Saturday, June 30, 2012

Shuts Don't Go Up

When I was in high school, we took Driver's Ed from Coach Blue.  He was an old, wizened man who did not take any stuff from anyone.  On the first day of stick shift, I found myself behind the wheel without a clue what I was doing.  Biting my bottom lip, I attempted to change gears, but to no avail.  Coach Blue, however, thought that facial expression was the beginnings of the "F" word, and promptly removed me from the car.  I have never driven stick again.

So, as you can imagine, driving has always been a hot button for me.  And I live in a big city, so when I am in traffic, sometimes things are said that should not be.  I think one of my daughter's first words was "gasshole."

I worked for a Methodist Church for several years after I had my second child. If you have never worked for a religious organization, please don't assume that it is cherubs and jelly beans. Those people were cray-cray. And while I do consider myself a spiritual person, I don't observe every single Christian event. So, when my boss, the Senior Pastor Of The Church, stopped by my office and asked me what I was giving up for Lent, I panicked and hastily said, "Cussing." He thought that was the funniest thing anyone had ever said, thanks to my straight-laced persona, and that story followed me for the rest of my career there.

But the truth is, I did NOT give up cussing for Lent.  I cuss prolifically and quite beautifully.  My children scold me and cry, my husband acts mortified and rolls his eyes --- but you can't change a tiger's stripes. 

Being inappropriate comes up a lot at our house.  

For instance, my daughter just got back from lacrosse sleep-away camp at a college, where apparently, her roommate's language could rival that of a sailor. My sweet princess was shocked and dismayed at the words that were uttered in her presence. And then she proceeded to tell me about the prank calls, noise disturbance warnings, and broken beds that all occurred by her hand.

For another instance, my son was at a neighbor boy's house yesterday. They were playing baseball and my son started singing a song about how the pitcher is a belly-itcher and a farter. He was immediately told by his friend that "fart" was not said in that house. Ten minutes later, the friend's little brother dropped trou in the back yard and peed on a bush.

So my question to you is, do we live in a world of double-standards?  Is some cussing OK, as long as it is properly placed and approved by the head of household?  Are you still a virtuous person if you don't cuss but engage in public nudity and vandalism?  Which sins are socially acceptable?  Which make you far more interesting?

I told my son that he needed to observe the rules of the house in which he was playing, but that when he Skyped his cousin later that night, they could talk about farts to their hearts' content.  (They did.)  And I told my daughter that while Mama struggles with bad words, it does not make you look pretty, and should not become a habit.  And then I gave her the keys to the car and told her not to get caught with that beer in the front seat.   

I kid. She's only 12.  Of course, she thinks she is all grown up now, but that's another blog. 

Just remember, we all mess up.  Some of us do it in more entertaining ways than others, but regardless, we should always assume that when Mama cusses, it is for a VERY good reason.

Until next time, keep crowin' and keep it clean!

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Tellin' Stories

Our newest family TV obsession is Duck Dynasty on A&E.  It's "must DVR" TV for us because it is laugh-out-loud delightful.  I'm not naive enough to think that everything we see on this show happens organically, but even the staged scenarios and over-exaggerated redneck personalities are pretty high-lair-ious. 

What I like about the show is that there is no in-fighting, table-flipping, back-stabbing or gossiping.  These guys really do eat the squirrels they shoot and sport ZZ-Top-inspired beards as part of the family crest.  Maybe they fake a neighborhood pig roast or RV makeover, but their truth and humor is still far more interesting than other people's fiction.

Don't get me wrong.  I watch Real Housewives and Dance Moms too. I do that because those people are truly nuts and they make me feel better about myself.  Even on my craziest day, I know I would never drop an "F" bomb on my kid's coach or pout because I didn't have enough diamonds.  I can't relate to these shows the way I can relate to the real-ness in Duck Dynasty.

I think the mark of successful fiction is the element of relatability.  Let's take the Twilight series for example. Of course, we aren't werewolves and vampires, but I challenge anyone to tell me that they don't connect to the relationships within that monster mash. Who doesn't want to feel like they are part of an epic love story?  Or the Hunger Games - we don't live in a world where children compete to the death, but we each have our own stories of survival.

When I was in college, I took a fiction writing class as part of my major.  For the life of me, I could not come up with anything better than my actual true stories, so that's what I wrote about - and just pretended it was made up.  I remember one story in particular, when I described my childhood Presbyterian minister who had been a gray-haired man for many years, and then suddenly, one Sunday, like the miracle of water and wine, his hair turned brown.  It was a hot day when the brown appeared, and, as a result, the color from his new 'do rolled down his cheeks like a fountain of poo.

My professor gave me a "B" for the unrealistic storyline.  Of course, I couldn't tell him that it ACTUALLY HAPPENED, because this was FICTION writing class.  When I think about all the things that have ACTUALLY HAPPENED to me in my life, it does seem like a fairytale - and the makings of a great novel.  If I rolled through my greatest hits, I would tell you about so many things, such as:
  • When my 2nd grade teacher asked if I was deaf because the reading cassette headset was clearly on the fritz just for me --- and not my partner Jason Fikes --- and then my mom sent in a letter the next day stating that I may, in fact, have hearing issues.  I got to pass out papers the rest of the year.
  • When I got asked to the dance in middle school because everyone decided that the tallest boy and the tallest girl in class MUST be together. I was not ready for intimacy, and thus told poor Peter Albert when he tried to touch me that I had a sunburn - in February.
  • When my 2nd highschool boyfriend professed his love with a shadowbox, housed in a Gayfers' shirt parcel, highlighting key moments from Phantom of the Opera.  I knew then that I needed to expand my net beyond the Chorus Department.  2nd highschool boyfriend is now on Broadway --- and 1st highschool boyfriend is now head of the Log Cabin Republicans.
  • When, during a college summer abroad, a cab driver pulled over in the middle of the night while I wandered the streets of Oxford, England, and gave me a ride back to my dorm for free, because I was clearly lost and scared and unaccustomed to the drink.
  • When, as a married woman in a small apartment, I asked my husband to bring me home a chocolate pie, and he brought home a Jack Russell puppy instead - who proceeded to pee on my face in my sleep, make poo-poo murals in the kitchen, and get us kicked out of dog obedience school.
  • When I was fired in a bathroom, signing termination papers while women were unwrapping their tampons.
There's more, but that's what blogs are for.  So what's the point?  Well, the point is that when you are at your lowest, just review your story.  I think you'll find that there is more cause to laugh than cry, especially once you realize that everyone is crazy except for you.  Turn those lemons into lemonade.

And until next time, keep crowin'!

Monday, June 18, 2012

Olive Juice

When I was in high school choir and we couldn't remember the words to a song, we'd sing "watermelon, rutabaga." And when we wanted to express our feelings but didn't want to say "I love you," we'd say "Olive Juice."  In both instances, you were present in the moment without the commitment; you just kinda skirted by.

I love olives and cooking with olive oil. But every time I flip the meat or veggies in the pan, the oil splatters all over my clothes. I have dots on most of my outfits, and I can't figure out how to remove them.

I think love is like that sometimes. It can stain your heart, but it also adds flavor and is a permanent part of the fabric of your life (copyright Cotton).

I am thinking about that kind of love today after a week with my in-laws. Every two years, my mother-in-law pays for her three children and their families to go on vacation together. These reunions are important to me and my husband because it's the only time we see his brother's family, and it was the first time we met his youngest child, who is already 1. It was also the first time we met his sister's youngest child, who was born in March - but the good news is that this newest baby and his family are moving down the street from us this summer, so all the cousins (my two and their two) will now grow up together.

Each day during our vacation, my husband and I took 5 of the 7 kids out on adventures - alligators, lighthouses, surfing, etc., while the babies stayed home and did baby things, like nap and poop.  Each little one - our own kids and our niece and nephews - is so unique and precious.  It was lovely to spend the time with them, and sad to see them go, especially the ones we know we won't see for another 2 years.

We love those kids - they leave their mark on us.  We would do anything for them.  I hope their parents know that.  I don't know if they see that while they were on private excursions or handling an unexpected cross-state move, that we had the distinct honor of making memories with their children.  And while we don't need a reward to spend time with our nieces and nephews, I don't know if their parents realize how much those sweet babies mean to us and how much love we pour into them. 

I grew up with 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th cousins, and we took it for granted that we would see each other every year at my great-grandma's birthday party in Branford, Florida.  She died when she was 100 1/2, and with her died those annual gatherings, and as it follows, those relationships.  I still love all of those people - but it's Olive Juice now - just a memory of when we mattered to each other because we were splattered together in the family pan.

I don't want my nieces and nephews to have a distant memory of me, to have vague recollections of the time we found a crab shell on the beach or the moment we overcame our fear of heights in the lighthouse together.  I want them to always know how much their uncle and I love and cherish them.  And we will keep letting them know, and letting their parents know, that family matters and that they are loved.

Until next time, keep crowin' and tell someone today how special they are.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Booter and Awl

Some things just work.  You don't know why and you don't ask how, but they do.  Like booter and awl.

My friend Amy and I were in Vegas last weekend.  We started the trip on the airplane, where we endured the malodorous emissions of a gang of baseball-capped fellas who expounded on how much ass they were going to get in between posing for Facebook photos.  I hate flying and she hates coach, so we helped each other through while constructing gas masks with our emergency exit cards.

Once in Vegas, we joined the mile-long line of tourists at the taxi cab stand.  It was like being in a herd of cows, all moving towards the barn, and if you slowed your pace, you were lost.  Such was the fate of an elderly woman in a wheelchair.  The young girl pushing her fell behind, her family kept moving, and finally, the girl got fed up and left grandma on the sidewalk.  We stepped around her, because hey, it's survival of the fittest in Vegas.  It took the family a few minutes to realize what had happened, and then they attempted a search-and-rescue against the current.  We didn't see them again until later in the trip, and I'm happy to report that Granny made it out OK.

I don't travel much, but Amy does.  So she knows all the tricks, like how to finagle room upgrades or get a Brazilian bikini wax on the fly.  The hotel she picked was beautiful - The Palazzo - and we had an amazing view of the city.  We hit the ground running, touring the property, which included open-air opera singing and indoor gondola rides in the neighboring Venetian, having a fabulous lunch and my first glass of Prosecco, side-by-side manicures, shopping at Louis Vuitton with security guards radioing our movements back and forth to each other, and then nap time.  We discovered the best place to have a Cosmo is at The Bellagio, at a restaurant called Olives.  We sat at the bar and charmed a corn-fed Wisconsin bartender named Zach. 

And here is what Amy I do best. We hashed out our lives, with the conversation developing into a comedic dialogue that would make Joan Rivers blush with the shame of inadequacy. We came up with catch phrases, code words, and lots of colorful language to illustrate the absurdities we must endure and the characters in our stories. We have different styles, different subplots, but we work together in perfect harmony.  Like booter and awl.

The rest of the trip in Vegas was one highlight after another.  Delicious food in unique restaurants, including at the top of a fake Eiffel Tower. Unforgettable theatrical moments, such as the water show at the Bellagio (a la Ocean's Eleven), the mind-boggling Beatles Cirque du Soleil, and the artistic stylings of the Chippendales -- don't judge -- they dance AND tell a story about cowboys, firemen, and the loneliness of vampires.  We experienced walking the Strip at night, encountering both the glamor and the seediness of Vegas in one square mile.  We were approached to go into private clubs, review flyers about naked women, and one man even told Amy he had picked up her scent at the craps table. 

The gambling was not my forte. I lost 20 dollars in 20 seconds at the slots, so when I tried it again the next day, I cashed out at $2. The cashier looked at me with disdain - Vegas isn't for cowards. But, I think I walked away a little braver and more street-savvy.

It was a bucket-list trip, and we had a marvelous time.  Even though we only see each other once a year, we never lose our mojo, the booter and awl.


Until next time, keep crowin', and always bet on black!