Friday, August 30, 2013

Photo Friday - Hooked on Phonics Worked for Me!

I may not love everything about the NBC Universal news organization but I love me a Week in Pictures. Take, for instance, my main man from Malta (below) celebrating the feast of his town's patron saint.

Come on, he's great!
I'm eat drink something...I love him.

Of course many Week in Pictures' images do not capture celebrations; some even depict horrible devastation. And while it may be the lazy man's answer to reading the world news on a regular basis, the Week in Pictures always makes me stop and think.

There is a great big universe in motion around us every moment of every day. Never mind what may or may not be happening in neighboring galaxies...makes my head spin just thinking about it.

I can only regain my equilibrium by turning my lens inward.

So, I bring you the first ever Photo Friday a.k.a. news and views from a little place I call home.

Stitch about to partake in his favorite treat: "The Gas Stick", named thus for implicit reasons. 

If they aren't identical, just how did these dental stars align on Tuesday?

A beautiful sentiment from a dear friend for all of my friends near and far.

Vince playing "baby" with his cousin:

"Who are you sending that picture to, mommy?"

"Oh, nobody that knows your friends. Don't worry."

And The Highlight:
The boys started their first journals this week -
both at home and at school.
I told them they could write and draw whatever they want in there,
except curse words, because I'm a practicing hypocrite. 

See you next Phriday...I mean Friday!

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

What a Day Yesterday Was

Not the original Elizabeth Stribling Bell, but a proud one, nonetheless.

And then you said, “But Daddy, I want to play with Cousin Scout.”

Never mind the fact that “Cousin Scout” was a dog.  When you are three, your four-legged cousins are often your favorites. 

My father loves to retell that story: the story of “Cousin Scout”.  It dates back to 1976.  Most of my father’s favorite stories date back even further and they all center around the same theme: Family.  He was party to some of the stories, and some were told to him by his parents and grandparents.  Other stories were shared with him by his aunts and uncles, and great aunts and uncles; and some he read about in history books.  My father’s retellings usually start off the same way:

“Boo-boo, did I ever tell you about the time…”

You can see in his eyes and hear in his voice how much he is enjoying the opportunity to reminisce aloud about whatever has just popped into his still very vital, 71 year-old mind.  And the story never ends at the end of the story.  He typically ties it up with his own little bow in the form of a message: his message, especially when he’s talking to his kids.  Maybe he thinks we didn’t know his perspective already; maybe he thinks we somehow bear reminding; or maybe he thinks we need convincing.  Whatever his reasoning is, he uses his stories, all of these very specific moments from our collective lifetime together and the lifetimes of our family members who came before us, to illustrate something for us about us.    

As the Cousin Scout story goes, my family had spent the day at Scout’s farm in Markham, Virginia, where Scout lived with his owners.  Not incidentally, Scout’s owners were also my grandmother’s first cousins: Cousins Henry and Grace who were about age 60 at the time.  Memory doesn’t serve me so well but I’m told that we did regular farm stuff that day.  We sat mystified in the car on Cousin Henry's long driveway waiting for cows to pass, we drove the tractor around the apple orchard, and we fed the craw fish down in the creek.  All of it was a real treat for a little girl growing up in suburban Chicago, especially when you throw in a Border Collie named Scout. 

When it came time for us to leave for our dinner at Cousins Alex and Mary Blake’s down the road, I wasn’t ready to go.  I knew Cousin Scout hadn’t made the guest list.

“There you were; you must have been not quite four years old, looking up at me telling me ‘Daddy, I don’t want to go with you.  I want to stay here and play with Cousin Scout’.” 

My father’s impersonation of my pre-school voice is as whiny as he can muster.

“So you just left me there?”  I ask.  As I’ve asked before at this moment in my father’s retelling of this particular story. 

“Sure.  Why the hell not?  Cousin Henry got a kick out of you wanting to hang around and play with the dog.  And you wanted to stay!”  He bellows.  My father is a bellower.

“And Boo-boo, that just goes to show you what a pain in the ass you have always been.  Always independent.  You were always going to do or at least try to do just what you wanted to do.  Just like your Great Grandmother Stribling…”  He sort of trails off but only for a moment.

“Did I ever tell you about the time a traffic officer tried to write her a citation in the middle of Webster Groves?” 

So I’d like to dedicate this one to my father the story teller.  Also a pain in the ass.  But a loving pain in the ass.  

And to the Greens for continuously opening their doors to our family over the years.

And to Cousin Scout.  For obvious reasons.

Cousin Alex passed away just this past May.  What a tale to tell:

And I love this song: AlanJackson

And at this point, I'm surprised I don't have my monogram in "neck tat" form.

Perhaps something subtle, like this.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

P.S. Any free soap?

“I’ve just been so busy...”

“It’s crazy with summer and the kids’ schedules…”

“I know…have a few ideas jotted down….”

“Well, now we’re getting ready for vacation so maybe in a few weeks...”

“I actually am just now ramping up with a couple new clients, but I started one…”

For several weeks now, I have been half-heartedly answering questions from my readership of about five or so family and friends asking:

“What’s going on with the blog?” 

“Where’s the free soap?”

I would come up with some five cent excuse and quickly change the subject to summer camps or my fledgling tennis career or whatever popped into my mind first.  But the fact of the matter is I’ve been uninspired. 

As I own that fact out loud, I think of one of my mother’s favorite lines while we were growing up.  When my brother, sister or I would march into the kitchen to complain about the lackluster entertainment my mother was providing, she would momentarily turn to us, lower her cigarette and say:

“Only boring people get bored.”

Now I can’t help but associate the two. 

If only boring people get bored, then it must be only uninspiring people that get uninspired.

Am I both boring AND uninspiring?


And then my Jeff had an idea:

“So what are we doing for your birthday, baby?”  He asked casually, on my birthday-eve.

“I don’t know.  What do you have planned?”  I snarked back as I flipped through a magazine on the couch. 

How could he possibly not have a ticker tape parade scheduled to run down Main Street at high noon in my honor? 

*Readers note: boring and uninspiring people tend to be a little bitchy.  At least this one does.

“Well, we could go out to dinner?  Maybe sushi?”

“I don’t know if I want sushi.”  I sighed.

*The bored and uninspired can be quite annoying, too.

Jeff pressed on.  “Someone at the gym was telling me that there have been some pretty fun groups playing at the Ventura County Fair.  I think they said Styx, Kool N The Gang, bands like that.”

“No way!  This week?”  I could hardly contain myself.  

I have long loved a Grand Illusion and have been known to Get Down On It when duty called.  And let’s face it, when it’s Ladies Night, the feeling is always right. 

I dropped my magazine on the couch and grabbed my phone from the coffee table.

In less than five seconds, I was staring at my destiny in the screen.  It looked like this:

And less than 24 hours later, I was sitting among throngs of the Ventura County elite, staring across a plastic dining table at this:

He ultimately consumed about 45 cents worth of this $12 turkey leg. 

Funnel cake, corn dogs, deep fried twinkies, chili-cheese fries and, in Nick’s case, a turkey leg bigger than his head… a ferris wheel ride, fun house, and a five-story slide… a few attempts at breaking some bottles with some baseballs...and several turns on the Cliff Hanger (when Jeff realized this particular ride operator was ignoring his primary responsibility of collecting tickets from patrons who were NOT wearing the yellow, “Pay One Price” carnival wristband, it quickly became Vince and Nick’s favorite ride)...all of this and more filled two hours of County Fair magic that passed in an instant!  

We were 20 minutes 'til show time before we knew it!

After navigating through concert goers, some young and some very old, some able bodied and some less so (did I mention it was “Seniors and Persons With Disabilities Day”?), we tucked ourselves away in the upper, left-hand corner of the grand stands.  The grand stands that were positioned adjacent to instead of opposite the concert stage.

“We’re not even going to be able to see them.”  Jeff started. 

He was not happy with my initial decision to take a seat in the stands versus joining the concert goers who, like us, opted not to wait in line for two hours, thereby eliminating any hope of securing a white folding chair. They now stood on the dirt.

“We’ll see them fine.  We can see the front of the stage.”  This was kind of true.  We could see the very front sliver of the stage from the side.  “And look,” I gestured toward the enormous digital screen that had been erected next to the stage.  “A clear shot of the jumbo-tron.” 

*Readers note: As an underemployed parent, it’s important for me to set the bar low for my kids but always do so in the most positive way. And, as lowbrow as it may have been, it was Vince and Nick’s first concert experience.  I needed them to be fired up about it.  

“The sound isn’t going to be any good.”  Jeff continued.

“Honey, I am sure the sound will be fine.”

The four of us looked down on the crowd that had filled the rows and rows of white folding chairs and most of any open space that was left over.  Save a few seats in our little corner, the grand stands were packed.  All of us eagerly anticipating the thrice decorated (’82, ’83, and ’84) American Music Awards Favorite Band, Duo or Group - Pop/Rock!

“Look at that guy in the motorized wheelchair!”  I commanded, full of enthusiasm.

“Where, mommy?”  Vince asked.

I pointed down over the tops of all the heads seated below us in the stands to the area immediately in front of the stands where a man in a black cowboy hat was zipping through the crowd on his red, Little Rascal scooter.  He fishtailed a few times and did a 360° as he positioned himself for the show.

“There!"  I pointed again.  "Down on the dirt.”  It was hard to be more specific.

“In the black cowboy hat?”  Vince spotted him first.


“I see him!  That wheelchair seems fast!”  Nick chimed in.

“I know!  He sure seems excited for the show!”

“He does!”  Vince smiled.

We continued to monitor the crowd as more people gathered, standing around the sea of folding chairs.

“Nick and I are going down there.”  Jeff finally said.  “Is that ok?”  Jeff might love live music more than me.  I respected that he had to make the very most of this experience.

“Go ahead.  We’re fine.”  I told him.

Vince snuggled in closer to me in the stands as the breeze started to blow a little stronger and a little colder.

When the band started to take the stage, the crowd responded accordingly.  Vince and I joined in the clapping, hooting and hollering.  Well, he mostly just rolled his eyes at me as I clapped, hooted and hollered.

Then security opened the area immediately between the stage and the first row of folding chairs.  The crowd rushed forward, including Jeff with Nick atop his shoulders and our cowboy atop his Little Rascal scooter.

I took a deep breath.  My eight year old son was officially in “the pit”. 

“Look at Daddy and Nick!”  I told Vince.

He looked down and smiled.

Daryl Hall and John Oates took the stage and kicked off their set list with Out of Touch.  The audience loved it.  Mr. Hall then announced he was a Family Man.  I could see Jeff bouncing Nick around on his shoulders as he danced.

I decided Jeff was onto something.  “Vince, should we go down there by Daddy and Nick?  It won’t be as cold down there.”


“Alright, we’ll go down after this song.”

We made our way to about three people back from Jeff and Nick to Say It Isn’t So but as night fell and the hits continued, we danced our way up to their side. Throughout the concert, Jeff and I traded off holding one, then the other son on one, then the other hip.  It’s amazing how energizing great music can be. 

We all sang and danced together through the first encore which featured two of my personal favorites: Rich Girl and You Make My Dreams.  

The perfect ending to a perfect night.   

As we drove home, I thought about how much fun the night was.  I guess in hindsight, I knew it would be.  I mean what kind of tool can’t have fun at a Hall & Oates concert? 

What I didn’t see coming was the much needed perspective, dare I say inspiration, the night would bring.  While there will always be new challenges as the boys grow-up and assert their independence, there will also be new opportunities for us to experience more of ourselves and more of life together as a family.  

I’d like to dedicate this post to an old, dear friend who is never boring.  Welcome home from eastern Europe, DC!  Here's your soap!

Different hat, same spirit.