sword off your desk and find your nearest baseball home opener--because there's a five year old boy or tomboy in all of us. (Go Royals!)