Monday, March 29, 2010

Top Ten Reasons Pets Are Easier Than Children

10) A dog hangs its head out the car window and grins, never asking, "Are we there yet?"
9) Cats may believe you're lame, but they never say it to your face.
8) You're allowed to mess up royally with raising guinea pigs, hence the term "guinea pig."
7) Dogs never, ever complain about leftovers.
6) Pets won't stare at you in disbelief when you can't help with their junior high algebra.
5) A dog doesn't leave the toilet seat up (though it may be pleased when you do).
4) If you call him a Bad Dog and send him outside, he won't write a scathing memoir 20 years later.
3) With three-second memories, goldfish can't remind you of promises you didn't keep.
2) Cats are happy to cuddle, even when they're 12.
1) Dogs beg for biscuits, not for a new car.

Not that I ever truly considered trading in my two sons for a couple goldfish...

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Taking Baby Steps

I'm told Alcoholics Anonymous has a motto of "One Day at a Time." (I've never attended a meeting; I'm still in the One Drink at a Time stage.) But as I grow older, I've come to believe that particular mantra carries wisdom worth applying to aspects of anyone's life.

A close friend, who has struggled with weight issues her whole life, recently returned to Weight Watchers after a long hiatus. The registration clerk asked her how much she hoped to lose.

My friend hesitated before softly answering, "Five pounds."

She said the woman didn't reply, yet looked up and then blinked as she filled out the form. Clearly, she believed my friend needed to shed much more than five pounds. Thirty, maybe forty. (Who's counting? Definitely not me, who could stand to lose about the same.) But this larger goal, at that moment, seemed insurmountable to my friend. Yes, she hoped to eventually achieve more. Now, however, she could only focus on losing five pounds at a time.

Another friend is going to school while he works full-time. At the reasonable rate of one or two classes a semester, it will take years to finally walk away with a college degree. He refuses to do the math which makes his goal unimaginable. He says he can only focus on completing one class at a time.

I'm writing yet another draft of a new novel. I've written, and finished, two other books. I comprehend the patience and perseverance that writing entails. It means months, even years, of writing and rewriting to achieve near-perfection in an 80,000-word manuscript. But when I sit down each night to write, 80,000 words is inconceivable. I can only focus on writing one chapter at a time.

Huge accomplishments--those that require days, months or even years of effort and strength--are fraught with uncertainty and self-doubt. As much as we admire those who openly commit to ambitious goals, we're often skeptical of their success. We're even more reluctant to fully acknowledge our own long-term objectives. The fear of failure hangs heavy.

Often, taking one tiny and tangible step is all we can muster.

Yet maybe those baby steps, taken one after the other, are enough to reach our final destination.

And if anyone blinks an eye at our progress, we need to remember we're getting there, one day at a time.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Rodent Rendezvous--Guest Post by DC Stanfa

I'm pleased to give the floor this week to my first-ever guest blogger, my sister, DC Stanfa. (I have finally forgiven her for using my Barbies as voodoo dolls and for telling me she was only beating me up in order to make me tough.)

DC already has one published book, "The Art of Table Dancing: Escapades of an Irreverent Woman" (don't take the title literally), and another in the pipeline. She's a fabulous and funny writer, and after reading this post, you should go immediately to her website,, and buy her book.

Rodent Rendezvous

The first sign was tiny turds in my candle drawer. Later, I witnessed an unmistakable furry flash across the kitchen floor. I screamed like a college girl in a gone-wild video (though my shirt stayed on).

I shut the door to my four-year-old daughter Cori’s room and stuffed a towel at its base. A tiny treadmill turned in my head. Rather than wake Cori and running out to buy a mousetrap, I decided to make one.

My mechanical aptitude is limited by my engineering knowledge, which consists of “simple tools” learned in the fourth grade. Fulcrum, pulley, lever and? One thing I do remember is a force called gravity.

I exhumed a plastic bottle from the recycling bin and inserted a piece of cheese. I balanced the bottle carefully on a garage step so the rodent could enter. Upon doing so, its weight would tip the delicate scale and up-end the bottle, trapping Mickey or Minnie inside. I would then set it free in a mice-gone-wild episode on Animal Planet.

Morning inspection of the pop-trap—which I was certain I’d be patenting soon, and after an infommercial with Ron Popeil, would be a huge success—revealed that my gravity theory worked. The bottle had indeed up-righted. Then it completely toppled over, allowing the momentarily captured creature to escape. No baby Swiss or varmints in sight.

“Glue traps,” a co-worker advised me. I was reluctant to destine Mickey or Minnie to that sticky and deadly fate. After another furry scurry the next night, however, I placed two cheesed glue traps on the basement stair landing.

Morning Inspection: No rodents or traps on the landing. The cheeseless traps were at the bottom of the stairs. I’d fed, and gravity had again freed, my mouse-mates.

While I was still reluctant to commit mousicide, a hardened hardware store clerk convinced me a quick guillotine beat a hanging, and he sold me two traditional clap-traps.

I finally told Cori what was going down in the basement. She curiously watched me set the traps. I wasn’t sure she fully grasped the potential deadly outcome.

Sure enough, the next day, two mice lay D.O.A in the traps, two tails protruding from the backs of the black tombs. I grabbed my garden gloves and a garbage bag, cringing as I mousercizied the traps and their contents. I also threw in a pair of Cori’s tennis shoes, sitting on the basement steps, which the mice had mistaken for a potty.

Cori peeked through the basement doorway. “Mommy, can I see?”

“No, honey. You really don’t want to see this.”

“Yes, I do.”

I paused, but reasoned dead rodents might help ease her into the very scary concept of death. I opened the bag. Cori peered inside, then looked at me, her eyes bulging and her bottom lip trembling.

I reached over and hugged her. “I’m sorry, honey. At least we know they didn’t suffer long.”

Cori’s lips tried to form words as she released her breath in spurts.

Finally, with a deep sob, she wailed, “But those were my favorite shoes.”

Girl priorities, indeed, start early.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

I'll Get Right on That

It all started, I believe, with my intention of paying a late bill.

I remember logging onto the computer, figuring I'd best ensure my checking account wasn't once again in the red. Lo and behold, I spied an email from Ticketmaster, announcing an absolutely MUST-SEE concert which, deficit funds be damned, I could conveniently put on my credit card.

So I hurried to the kitchen to check my desk calendar, which was buried beneath a week's pile of unread newspapers. As I scooped them up, I caught an interesting headline. Whoa, what's up with Toyota, well, aren't they screwed? Halfway through reading the article, I remembered tomorrow was recycling and trash day. I tossed the entire heap of papers in the garage (figuring an ignorance of current events never hurt George W.), and decided I should take a moment to clean out the molding leftovers from the refrigerator too.

I threw some days-old chicken bits to the cats and lobbed four indistinguishable food items, plastic containers and all, into the garbage. Before I closed the fridge, my eyes lit at the sight of a hardly-touched bottle of Bloody Mary mix in the back. Might as well finish that up before it went bad, so I could recycle it, too. Plus the soon-to-be emptied vodka bottle. First, however, I should clean up that steaming pile of cat-puked chicken bits from the carpet.

But cat puke on carpet is best left to harden, I deduced, so it can simply and quickly be peeled off the next day. (I'm all about time management.) Which led me to recall that I hadn't yet checked with the pet-sitter about the date of my impending vacation. So I rummaged through my purse for my cell phone, and broke a friggin' fingernail.

The second broken nail in two days, which TOTALLY pissed me off, because it undermined the aesthetics of an otherwise unflawed, candy apple set of eight. The others, sadly, would have to be filed down to a more uniform length. I headed down the hall to the bathroom for the nail polish remover which, I astutely reasoned, would be the next step.

Holy Mother of God, do I live in the desert or what? Giant, threatening tumbleweeds in the hallway!!! Clearly I needed to brush the dog more often. Which I decided I must do, immediately. But as I reached for the brush, I chuckled. Tumbleweeds of dog hair? Haha! Terrific concept for a blog post in that.

So I sat down at my computer. With broken fingernails, an insanely potent Bloody Mary, and a nearby pile of drying cat vomit. Oh! But look who's on Facebook right now!

Call me ADD or diagnose me with early senility, if you'd like. I choose to label myself a busy overachiever. But it's a good guess I'll find myself too occupied tomorrow to talk on the phone, when the collection agency calls.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

The Getaway

On my way to work last week, I passed a tree fort.

Its wooden beams were nailed crookedly across the barren, winter branches of a massive oak. I slowed my car, with a sudden impulse to stop and climb the splintered steps. I could huddle inside, read a book, perhaps listen to my iPod or simply sit in solitude. But reality reared its mortgage-paying, responsible-adult ugly head, and so I sighed, continuing my drive to the office.

I spent the earliest years of my life in a tiny, red-shingled house, smaller in its entirety than the first floor of my current home. One bathroom. One television. Four boisterous females and a quiet, tolerant father whose inclination for drinking I now more clearly understand.

I came in second, after my father, as the quiet one. (Pause for snorts of laughter from readers who know me.) Perhaps surprisingly, even now I am prone to needing blocks of solitude and silence. In my childhood home, mere moments of silent solitude were elusive.

At those times of need, I retreated down to our unfinished basement, climbed upon a chair and crawled into the wooden hamper that hung below our clothes chute. I sat there in my private little cage, my indoor tree fort, often for hours. I read Nancy Drew books, wrote poems, rehearsed what I might say the next day at school to that cute boy in my class.

I needed that cage. It was my getaway.

Many years later, after Son #2 was born, I took a year off from full-time work to stay home with my children and to test the waters for my freelance writing career. My emotions while caring for a new baby and a two-year-old fluctuated between exhilarated, content and nearly suicidal.

I took to taking afternoon drives from my home in northwest Ohio, up State Route 23, to Dundee, Michigan. Exactly a one-hour, round-trip drive, with both young boys invariably falling asleep in the back seat within the first five minutes. A mindless drive, a blissfully silent hour. It kept my sanity and rejuvenated me for the rest of my day. It was my getaway.

As a new empty-nester, I live alone in a large house which now echoes only with the infrequent sound of a barking dog and memories of more chaotic times. I finally have plenty of quiet solitude.

Even so, I still feel the need for an occasional escape--from reality, if nothing else. At any given point in our lives, it appears we still need a getaway. A trip to the beach may feed that hunger. For me, even a three-minute drive down to the river, parking to watch the rapids, works in a pinch.

But sometimes, still, I find myself gazing wistfully at tree forts.

Where do you go to escape?