Wednesday, September 28, 2011

I'm Fixing to Fix That

So you know how you invite someone for dinner and you want everything to be perfect, even though your dinner guest is just a long-time friend or perhaps your mother, who you know would never think of judging you?


After a busy workweek, I'd spent the always-too-short weekend cleaning. On Sunday, I whipped up a batch of meals for the week and to save in the freezer. I so deserved the Suzi Homemaker Award, and I figured I'd win it that night through my Grand Finale of inviting a dinner guest.

It started off well. The Homemaker Trophy was practically in my hands.

Dinner Guest: "Wow, you've been busy! I thought you were just making shish kabobs. Gosh, it looks like every seasoning you own is on the counter!"

Me: "Oh, those. You're right. Those are all the spices I own. The Lazy Susan door is broken, so I've been keeping everything inside it out here on the counter until it's fixed. It's actually kind of convenient, having all of them right here. You never know when you'll need a teaspoon of mustard seed or maybe some saffron, right? Can I get you something to drink?"

Guest (following me to the refrigerator): "Sure. Uh-oh." She points to the hardwood floor in front of the fridge, where a puddle of water has pooled. "Looks like you have a problem with your refrigerator."

Me: "Yeah, I really need to get that fixed." I mop up the floor with a wad of paper towels. I grab our drinks, and we head to the back deck. "Beautiful night, huh? Glad you kept your shoes on when you came in the house though. I tried to powerwash the deck last year and it ended up in splinters instead. They really should warn you about getting that nozzle too close to the wood. I'll bet lots of people have that problem. I need to get it sanded and water-protected again. It's on my list to do. Maybe next year."

Guest (staring at the ripped-up wood deck and then turning toward the yard): "No problem. Boy, that rose bush is really beautiful."

Me: "Thanks! I probably do need to get the lawn mowed though. Pretty soon, I guess."

Guest: "Yeah, I did notice it's a bit, uh, long."

Me: "Well, my mower's still broken. My neighbor thinks the grass is too tall to cut even with her rider mower. I'll probably have to hire a service with some type of tractor. They don't ask you to pick up the dog poop first, do they? Because I tried today, but with the grass this tall I couldn't really find it. Shoot--I better make sure I tell them to use the fence gate on the left. The one on the right broke last year. Or was that two years ago?"

Guest: "Two years ago? Doesn't that drive you crazy?"

Me: "Nah. The other gate still works. As long as you push the bottom pole up with your foot and twist the handle really, really hard."

Guest: "Uh-huh."

Me: "Guess I should start the grill." I turn on the gas and the burners, roll up a piece of newspaper and light the end. The paper flares and then dies out.

Guest: "Is your grill igniter not working?"

Me: "No, it broke right after I bought the grill. And I never could find the warranty. It's really no big deal to light it manually."

Guest: "Wouldn't it be easier to use one of those long fireplace and grill lighters?"

Me: "Yeah, I had one but it stopped working last week." I relight the newspaper and point the flaming coil into the grill. With a boom, the grill burners flare. I blow hard on the burning paper, but instead of extinguishing the flames, it appears to feed them. I run in the house and throw the paper into the sink, just as the edges of my fingernails turn black.

We move on to dinner, which is fabulous. *Of course.* My dinner guest utters words of admiration and appreciation and then offers to help clean up.

"Can I put these dirty dishes in the dishwasher?"

"Sure--but just the plates and silverware, into the bottom rack. I'll have to get the glasses because the top rack has been way off-kilter. It takes a special touch to pull it out and move it back. It's on my list to get fixed."

Guest (hesitating): "Oh. OK. Why don't I just take care of these cans and bottles then? Can I take them out to your recycling bin in the garage?"

Me: "That would be great, thanks. It's probably pretty full though; I forgot to put it out at the curb last week."

Guest: (nearly inaudible sigh.)

Me (calling after her): "Probably because I haven't been using that door to the garage. Oh, don't let that door close behind you. I'm having a bit of a problem with the handle. The door can only be opened from the inside. I've locked myself out twice already." I laugh. "Funny story, about that. Last month..."

Guest: (Interrupts me by knocking at the closed door.)

The funny thing is, after I played around with the door handle and let her back in the house, my dinner guest seemed to leave in a hurry. She didn't appear to be in the mood to hear any funny stories at all.

That's fine though. I'll just add telling that story to my list of things-to-do.

I have a few of those.

Any annoying little household problems you've been putting off? Any chance you know the difference between a screwdriver and a butter knife? If so, can I borrow you for a few weeks?

And the Envelope, Please...

I'm pleased to report the winners of the random drawing for last week's blog contest:

- The $10 Barnes and Noble gift card goes to... Averil, or The Artist Previously Known as Averil.
- The $25 gift card goes to... BG, also known as Barb.

If each of you will email me your postal addresses, I will drop your prizes in the mail. And Averil, please let me know how to address the envelope, because that has me the tiniest bit stumped. ;-)

Thanks so much to everyone who took the time to answer the survey. I enjoyed hearing about your reading experiences, and I'm sure everyone's to-be-read list just grew a bit longer...

So, does this count as this week's blog post? No, you say? OK, that's next...

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Read 'Em and Reap

Books. Remember those? As the new TV season begins, I hope you are fitting in a few minutes to read a good book, too.

I'm curious about each of your reading experiences and your opinions about books. In my quest to learn more about my readers, to encourage reluctant commenters to finally chime in (it's painless, really), and to keep my local Barnes and Noble in business, I offer the following short quiz.

You'll be glad to know there are no right or wrong answers, and you won't be evaluated on being creative or witty. (Although wit and creativity aren't discouraged either.) Simply answer the following questions, and you may win a gift certificate for B&N in a random drawing.
  1. What's the best book you've read in the past couple years?
  2. What book didn't live up to its hype?
  3. What book kept you awake at night (for any reason)?
  4. What book have you read over the years again and again?
  5. What writer (dead or alive) would you most like to have dinner and drinks with?
  6. If you were a character in a novel, what would the genre be (romance, mystery, etc.)?
  7. What's the next book on your reading list?

I will assign each comment a number and choose two winners in a random drawing, one for a $25 gift certificate and the second for a $10 certificate.

Note: If you post your comment as anonymous, you may have to click "Post Comment" a couple of times for it to publish (according to some commenters). BE SURE TO WRITE YOUR NAME (at least first name and last initial) at the bottom of your comment. If you continue to have difficulty posting, email me your answers at sherry @ (no spaces) and I will post them for you.

The deadline is midnight, Wednesday, Sept. 28. I will post the winners here on Sept. 29.

Ready? Set? Go.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

To Have and to Hold

Traditional wedding vows spell out what is expected of us in marriage: "To have and to hold, from this day forward, for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death do us part."

Parenthood requires no such verbal agreement. Yet these same vows surely apply to having a child. Most of us who sign on acknowledge this, understanding this is one irrevocable deal.

The To Have part generally proves unpleasant, especially for the mother. We endure nine months of anxiety, emerging stretch marks and intrusive medical instruments. The incubation period culminates in a formidable event purported to be part of the cycle of life, but which seems to indicate God has a rather sick sense of humor.

But the To Hold component wipes the slate clean. As soon as we hold that infant in our arms, we've already--in our minds--ushered in the For Better part.

Oh, the For Better! It's the stuff parental dreams are made of. The first smile and first steps, the soccer goals and dance recitals, and that march across the stage for the happy hand-off of a diploma. We cling forever to the moments--and the memories--of the For Better.

Yet, in between, lurk those For Worse times. Lord, we struggle with those. The grocery store tantrums, the turmoil of that first broken heart, the wild arcs of teenage rebellion or withdrawal. Sure, we've been warned, but nothing truly prepares us for them. If we've ever considered backing out of the deal, it's during the For Worse.

And For Richer? Well, that's a misnomer. From the cost of diapers to college tuition, parenthood sucks us dry. Once children enter the picture, it's always, always For Poorer. We can only sigh at our pile of bills and write another damn check.

We welcome In Health with a different sort of sigh--one of relief and gratitude. As we look around and view children who are the victims of fatal genetic diseases, cancer or life-altering accidents, we reconsider the possibilities of what we once believed to be For Worse. Nothing puts our own In Sickness experiences--the middle-of-the-night ER visits and basketball injuries--more in perspective than a child with a brain tumor.

None of us chooses to dwell on the idea of Until Death Do Us Part. We can endure almost anything. Except that.

We strive to keep our unspoken vows to our children as they grow up. And even as they grow--or move--away.

We'd like to be by their side for everything they experience: for the agony and the ecstasy. But from that first slumber party to their first night in a new apartment eight hundred miles away, we realize we must allow them to inch away from our arms. To become self-assured, self-motivated and self-sufficient.

We take a forever-vow to Hold them, yet we can't hold our children in our grasp forever.

All we can do, ultimately, is hold them close in our heart.

And have them promise to call us, frequently. They can keep that one little vow, right?

Any trouble letting go? What's the For Better or the For Worse you've experienced?

Friday, September 9, 2011

It's Party Time!

Lots of little things suggest we're not as young as we used to be: Spying ourselves in some clearly malicious mirror. Deciding that sleeping until noon is more a waste of a precious day off than a constitutional right. Scheduling that colonoscopy.

But the signs aren't obvious only in how we look or what we do. They're also apparent in what we say--or more accurately--what we don't say.

For example, it seems I rarely find occasion these days to use the words "mosh pit." (Oh, I love that term, and I still dig a great concert; yet surprisingly few people dove into the mosh pit the last time I saw James Taylor.)

And I have never, not once, uttered the words "fo sho." (True Story: Stymied while trying to conjure up words people my age don't use, I queried my twenty-year-old son, without telling him why. After his suggestion, I wrote back, "Thx. That's perfect. Fo sho." Because that's the kind of hip and aware mother I am. He texted back, "God help us all.")

But most noticeably of all, the word "party" has practically disappeared from my vocabulary.

At one time--roughly age 14 to 24--"party" was a mainstay of my vernacular.

It showed up liberally in everyday conversation, particularly in the form of a plaintive plea: "Anyone having a party this weekend?" And "party" was an equal opportunity word. We were also fond of using it as a verb, as in "Hey, we have an algebra test next period. Want to go out to the parking lot and party instead?" We employed various derivatives, too, the most popular being the noun describing a person, such as "Yeah, man, he's a cool teacher. I heard he's a partier."

Oh Lord, the parties where we partied in my youth. From the one which the local news station came to cover (my ex-boyfriend's) to the one at which the front door was broken in (my sisters' fiasco) and the repair fund raised from helpful party-goers was stolen just before my parents arrived home.

I was totally an innocent bystander at those. But later, when I was voted Best Party Giver in our school newspaper just before graduation, my perplexed mother asked, "When did you have parties?"

Figuring I had little to lose anymore, I shrugged and replied, "Every night you were gone."

(This was the SEVENTIES, people. Have you ever watched That Seventies Show? Even the good kids partied around the table in their basement, while their parents were home! I was thoughtful enough to wait for mine to leave, which practically makes me a saint.)

But those crazy years are just a memory. A foggy one, at that.

And few people my age have parties anymore.

Now, we "have people over" or we have a "get-together." When we do use the term "party," it's generally to describe a fully different event than those of our late teens and twenties. Most of the parties I hosted after my late twenties included a pinata, a case of juice boxes and a bunch of rugrats. Wild, yes, but nothing in which the local news seemed to take an interest.

And we seldom party in the same active verb tense anymore. Many of us haven't touched the wacky weed or anything in the under-the-counter drug family in years. Oh sure, we still imbibe in more than moderate amounts of alcohol from time-to-time. (When I say "we," I mean "you" not "me." Of course.) But we seldom say we partied too much. In my crowd, we prefer to use more sophisticated terminology, vaguely suggestive of our being victims of circumstance. We say we were "overserved."

We're still a fun bunch, post-thirty (or post-forty). We enjoy a good get-together, a few laughs, a few drinks. We just don't break down doors or draw nightly news coverage anymore. We may not say the P-word much, but damn it, we still know how to have a good time.

I'll bet we could party with the best of them, at any crazy party, if we tried.

That's fo sho.

What words have disappeared from your aging vocabulary? Been to any good parties lately? Do you still party like you're nineteen, or like you're forty-nine?