Friday, June 29, 2012

Plants and Me: A Tragic Tale

            A few days after I came home from the hospital with my first-born son, a relative gave me a potted plant as a gift. It was a lovely, leafy, vibrant hibiscus. It also had a very short life.
            Unlike the nearly ten pounds of joy I had just brought home, that darn plant never made a sound when it was hungry. My new son made everyone within a two-mile radius know he needed to nurse. Even my cats make noise when they need something. A new mother isn’t going to feed something that doesn’t make noise. If you’re looking for a suggestion for a gift for a new mom, might I suggest lasagna?
            Even before my kids were born, plants in my care were destined for the compost bin. My mother’s colleagues gave me a gorgeous peace lily when my husband and I were married. They assured us the plant was easy to care for. All we had to do was, “water it when it looks sad.” I must’ve waited until it was clinically depressed. It didn’t make it until our first anniversary.
            I have had only one success with potted plants. My grandmother had a knack for raising beautiful African violets. When she died in 2001, my cousin bought each of us grandchildren an African violet plant to remember Nana by. I brought the plant to my office, convinced it would suffer the same fate of all my other plants. Every morning I would dump the contents of the previous day’s water glass onto the plant. Much to my surprise, it thrived. I’ve recently been told you aren’t supposed to water the foliage of an African violet. You should water it from a saucer placed underneath the pot so the roots don’t rot. Yet coworkers often admired my beautiful African violet and praised my skill with this difficult plant. I figure my grandmother was watching over the plant while she watched over me. I need a little otherworldly intervention when it comes to raising plants.

Mama’s Losin’ It
            This week I’m linking up with Mama Kat’s writing workshop. I chose the prompt, “Do you have a green thumb? Tell us what kind of gardener you are!”

Friday, June 22, 2012

100 Word Song: Gray

            She fell into the seat as the bus lurched from the curb. Normally she would choose the cleanest seat she could find. Today the seat chose her. Caught somewhere between emptiness and agony, she stared out the window. The sky was gray. The streets were gray. The colors of the big city once dazzled her. Today they melted into gray. Her supervisor’s words devastated her.
            It isn’t you. It’s the economy.
            The bus driver’s gravely voice startled her.
            “I’m sorry. What did you say?”
            “It’s the end of the line Miss.”
            “I thought you said the end of the world.”

My Blog Can Beat Up Your Blog
Today I’m linking up with two prompts for the price of one. Write on Edge asked us to make an active phrase passive and build a 100 word story around it. “She was devasted by…” became “Her supervisor’s words devasted her.” Meanwhile, Lance over at My Blog Can Beat Up Your Blog gave us the song “Grey Street” by The Dave Matthews Band to inspire a 100 word story.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

You Know You're a Mom When...

1.) Luxury is a shower where no one walks in.

2.) The last time you had a headache you had to take six chewable Tylenol because you couldn’t find the grown up medicine.

3.) Your idea of a nice restaurant means there is no drive thru.

4.) You’ve broken half a dozen rules about parenting you set for yourself before you actually had children. Most of them involve food or television.

5.) The term “dry clean only” either makes you laugh or cry.

6.) In your very large purse you can’t find a lipstick or a pen. But you do have Band-Aids, coloring books, a yo-yo, wet wipes, juice boxes, and at least a half a pound of loose Goldfish and Teddy Grahams

7.) The last movie you saw in a theatre featured aliens, princesses, mutants, superheroes, or anthropomorphized rodents.

8.) You’ve tried to write a check with an orange crayon because it was the only writing utensil you could find.

9.) You feel like something’s wrong on the rare occasion you look in the rearview mirror and no one is in the back seat.

10.) Finally, you know you’re a mom when you’ve made some truly unflattering choices for the love of your kids…

Mama’s Losin’ It

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Wordless Wednesday: Time Flies

Hard to believe it's the last day...

it feels like they just started yesterday!

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Do it Yourself

One rainy summer day a couple of years back, my children were keeping themselves entertained while I did housework. James, who was about six at the time, was creating an art project with old paper towel rolls and LOTS of glue. My then eight-year-old, Owen was creating a Star Wars style space ship out of Legos. Neither of them seemed particularly interested in eating lunch, so I figured I’d have something myself and take care of them afterward.
            I should have known better. The moment I sat down with a sandwich and a magazine, I got their attention. Owen dropped his spaceship, “Can I have a sandwich Mommy?”
            By this point, my blood sugar was getting low. I get really cranky when I need to eat. I’m convinced that most of the unkind things I’ve said in my life could have been prevented with the swift application of a Snicker’s bar. “Sure Owen,” I told him. “Just let me have a few bites of this and I’ll make you a sandwich.”
            “Can I make myself a sandwich?” he asked. My son is a genius! Of course. Of course he could make a sandwich for himself. He’s eight years old. I was doing much more in the kitchen when I was his age. Why hadn’t I thought of this before?
            “That’s a great idea pal.” I said. “Do you know where everything is?”
            “I think so. Come on James! Wanna make your own sandwich for lunch?”
            “Sure!” said James as he jumped up from his art project.
            I watched as the boys got out everything they needed. Peanut butter, jelly for James, Fluff for Owen, and bread. Since they were making their own “recipe” they needed to a new and special ingredient—so they added Kix cereal for crunch.
            I enjoyed watching them make their own lunch nearly as much as I enjoyed the fact that I didn’t have to make it. They were so serious about getting the peanut butter spread out perfectly and sprinkling on just the right number of Kix. For the rest of the summer, the boys made lunch themselves almost every day. Why hadn’t I thought of this before? There is nothing difficult or dangerous about making a sandwich. The boys aren’t helpless and they love to bake brownies and cookies with me. They felt good about making their own lunch and I got a few moments of peace.
For the first couple of years we have to do everything for our children. Feeding, bathing, dressing—the list goes on for days. I had a moment of revelation at the pediatrician’s office a while back. The doctor inquired about the frequency of the boys’ bowel movements. I had no idea. None. It seems like only yesterday I could have answered that question in nauseating detail—not anymore. Unless they leave the bathroom without flushing, their bowel movements are their own business.
The boys are both in Cub Scouts. When Owen became a Bear he reminded me on numerous occasions that in the scouting world, he is old enough to have a knife. Every time he brings this up I want to hold my hands over my ears and yell, “La la! I can’t hear you!”  But I think back to my own childhood and remember the summers I spend camping and fishing with my family. I remember my first jack knife—I was probably about Owen’s age when my dad got it for me. It had a mother-of-pearl handle with a picture of a Canadian Mountie painted on it (we spent a lot of time in Canadian National Parks and he picked it up in a gift shop). I hated it at first. I wanted one that looked like the knives my older brothers carried—with faux wood grain handles. This knife didn’t look like a serious tool to me. Dad explained that this one was a better size for my small hands and it had a better blade than the wooden-handled knives the gift shop carried. It may not have looked serious, but it was a good tool. My dad is a machinist—he doesn’t mess with inferior quality tools.
A dad, his little girl, and a canoe.
I used that knife all summer to whittle the ends of sticks for toasting marshmallows and cutting fishing line. I never cut myself or anyone else with it. My dad gave me a good tool and taught me how to use it properly. Now it’s my turn to do the same for my kids. One of my father’s favorite proverbs is, “If you give a man a fish you feed him for a day. If you teach a man to fish you feed him for a lifetime.” Sometimes it’s easier to just do things for our kids, but teaching them do things for themselves stays with them forever.

I wrote an earlier version of this essay as a guest blogger for "Carrying the Cat by the Tail".  It was taken down a while back. Since I really like it, I thought I'd republish it for Father's Day. Hope you enjoy it. Happy Father's Day everyone!

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Wordless Wednesday: The Home Stretch

     School is almost over for the year. So each day is filled with a field trip, a performance, or a theme. Today started with International Music Day at James' school. His class represented France.

Mon Petite Jacques. Tres magnifique!

     Then I raced across town to Owen's science fair.

My very own mad scientist. For the record, Tide works the best.

     Tonight is our last Cub Scout meeting (AKA giant party with lots of sugar). May I'd better take a nap this afternoon.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

100 Word Song: Playing Possum

My Blog Can Beat Up Your Blog
Professor Leeroy and Lance at My Blog Can Beat up Your Blog are letting me pass my 100 Word Song in a little late this week. I hope he doesn’t mind, I’ve given Karen the night off and introducing you to Charlotte. Musical inspiration is provided by Damien Rice’s song “Elephant”. 

Playing Possum
            The dull midwinter light filtered through the vinyl blinds into Charlotte’s dorm room. She tried to role over but something blocked her way. She placed her hand on the Brendan’s solid shoulder. Memories washed over her with a wave of nausea. They salved his broken heart with Jagermeister until it was empty. Then they turned to each other. Charlotte knew she just a warm place for Brendan to rest his wounded pride—just good friends. For her it was the unveiling of a long kept secret.
            “What now,” she whispered.
            “Damn,” he thought to himself as he pretended to sleep.

Monday, June 11, 2012

A Wicked Good Time

            When my marvelous friend, Kate Sterling, called me a few months back and asked me to see Kristin Chenoweth at the Boston Opera House with her, I squealed like teenager with Justin Beiber tickets. Ms. Chenoweth originated the role of Glinda in Wicked on Broadway. It’s a role that requires the voice of an angel and the voice of a seasoned belter and you need great comic timing. She played it to perfection. If you’ve never heard her sing you should watch this. Go ahead. I’ll wait.

Most recently she was a part of the short-lived series GBC. I take full responsibility for the show being cancelled. Any time I enjoy a television series, it gets cancelled. I should have waited for it to run a couple of seasons. But I adore Kristin and I couldn’t resist. Plus, Annie Potts was in it and I love her too. I was weak! I watched it. I loved it. It was cancelled. Sigh. For the record, it isn’t my fault that her gloriously quirky and adorable series Pushing Daisies was cancelled. I didn’t discover that until it came out on video.
So Friday night I found myself with my best friend at a sold out Boston Opera House. I knew Kristin Chenoweth could sing from her recordings. I knew she was funny from television. I knew she was genuine and humble from her memoir A Little Bit Wicked: Life, Love, and Faith in Stages. But I did not expect to be absolutely inspired by Kristin Chenoweth. She performed with grace, humility, gratitude, and love.
The program for the evening was eclectic. She sang Broadway classics, patriotic ballads, country tunes, and spiritual music. She even paid homage to Madeleine Kahn with “I’m so Tired” from Mel Brook’s Blazing Saddles. It seems there is no style Kristin can’t sing.
The highlight of the evening came when Ms. Chenoweth called for a volunteer to help her sing “For Good” from Wicked. She spoke to a handful of teenage girls in the audience, asking them their names and ages. When she came to a sixteen-year-old named Karen (if you’re a regular reader of this blog you’ll understand why I decided this was some kind of sign from above), she asked her, “Do you really know the song?”
“Are you kidding me?”  Karen said.
“Come on up here. You’re it.”
The young woman was thrilled to be on stage with her idol and it looked like her idol was happy to have Karen there. Not only did Karen know all the words, she harmonized, which Kristin, visibly impressed, pointed out to the audience. By the end of the song, I was in tears. Having been a singer myself for most of my life, I knew what that moment meant to that young woman. Not that I had that kind of chutzpah at sixteen to be able to pull it off. I’d have fainted if a Tony and Emmy award-winning actress called me up on stage. I probably had the vocal chops back then, but not the guts.
As we were leaving the theatre, I overheard some older women suggesting that the whole thing had been staged. They couldn’t imagine that a girl that age could possibly get up and do what Karen had just done without rehearsing. But I believe it was real. A number of young women I know through community theatre and through their parents could do just that. The Mollies, Noras, Gabbies, Allysons and Morgans of this world could all step up to the mic and make their dreams come true. Those are the girls I was thinking of when tears rolled down my cheeks at the Opera House on Friday night. Girls with talent and guts. Girls who are fortunate to grow up with great role models like Kristin Chenoweth.
When I was in my early twenties, a voice teacher told me, “You have the voice of a leading lady in a character actor’s body.” I wasn’t offended. Like Kristin Chenoweth, I’m four feet eleven inches tall. I had never seen a leading lady my size. I was always been cast as the sidekick, the comic relief, or chorus girl number six. Around that same time Kristin Chenoweth arrived in New York with a big voice and a huge stage presence in a little body. Her big break came when was cast as Precious in Kander and Ebb’s Steel Pier. Kander and Ebb wrote a song for her. Two years later she won a Tony for You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown. Kristin Chenoweth has taught the musical theatre world a very important lesson: you can be a leading lady and a character.

Friday, June 8, 2012

To the Beach

They picked up fish and chips from the only stand still open after Labor Day and spread their feast on a blanket. Henry watched the tiny moments of embarrassment flicker across Karen’s face when a piece of fish fell apart before it reached her mouth and when she wiped tarter sauce from her chin.
“What are you staring at Henry?” she asked.
“The most beautiful girl in the world eating fish and chips on the beach. I think I’m in heaven.”
She rolled her eyes and shook her head. “I’m a mess. I haven’t slept in days.”
“You’re beautiful. I would have taken you to the moon to get your mind off your mother. I’m glad you agreed to come.”
“I’m really glad you asked,” she said. “I can’t remember the last time I was at the beach. It’s so quiet today.”
“The tourists have gone home for the season. It’s just the locals and the kids playing hooky from school.”
“And me playing hooky from life.”
“I wish you didn’t have to work so hard.”
“Can I tell you a secret?”
“Sometimes I wish that too. I get up every morning and put on my uniform and I go work. I try to pretend my mother and I are still shoring each other up. But I know it’s me holding her up. I smile through it all—greasy food, bad tips, achy feet, drunken mother. But the fact is, I wish I had it easier too. I wish my Dad had never left. I wish I was still his princess. I wish I was a college student instead of a waitress.”
Karen had never been so open before. Henry wanted to tell her he’d be there to shore her up. He’d be her Prince Charming. But he stayed quiet, afraid to break the spell.
“It’s made me who I am though,” she continued, shaking off the melancholy that had crept into her voice. “When you don’t have a lot, the little things mean more. Look at the waves. See how the green explodes into whiteness when they hit the shore? If I came to the beach all the time, I wouldn’t notice how beautiful it is.”  She held up her glass bottle of Coca Cola. “I love Coke. I’d rather have a Coke than ice cream or candy. We never have it at home because it’s expensive. If my dad never left, we’d probably have an icebox full of the stuff and it wouldn’t be special.”
“You are so different from anyone I’ve ever met. I think that’s why I love you. I wish I could take away every moment of pain you’ve ever had, but I’d never want you to be different than you are.”
“You love me?”
“I love you,” he whispered, leaning in to kiss her. It was soft and sweet and perfect.
“I love you too,” she said when they pulled apart. She stared into his eyes for a moment. “Can I ask you something Henry?”
“Why did your mother start crying at dinner last week?”

I’m linking up with Write on Edge this week. The prompt was to use the phrase “to the moon” in a piece 500 words long. This is part of an ongoing series. You can read the rest of Karen’s story here.

Monday, June 4, 2012

100 Word Song: Reprieve

My Blog Can Beat Up Your Blog

            I’m linking up today with the 100 Word Song meme over at My Blog Can Beat Up Your Blog. This week’s musical inspiration is the song “This Too Shall Pass” by Okay Go.


            The soft clink of a pebble striking glass roused Karen. She had barely slept. Concerns about her mother tap-danced through her brain all night.  She lifted the shades and squinted at the sunlight. Henry stood in the yard below.
            “What are you doing Henry?”
            “I miss you.”
            “It’s only been three days.”
            “Haven’t you missed me? No, don’t answer. I’ll be crushed if you didn’t. Get dressed. I’m taking you to the beach.”
            She leaned back into the room, shaking her head.
            “You should go,” her mother said from the doorway. “I haven’t seen you smile like that in years.”

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Fiction Friction

            I haven’t written much this week. I don’t have writer’s block. I know exactly what I need to write and I don’t want to go there. Last week I wrote a storyline in which my new favorite character Karen sleeps with her boyfriend Henry. The timing was right. The poor girl had been through so much and needed some comfort—a moment of joy in a tough life.
            But now I have this fear. Remember how the sitcom “Cheers” turned lame after Sam and Diane slept together? The writers kept introducing new characters to make things interesting. Same thing with “Moonlighting”. That show was great until Maddie and David “did the deed”, then it sank like a stone. Sexual tension creates humor and drama. What have I done? What have they done?
            Here’s the other thing. Karen was born after an interaction I had with an unpleasant customer. I started writing about what led this person to become the grumpy older woman who reported me to a manager. The more I delved into her past, the more I liked her. Karen’s story starts with a childhood in which she faces many trials, but she keeps on going. Pour on the heartache and she’ll work hard to get past it. But we know it doesn’t go on forever. Right? The very first pieceI wrote about Karen was a Christmas dinner she shares with her neighbor in the elderly housing complex. We know this doesn’t happen if she has a country club wedding with Henry. We know something dark has to happen soon.
Damn. I really wanted her to be happy.