Tuesday, December 1, 2009

An Honest Christmas Letter

A friend of mine, after receiving my traditional, cheerful Christmas letter last year, said she felt bad because she didn’t have as many positive things to write about her family. That got me thinking...I had only written the good news.

So here, in response, is our 2009 Christmas letter.

After being laid-off last May, Fred recently got a job at a local truck manufacturing company as a project engineer. Just in time too. After 6 months of togetherness, Fred had become the houseguest who wouldn’t leave. We’d taken to occupying different quadrants of the house and only grunting to one another. At 3 months, I was “googling” Voodoo doll manufacturers, and planning which body part on my Fred “replica” I was going to prick first. You might have felt the earth move the day Fred got the job offer...that was just me jumping.

Krista got a spark-making scooter for her birthday. She promptly hit a mud patch at the side of the road, flipped over the handlebars and nearly broke her wrist. The scooter is now for sale. She got elected to the student council, takes piano lessons and does spinning classes at the YMCA. Fred and I tried taking the spinning class too, but I was diagnosed with the rare condition known as “butthurtsalot,” brought on by the anteater-nose shaped bike seat and had to quit. Fred stuck with it, but admitted his “manhood” was in jeopardy with each pedaled revolution.

I’m still a water aerobics instructor at the YMCA (5 years now). I’ve been learning how to cook a lot of great new dishes thanks to the “Food Network.” Consumption of these great new foods, plus hours logged on the sofa learning to cook them have definitely made me a "before" example. Next year my goals are to lose 60 pounds, order orthopedic shoes to relieve the pressure on my bone spur and continue with my bi-weekly chin-hair checks. Don't even get me started on my bursitis and female pattern balding.

Fred and I redecorated our living room this spring. It looks so cozy and colorful. Especially with the addition of Fred’s prize garbage garage sale find—a 1970s electric organ with some electronic issues. It was on sale for $20, but they ended up GIVING it to him. Now it's the first thing you see when you walk in. Maybe I can dress it up with a candelabra and some rose pedals. Does anyone know how to play an electric organ?

Jasmine Buttercup Ruby is our 3 year old golden retriever. She is a joy. She was recently developed a dust-mite allergy which makes her scratch her ear until it smells like beans and shake her head vigorously to deposit the scales and whatever loose hair she has on her all over our living room. Unfortunately, with Lily Munster as an owner, she'll be stuck on her steroid pills for life.

We traveled to Florida over spring break and Krista caught a 25 lb. Redfish on the inner-coastal waters. Fred also made many trips to the U.P. to get ready for hunting. Fred didn’t see any deer, but apparently saw 2 other animals: a bluebird and a squirrel.

We have them mounted on our mantel.

Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The Fingernails of a Tomato Canner are Orange

After 4 months of hosting a tomato garden, I have famously lost interest in the whole endeavor. The dozen or so tomatoes I handpicked out of my garden in August were delicious and satisfying. But, they are now ripening at an alarming rate; appearing everywhere, decorating the plants like Christmas bulbs. Only it’s not Christmas. It’s “Canning Time” and like Lucy and Ethel on the candy assembly line—I can’t keep up.

Although I’ve never “canned” anything in my life, friends and websites assured me that it was easy. So I took 20 lbs. out of my fridge and studied the recipe.

Directions to Can Tomatoes:

1. Start cauldron filled with 4 gallons of water to boil using 2 side-by-side burners

2. Run jars in dishwasher cycle

3. Put lids in water to boil

4. Put tomatoes in a large pot of boiling water, and then thrust them into a large ice bath so peels will be easy to remove.

By this 4th step, I have some notes to add:

Some peels came off of some tomatoes. The others needed to be peeled with a potato peeler. Peeling the skin off a mushy tomato is a bit like shaving an inflated balloon. The tomato skin is taut, but unexpectedly your finger (or the peeler edge) ruptures the peel, causing the inner red-orange, seeded goo to escape and fly. I’ve plumbed and been squirted by so many tomatoes, my kitchen looks like a bloody scene from “Grey’s Anatomy.” On the bright side, I think I may have invented a new art form.

The recipe reads on:

5. Core and cut peeled tomatoes into smaller wedges.

I liken the “Hold down the Slippery Tomato in Order to cut it” maneuver to that of Ms. Pac Man trying to gobble the ghosts before the time is up. This step could be a game by assigning a child, equipped with baseball mitt, to catch rocketing tomato pop-flies.

6. Into sterilized jars, put tomatoes in within ¼ inch of the top. Put in lemon juice and fill with boiling water.

7. Place jars with lids in water cauldron and boil for 45 minutes.

8. Remove and let cool. Jars will be sealed when you hear a “ping” signifying a proper, safe seal.

I listened, and waited...4 hours, but I didn’t hear a single “ping.” Doubt has now been cast as to whether the proper, safe seal has been achieved. Will I give my family botchulism? Will I be known as the notorious Heidi the Poisoner?

Anyone interested in one of my quarts of homegrown tomatoes? If not, you can get the same size jar at Piggly Wiggly for $1.98.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

“Oh, God! He’s got the Power Washer Going Again”

I know when “Power Washing Day” is approaching. My husband, Fred, opens the garage
door and starts lining things up on the drive-way. Once he has the power washer going, “POWER WASHER FEVER” overtakes him, and he wants to spray everything in sight. Toys, dumpsters, grills...nothing is off-limits.
For Fred, the power washer I got from him for Father’s Day is one of his most beloved possessions. I’m quite sure if I presented Fred with an ultimatum—“It’s either ME or that power washer,” I’d be sleeping on the sofa, while ‘PW’ spooned up next to him in bed.
I have several problems with Fred’s Water Spewing Tool. First, I object to the word “wash.” Assaulting household items with high-pressure water does not “clean” them...not really. It’s like telling a kid to take a shower, but then adding, “You don’t have to use soap—the water will do it all.” A more appropriate name for the device would be “Power Rinser."
Second, of the few things I would like to have “Power Rinsed,” not many of them were engineered to withstand 20 megatons of water being sprayed at them. My refrigerator, for instance, could stand a good “Power Rinsing,” but the meat drawer would no doubt invert, lights would dim and the back-spray would gauge Fred’s eyes out. Our dog, Jasmine, needs a good POWER RINSING, but unless I want to go pick her up in...Nevada---I’ll use the garden hose. Anything “rickety” that’s given a power-wash gets annihilated. Fred power washed our deck once, and all the paint peeled off of it. He power washed his bicycle and took it for a ride and the rear rim “mysteriously” bent. Coincidence? I think NOT.
Final irritant? The unspoken contest among the 99 percent male power washer owners; the “mine’s bigger than yours” show. Each man knows his own machine’s vital statistics--horsepower, amps and its ability to heat and/or dispense detergent...and those of his adversaries. A man could be made to feel small if his machine didn’t measure up.
It all starts with the pull of the rip-cord and the VRUUMMM of the engine. Once the power washer is running, it signals other men down the street...who stop what they’re doing, cock their heads to the side and stagger out to their garages. A chain reaction has been set off. Soon, men are blasting furniture across driveways, “water brooming” the crevices in their sidewalks and insisting that their houses are dirty. Innocent bystanders, children and dogs duck to avoid being knocked unconscious by the debris sailing through the air like frisbees.
“Is Daddy using the power washer?” my daughter Krista asks.
“You heard it too?”
“I’m gonna make sure he’s not power washing my bike,” she said, starting towards the garage.
“Just don’t sneak up on him—you’ll end up in Nevada.”
Post-wash, Fred leaves the “tenderized” items out to air-dry where he can sit in his chair and admire his work...while avoiding the, “What did you power wash THIS TIME?” questioning waiting for him inside.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Big Girls Don't Spin

I signed my husband, Fred, daughter Krista and I up for a family “Spinning” class at the YMCA. It sounded mild enough and fun for togetherness. Krista is a kid and Fred, a former college athlete, who is accustomed to “work-out-till-you-barf” sessions is never going to admit that anything labeled "family" is anything more than a "stretch." I’m the only one who has to worry about being in shape. But, I'm ready. I can ride a bike; I can do cardio classes. Best of all, thanks to my sedentary job—I am well prepared me for a 45-minute session of sitting on a bicycle seat. If nothing else—I am an experienced sitter.

“Spinning” bike seats are nothing like my bouncy desk chair or my couch. “Spinning Seats” are comically small, oddly shaped and feel like limestone. The longer I sat on it, the more I couldn't ignore a certain part of my anatomy. After approximately 3 minutes of shifting and wincing, I starting to experience the “Where does the seat think IT’S going?” phenomenon. Day-dreaming of a fanny-sized ice pack was the only thing that pushed me onward. I felt like one of those Snow Monkeys you see at the zoo with the red backsides everyone thinks hurt.

For a bike class, we did an awful lot of standing too. At one point, I concluded that the only thing worse than “Sit-Down” biking was “Stand-Up” biking. Then there’s the 'adjusting-the-bike-tension-to-make-it-harder' element. After an especially hard “Up-Hill” routine at a Level 4 difficulty--

“Your tension clamps aren’t even touching the wheel,” Fred pointed out.

“Oh, God.”

When the class concluded, I walked C3PO-style to my car; C3POed into the house and headed straight for a hot bath. It was there that my leg muscles stiffened and knotted. For the next 4 days, ablaze with “Ben Gay,” I alternately iced and heated my upper thighs and used the "I don't care how much it looks like a sex-toy" heated massage wand almost constantly. Still, I was crippled...definitely

Anticipating class #2, I decided to seek some posterior relief. I heard about padded biking pants and shopped...and shopped. None could be found in my size. Perhaps market research conducted by the “Padded-Pants” manufacturers suggest that chubby girls have their own padding. Even if I do have "junk in my trunk"—"junk" still has NERVE ENDINGS!

Rejected substitutions to Padded Pants included:

1. Sitting on an actual pillow (which would never have stayed put)

2. Stuffing a pillow IN my pants, which might work (but, do I really have so little ego left?)

3. Unscrewing my desk chair seat, bringing it into class and shoving it into the peg hole.

How do you toughen yourself up? Is there some abrasive “Pre-Spinning Class” underwear? Inquiring minds (with “Spinner’s Butt”) NEED to know.

Monday, August 31, 2009

It’s all about the Pelvis, Baby

Like old war stories and legendary football game tales, for we women, the births of our children represent something to be proud of-- a battle we’ve fought and won. I pull out my childbirth memories for certain circumstances, such as when a “First Time Preggo” needs advice...or to embarrass my husband by using graphic, textbook names for things. All I have to do is say, “Episiotomy,” and Fred cowers. Episiotomy is a good power-word to to get him to leave the room so I can paint-on my mustache removing cream in privacy.

Today is my son Jon’s 20th birthday. As an additional birthday gift, I promised him that this year, I would not remind him, at certain important times of the day, what it was like in my “Labor and Delivery” room 20 years ago. I might have gone a bit overboard last year, when at 8:30 pm, I said, “You’re crowning!” He didn’t like that much, but I enjoy reminding him that I went through Hell to get him into this world. It’s all part of the mother-guilt continuum. In my defense, as the mother of two boys, I still consider it my duty to “out-gross” them now and then.

There’s a world-wide, centuries-old, sisterhood for women--where the only joiner fee is to have actual birth experience to share. Each birth is different and special. Each birth has its “Slasher Movie” elements, too. In fact, I think some thriller movies must record actual women in their 2nd stages of labor.

My birthing story begins with a claim... that the “Giving Birth Act” simply has to do with getting an oblong peg through a round hole. The complexities enter into the picture based on the size differential.

I’ve been told all my life that I had wide hips. A doctor even congratulated me once for my hip breadth, saying that I should have no problem delivering children. It turns out he was snorting too much K-Y Jelly. For birthing---it’s ALL ABOUT THE PELVIS...and mine is the size of a cheeto.

As for the oblong peg...a successful vaginal birth also depends on the circumference of your baby’s head (Fred are you still with me?). With Jon, he decided to stay in the womb an extra 2 weeks past his due date for the sole purpose, apparently, of enlarging his head. Ultra-sound images suggested I was either about to deliver a nearing 12-pound baby...or a manatee.

My August 30th, 1989 performance of “Pushing a Manatee through a Cheeto” was one for the record books. At one point I was on all FOURS, feeling more like a mare in a barn stall than a woman, praying for death. Unnatural sounds came out of all orifices. My eyeballs bulged, my ears and nose grew. I even think I pushed a unicorn-horn out my forehead. When Jon finally emerged, after 8 hours, I expected him to be hideous, a side-ways-football-headed “Stewie” from “Family Guy.” But he was an 8 lb. 12 oz. adorable doll with a perfectly normal head. No explanation from the doctor, no, “I’m so sorry, Heidi, for scaring the unicorn-horn out of you...our ultrasound machine must be on the fritz.”

Oh well, I got a good story out of it. And a wonderful son.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The Semi-Annual Violation

My dentist’s office ceiling is exceptionally clean. I know this because I spent 45 minutes looking at every visible millimeter of it while I was having my teeth cleaned--no cobwebs, no dusty light fixtures—it was beautiful.

I was trying hard to ignore what was happening to my mouth.

I AM truly grateful for modern dentistry, but that still doesn’t mean I enjoy going to the dentist. It’s just...

the odors of disinfectant, hot inner tooth-core and sweet laughing gas,

the sounds of high-pitched drills,

the taste of “latex glove,”

the sight of masked, goggled people and

the unpleasant spray of dry air on my teeth

...that upsets and disturbs all five of my senses. And that’s just from a cleaning. I don’t know anyone who enjoys their bi-yearly “mouth invasion” even with a plastic toy surprise at the end.

I think my problem is that I don’t like watching someone mess with me. If my mouth was on my back and not right below my nose, I’m sure I could read a magazine through the whole procedure. Headphones are offered in some offices along with drop down television sets to amuse and distract patients. That doesn’t work for me, and I sometimes miss critical commands like, “Turn towards me,” “Spit” “Bite” and “Don’t Bite."

Yet, how fortunate we are to have the ability to sit and do nothing but count dots on dentist office ceilings. If you believe what my father used to tell me, that, as a boy, the dentist made him power the dental drill himself like a bicycle, you’re be especially thankful. Dad said the drill was so slow you could count the revolutions. I always figured it was just another, “when I was a boy” story—full of well-meaning deception.

As it turns out...Dad was only half lying. Dentists in the late 19th century acquired the ‘newest’ tool—a ‘modern’ foot operated drill. The dentist himself would pump his foot to operate the machine. All day long, push, push...and push. And people back then had LOUSY teeth too. I’ll bet those dentists had some enviable calve muscles.

Teeth are in much better condition now than when I was a kid, thanks to better toothpaste and fluorinated water. My children, for example, have never had a cavity--and it’s certainly not because they’re superior brushers. Yet, dentists still want to see them twice a year. I think it’s because they just like to see teeth. Dentists are also addicted to interpreting “Wide-Open Mouth” language. That’s why they always ask you open-ended questions during the process:

“How are the kids?” Dentist Mark asks during a recent appointment.


“I don’t see any problems. I want to poke at your teeth anyway. How’s life?”

“Jane, a little air here. Read any good books lately?”


Sunday, August 16, 2009

The Adventure in Heidi’s Office: TYPIST battles The Ant Army

I hesitated before documenting my recent encounter with ants. Having already written 2 blogs about them, I thought the subject might be “hum-drum.” But then I realized...ants are my nemesis. Ants are:

Plankton” to my “Mr. Krabs”

The Joker” to my “Batman.”

Comic book characters repeatedly meet the same rivals. There were 3 Alien movies weren’t there? The battles never cease. The enemy never truly dies...

...until this time.

Mild-mannered Heidi enters her front-room office one Sunday morning, after severe storms blasted through the small town of Suamico. The storms brought with them a new climate and the heat baked the sidewalks, causing steam to rise and swirl. As she sits on her soft seated, black chair, she notices something is amiss. Ants, her evil foes, are crawling in mass numbers all over her desk. They had “summited” via her computer cords, which are now ‘alive,’ like clover-leaf exits on an Ant Highway at rush hour, with hundreds of determined nasty, menacing insects.


The Ants are in a frenzied state, appearing and scattering hear and there. The entire Ant Army, agitated by the forces of nature, was entering Heidi’s office from underneath the baseboards. Thousands have made it as far as the door, just a few feet from the entrance to her bedroom.

Heidi, stimulated by the crisis at hand, zips into the bathroom. A LIGHTNING flash of light exits from under the door and out jumps...TYPIST- The Masked Hero of 3077! She unleashes her superpowers: Fantastic Spray and Terro Liquid.

The ants on the floor are rained on by 3-foot showers of Fantastic Spray. KAPOW!! “OOOOFF!!!” cried the ants as they stiffen. The tiny crawlers begin using their super powers ...Sicken and Gross. Typist is caught in an unexpected cloud of disgust and lets out an, “OH, YUK!!” and staggers back. Shaken, she fights herself out of Sicken’s grasp and gives Gross a BAM! with the heel of her foot.

Typist gets her Super Vacuum and sucks up the damp, dead ants. Then, backing the ants into a corner...it was time to finish them! Typist globs Terro on an old Sears gift card and leaves the offering for them to feast on. Terro will put them to sleep...PERMANENTLY!! KAPLOP!! Swirling around on her desk chair, Typist sprays a protective circle around her...and begins to type. And wait.

Hours later...

Ants heaped like coffee grounds lay dead in the corner, in a long line under the baseboard and on the Sears card itself. Typist, victorious. Nemesis, defeated...

...until next time.

http://cpbintegrated.com/theherofactory Create your own superhero!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

It’s My Bedside Table’s 44th Birthday

Dedicated to Bev

When my parents were in their 30s and 40s, I started to think they were old. They would get up at 6:00 am in the morning, even on weekends. Dad listened to talk radio. Mom sanded the bottoms of her feet with sandpaper. Youth had me in its grip then--sleeping until noon, blaring my radio and never being tempted to do newspaper entertainment puzzles.

I recently turned 44. It’s not a celebrated age, like 16, 18, 21 or even 40. They don’t write songs like Rick James’ “17” or the Rogers and Hammerstein hit “16 going on 17” for 44 year olds. In fact, the only song about ‘44’ is a blues song written about 44…caliber gun.

I rolled my 44-year-old body over in bed this morning--early because my ‘body clock’ wakes me at sunrise every day--and for the first time, noticed what was on top of my bedside table. From the looks of it--my bedside table recently turned 44 too. There were 5 things on it: dry-eye drops, my ankle brace, a pot of lotion for very dry hands, an economy bottle of Motrin, and my bifocals. Am I one step away from a table decorated with ointments, a 7-day pill container and teeth in a cup? This present-day end table is a near-replica of the one I remember next to my Mom’s side of her bed.

I know the rest of the story: Fridges and cupboards filled with bran cereal, skim milk and prune juice. My medicine cabinets will be stocked with Metamucil, Geritol and Centrum “Silver.” My bathroom equipped with a magazine stand, a stand-up assist bar, and non-skid flowers adhered to the bottom of the tub so I don’t slip and fall.

I could fight it. I could put the age related items in another spot and decorate my table with fresh cut flowers, scented hand-lotion, photographs of my family and clever books. I’d probably feel younger. But when I got up to use the bathroom in the middle of the night (another fun age-appropriate habit I’ve developed), and search for those things, without my glasses on, I could end up with muscle cream on my toothbrush. It’s just too risky.

I could buy a new end table, assemble it and place it next to my bed, hoping the fresh smell of pressed wood and galvanized screws will turn the clock back. But I have a feeling those ‘new-fangled’ end tables aren’t as sturdy as my middle-aged one. Those ‘whipper-snapper,’ put-together tables aren’t level enough to hold a lamp without shifting side to side. Tables these days...why, when I was a kid...

A crossword puzzle book on a store end-aisle actually winked at me yesterday...so I bought it...and put it on my table.

The transformation into my mother is now complete.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Come on in, the water’s...fine?

The water in the YMCA pool in Green Bay, WI is always just right. I should know. As a water aerobics instructor, I spend up to 10 hours a week in the water. Multiply that by the 5 years I’ve taught, and that’s a lot of time spent being pruned, chlorinated, waterlogged and educated on pool testing, deck slipperiness and proper temperature level--86 degrees being ideal (and I can tell if it’s a degree off with my pinkie toe).

As often as I can, I share my beloved YMCA pool with family and friends. Today, when I took my daughter, Krista, and her friend to ‘free’ swim, the pool was filled with hundreds of day-camp kids. There were half a dozen camp leaders walking the perimeter and 3 lifeguards on tall chairs too. By the looks of it, the pool was pretty well policed.

Not to “rat-out” any teenage lifeguards, but the “Y” employs, primarily, “The Lethargic” and “The Dopey” to guard the pool area. I actually saw one sleeping during an adult class. Some look more lobotomized than potentially heroic.

This afternoon, however, the lifeguards were all alert, vigilant, sitting up straight, and focusing in the direction a certain corner of the pool. I watched the other adults migrate to that same corner; their body language suggesting, “Something’s strange over here.” So I swam closer. One lifeguard was pointing, mouthing the words, “What is it?” while another shrugged her shoulders. Still another nodded knowingly, and motioned at the first guy, saying, “Get the net.” I swam a little farther away and called Krista and her friend to me. We all stood watching; the girls from beneath the water with their swim masks on.

The next series of events happened in slow motion:

A muscled, tall, sturdy male lifeguard handed “The Net” to a small, unprepared female lifeguard, shaking his head saying, “No way in h-e-l-l I’m doing that.”

The girl made a face, but reached for the long handled net and dipped it in the water, made another face, screeching, “Oh, my God!” and cringing.

Krista and her friend see the now full net underwater, through their masks. They surface, and looked at me, wildly, for answers.

The third, another female lifeguard, became more involved and pointed to 3 or 4 other places in the pool, right next to where we were standing.

Somewhere, there is an unidentified, previously-constipated child—probably now in a much better mood.

A LONG, urgent whistle was blown by “Freaked-out Muscley Guy.” It was the shrill of warning. Everyone did get out the pool--just like the swimmers did in Jaws when someone yelled, “SHARK!” People ran like the water was boiling, heated by a fire-breathing, ink-shooting, giant, “20,000 Leagues under the Sea” squid. It was the exact scene from “Caddyshack” when someone cried “Doodie!” Only this time...it WAS a “Doodie” (several, actually), and not a Baby Ruth.

I rushed Krista and her friend out, repeating out loud, “There’s no way you could have gotten any on you,”---but thinking, “I HOPE you didn’t get any on you.”

Friday, July 24, 2009

Teach your Children Well - By: A. Bear

If my mothering were to be symbolized by an animal, I’d definitely be a bear. The protective nature of the bear, anyway, not the bit about sleeping all winter or “you knowing” in the woods. I always thought to be over-protective was to be a good Mom. After all, my neuroses have served me well. Boy, would I have made a lousy bird. Pushing them out of a tree-top nest? Are you kidding me?

It took me a long time to understand that parenting isn’t just about protecting them from harm and pain—it’s about loving fiercely and teaching.

One of the many rewards of parenting is enjoying their babyhood. My first born, David, got picked up, still sleeping, and rested on my shoulder on my whim, whenever I wanted to feel his warm, sweet breath on my cheek, or mouth his doughy, dimpled hand; reveling in pure joy. Jonathan was 9 months old when I was going through my divorce. I kissed him so often his cheeks got chapped. He was my teddy bear, who comforted me through the angst and emotional turmoil of a dissolving marriage. He was slung on my hip so long, in fact, my friends joked that he and I were conjoined. Krista was just an infant when my Dad became terminal. For the first 5 months of her life, I rarely let her out of my arms. Those cuddles were Lesson 1: Love and to be Needed. And I did eventually put them down.

Discipline was always a desperate struggle for me. I never wanted to hurt their feelings or break their spirits. I always thought growling or giving them a dirty look would be deterrent enough for them not to repeat an offense. At some point though, I couldn’t make myself scary enough to intimidate them. When that happened, finding natural consequences for disobedience took some ingenuity. Future blog titles by my boys:

“She Took Us Women’s Clothes Shopping with her...as a Punishment” or

“What Does Scrubbing the Laundry Room Floor with a Toothbrush have to do with Backtalk?”

I also had “Discipliner’s Remorse.” I hope, by admitting that I might have overreacted...a tiny bit...when I made Jonathan eat mustard sardines when he told a big-fat-lie, that he came to learn Lesson 2: Forgiveness...and a taste for canned fish.

Co-parenting is crazy hard, even when you’re married. When our kids became adolescents, we fell back on our own upbringings to guide us. My husband, Fred, and I have clashed on this front like competing moose. We wanted the same thing from our teenagers, but he delivered the message through a tuba in the key of C, while mine was played by a piccolo in the key of B flat. Lesson 3: Harmony and cooperation isn’t easy--but it’s so worth the effort.

Although I’ve been known to question my religion, I cannot deny I love the concept. For me, although we may have biological bodies, inside each of us is a soul. For me, how that soul got there is divine and inexplicable. I want my kids to know being ‘alive’ means something more than just bio-chemistry and evolution. Even though we may not understand the reason we’re here, or our origin, I want to embrace the possibility—the wonder...of more. And to be thankful. I hope I was able to communicate Lesson 4: Reverence.

Witnessing you child fail is a tempting arena in which to protect. Unfortunately, for a soft, mother bear, it’s one of the best opportunities for them to learn. I’ve fought impossibly hard tugs to “make it all better” or give them something to take their mind off their disappointment, admittedly not always succeeding. My sons have had their hearts broken by girlfriends, some dreams fade and goals go unmet. My daughter worked for hours on a project today and it went miserably wrong. As much as I wanted to fix it, I let her cry, just cry, on my shoulder for a half an hour...and then... she figured out her own solution—which made her feel much better than if I’d waved a magic wand or taken her out for ice cream. Lesson 5: Heal thyself. But ice cream does solve many world problems.

Despite my best efforts to do everything for my children, they still became strong, insightful and clever anyway. Despite my “overbearance” (to further the bear metaphor), they still did things I told them not to...and learned. Thank goodness for their free-will and adventuresome spirits. I am renewing my vow as a parent, and shrugging off my overprotective lineage, by saying, “NO” to sharing unsolicited “If I were yous” with my now adult sons, and “NO” to discouraging my daughter from getting back on her death-ride scooter. Note to self: Didn’t need to add “death-ride” to previous vow.

But I can’t promise that I won’t be watching, from behind some tree, stifling the urge to charge at adversity for my kids, to fend off unhappiness or to take a bullet for them. Bears are loyal animals, you know.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Restrictive Packaging = Delayed Gratification

My daughter, Krista, loves those snotty, trampy Bratz dolls. Something about the heavy make-up, sneaky expression and removable feet has trumped poor, wholesome Barbie for years. A gift of a Bratz doll is met with giant smiles, sincere, “kissey” thank yous and anticipation. She has gotten used to the anticipation part... because it takes no less than 20 minutes to open the box and get the doll out.

Whoever decided that a Bratz doll needs to remain absolutely still throughout any mode of transportation? Someone engineered the restrictive packaging for Ms. “Stick-Thin, Mini-skirt” doll, so that she could be tossed off a ship from China into a rolling ocean without shifting a millimeter. This doll wouldn’t move if a vulture, thinking she was the “nearly-dead,” began clawing and “beaking” at her. She wouldn’t be flattened if an African Elephant were jumping on her either. You could even take a flamethrower to the package, but I have a feeling she wouldn't burn.

Like some sadomasochistic horror flick, the doll is SEWN to the cardboard...by her hair! Her wrists are bound with triple twisted clear elastic bands; her legs and waist are clamped with hard plastic tye-locks you have to clip with a sharp scissors. Even her high fashion clothes and removable feet/shoes are tied and sewn individually as well. Maybe that’s why it always has a pouting face.

No child could ever open the packaging. Few adults can make it through the process without a nasty cut. Even fewer could manage freeing the doll with an impairment, be it mental or physical, and be triumphant.

Idea: If only they put impulse items like Snickers, M&Ms and Cheetos in restrictive, frustrating packaging, they would be easier to resist at check-out time...and maybe then my navel would stop looking like the letter “T.”

Earlier this evening, I was helping Krista with a new bead kit. What looked to be a thin, clear plastic suitcase filled with little triangular containers of different shaped and colored beads, was IN FACT... 150 little triangular SEALED containers of beads, each one secured, on three sides, with really, really, really STICKY, transparent tape. Go rapidly (like any excited birthday girl would, at finding such a grand gift), and the beads will fly like a swarm of gnats. Open them carefully and you’re in for a 2 hour exercise in “How Not to Swear Repeatedly Before your Huffing, Growing Impatient, Quickly Losing Interest, Child.”

It’s not just toys. Even gum is hard to get into these days. I bought a 6-pack of Extra, which is now in little sturdy rectangles instead of the traditional gum stick. Once you get the 6-pack open, there’s cellophane around each individual pack that opens something like cigarettes. Once you get into that, there’s sticky flap and all the gum rectangles are also individually wrapped. I just want to chew my gum.

I also want to listen to my new CD in the car on the way home from the store. But without a special tool (which I can never find), I have to wait. The "Sticky Tape" people must be irritated about this too--always having their already "sealed and delivered" products OVER-sealed with clear cellophane from the "Cellophane" people. Sticky tape is never good enough....never.

About the only thing that’s now easier to get into is a can of soup, thanks to Campbell’s new pull-tap top for quicker entry. No more can openers required. Mmm, mmm, good.

Idea: Why not put the Bratz doll in a long, skinny soup can?

Thursday, July 16, 2009

“Wotton Wabbit”

Summary of Heidi’s Garden Experience in 7 Chapters

Chapter 1: Fred builds Heidi raised garden and fills it with road-quality dirt.

Chapter 2: Heidi plants vegetable/fruit garden.

Chapter 3: Heidi fusses over garden.

Chapter 4: Garden gets frost and dies

Chapter 5: Heidi plants new vegetable/fruit garden.

Chapter 6: Heidi obsesses over negligible growth.

Chapter 7: Heidi fertilizes and appeals to “Guardian Garden Spirits” using a “Garden Grow” tribal dance.

Now that I have a wonderful, lush, healthy garden, stocked with ten tomato plants, gigantic squash, 50 white onions, cucumbers, green beans, peppers and strawberries, I find the project relaxing and satisfying. I take a few moments each morning to just gaze at it proudly out my deck door. Sometimes I walk around it, inspecting each plant and caressing its leaves.

Then I saw him.

Him, being a fat grey rabbit sitting in the middle of my onion patch. In the instant I realized an animal had invaded that which I’d slaved over, worried about and tenderly watered, I understood every “Elmer Fudd-itude” ever spoken. I previously knew Mr. McGregor of the “Peter Rabbit” book to be a villain. Suddenly, Mr. McGregor and I were kindred. That rabbit must be punished.

Filled with hatred, eyes narrowed, murderous heart beating, I ran at it, hoping to inflict such a fright that he would never dare step foot on my land again. What’s more, I intended to make SUCH an impression that he would thump out a message to his 10,000 offspring that the “Heidi Smorgasbord” was off limits.

Apparently, I’m not as imposing as I thought I was, for he sat there, staring in each direction like Marty Feldman, chewing. He must have surmised from the tacked, webbed-deer fence how hard it would be for me to actually lay my hands on him. And he was enjoying his protection immensely. The closer I got to the varmint, however, the wider his eyes opened. Suddenly he jumped up and ran at the webbing, slipped down and hid under a nearby evergreen.

Investigating the damage, I saw on the garden floor, multiple bunny “butt prints,” the nibbled ends of onion and dozens of strawberry stems with no more strawberries on them.

How to protect against another probable visit would take some thought. The first thing I did was station my reluctant dog as a guard. Jasmine, sensing her function, pulled her tail so tightly underneath her that it disappeared altogether. A bunny would only need blow at her to send her into orbit. The second thing I did was reinforce the perimeter. But, the harder I made it for a rabbit to get in, the harder I made it for me to get in. Soon...I’d have to burrow under it myself, just to harvest my crops.

Walking around swinging a rabbit’s foot on a chain several times a day, or placing a few rabbit’s feet periodically along the garden wall as a warning were a few rejected ideas. Posting a picture of a rabbit with a red circle and a line through it made some sense. So did putting a mirror around the bottom, to frighten him with his own reflection (assuming, of course, that he didn’t already know what he looked like).

Somewhere, that long-eared “Vegetable Thief” is enjoying my stress...and plotting his return.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

The Expectant Gardener and the Mystery of the Bonsai Tomato Plants

I am a new vegetable gardener. This May, I became a surrogate parent to multiple tomato plants. But, after 3 weeks in the ground, nothing grew. I checked and rechecked them, questioned my ability to judge whether they’ve grown, sought measuring devices and, finally, determined that I was a failure and filled my deep remorse by replacing the plants.

Those did not grow either.

It might be the soil that caused retarded growth. My husband, Fred, ordered 5 yards of top soil from a local “Dirt Dealer”--a guy in a hat and raincoat carrying an attaché case, who whispered the password, “Salsa.” To me, top soil means rich, dark, moist, nutritious dirt that my tiny seedlings would wallow in...like the stuff you buy in bags. When Fred directed the truck and dumped the dirt in my raised garden bed, it looked more like road dirt to me. Or Moon dust.

But the plot thickens...

One day, mid-May, after my morning stroll around the garden, I saw two robin’s eggs lying near my tomato plants. No nest. No sign of egg yolk or embryonic bird. What could that possibly mean? Something's got my tomatoes by the roots...maybe that 'something' scared the eggs out of the robin?

...Which brings me to strange phenomenon number 2. Another morning stroll and I discovered what looked like a rabbit tail, minus the rabbit, amidst the squash. Are wild animal rituals being performed in my garden? Later that same day, I saw morning doves walking around the garden bed, pecking at the dirt. This makes me “puzzle” (like the “Grinch”)...and my puzzler is sore.

Oddly enough, there’s more.

We now have never-had-before tics in the yard. Without benefit of snow to mark footprints, I can only surmise that deer (wearing tic coats) are coming from out of the woods to look at my tomato plants...and to perhaps also party with the tail-less rabbit and the barren bird.

So, I’ve been watering the garden, despite animal refuse, and the parsley is yellowing—a tell-tale sign of an over-protective gardener. I put millorganite (hear: manure; hear: poo) around the plants and Miracle Grow-ed the buggars. Nothing grew.

As it turns out, even though it’s not freezing cold, vegetables (especially tomatoes) need heat to grow. Sure enough, as soon as we had a full week of over 70 degree temperature, things started happening. And...

After a 2-month-long labor, I’ve brought forth life...in the form of 3 tender, green Roma tomatoes. The nagging fear that I accidentally purchased Bonsai tomato plants now banished.

There’s still the bit about the rabbit tail that bothers me...but that’s another blog.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Cuts, Warm Air and Unemployment Beer

Fred has been out of work for almost 2 months now. Life on my tiny salary, plus his unemployment, presents new challenges. We have made some changes until things look up--before we have to start renting out rooms.

First, some simple cuts were necessary to help the budget balance. There are a remarkable number of “generic” products available out there. Some are just fine. Ketchup and mustard taste the same. “So-Soapy” shampoo works the same. “Ole’ Roy” kibble seems to satisfy our dog, Jasmine. But...when I made Fred a sandwich the other day, the texture of the no-name brand bread was what my grandmother used to call “cleechy.” That is...barely baked, chewy and sticks to the front of your teeth when you bite into it—full of holes and air. It looked like something you’d use to cover a wound.

“It’s AWFUL,” said Fred.

“That’s ‘Unemployment bread,’” I said, “too cheap to resist.”

And, for the present, Fred has given up on his favorite brand and started drinking “Unemployment Beer”-- which will likely make him pee blue and grow a white stripe down his back.

Second, we have started cutting down bills. If you visit us this summer, we’ll turn the air conditioning on for you. But if you just show up--you’ll see us limp, sweaty and fanning ourselves upstairs in front of my jet-engine 40s Westinghouse “Mobilaire” fan, or fist-fighting over the 3 comfortable seats downstairs in the T.V. room, where it’s nice and cool. Although...I hate to admit it, I do like the fresh air (be it hot) better than refrigerated.

I also called around and got better insurance rates for our cars, which riled our current agent, who grilled me about the new company and its policies to make sure I knew that they weren’t all the same. The old, “Make your customer feel stupid so they’ll come running back to you” tactic failed on me.

Lowering the cable bill was another move to hover just-above the cesspool of financial uncertainty. I called to see if there was a cheaper plan, and instead of cutting services, they reduced my bill! Apparently, there was a “promotional deal” just waiting for the asking. Time Warner REALLY doesn’t want to lose its digital cable box users--just call them!

Third---and probably the most sensible way we’ve been able to keep more money in our bank account, is by eating at home. Convenience snack food and restaurants were part of our lives for many years. Passing them on the street was hard, but after 2 months, I snapped into “Penny-pincher” mode, and remembered how to cook ‘big meat’ and use the leftovers for a variety of ‘offspring’ meals. De-meating bones is messy, but doesn’t really take that much time. If Jasmine is around, she can have the stuff I drop on the floor to supplement her “Ole Roy” farts-a-lot diet.

Life’s not so bad—until next month, when my gray roots are in full bloom. Fred will need a lot of “Unemployment Beer” to blur that image.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

A Field Trip Down Mt. Stupidity--Despite Warning Signs

I always help my kids’ teachers when I can—send in boxes of crackers periodically and purchase junk from kiddies during fundraising season. I recently volunteered to go on a field trip with 70 3rd graders for an All-Day, 3-Point Journey. The pre-trip instructions read: WEAR LONG PANTS/BRING BUG SPRAY. That was the first ignored sign...a sign I should have stayed in my hermit hole.

The theme of the field trip was “Rocks.” We reached Point A, near the eastern shore of Green Bay, WI. The children sat on the lawn and a savvy guide lead us all through some history and warnings. The following fragments stood out: decaying bridge-over-waterfall (sign 2), guard rails (sign 3), single-file decent (sign 4). Ignoring signs is becoming a bad habit.

Point B began with an over-capacity school bus filled with sandwiched children, 3 to a seat, an exit path packed with 25 parents, and ended with a sharp decline down a steep, slope into a quarry.

But Point C had the most rules:

1. “Don’t touch the poison ivy.”

2. “Gravity is at work. Use your muscles to keep you from going too fast down the bluff.”

3. “Don’t go past the igneous rock formation—that’s the “Falling Rocks” zone.”

4. “...Blah, blah, blah...single-file, loop around...stay close to cliff.”

There were a lot more rules, but once she said, “...close to cliff,” all I heard was THUMP, THUMP, THUMP--drumbeats of a quickening pulse. As we walked down the path, I did indeed feel gravity pulling me. I remembered:

“Lemmings follow each other off cliffs. You’re being a Lemming!”


“What goes down must go back up again.”

But all the other parents were doing it, and pride kept me from saying, “I’ll wait in my car.”

When we reached the bottom, the bus followed down a road to meet us. The children were running late, and they hurried on the bus. All the parents started climbing a vertical stairway back up the cliff. No parent was getting a ride.

The presenting staircase was tall and rustic. I muttered, “You’d have to be a Grand Canyon donkey to get back up that bluff.” We parents needed to get back up fast in order to pick up our kids from school. So...I started climbing the stairs...quickly. At stair 10, I started wheezing. By stair 50, parents were passing me, so I side-stepped and hugged the cliff to allow more room...brushing a poison ivy patch. I thought about crying, but I needed the hydration to produce the race-horse foam filling my arid mouth.

I did make it home, but next time, I’m having my ear banded like a repopulated moose, so someone can find me on Mt. Stupidity.

And I’ll be looking into renting a donkey named “Pride.”