Tuesday, November 8, 2011


“She lived down by the stables, and all the horsemen knew ‘er.”

As an educator,  specifically a teacher of The Smart Kids*, I spend a good part of my day thinking about thinking.  The Educationese word for this is metacognition.  If any of you were persistent enough to actually read all the stuff in that link, you’re probably thinking, “Wow, it’s getting deep in here.”  I totally understand. That thought crosses my mind a lot. I’ve noticed that my new role as Equine Waste Removal Technician gives my mind loads of time to wander.  This may or may not be a good thing, but I do enjoy it.
For example:  Have you ever thought about how many words there are for Number Two?  Let’s brainstorm a few:
Doo-doo, doody, dung, dump, dreck.  Plop, poop, poopy, poo.  Kaka, crap, crud.  Shit, shite, scat, sewage and “stuff.” Turd. Load.  Your basic BM.  I stopped counting at 47, but there’s a website, aptly titled The Poop Thesaurus, **  that lists over a hundred, and that’s only for the human variety.
Time to face the feces, folks.  Everyone poops.   Somebody even wrote a book about it.***

Now that I live on a horse farm, scoopage of the poopage is an integral part of my existence.  Now, I usually don’t spend lots of time actually thinking about manure, but I do find myself surrounded by copious quantities of pasture pralines on a daily basis, so it’s no wonder they started metamorphosing into metaphors.
For some reason I don’t fully understand, we primates think feces are funny.  Anyone who has ever made the mistake of trying to tease the monkeys at the zoo knows this. Monkeys and apes don’t mess around when insulted. They will gleefully fling their feces at you without a second thought, and if you’re smart, you’ll move out of the way. Human-type primates do this in a less literal way, and, like the proverbial frog in the saucepan, we often don’t react until it’s already hit the fan. 
We use excremental**** metaphors as social commentary. We also use them to punctuate our positions,  to add emphasis to our errors. 
I’ve discovered that there is a rather complicated etiquette to this.  For example, when we drop the casserole, we don’t say “bullshit.”  We reserve that for blatant falsehoods.  “Horseshit” refers to useless nonsense and non sequitur.  “Tough shit” is  what the hot-shit CEO tells you when you inform him that his edicts from on high just aren’t working, and “eat shit” is what you say under your breath when said CEO isn’t listening.
Never underestimate the power of poop! Because of poop, I have lost ten pounds of fat and put on a whole lot of muscle.  It’s done even greater wonders for my mental health.
I love the fact that when the bullshit from the batshit-crazy politicians and the horseshit from the hot-shit Powers that Be gets too deep, I can go out to my peaceful barn with its wonderful horses and shovel the real thing.  And when I’m finished, there’s no question that it’s a job well done.  I mean, it's not exactly rocket science.  There's either poop on the ground or there isn't.  
I love spending time outdoors where I don’t have to answer to any “No Roadapple Left Behind” laws. I love spending time where  “batshit” is merely something that is good for the garden.
So there you have it, folks. My life is full of shit, and I’ve never been happier.  Really. 
*For those cocky enough to think this is a cushy job,  I have ten fourth graders and a classroom with a really good lock. I dare you to let me shut you in there for an hour or so. 

**Don’t look at me that way. I didn’t write the thing.
***And it’s freekin’ brilliant, I might add. I highly recommend it for anyone who reads to toddlers on a regular basis, and even those who don’t.
****Is that even a word? If it wasn’t before, it is now.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Confessions of a U-Haul Virgin

I am half a century old, and until today, I have never rented a U-Haul.  Ever.
How odd is that?  Upon reflection, I can clearly see why I’ve never rented one, but it still kind of weirds me out.

 We used to have an SUV and a horse trailer. Anything big that needed moving got moved in that.  Furniture, garbage, hay, stuff for the yard, stuff from the yard.  Yes, even horses.  In it all went, no problem, no $19.95 a day, no 7 bucks extra for the dolly.

Then we traded in the old Dodge Durango for a little black Volvo, and since it’s really hard to pull a horse trailer with a Volvo, shortly thereafter the trailer got sold too.

I stopped showing horses years ago, so I really didn’t need the trailer.  Or so I thought.  True, I didn’t need the trailer for its intended purpose, but I needed it for everything else.

Big piles of tree branches, busted furniture, uprooted dead bushes, dog poop, leaves?  Hitch up the trailer, fill ‘er up,  and haul it to the dump.

Blizzard! Snow!  Ice! Spoiled rotten diva horses are making “I’m not comfy” faces. Must buy many bales of bedding! Into the trailer it went, and I was a hero in the eyes of my equines.

So here I am, grandmother of three on the ground and one on the way, fixin’ to retire soon, driving a minivan.  I don’t know how I came to this shockingly stereotypical middle-aged, middle-class state of being.  But I do know exactly how many bales of hay, sacks of grain, bags of bedding,  fourth graders, and greyhounds will fit into my minivan.*

I also know that the piles of boxes in my office will not fit unless I choose to take a few at a time and make many, many trips.  Six miles is not a long trip, but multiplied by double digits, it does start to wear on you.  The vast majority of our furniture is not minivan-friendly, either.

Enter the U-Haul truck.

This is a beeg-ass truck.  It’s only the medium-sized one, but it is big, inside and out. I expected it to be big in the cargo area, but it seems awfully oversized in the people compartment as well.  Am I just feeling punchy, or does this seem rather discriminatory to you?  Now, I am not supermodel height, nor am I particularly short.  In fact, if you consult the insurance charts, at 5’4”, I am dead-on average.   I have no trouble driving minivans, pickup trucks, even my husband’s Volvo.  But sitting in the driver’s seat of this thing, I feel like a five-year-old.  My feet don’t even reach the pedals.   Just lower the seat, you say?  Tried that. With the seat lowered so I can reach the pedals,  I have to peer through the gaps in the steering wheel in order to see the road.    Frustilation* ensues.

My point?  Clearly, this is a boy truck.  Clearly, I am not going to be able to drive the thing, and that bugs me no end.  What’s the fun of having a beeg-ass truck if you don’t get to drive it?

I have had this feeling before.  I remember being in Kindergarten and wanting to play with the pretend hammers and stuff at the pretend tool bench, and being redirected to the pretend kitchen area.  WTF? What an outrage!  My dad let me use the real hammer at home, thankyouverymuch.  My dad didn’t mess around. He had even introduced me to the wonders of duct tape.  Face it, no plastic flob of scrambled eggs is ever going to hold a candle to that.

Thank God for my forward-thinking dad, who, while the rest of the world sat glued to Leave it to Beaver and Father Knows Best, never divided the world into rigid ideals of boy-ness and girl-ness.  In my world there was only person-ness, and I consider myself blessed.  I grew up believing that I could be and do anything I set my mind to and held fast to that belief,  even if I got sent to the corner for pounding the plastic scrambled eggs flat with the pretend hammer.

It’s funny how certain situations can take you straight back to pivotal moments in your childhood. The U-Haul smelled like the inside of our garage, where things got built and hands got dirty. I had really wanted to drive that truck.  My inner tomboy was crushed, but there was no time to rail against the unfairness of it all.  There were many, many boxes of all sizes, and not one, but two seven-buck-a-day dollies just waiting for me to assert my manly-woman-ness on them.

My long-awaited transition from frustilated, slightly squishy, minivan-driving suburban grandmother to lean, mean rural farm girl was not going to be thwarted by any discriminatory, male-biased, beeg-ass orange truck.

Technically, I suppose I am still a U-Haul virgin. But I did get to throw in the first box.  I didn’t even use the dolly. And it felt good.

So it begins!

*3, 6, 4, 4, and 2. A medium-sized blue heeler will also fit in addition to any of the above, but only if she rides shotgun.
*Frustilation (n) fruh-stih-LAY-shun: Word invented by my granddaughter, Lily, to express just about anything having to do with her little sister.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Exceptional Schmutz

“If this was Heaven, there wouldn’t be dust all over everything.”
                                                          --Barbara’s Ghost, Beetlejuice
I killed the Dyson.  That’s right. I killed the Dyson, and it sucks – or rather, it doesn’t suck. Not anymore.
I did what any panic-stricken human being would do in such a situation.  I posted on Facebook.
“I killed the Dyson.”
My friend Elaine was horrified. “What the hell? You can’t kill a Dyson! Replace the filter! Let it cool down and then try again!  Clean the rollers!”
There was hope!  I replaced the filter. I cleaned the rollers.  I let it sit around a while. I flipped the switch.  Nothing.  Back to Facebook I went.
“I killed the Dyson.”
Another friend piped up. “Calm down. You cannot kill a Dyson. They have that ball thingy! They have that guy with the foreign accent!”
“Well, my Dyson doesn’t have a ball thingy, and I am pretty sure I killed it.”
“You should have gotten the purple one. You know, the one specifically for Homes Containing Animals.”
“That’s the one I have.”
Yet another friend felt sorry for me and tried to help. “What does it do when you switch it on?”
“Nothing. It does nothing.”
This revelation scares me.  Not because I have a half-vacuumed rug in my living room and a dead vacuum cleaner sitting on it.  It scares me because I am having serious misgivings about the nature of our schmutz.
Now, everyone’s house has schmutz at some level, except maybe Kim and Aggie, (and God only knows what’s doing with them now that their show has been cancelled).  But I am starting to wonder if my schmutz is somehow schmutzier that everyone else’s.
I have good reason to fear. Elaine has bigger dogs than I have.  Elaine has more dogs than I have.  She must be familiar with dust bunnies of greyhound origin, yet her Dyson is still intact.
I have always thought dirt had it in for me. No matter how many times a week I vacuum, the canister is always full.  The brush rollers are always clogged with thread and grass and hair.
Hair I understand. We have three dogs who shed. Until two months ago, I had waist-length hair, and I shed too.  The part I don’t understand is thread and grass.  I used to sew a lot.  When I was in college I made most of my own clothes.  I was always working on some theatre piece for which I was making costumes. Lately, though, my contact with thread consists of replacing the occasional button. The last time I sewed anything  of consequence was last Christmas when I made poodle skirts for my granddaughters.  And what’s up with all the grass? It’s been almost a decade since we’ve had grass.
I don’t think I am a pig –- and I know it's not schmutz of reality show proportions. We don’t have piles of junk everywhere, we take out the trash when it’s full and most of the time we remove stuff from the fridge before it turns into a science project.   I’m pretty sure we have no old pizzas or dead cats lurking under the beds. I have receipts from Target showing that I purchase Environmentally Friendly Cleaning Products on a regular basis, so I must be using the stuff somewhere.
You’ve all seen the commercials – there’s a nice neat line of confetti, coffee grounds and  Cheerios on the floor, and the advertised machine comes along and sucks it all up.  You know it wasn’t a trick because you can see the schmutz swirling around in the transparent bin.  Sometimes, you see someone chasing a cat off the sofa with the vacuum and neatly sucking the hairballs off the cushions.1
Here’s my theory. I am not a pig. The fault does not lie with me, but with the Dyson company. We have a Tassimo machine3, which means we never have cause to suck up any coffee grounds. The grand-girls are not toddlers anymore, and furthermore, they live in a different state. Suffice to say our Cheerio spillage is next to nothing.  We don’t have a cat.  And confetti?  Who has confetti problems on a regular basis?  Nobody, that’s who.
Clearly our Dyson was out of its element. Our schmutz is not the Dyson’s idea of schmutz.  When we brought it home, it was expecting a white carpet, chrome-and-glass furniture,  high rise penthouse, guy with foreign accent household.  What it got was  three big dog, three active grandchild, too busy to get a proper haircut, wind that blows the entire west mesa into the back yard chaos.
Conclusion?  I no longer berate myself for my exceptional schmutz. I embrace it, secure in the knowledge that I did not kill the Dyson. It committed suicide.
The new Bissell seems very happy here.

1 In my opinion, this person is not cleaning a mess so much as creating one. If you were a cat and someone came at you wielding a suckage device, your hair would fall out too.
2 Pun intended.
3 Rather, we had a Tassimo machine, until PNM thought Intel needed our electricity more than we did and killed it along with our dishwasher, but that’s a story for another day.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Any Syrup with that Waffle?

Click the picture -- kinda cute.
Remember, in my first awkward post, when I said stuff was going to get scary? Well, it has. Remember when I talked about being too much like my mother and I hated it? Well, I am. And I still do.
We’ve been looking at horse properties since early Spring.  Many houses. With many barns.  There are 82 houses for sale in Corrales right now, and I feel like I’ve tramped through every single one of them. Beds and baths and kitchens, oh, my! 
My mom had a stroke in May, and the house search veered off into the ditch. When she got out of the hospital and into rehab, it veered back out again.
If this summer had a soundtrack, it would be from a movie with lots and lots of car chases.  Lurch! Screech! Zoom!  Waffle!
Yes, waffle.  My mom is a waffler. While in the rehab facility, Mom learned that the stroke had left all her mental faculties intact, but it had weakened the left side of her body.  She decided she might not be able to stay by herself in her 2,400 square foot home anymore.  We agreed. It’s not enough to have all your marbles if the body that is transporting them falls and hurts itself.
We started looking for properties with guest houses or in-law quarters, where Mom could be close to us but still maintain her own private space.  I worried about money. She said not to, she had money.
I hate talking about money. I especially hate talking about other people’s money. I hate talking about my parents’ money even more. I wish they had spent it all in Las Vegas or something, but my mom hates to leave her house, so it never happened (hold this thought – it will become really important later.) 
"How much money are you willing to put in," I asked.
"$(Insert obscene amount here).00," she said.
ZOOM! A call to the realtor, and off we went.  We looked at a bunch of places, and settled on one to show my mom.  She loved it,  and we made an offer.
SCREECH!  The seller laughed at the offer.
Off we went again, in search of similar properties.  Found one. Showed it to my mom. She loved it.
"So Mom, how much money do you want to put in?"
WAFFLE! "$(Insert precisely half the obscene amount stated above).00."
OK, I thought, this is no surprise. Whatever.  We started writing up another offer.
LURCH! While I loved the grounds and the barn, the house needed lots of work, and it looked like something from the Northeast Heights. (Not that there is anything wrong with the Northeast Heights, mind, you, but they look kind of funny in Corrales.)  Plus, my mom would have to share the house with us, and she kept calling me and asking for more rooms, which my dogs would not have access to. She worried about my big dogs knocking her over or eating her terrier.  I had the feeling a call with “your dogs will have to live outside” was coming next, and that was so not going to happen.  Plus, the house was a short sale. No matter what the inspectors said, the sellers would not make any repairs. We might not be able to take possession for months, and the owners were demanding that we let them stay in the house for 60 days (!) beyond closing. A lawyer friend said he wouldn't touch the deal with a ten-foot escape clause.
I kept waking up in the middle of the night, in a sweaty WTFAYD* panic. The offer never got completed.
Guess what? Waffling is hereditary.
My husband is not only funny and adorable, he’s a really smart guy.  He asked me why we were suddenly willing to be held hostage by my mom’s money.
SCREEEEECH!  Holy  crap.  It’s one thing to want to take responsibility for the safety of one’s elderly relatives, but letting them control your whole life is a whole ‘nother can of worms that is so not going to be opened.
There is an immaculate little horse farm at the south end of the village. The house is small and quirky and shaped like a triangle. Not too many people want to live in a quirky little triangle house, so the property has been on the market forever.   I could totally see myself living there, and I’ve been drooling over it for months. Owners of said quirky house finally decide they aren’t going to get what they’ve been asking, and drop the price.  A lot. They not only drop the price, they drop it into We-Don’t-Need-Mom’s-Money price range.
Eureka!  Halleluia! Yahoo! ZOOM!
But, you ask, what about Mom?
“I’ll just stay here,” says Mom.
“I thought you said you couldn’t afford the caregiver?” I say.
 “I’ll look at Senior Living apartments,” says Mom.
I ignore the bait.  “OK. Which ones do you want to go look at?”
“What happened to my living with you?"
“The offer still stands, but my dogs are not going to live outside. There will be horses. There will eventually be a goat and maybe chickens. And don’t forget the septic tank.”
“I’ll just stay here.” 
“Fine,” I counter. “But you’ll have to agree to the caregiver at night and wearing the Life Alert button on your person during the day.”
“The button is on my nightstand.”
Waffles. Loads of them. Multiplying! It’s starting to look like an IHOP in here.
“OK, here’s the deal.  We found a place we love. You may like it, you may hate it, but we want to buy it. If you want to live with us, it has an enormous garage, which could be converted into a really nice guest house for you if you want to pay for the construction. You can help with the down payment if you want to be on the deed.”
We took Mom to see the place.  She likes the idea of building her own space. (If  she can build it for $[Insert precisely one-fourth the original obscene amount].00.) She hates the idea of a septic tank. She likes the city-water hookup. She made it clear that she does not want to live in a triangle house (good!)
We made an offer. The sellers accepted. An architect friend has started drawing plans for a lovely guest house that may or may not get built. Mom is still waffling, and that’s OK.
I dream panic-free dreams of horses and goats and chickens and happy people taking riding lessons.  I dream of peaceful evenings spent lounging in the hot tub or on the porch with my husband.  I dream of uncharted territory and leaps of faith.  I wake up (WTFAYD?)  laughing and terrified at the same time.
*What The F*** Are You Doing?!?

Friday, July 1, 2011

Just For The Hell Of It

“The heat is on, so arm your soul.”   ---Ziggy Marley
It’s Summertime here in the high desert. High desert summers are different than other summers. I was reminded of this during a recent trip to the tropics. Yes, New Mexico summers are hot, sometimes with three-digit temperatures for days at a at a time, but as we Southwestern grammas say from our curmudgeonly lawn chairs, it’s a dry heat.
Those ain’t just gramma words, folks.  Here in New Mexico, shade means something. It makes a difference.  If you get too hot, you find a shady spot and cool down. If there’s a breeze and a beverage involved, it’s absolute Heaven. 
I was sitting on my porch last night in my private little Heaven, mojito in hand,  thinking about Hell.
I didn’t realize there were so many different concepts of Hell. Of course the first thing that comes to mind is what I call Cartoon Hell.  This is where red guys with horns, pointy goatees, and pitchforks poke hapless sinners as they slog through a lake of fire.
I dismiss this literal view of Eternal Damnation.  I figure after I die I will no longer have a physical body, and it takes a physical body to experience physical pain such as Phoenix-in-July heat and pitchfork pokeage. If you listen to guys like Pat Robertson, this version of Hell is full of gay people,  feminists, free thinkers, and Democrats.  Hmm.  Sounds kinda like Heaven to me.
Moving on.
When I was fourteen, I discovered another kind of Hell.  I’ll call this one Hell that Sneaks Up On You. A made-for-TV movie titled Haunts of the Very Rich introduced me to this concept.  The film opens on a mysterious airplane filled with minor celebrities from the 1970s and some really cheesy music.

                                                      (Click picture to view the full film)

(Are you scared yet? I am.) These folks are headed to an equally mysterious resort that looks a whole lot like Fantasy Island.  This resort appears heavenly, with rooms specifically designed to fulfill each guest’s every desire. BUT!  None of these people remember booking their vacation, and none of them have any luggage, except what they had with them when they died.  Oops – did I just say that out loud? Don’t you just hate it when someone spoils the movie for you by thoughtlessly announcing how it ends?  Scratch that.  No one knows how they got to the resort and each one appears to be the embodiment of one of the Seven Deadly Sins,* but there are drinks included, so who cares?
As the story unfolds, a hurricane arrives and wipes out all the amenities, leaving the guests stranded. Various means of rescue are promised, but never materialize, and it quickly becomes apparent that this version of Hell involves giving hope, then taking it away. For eternity.
This is a pretty strong concept, given that it comes from a big slice of television fromage. It dug its way into my teenaged brain and seriously creeped me out for years to come.  I could and did buy into the concept of Hell consisting of an eternity without hope.

Without leaving the 70s, we can travel to Hell for the Goose.

I used to love Rod Serling's Night Gallery.  My high school friends and I would watch the series in our pajamas, eating popcorn in the dark, alternately laughing at the black humor and attempting to creep each other out. There were several episodes that dealt with various concepts of Hell, but the one that sticks in my mind was one titled "Hell's Bells."  A badly-bewigged John Astin plays a hippie who dies in a car accident and is transported to Hell. Here we find that Hell has a waiting room, and the waiting room has rules.   No sleeping. No talking. No smoking. No standing. No breathing. No littering.  A cranky housekeeper pops in (literally) from time to time to make sure the rules are enforced.  Soon the protagonist, anxious to begin his exciting fire-and-brimstone-acid-trip experience, finds himself ushered into a room that contains a phonograph, hundreds of vinyl records, and some old people. The music is all straight out of an elevator, and the old people want to do nothing more than show thousands of slides from their recent vacation.

Slowly it starts to dawn on our hippie that this experience is not at all what he expected it to be. In comes the Devil (see Cartoon Hell paragraph above) who assures him that this is indeed Hell. He will be stuck in this room, with this music, these people, and their vacation for eternity. "You know," says the Devil, "It's a curious thing, but they have exactly the same room Up There."

Poor hippie.  He finally gets it.  "Bummer,"  he wails.  "Bummer, bummer, bummer!"

Hell for the goose can be Heaven for the gander, and I heartily agree.

(click picture to view full episode)
In another slice of Hollywood Hell,  the feature film What Dreams May Come depicts an eternity where you choose your own torment.
This one I understand.  For anyone with a conscience, the idea of having to relive all your mistakes, unkindnesses, and transgressions over and over without end would truly be Hell.  But people with a conscience are good, right?  And don’t only bad people go to Hell?

In the film, this actually turns out to be the case. Even if you are in Hell, there can be forgiveness. But first you must choose to forgive yourself.  (And then you can go to Heaven and see all your dogs.  Good movie. See it.)

I asked my friends for their thoughts when I decided to write about this. I asked,  “If you were to die and wake up in Hell, what would it be like?” Responses ran from a very fundamental Biblical version of Hell, to an eternity of doing stuff you hate with people you hate in places that you hate,  to the idea that there is no Hell and why the Hell was I asking.  Then came this one from a fellow writer:
“Hell would be not waking up.”
BINGO!  This is the one that scares me the most.  I’ve lived my life believing that I am here for a reason, that I am here to learn things, to become a better, more enlightened being before I move on to whatever is next. What if  we make a mess of what we have right now, and this is all there is?
Yikes. I guess I’d better do better while I’m here – just in case.
*For those who may be interested but don’t want to think too much as they watch the movie, Ed Asner is Greed, Cloris Leachman is Vanity, Lloyd Bridges is Lust,  and Anne Francis is Annoying (not a deadly sin, but it should be.)

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Land Shark Revelations

I get to retire in one year, two months, six days, and fourteen hours. It has always been my dream to retire to a horse farm and give riding lessons. This means: 1) I need to find my farm, 2) I need to have enough money to purchase my farm, 3) In order to get said money, I have to sell my house, 4) In order to sell my house, it has to look nice.

When I bought my house, it was owned by a family of anal retentive…. obsessive-compulno-fun clean frea… extremely neat persons. The yard was pristine, grassy, flowery, perfect.

Therein lies the problem. It isn’t anymore, and this is why:

I have dogs. Multiple dogs. Multiple BIG dogs. Greyhound dogs, to be exact. I also volunteer with a local greyhound adoption agency. This means I not only have greyhounds, I try to make sure as many other people as possible have them as well.

Greyhounds can run fast – 45 miles per hour, in fact, but they are sprinters. They run like crazy for about a quarter of a mile and then they’re done for the day. A greyhound is basically a cat in a dog-shaped body. They sleep most of the time, only bothering to get up for food or to find a squishier couch. You would be hard-pressed to find a mellower, sweeter, more house-friendly pooch.

Unless they are puppies. The greyhound community calls puppies "land sharks." Eight years ago, I discovered that they call them this for a reason. Greyhound puppies, I discovered, are busy. I discovered this when we decided to provide foster care for three of them.

Morning Glory. Daisy. Dandelion. Two petite black girls and one big yellow boy from a "whoopsie" litter of five. They had all been named after flowers – a good move on the part of the adoption agency, who clearly knew they were gilding the lily, so to speak. Sweet-faced, cuddly, round little spuds who had not yet grown into their streamlined greyhound shape. They licked our faces and squirmed charmingly as my friend and I put them in a crate in my car. Their brown button eyes shined calmly at us from their crate and they seemed eager to begin this new adventure.

Until I turned on the ignition.

Then all hell broke loose. They screamed. They whined. They peed. They pooped. They drooled and barfed. For forty-five minutes the puppies added new and increasingly offensive sounds and smells to their repertoire.

Immediately upon reaching my driveway, they stopped screaming. They wagged their spindly little tails and asked to be picked up and cuddled. Oh, how they stank. They stank to high heaven. And they were laughing at us. They laughed as only greyhounds can laugh, with a wide, eye-crinkling, tongue-lolling, ear-to-ear doggy grin.

Holding each filthy, grinning bundle at arm’s length, my friend and I rushed them all into the bathtub. We were followed by John’s border collie, Lacy, and Miss Sissy, my mellow, beautifully behaved princess of a greyhound.

Sissy made sure nobody hurt any puppies during bath time. Sissy licked them dry afterwards. Sissy had raised puppies before, and it looked like she had volunteered to raise these as well.

As Sissy dutifully herded them out the back door, I turned to my friend and said, “Wow, this is going to be easy!”

I lied.


Sissy stepped off the porch and promptly began teaching the puppies how to dig up my moss roses. She’d break the ground, then step aside and let the little ones have a go. Lacy decided she also enjoyed this game, and dug herself a clubhouse under the concrete slab. Dandelion was bouncing along, happily wolfing down clumps of the loose dirt.*

Morning Glory, the smartest of the three, became bored with digging holes and discovered that pulling up the drip irrigation system was much more fun. And look! A garden hose! What happens if I bite it? A fountain! Pretty!

If I grabbed one, the others would dance away and start digging someplace else. What fun, this silly lady who tucks you under her arm like a football and runs around the yard chasing after your siblings and uttering colorful metaphors!

It had only been a few hours since the Land Shark Invasion of 2003, but the Pristine Family’s manicured back yard was a real mess. There were holes in the pristine lawn. There were flowers missing from the pristine rose bushes. The pristine porch was sprayed with sand and debris. There was dirt where there should be grass, and divots of sod where there should be dirt. There was irrigation tubing spouting, leaking, sticking up everywhere.

Mr. and Mrs. Pristine would have been horrified. I felt a pang of guilt for ruining all their hard work, but only for a second.

As I surveyed the wreckage, I saw Lacy adding some square footage to her newly-dug den. Sissy was grinning her best greyhound grin, lying upside down on the remnants of the lawn with her new foster children climbing all over her.

“No, no," I laughed. "Bad dogs!” I laughed until I got the hiccups. “No, no, no, no, no!”

It was then that I realized something very important. Mr. and Mrs. Pristine no longer had any say in the matter. I am not a pristine person. I much prefer sharing the couch with my dogs to fur-free upholstery. I’d rather come home to goofy greyhound grins in my slobber-covered windows than a spotless museum of a house any day. From the moment those puppies arrived, my house became my home.

Now it’s time to sell my house, and I understand that it will have to be made pristine again for a new family.

I hope they have puppies.


*When my husband came home that evening and met the puppies, Dandelion proudly pooped a poop made entirely of the sand he had sucked up earlier. “We’re keeping this one,” John said, and promptly renamed him “Hoover.” (He was not named after the president.)


Morning Glory and Hoover

Daisy and Lacy

Hoover and Sissy

Monday, April 18, 2011

Kudzu Ate My Grandpa's Car

My  father’s father (we called him Pappy) had a Ford Model T.  I have a picture of him in his driving cap and gaiters,  standing next to it,  grinning as if he owned the world. Several years later, tragedy struck.  Kudzu ate my grandpa’s car.
For those of you not fortunate enough to have come from Old Southern Roots, kudzu is a Vine From Hell.  It has pretty purple flowers and amusing hairy seed pods that stick to your clothes.  But don’t let that fool you. This stuff is insidious.  They say it grows as you watch. It’s been documented at over a foot per day, which is pretty darn fast for a plant. It spirals up trees, it swallows up fences,  it wraps itself around anything that will stand still.  It snakes along the levees looking for victims. And one summer, it came after Pappy’s Model T.
My grandpa was a wholesale grocer in a tiny little town called Belzoni, Mississippi. (I remember it as some houses with screened-in porches, a Piggly Wiggly, seven churches and a gas station.) This was during the Great Depression, so there wasn’t a whole lot of money floating around then.   Pappy counted himself lucky to have any job – never mind a  really good job. He worked very hard to keep that good job, too. Legend has it  that  one day, as my grandfather was making his usual rounds, something went wrong with the car.  It just kind of stopped, right there beside the levee, and refused to start again.
Of course this all happened before there were cell phones. This was before you could call AAA.  This was during a time when you had to have a dime in your pocket and a pay phone to use it in. And suffice to say there weren’t a whole lot of phone booths in a town that consisted of a few houses with screened-in porches, a Piggly-Wiggly, seven churches and a gas station.   So the car sat there for a while.  I don’t know how long, precisely, because the story changed with every telling.* In any case, by the time Pappy came back with a mechanic, the car was gone.
Now, a car is an awfully big thing to lose, and since it wasn’t running, the chances that someone would steal it were pretty slim. Never mind the fact that in a town that small, everybody knew everybody right down to their dog’s dead grandmother, and the sight of someone other than Pappy messing with his car would hit the gossip circuit pretty fast.
Pappy and the mechanic poked around, wondering if they had come looking in the wrong spot, when they saw something sticking out of a tangled pile of kudzu vines. (Here’s the part where I remind you that in those days, you started your car by turning a crank.) And right there,  sure enough, was the crank on the front of the Model T.  Those vines had crawled in, out, over and through that car until all you could see was just the little crank peeking out.
Needless to say, when the kudzu eats a whole car, that is what we call an E-Vent. Everybody had to come out of their screened-in porches to watch Pappy and the mechanic cut the Model T loose from the kudzu vines.
They say history repeats itself, and I  have proof. 
When I was little, my dad used to tell me about the time the kudzu ate my grandpa’s car. Now a trumpet vine has eaten my house.
But that’s a story for another day.
*Or it could be that my dad made the whole thing up to keep me quiet on long car rides.  But that wouldn’t be nearly as much fun, would it?

Saturday, April 16, 2011

All the Dreams are Brown

"All the dreams are brown / And the sky is gray"
   ----"California Dreamin'," The Mamas and the Papas, 1965

That's what my eight-year-old ears heard, anyway.  Granted, these are the same ears that, four years later, would swear they heard this from Shocking Blue: "I'm your penis /  I'm on fire," but that is neither her nor there.

Some of you know me, and some of you don't.  And those that do, know that the last couple of years have been pretty stinkin' dreadful.   If you know me, you also know that I am not a pessimist, nor do I like to play the victim.  I can find a good lesson or a happy thought even in the middle of really ugly circumstances.  I have great faith in the workings of the universe, even if The Grand Purpose Of It All  sometimes escapes me (and often really pisses me off.)  That said, I will repeat. The last couple of years sucked, and I hated  them, and I am very glad they are gone.

In May of 2009, my dad was diagnosed with advanced lung cancer at the age of 85.  It was really no surprise, because the man smoked like a chimney for 45 years. It wasn't a surprise, but it was a shock.  The next ten months were a dizzying blur of schedules, chemo, radiation, appointment after appointment. Sometime during that process, my dad became not my dad. Somewhere along the line, my dad became a disease. I hated that. My dad was energetic, driven, always up for a challenge.  I had always hoped that whatever carried him off would be swift and merciful.  For all of you who have known cancer, you know that it seldom works like that.  After six hard months, I hated that my dad's life had become a series of ineffectual treatments. I hated that no one would say the "T" word. I wanted to scream it from the rooftops: "TERMINAL! IT'S FUCKING TERMINAL! WHY IS NOBODY SAYING IT?"  Nobody wants to hear that word, and I can see their point. Saying it closes the door to miracles. The "T" word never got said, at least not out loud. Something inside me still wonders if I slammed the door on a miracle, but I don't think so. The cancer went to the brain, then the kidneys, then the spine. My dad never stopped fighting the thing, and I kept my mouth shut as we continued with the schedule of appointments.  In the end it wasn't cancer but kidney failure that officially claimed his body.  So, officially, I guess he won.  Take that, cancer.

Several months later, cancer came after my mother. This one was treatable.  My mom is still here and doing fine, but I don't think she is happy.  To tell you the truth, I don't think my mother has ever been happy -- not really.  She's a brilliant person, educated, beautiful and well-read. But for my mom, there are two states of being:  Secure and not. Everything she has ever done has been safe and careful and planned far in advance. Unlike my dad, I don't think the woman has ever taken a joyful risk or a leap of faith in all her 84 years of life, and that scares me.   Do you know why it scares me?  Because I have discovered that I am  JUST.  LIKE.  HER.

I have taught the same thing, in the same school, for nearly 25 years.  Twenty-five years! I remember always wanting to be a teacher, and I certainly enjoy it.  But what I don't remember is deciding to take the road to Safe And Secure and staying there for a quarter of a century.  That's half my life!  I should be content. I have a good job that I love, something lots of people don't have these days. The kids, the parents, the principal, and the climate of the school where I work are the best you can get.  So why do I feel like my classroom gets smaller and smaller every day? Why does it feel like each day squeezes tighter and tighter until I want to scream bad words out the window of my car?  I hear my mom say, "Don't rock the boat."  I hear my dad saying, "What fun is a boat if it never leaves the dock?"

So. It's two years later, and my life does not suck.  But I have realized I am more like my mom than my dad, and that does suck.

Do I want to do the same thing in the same place for the next quarter of a century? No.  There, I said it.  NO.  Does it scare the bejeebies out of me?  Yes.

The point is, my third-grade self was correct.  My dreams are brown. And this blog is about finding ways to make them green again.

P.S:  Does anyone have any spare bejeebies I can have? You know, just in case?