Friday, December 23, 2011

The Reality of Christmas

Today, there are two things on my agenda: clean the house and bake more Christmas cookies. Molasses, gingerbread, crème de menthe truffles, snickerdoodles… Tonight, John will make a crackling fire and I will snuggle on the couch with my four perfect children and watch the film Nativity.

Ella’s actually not so perfect right now. Her upper lip is so chapped and red I call her Rudolph.

“I not Rudolph. I Ella! I a girl!” (Her speech is coming along, people.)

We will wish for snow, because mud doesn’t invoke cozy Christmas feelings the way clean white snow does, and we will send the kids to bed with visions of sugarplums in our heads. Or crème de menthe truffles. Or whatever. After they fall asleep, I will continue wrapping presents. (I finally started this most arduous process last night.)

Last evening, at 9:30, as John was bringing in Barbie dolls and Imaginext Batman toys from his trunk (our super secret Christmas hiding spot) to our living room, a mother whose three children were already slumbering in their own beds slipped from this world into the next. She had been fighting an aggressive form of cancer for the past 2 years. Her three children are just about the same age as mine.

I read the news with a heavy, bitter heart. I thought of how the shadow of her death will forever darken her children’s Christmases to come.

And then I thought better.

I thought of how the miracle we celebrate on December 25 makes it possible for these kids to have hope. That there is something serenely beautiful about leaving this broken earth at the same time of year we celebrate Jesus’ coming,remembering that Jesus came for the sole purpose of bridging the unfathomably large gap between heaven and earth.

Tonight, I will hold my kids close and remind them of our temporary condition. Their toys, which bring them such short-lived joy, are nothing in comparison to the ultimate gift of Christmas. And they will probably tell me to be quiet mom, that I always talk during movies and hug them so tight they can’t breathe so good. So I’ll tickle them and one will inevitably rush off to go to the bathroom, and we will all laugh. Oh, how blessed we are to have one another. To have faith.

“You don’t have a soul. You are a soul. You have a body.” C.S. Lewis.

Merry Christmas.

Monday, December 12, 2011

My Husband Sexually Harassed Me Under the Mistletoe (& other Christmas stories)


It’s the Christmas season and you know me, holly in my heart (Cary Grant in An Affair to Remember)

The following are directed at me every year over the holiday season. I would like answer concerns and questions about being a girl named Holly born four days after Christmas so that I never, ever have to answer them again.

1. “You name is Holly? Wow. You must, like, really love Christmas.”

Oh, I do. I love Christmas, and so much more than people named, like, Beverly. How can you love Christmas when you’re named Beverly? Also, I love Christmas so much more than people NOT born in December. How can you love Christmas when you were born in July? Preposterous.

2. “You were born at Christmastime? Did you, like, get cheated out of gifts?”

Not when I was younger. My mother always made my birthday very special.

However, things are different now, and yeah, I totally get gypped come my birthday. It’s an awkward time of year to have a birthday. It’s not like you can compete with, well, you know. And the one time I crossed my arms and complained that I wasn’t getting enough attention, people thought I was being “selfish” and “sacreligious.” (Wasn’t Jesus actually born in June?) So I don’t complain anymore- I just weep silently in my bed. Birthdays are for kids, not adults, anyway. And I don’t need anything. I want a lot of stuff, but I don’t need anything. So, don’t worry about me and the presents I’ve been swindled out of. I’m okay.


My Husband Sexually Harassed Me Under the Mistletoe

Today, the Christmas season is a shell of its It’s a Wonderful Life former self. Mr. Potter, despite what you saw on film, has not been defeated. Nativity scenes are out: singing the tune of "The Carol of the Bells" to sell bargain-priced designer-labeled clothes is in. Christmas caroling in the mall is a potential fire hazard, but Black Friday shopping has become a tradition in many families. Mistletoe is being banned from office parties so that corporate executives can still have “Santa Shots” (this is an actual drink) and not get stuck under the mistletoe while inebriated. Darn that mistletoe, inviting sexual harassment charges with its lascivious plant motives.

I was never kissed under the mistletoe until after I was married. Not that I didn’t want to be. I mean, how romantic is that, getting caught under the mistletoe with the object of your affection? I may have lingered by a sprig on an occasion or two, just to see if I could gain the experience of being kissed under the mistletoe, but alas… no one ever noticed.

One year, John and I were at a party where mistletoe was prominently hung from a doorway. I stood boldly underneath and called my husband over. Utterly clueless, he wanted to know what I wanted. Why had he been dragged away from playing Call of Duty? (Which is a wonderful wartime game that’s a staple at any traditional Christmas gathering, along with eggnog and candy canes.)  Also, I think maybe he’d had a couple of Santa Shots.

I directed his attention to the mistletoe above us, and this is what happened: John sniggered, grabbed my butt, pulled me in close, and laid a noisy, lingering smooch on my mouth. He tasted like peppermint schnapps.

My husband sexually harassed me under the mistletoe.

And I loved it.


We Wish You a Merry Christmas

The twins have been happily practicing their preschool Christmas program songs. At home, they sing loudly and unabashedly, so I was surprised when their teacher informed me that during practice at school, Ella had repeatedly dissolved into tears, ran into her teacher’s arms, and had hid her head while shaking like a leaf. Ella, who is not a naturally quiet individual, has auditory sensory issues and is unnerved by resounding ambient sound. Being in large, cavernous places where echoes bounce and shrill voices carry brings my usually boisterous little girl to her knees. So on the day of her program, I made sure to get a spot right up close, so that if she began to withdraw, I could grab her and hold her.

Ella sashayed down the aisle in her Christmas gown, beaming at us, shaking her hand bells with enthusiasm. She came down first because she was the smallest and needed to be placed at the front of the group. Daniel stood a little ways behind her. The first song began, and Ella’s face went from joyful to terror-filled. She stared at me. I grinned at her. “Sing,” I mouthed.

The sanctuary was packed with moms and dads and grandparents and siblings, and the crowd absorbed the sound beautifully. No echo. No reverberating bells. Ella relaxed noticeably and stayed with her classmates. She didn’t open her mouth and sing during the first song, but she stayed there and stared, somewhat dazed, at the crowd.

By the last song, she was into it. The following is a video of her preschool class singing “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.” Ella got a little carried away. She was the only child who twirled during the program. (Which was no big deal considering two songs before, she jumped up and down and then sat for half the song.) Note her unique dance movies during the “singing” verse. Please ignore the constant wiping of her nose with her hand.

Daniel was incredibly proud of his tie. When I showed it to him he gasped.

“It’s a real tie?”

"Yes! A real tie!”

"Just like daddy’s?”

“Daddy would never wear a black vest over a red shirt,” John said. “We are not gangsters.” Daniel was too busy taking his tie out of his vest and putting it back in to listen to his father's weirdness.

Today’s song for Monday: We Wish You a Merry Christmas:

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Under the Boardwalk

I'm a day late with my Monday happy song.  This is actually typical behavior that I am going to try and rectify in the new year. 

Several Valentine's Days ago, John took me out to eat at my favorite restaurant (since closed), and then to Eastman Theater to see Ben E. King.  The place was filled with a bunch of 60-year olds and us, but it was one of the most enjoyable concerts I have ever been to.  Mr King, of course, sang the below song, which is a wonderful antidote for grey and gloomy day.

For a few minutes, even I can pretend that the space under the boardwalk is NOT filled with broken glass, used prophylactic devices, and needles.  It's a respite from the hot sun and, apparently, a great spot for dancing with my baby. 

That's-a-where I wanna be...

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Why Reading To Kill a Mockingbird Will Help When it Comes Time to Read Conceptual Physics

Part 1

This morning, I came downstairs to spy the husband sitting in our dilapidated rocking chair in front of the television wearing a headset in order to talk to strangers online.

I cannot express how disturbed I am by this development.

Yesterday, John bought a wireless router so we could access Netflix through his Xbox. Unfortunately, this means subscribing to Xbox Live. If you have Xbox Live, you can play arcade games with other people live over the internet- through the television. If he starts playing Warcraft, I am going run off and become a lounge singer on a cruise ship. He wasn’t even excited about all the Gregory Peck movies we could watch right in a row! Or the karaoke features! He just wants to play hockey with 12-year olds who swear at him if he fails to prevent the opposing forwards from screening his goalie.

In my next life, I am going to marry someone whose idea of gaming is playing Scrabble on a Friday night. Good grief.

In other horrible news, we moved the television from the basement up into the playroom, which means we have two TVs on the first floor. The Wii is in the playroom, and the Xbox is in the living room, which means when I came downstairs, everyone in the house was playing video games.

Video games, of course, are not inherently bad in themselves, and I guess have some “benefits,” like in that 80s movie where the boy’s impressive gaming skills get him recruited to battle in an intergalactic war.

Of course, as a mom, I am naturally concerned that TV, video games, and other forms of technology are turning my kids’ brains into the consistency of the gruel served to Oliver Twist in Dickens’ classic.

“What’s gruel?” asks Ben.

“Kind of like porridge.”

“What’s porridge?”

“What the three bears ate.”

“Oh, yeah! That stuff is good!”

(I assume he decided that based on contextual evidence.)

Part 2

While some argue that the reading and writing kids do online “counts,” I am suspicious. And here’s why: reading a friend’s poorly conceived e-mail or participating in online forums or threads on Facebook does not develop the critical reading skills kids need to succeed.

I’m a huge fan of fiction: it’s fun, it allows kids to learn to sit in one place and read for an extended period of time, improves analytical thinking, expands vocabulary, improves memory, and helps kids become better writers. However, other types of literature, including comic books, magazines, and non-fiction books achieve these same goals.

Online reading doesn’t generally improve critical thinking skills. Since most kids aren’t logging on to The Atlantic or online literary journals, they are susceptible to the strategies websites use to get readers on to their website. Strategies include writing short paragraphs that are written around “keywords,” lists, emboldened headings, low-level vocabulary, and water-downed pieces of information people can scan to get the gist of the message. And then, there are the built-in links that drive online users from one page to the next, where eventually they become lost in cyberspace. There is no discernable ending when reading online, and time is literally sucked up into a vacuum as we aimlessly wander through a virtual world of our own creation.

Yes, digital literacy is a valuable asset in today’s technology-driven world, but are kids really gleaning valuable, factual information while web-surfing on their own? Outside of the classroom, kids troll YouTube, Facebook, celebrity sites, and personal blogs. Sure, you can find an answer to a question a lot faster on the internet than by visiting the library, but how do kids know if that source is reliable? I love this quote from a NY Times article:

Web readers are persistently weak at judging whether information is trustworthy. In one study, Donald J. Leu, who researches literacy and technology at the University of Connecticut, asked 48 students to look at a spoof Web site ( about a mythical species known as the “Pacific Northwest tree octopus.” Nearly 90 percent of them missed the joke and deemed the site a reliable source.
Extensive web-surfing fosters extremely short attention spans. The average time a person spends on a web page? 27 seconds. In a rush, we search for the answer to our question, then click on an advertisement that proclaims to have pictures of Ashton Kutcher’s latest tryst. (The pictures were questionable, by the way.)

If kids don’t grow up reading books, they miss out on developing critical thinking skills. When they get to college and a professor gives them a reading assignment, a lot of freshman can’t do it. They don’t know how. If they can’t sit still and read the first chapter of To Kill a Mockingbird, how are they going to read two pages of Conceptual Physics? How are they going to be able to dissect and respond to case studies, poetry, historical documents, and political science articles?

In short, if the future of mankind places extreme value in virtual hockey playing, intergalactic starfighting, finding songs on YouTube in less than 10 seconds, and cyber-bullying, by all means, let’s allow our kids to spend unprecedented amounts of time gaming, web-surfing, and texting. However, if the future still calls for doctors, physicists, engineers, novelists, poets, teachers, and lawyers, we should temper gaming and surfing with reading. (Maybe not the lawyers.  Unless they are like Atticus Finch, played by Gregory Peck in the film version of To Kill a Mockingbird.)

Part 3

The best way to foster a love of books in your kids is to:

1. Read to them.
2. Read in front of them.
3. Provide them with interesting reading materials.

(In the husband’s defense, his nose is in a book as often as or perhaps more often than he’s in front of the Xbox.)

I’ve been reading the boys A Christmas Carol, because of the holiday season and also because of a possibly premature and over-zealous desire to introduce them to Dickens. We stop a lot because they want to know what words mean.

“What does frigid mean?” asks Ben.

“Let’s see if you can figure it out. I’m so frigid! Brrrr!”

(A snicker comes from a corner of the room.)


The boys are really enjoying the book, even though it’s a bit beyond a first and third-grade reading level.

“It’s like that movie, Monster House!” says Ben.

“I would never wear tights. Even if I lived back then,” says Caleb.

The other night, we unwittingly allowed Caleb to stay up past 11:00 on a school night. He was reading Hatchet, by Gary Paulsen.

I’ve never been so proud.

Fun articles:

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

A Tale of Thanksgiving Woe

It’s a very manic time of year. There’s a lot going on. There are Christmas concerts and projects and shopping and decorating and cookie baking and tortuous exercise because you are determined to lose that weight before New Year’s. So what if you procrastinated a bit. This is the perfect time of year to go on a diet.

We had a lovely Thanksgiving. I made rolls- from scratch- and they were delectable. I spent the day before Thanksgiving in the kitchen, in constant search of things I had purchased at the store and immediately misplaced.

“Where’s the cinnamon? Does anyone know where the cinnamon is?”

“Up your butt!” said my 4-year old, Daniel.

For the record, that’s not where I found it.

The best thing about Thanksgiving, of course, is reflecting on all of the things God has blessed me with. Four healthy, rambunctious children with their father’s primitive sense of humor, a husband who has a good job in this horrific market, a supportive extended family, wonderful friends, food in the cupboards, clean water, medical insurance, and warm cups of tea on dreary, grey days.

The second best thing is leftovers.

I like turkey sandwiches. Leftover turkey warmed up on regular sandwich bread with a bit of mustard and mayo. Simple, but I look forward to it. Yesterday, I fed the twins their lunches, sat with Ella through her speech therapy after which I proceeded to make my turkey sandwich. As I worked, squeals of delight came from the other room, happy sounds that always make me nervous. I peeked in to discover Ella attempting to straddle the dog like a horse. Kiah looked quite put out, so I extricated my petite Lone Ranger from atop of her furry Silver. Ella said, and I quote, “Awww, man!”

“You could hurt Kiah,” I said. Ella was dubious, but she promised not to ride on the dog, so I went back to my sandwich.

The sandwich was gone, having probably been consumed in two large gulps by the very beast I had just rescued. There was mustard on her whiskers.

There are no words to express my incredible grief, which turned swiftly into anger. I composed myself, gave Kiah the hairy eyeball, and called Ella in from the other room.

“Ella?” I asked, “Do you know what a jockey is?”

Look for us in the circus.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Christmas Joy

Tis the time of year to dance around the kitchen to the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir.

Monday, November 21, 2011

The Happy Song Project

In the car this morning, Ben asked me to put some music on.  He wanted a "happy song."  I asked him to clarify.  He did.

"Don't play that sad music that made you all sleepy last night.  Remember?  You didn't want to get out of the car."

Someone's not a Pink Floyd fan.  That's cool.  I guess Ben doesn't appreciate his mom saying she is going to stay in her warm Grand Caravan forever because she is "comfortably numb."  (Did get out of the car- had to drink a lot of caffeine to wake up again, and no- absolutely no illegal drugs were involved.  I'm a little offended you asked.)

So, this morning I put my Greatest Hits from the 80's CD into the slot and played the happiest song in the whole world (this is not up for debate): Walking on Sunshine by Katrina and the Waves. 

It's the perfect Monday morning song. 

Ben started listing other "happy songs," which include "Twist and Shout,"  "I Wanna Hold Your Hand,"  "Crazy Little Thing Called Love,"  and "Jingle Bells."  As he listed his favorites, I had an idea, and blah blah blah:  The Holly Goes Lightly Happy Song Project was born!  On Monday mornings, I will bring my favorite ear candy to the blogosphere.  This accomplishes two things:  1.  It makes sure I publish at least one blog post a week and 2. I can't think of a second thing.  I'm sure there is one, though. 

The rules for "The Happy Song Project" are as follows:

1.  Songs should have either "positive messages," like those After School Specials they showed on TV in the eighties and early nineties, nonsensical fun lyrics, or should just be plain fluffy. 

2.  Songs should not be in a predominantly minor key.  (Exceptions include "Happy Together" by the Turtles and "And I Love Her," by The Beatles.)

3.  "Manic Monday" by The Bangles is disallowed.  So is any song by The Black Eyed Peas.

Requests gladly accepted.

This week's "happy song" was selected in honor of the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday.  Enjoy the dulcet tones of Ms. Natalie Merchant.  And happy Monday!

Monday, November 7, 2011

His First Crush

Caleb likes a girl.

I figured this out on my own. I could tell he liked her by the way his eyes changed when he talked about her. They get all furtive and stuff. Caleb and “Alissa” are singing together in a small group for the forthcoming third grade Christmas chorus concert. Unlike some of the other girls in his class, Alissa is well-behaved, never rolls her eyes behind the teacher’s back, and has long hair. These are all important characteristics in a potential girlfriend, according to Caleb.

The best thing about my discovery is that I have been sworn never to discuss Caleb’s secret with John. As Caleb talked animatedly of Alissa’s spectacular solar system diorama, I nodded and smiled and tried not to gush about how cute he is. I promised not to betray his confidence to his tactless father who, and these are Caleb’s words, “will tease me and ask me if I want to smooch her.”

Naturally, I had to share this with all of you.

I told Caleb of my own first crush, which is a heartbreaking tale of unrequited love that lasted from kindergarten through third grade. “Tommy” used to chase me around the school’s courtyard. Once he gave me a purple plastic bracelet because, and I remember his words exactly, “I’m never going to wear this.” Unlike Alissa, Tommy was not well behaved, and spent a lot of time in the corner. The days I was not chased around the courtyard and tackled like a football receiver because Tommy wasn’t allowed to participate in recess were the worst.

We were unfairly separated after the third grade when my family moved from the city to the suburbs.

Caleb: “Did you ever smooch?”

“No. We never smooched.”

“Does Dad know about this?”

I asked Caleb what his intentions were.

“What do you mean?”

“Well, I think you’re still a little young to have a girlfriend. It’s fine to like a girl, but it’s probably best just to be friends.”

“What, are you afraid I’m going to marry her or something? Come on, mom. I’m only eight. I still have to go to college. I don’t think they allow F.B.I. agents to even get married. And Alissa wants to be a dolphin trainer when she grows up.”

Of course she does.

I’m left wondering how long Caleb will continue believing that a life in the Federal Bureau of Investigation equals a life of bachelorhood. Because I think I can work with that…

Friday, November 4, 2011

Use Your Words

Before we are born, God allots each of us a certain number of words. Some receive buckets full, while others receive a mere teaspoon of ums, yeses, and no thank yous.

Around the age of one, we begin to let go of our words; once they leave the tangled messes of our minds, they are no longer our own: they belong to the collective world, transformed into reverberating sound waves that travel past the moon into the great, vast void.

I’m the kind of person who fiercely holds on to her words. It’s as if I’m afraid that I’ll use them all up prematurely and become either mute or dead. I don’t want to waste what I’ve been allocated.

When my children speak- and they can really blather on- I encourage verbal expression. As my son’s face gets red and his fists clench, I yell out “Use your words!” lest he begins using his fists instead.

“Use your words!” is a popular phrase among speech therapists and teachers and mothers. What we mean is: “Use your words in a manner that is pleasing to my ears!” When Ben uses his words to say: “I JUST HATE THIS FOOD!” I want to respond with, “That’s not what I meant, buddy. Now you’ve gone and hurt my feelings.”  (Like he would ever actually say, "Mom?  This food's texture is not pleasing to my sensitive palate.  Could you perhaps make me a sandwich of peanut butter and jelly?")

There is a definite tension between what we could say- I’m alluding to those tangled parts of speech buzzing in our brains- and what we actually do say or, in some cases, publicly express via the written word. This is called discretion. My children have no discretion, which I don’t mind unless we’re in a public place and Daniel says, “That lady has a mustache like a man.”

Once, my discretion stifled me. (It took a full year to open up to my husband after we started dating.) I like to think I’ve found a happy balance, though to this day “using my words” sometimes comes across as forced, and I sound… loopy. I’m that loopy, awkward girl who loves words, but can’t seem to make them work for her.

Sometimes, when I can’t sleep, I compile a list of my favorite words. Effuse. Jejune. Titter. Meander. Scoundrel. Reverence. Platypus. Epitome. Goulash. Opus. Legato. Mellifluous. Quicken. Diaphanous. Swashbuckle. Catharsis. Crinoline. Banana. Chirp. Bauble. Husbandry. Quantum. Rubbish. Terracotta. Bravado. Ink. Polliwog. Vivid. Vapid. Vanquish. Vivacious. Vitriol.

It’s easier to find that balance between could and do when you write words. I like to sit and carefully rifle through the tangled lexis in the mind. There are so many words to choose from.

There are funny words:

“Fifty-seven years in this business, you learn a few things. You know what words are funny and which words are not funny. Alka Seltzer is funny. You say "Alka Seltzer," you get a laugh . . . Words with "k" in them are funny. Casey Stengel, that's a funny name. Robert Taylor is not funny.” Willy from The Sunshine Boys.

Words are beautiful:

Our revels now are ended. These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits, and
Are melted into air, into thin air:
And like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capp'd tow'rs, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve,
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on; and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.
Shakespeare’s The Tempest Act 4, scene 1, 148–158

And ugly:

“I like to drink chunky diarrhea. Ha ha ha ha ha!” Daniel Jennings, age 4.


One word: Undulate.

And woven together in such a way that they make your heart hurt:

He thought of the Skin Horse, so wise and gentle, and all that he had told him. Of what use was it to be loved and lose one's beauty and become Real if it all ended like this? And a tear, a real tear, trickled down his little shabby velvet nose and fell to the ground.  From The Velveteen Rabbit, the saddest book ever written.

And in those moments when you can’t put together the poem or prose that captures what you desperately want to express, you can always borrow from someone else. Like I just did above.

The past couple of months have been difficult. There’s this awful juxtaposition between how good my life is and how sad I feel. And this makes me feel guilty, and when I feel guilty, I withdraw- close the curtains, ignore the phone, crawl into the mess of dangling participles and other grammatical disconnects in my mind- and just get through the day- no more, no less.

This, of course, is hard on my children, and (now I get to the point of all of the words that lead up to this saccharine finish) I want to give them this- because maybe, some day, they’ll read it.

Caleb, Ben, Danny, and Ella,

If I had but one more chance to use my words, I would give them all to you, without borrowing from a great poet or philosopher, or waiting until just the right turn-of-phrase comes to tip of my tongue- I would tell you that

I love you.

So much.

And I would say it again and again, shout it from the rooftop, write it in the sky, whisper it in your ears until it became a part of you. Because I could hug you every day and kiss your cheeks and tussle your hair, but you need to hear it- hear these words- because I don’t ever want there to be any doubt. These words belong to you.

I love you.

So much.

And we’re going to be fine.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Danny's Doppelganger

Danny, Champion of the World looks like

Daniel Robert Jennings...

A Little Shakespeare Humor

Tonight, my dad and I sat watching a King Lear Shakespeare in the Park video starring James Earl Jones. Caleb sat on a chair beside us, drawing on a magnadoodle while paying minimal attention to the drama unfolding on the screen. Then came the last scene in Act 1, which contains witty banter between Lear and his fool. Actually, Lear was being his usual curmudgeounly self; the Fool, however, was witty. 

Backstory- thought it’s not terribly important for the context of this post- King Lear banishes youngest daughter Cordelia because she refuses to suck up to him. His two older daughters, who are adept at sucking up, are revealed as selfish you-know-what’s after receiving their inheritances, and coldly turn their backs on their aging father.

King Lear’s fool, aka “Fool,” tells the king “I told ya so” by lauding the wisdom of slimy creatures like oysters and snails:

Fool: Canst tell how an oyster makes his shell?


Fool: Nor I neither; but I can tell why a snail has a house.


Fool: Why, to put his head in; not to give it away to his daughters, and leave his horns without a case.

KING LEAR: I will forget my nature. So kind a father! Be my horses ready?

Fool: Thy asses are gone about 'em. The reason why the seven stars are no more than seven is a pretty reason.

KING LEAR: Because they are not eight?

Fool: Yes, indeed: thou wouldst make a good fool.

KING LEAR: To take 't again perforce!

CALEB JENNINGS: (Without looking up.) The fooorce…

(ACT I Ends shortly thereafter.)

HOLLY: If you can’t trust your daughters, who can you trust?

DAD: Your fool.

HOLLY: I should get me a fool. Oh wait… (Certain individuals can fill in the blank there.)

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The Neti Pot: Friend or Foe?

Neti pot-using looney bird. 

There is a self-torture device sold in drugstores made popular by masochists and people who support masochism- namely Oprah- called the “neti pot.” The neti pot looks charming, like a tiny tea kettle, but don’t let its unassuming appearance fool you. The neti pot is actually a very convenient and socially-accepted way to waterboard a person. Unlike traditional waterboarding methods, however, the victim will come out of the experience with remarkably clear sinuses.

I have a sinus infection that seems determined to linger on until the end of time. A friend recommended relief through the neti pot. She offered to let me borrow hers, and although her nose is lovely, and I’m sure her pot is clean and sanitized, I felt fiscally confident enough to run off to Rite Aid and buy their plastic version. It was on sale for 8.99 and came with 50 saline packets.

The kids were immediately taken with it. Ella wanted to use it to serve tea to her dolls. I told them it was actually the lamp of a “less fortunate” genie. I went on to explain that while 1% of genies get to live in gorgeous, golden lamps, the rest live in plastic lamps mortgaged out the ying-yang, or government-subsidized ones that get stuck up people’s noses. I then explained the positive and negative aspects of capitalism. It was a “teachable” moment.

But I digress.

Using the neti pot is akin to giving your nasal passages an enema, and is probably an equally enjoyable process. To administer: first, fill the pot to the brim with lukewarm water. The instructions emphasize the importance of lukewarm. Too hot, and you’ll lose all sense of smell forever; too cold, and you will experience immeasurable amounts of pain. After you’ve filled the pot, you dissolve the saline solution into the water. Then, you stick the nozzle into one side of your nose, lean your head over the sink, turn it slowly so that gravity pulls the water into your nose, and wait.

The water is supposed to flush out mucus and then drain out of the other nostril into the sink. However, everything in that region of the head is interconnected: the throat, the nose, the ears, etc. The instructions say to “continue breathing through your mouth as you administer the solution.” It is hard to breathe when you are drowning.

I experimented by tilting my head in various ways and finally succeeded in flushing out the right side of my nose. Encouraged, I repeated on the left.

Though the left side of my nose looks exactly the same as my right side, apparently it’s a whole different ballgame inside. Within five seconds of administering the procedure, my nose started burning, water spilled into my throat and out my mouth, my eye started watering, and I swear I heard dolphins singing. There was a lot of choking and sputtering. I ceased and desisted immediately, regrouped, and tried again. I forced the remainder of the solution through my nasal passageways, bravely enduring the burning sensation. Masochist.

Afterwards, you’re supposed to gently blow your nose. Gently is stressed. I ignored that completely, and as I blew my nose, my ears basically imploded into my brain. This morning, I am fairly certain I am developing a double ear infection. Also, there is a chirping sound- like a little parakeet- when I breathe through my nose. I do not think this is normal. The instructions say some people’s ear passageways are wider than others, and if discomfort persists, to discontinue use of the neti pot. Now, of course, I am concerned about the ramifications of having shockingly wide ear passageways that invite the sloshing of random fluids and provide a spot for hamsters to do agility training.

The good news: I slept through the night for the first time in over a month, though I can’t be sure whether that was the work of the neti pot or the hydrocordone I’ve been saving for a rainy day. And yesterday, it rained salt water in my nose. So there you go.

In conclusion, here is what I’ve decided about the neti pot: While the instructions insist you should continue breathing through your mouth during the process, I submit this is horse crap. Hold your breath and block the passageway to your throat. This could save your life. Second, unless you enjoy the sensation of breathing in water taken straight from the Dead Sea, use half a saline packet at first. Your nose will thank you. Third, blow your nose gently afterward unless you want to block off ambient sound. (I suppose this could be a benefit for some.) Finally, for getting a good night sleep while suffering from a sinus infection, narcotics always trump homeopathic remedies. Always.

The jury’s still out on whether to continue use of the neti pot, donate it to Ella’s tea party play, or ship it off to Guantanamo Bay. We’ll see if my hearing returns before I make any final decisions.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011


It’s been, for the most part, a good week.

For the past three nights, I’ve dreamed that I am either starring in or auditioning for The Sound of Music. I’m not actually having the same dream over and over- there are different “plots” with different people and different settings each night. However, in every dream, I burst out of somewhere singing “Climb Every Mountain,” which is not even a Maria song, but is still pretty great. As you can imagine, it’s been difficult to get out of bed each morning, especially since the kids generally discourage me from singing to them as they’re getting ready for school. To quote Ella, “TOO LOUD.” Holly’s response: “Ella is four years, going on five years- she can be really mean…” Seriously. The other day, she sang the theme to the Smurfs 16 times in a row, and I didn’t say a word.

On September 29th, my baby brother had a little boy. Or rather, his wife did, but he was there. Then, this past Sunday, another nephew was born to John’s brother and his lovely wife. If baby Zavier was born to my brother Joshua, and baby Joshua was born to John’s brother Richie, then according to the laws of syllogism, Zavier was born to Richie. And this is why math is stupid.

When Zavier was born, I asked myself this hard question:  Do I love my baby nephew enough to spend $300 on a plane ticket to Norfolk?  The answer:  Yes.  Yes I do.  But I have stuff to give him, so I think I'll drive instead.

Now that I've pretty much raised my own children, I can devote myself to being a doting aunt, which is why I’ve gone and purchased myself the following t-shirt:

Zavier Paul (Picture brazenly stolen from his maternal grandmother's Facebook page.)

Joshua Thomas happily sleeping in his aunt Holly's arms.
Some sad news too.  My sister and her family said goodbye to their dog, Jefferson, adopted a year ago.  A tumor in his throat was restricting his breathing and he was slowly suffocating to death, so they made the difficult decision to let him go. 

I will miss Jefferson stories.  Jeff was part pointer, and would stand and, well, point when he spotted a squirrel or some other creature while walking.  Then, he would refuse to budge, making walks difficult.

Jefferson had a tough beginning and initially hated other dogs.  To this day, John holds a grudge against Jeff for trying to eat Kiah.  My husband is the kind of person who holds a grudge even in death.  (He has many other good qualities.)

Personally, I don't blame Jeff.  There are days when I want to not eat Kiah, but send her to darkest Peru or Siberia or somewhere.  However, Jeff excelled in his anger management classes, changed his ways, and ended up getting along nicely with his beagle housemate, Maizie. 

And, of course, my nephew and niece adored him.  And he adored them. 

Nate wrote this lovely poem commemorating the life of Jefferson the dog:

We loved you so much, we adopted you twice.

You hated other dogs, but to us you were nice.

At your anger management classes, you introduced us to Maizie;

Sometimes you managed to drive us all crazy.

Your boisterous, unconditional love we'll remember the most.

... And all the other things we'll miss can't fit in this post.

You were alone when you were born, but not when you died.

I hope we gave you the best year of your life.

Rest in peace, dear friend.

Jefferson the Dog: c. 2007 - 10/5/11

I never said he was Keats.  Still, it teared me up. 

Jeff is in a better place now- a place where the hills are alive with the sound of music, where silver white winters melt into springs, where he can follow every rainbow until he finds his dream. 

(Fact: you can always write a compelling eulogy based solely on songs from musicals.  Tomorrow, I will commemorate the life of Steve Jobs by using song lyrics from "Showboat.")

At this moment, my own 45 lb Aussie is curled up at my feet beneath my desk.  She makes my life so hard, but I think maybe I love her, because it's hard not to love someone who truly adores you. 

And how blessed my new nephews are, because they are already so very loved by so many people. 

A good week.

(This is my 301st post.)

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Married Female Seeks Male Friend for Regular Lunch Dates

This cartoon is in no way relevant to this post.  I just thought it was funny.

“Holly, why aren’t you blogging much lately? I really miss it.”

Not one of you has said the above, so here I sit, in a pool of narcissistic self-pity.

Okay, I’m over it and am ready to move on.

So, the husband is a social butterfly, and any given day of the week, he’s bopping off to some fancy restaurant to have lunch with a client or friend while I sit at home and eat the twins leftover PB &Js. (Now might also be a good time to mention that he drives a luxury vehicle and I drive a rusty Grand Caravan that leaks.)

So, yesterday evening, John’s cell phone rang. He answered it and said, “Veronica! Hello.” And then he walked out of the front door and into the driveway to speak to her. Alone. In private. Away from me.

Naturally, I went and opened the front window to eavesdrop. I couldn’t hear anything because Caleb kept asking me what I was doing, and when I shushed him he asked, “Are you trying to spy on dad?” When I said yes, he wanted to know why and, quite frankly, I was at a loss for words. Then I bumped my head and the whole thing was completely foiled. So I went outside and stood next to John and glared at his phone until he got off.

“You have too many female friends,” I announced.

He protested. Veronica, of course, was not calling to be social; it was work related.

“You’re always going out to lunch with other women.”

“I never go out with another woman. Sometimes in a group, but not one on one.”

I listed at least four women I knew he’d gone to lunch with. Alone. And the jerk just stood there with this dopey grin on his face.

“Are you jealous?”

For the record, no. I am obviously a catch. Veronica is probably ugly and stupid.

Still, it isn’t fair. Which is why I decided to launch my own personal search for a male friend. I thought up the following advertisement:

Greetings men! Do you like friendship? Do you like lunch? Me too! Let’s get together and have interesting conversation, snack on appetizers, and maybe play some raquetball afterwards. My 4-year old twins will accompany us on most occasions. Try not to hit them with the racquetball. Or your racquet. Good news on that front- they generally don’t finish their PB&Js, so, free dessert! By the way, if you want to call to chat during dinner, please feel free to do so. That’s what friends of opposite genders do! Also- if you are friends with Veronica, please don’t bother responding to this advertisement.

I scratched the above in favor of a better idea, one that I felt was more beneficial to my marriage: I called the husband to plan a lunch date for tomorrow afternoon. But I couldn’t get through to him because I had forgotten to pay his AT&T bill, and they had cut off his service.

And I wonder why he sees other women…

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Get Off My Property

The twins have taken up playing a game they call “Get off my property!” Here is how you play get off my property: run up to individuals nearby and yell “Get off my property!” Then laugh diabolically until they either a) hit you or b) get off your property. Which may not even be your property. It might be, say, your mom’s property, and maybe she doesn’t want you jumping on her property and throwing all of the pillows off of it.

Repeat above steps at random times throughout the day.

Yesterday, I was trying to get the kids to put their shoes on and get out the door and into the car. I don’t get these people. They stood by the door, crowding into one another while screaming “Get off my property!” They were holding various items they simply had to bring on the car ride. Can’t go to Grandpa’s house without the red matchbox truck lacking back wheels. They were wearing their jackets, but not one of them had on their shoes.

I turned to Caleb, because he is the oldest, and is therefore supposed to be the most proficient at “getting ready to go outdoors.”

“Why aren’t your shoes on?”

“Oh. I forgot.”

So they all dropped their heavy loads and plopped down in our tiny entryway to put on their shoes. Just then, the doorbell rang. It was a rather pushy Andersen Windows salesman. They always say: “I noticed your house has its original windows.”

I don’t want strange men checking out my windows unless I specifically ask them to check out my windows. It’s just this thing of mine.

Then he started a whole spiel about saving the world by purchasing energy-saving windows and he wanted to book me for an appointment blah blah blah. He went on and on while I shuffled one child after another past him toward the mini-van, all except for Ella, who was and is usually last, because she is small and slow about putting her shoes on.

“I will be back in your neighborhood next we-“

“GET OFF MY PROPERTY!” yelled Ella. Then she laughed diabolically and ran, shoeless, into the van.

And guess what? He did. And I don’t think we’ll be seeing him again any time soon.

Friday, September 16, 2011

When I Worked At Borders

I’ve had a lot of jobs. I’ve been a retail clerk, a waitress, a childcare provider, a receptionist, a high school English teacher, and now a freelance writer extraordinaire (tell your friends!) I even had a three-hour stint as a telemarketer, where I harassed people at home for money. I called myself Cassandra, because I’ve always liked the name Cassandra, and because I was so ashamed I couldn’t admit my real name. I may have also talked in a hybrid English/ Scottish accent unique to the region of my head.

My favorite job, however, was the year-and-a-half I spent as an employee at Borders Books and Music in Buffalo, New York.

You can see where this post is going.

If you love books, there’s obviously no better place to work than a gigantic bookstore. God, I loved that store. After I was unexpectedly fired from a position a week after September 11th (a sad story for another day), I applied at just one place: the bookstore I retreated to when I wanted to get away from it all. I was hired and put in charge of the children’s department. Soon after, I was promoted to training supervisor. Later, I popped out a 9.8 lb child. It hurt so bad, I decided not to work again for a long time.

I’ve got great stories from that place. My second week there, I overheard a guy talking about me in the back warehouse. (I was the new girl, so I was subject to scrutiny.) No one noticed my searching for a book among the warehouse stacks, because I am quiet, like a little library mouse. (I was skinny back then.) One of the sales clerks said to his girlfriend, and I quote: “Yeah, she’s hot, but she’s dumber than a bag of nails.”

Now, if this had happened yesterday, I would’ve dismissed the dumber-than-a bag-of-nails bit and focused on the hot part. I would’ve been delighted! Back then, though, my skinny butt was mortified. And stuck.

How was I going to get out of the back room without being discovered?

By crawling! On the floor. Where I came face to face with my newly-formed arch nemesis. Or rather, face to knee.

“Just… getting something,” I whispered. Then I got to my feet, walked briskly out, and cried for twelve hours straight.

“They think I’m stupid!” I sobbed to my husband.

“Who cares?” he said.

“We’ve never even had (snivel) a conversation (snivel) before… why would he say such a thing? Why does he hate me?”

“He didn’t say he hated you.  He said you were dumber than a bag of nails."

“I won’t go back there! I WANT TO DIE!”

I went back. Aside from a few awkward encounters that involved me shoving my GRE scores in a certain person’s face, all was forgiven.

The store was large, with books that lined the walls from floor to ceiling. Literature, biographies, memoirs, books about science, business, anthropology, cooking… you name it; Borders had it. The literature was on the far left, bargain books toward the front, the expansive music department filled the back. Borders employed people from all walks of life: freaky looking teenagers with shaggy hair and rings hanging out of their noses to grandmotherly types who manned the registers during the holidays. Some employees had been there for many years, taking comfort in the daily routines, the quiet of the store in the early morning, and the assurance that there would always be books to stock, people to help, titles to track down.

As a training supervisor, I made sure new employees knew where popular books like Tuesdays with Morrie, Founding Fathers, and The Millionaire Next Door were located. I taught café workers how to make a frothy cappuccino and music employees how to re-wrap CD cases that had been ripped open.

The store was full of interesting, quirky people, including the customers. I mainly resided in the children’s book department, where I stocked shelves, gave impassioned readings of The Monster at the End of this Book and There’s a Wocket in my Pocket during Saturday morning story hour, and was a brave arbiter during a divorced couple’s weekly Sunday morning child swap.

One evening, a graduate student came in and demanded books that had pictures of Lake Ladoga in Russia. She needed it for a presentation that was due the next day.

“I find it hard to believe you don’t even have a calendar with a picture of Lake Ladoga in it,” she said.

“We have calendars of the Finger Lakes,” I suggested. “Your classmates probably wouldn’t know the difference.”

She left in a huff.

Another day a Krispy Kreme opened next door, and we welcomed a whole new breed of clientele, like the man who came in every Saturday, selected five different magazines, and carried them (along with a half-eaten donut) into the bathroom for a mid-morning poo. I was made aware of this tradition by the café staff who had been watching this take place for weeks, but were too fearful to say anything.

“He goes to the bathroom, and then he returns the magazines to the shelves!” We agreed this was gross. I confronted him, and it went really, really well. I offered to hold his magazines while he did his business, he handed them over, and we never saw him again.

Another time, I confronted a woman who was taking advantage of the free coffee sample promotion we had going on. This did not go as well. To this day, I argue that filling your travel mug with coffee meant for sampling is “stealing.”

I had close encounters with celebrities. I sold Ani DiFranco some tea, took Rudy Giuliani to the bathroom, and helped a woman chase down Johnny Cochran at the airport after he gave a talk in our store. (She really believed he would take her case.)

And then there were the perks you weren’t supposed to talk about. I read The Lovely Bones, I Don’t Know How She Does It, Stupid White Men, and The Nanny Diaries before they were released to the public.

I listened to “Sweet Baby James” over 100 times on the loudspeaker.

The first time I puked after I became pregnant was in the Borders women’s bathroom, and the first book I bought for my son, I Am a Bunny by Richard Scarry, was purchased on a Monday before I left the store for the night.

Every now and again, I would go back and visit. Two years ago, I was unnerved to discover that the music selection, once the largest in Buffalo, had dwindled down to a few paltry shelves full of movie soundtracks, copies of Bach’s Greatest Hits, and the latest Britney Spears. There were, however, shelves full of stationary, lip gloss, journals, iPod cases, and other gift items.

I cried when I heard they were closing.

I don’t want to discuss why they failed- it’s moot at this point- I just want to say that my store was a really great store, and thousands of other Borders employees feel the same way about their stores.

Borders employed stores full of book lovers. And what better people to work with than with book lovers? And is there a better work environment than one filled with books? (And scones. Lots of scones.)

This Sunday, the last Borders stores will close their doors forever, including the flagship store in Ann Arbor.

I will miss them.

Think you could have worked at Borders? Take the quiz! It’s fun!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Ralph Waldo Emerson vs. Peggy and Pam

A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds. Emerson.

There are many drawbacks to working from home. Here’s but one example: Ella has, for whatever reason, removed all of the erasers from my Papermate pencils. Curses!

On the domestic front: lately, my house looks just like the shack featured at the end of The Blair Witch Project. Dingy with children’s hand prints all over the walls. There are no dead or possessed people standing in any corners, however.


We’re having serious problems over here. Like biblical plague-type problems.

We had a moth infestation in our pantry. I had to open the pantry doors and then duck for cover, lest I should inadvertently consume a moth. They got into the flour, cereal, pancake mix, oatmeal, rice, etc. I had scrub the shelves, throw out a lot of food, and vacuum up larvae (yes larvae) attached to the ceiling.

Our front yard is also crawling with moths. (A completely different type of moth, by the way, which you have to admit is a little freaky.) They burrow into the dirt and subsist on our already plagued-with-weeds grass. If you look, it appears that our front yard is mobile. So, we have to call the lawn people in to spray more poison all over the yard. I don’t get why no one else in the neighborhood seems to be suffering. I hired a lawn service this year just like everyone else.

Something is eating the leaves on my large maple tree in the front yard. This appears to be a different type of insect. I love that tree. If something happens to that tree, so help me God, I will throw a fit.

But you know what’s really disgusting? Going to get some meat out of your freezer to find that said freezer apparently died a couple of days ago and all of your food is rotting. The smell of death is overwhelming. You might throw up a little in your mouth. Which will happen again after you go get the rubber gloves and begin pulling decaying chicken carcasses from bacteria-ridden water at the bottom of the freezer. Goodbye ice-cream sandwiches, fish sticks, freeze pops, hamburgers, and hot dog buns.

I’m contacting a priest to exercise the demons.

That doesn’t look right.

Exorcise the demons. Though exercise works. Run them around and really wear them out, then give them a mop and bucket and put them to work in the kitchen.

I shouldn’t joke about the demons.

The messy dirty house is of course mostly my fault. Well, my kids’ fault, but I haven’t been on top of things. I need to get proactive. I’ve contacted a maid service, but I feel compelled to clean before they come. I don’t want them to think I’m a slob. God forbid.

So I ordered another self-help book. This is why self-help books continue to fly off bookshelves, or rather, electronic databases, faster than copies of The Bible: suckers like me who truly believe one truly excellent self-help book will solve all their problems. This particular one is called Sidetracked Home Executives. I was drawn to the term “Home Executive.”

The authors, sisters Pam Young and Peggy Jones, are funny. They list a “table of excuses” messy people use to avoid cleaning, which include:

I don’t have enough energy.
It’s too hot.
It’s too cold.
I’m not in the mood.
I’ve got too many kids.
I’ve got cramps.
My house is too big.
My house is too small.
We just moved in (three years ago).
I don’t have enough time.
Nobody cooperates with me.
I’d rather play solitaire (updated for 2011- Angry Birds).
I don’t want to do it.
I’m too intelligent for such remedial work.
I hate housework.
Nobody appreciates it anyway.
Creative people are messy.
I’m pregnant (I’m not).
I’ll start tomorrow.
I was up all night with the baby.
It’s the flu season.

My additions:

I’ve got moths.
I’ve got rotting chickens.
I have no more edible food.
We’re recovering from hurricane Irene.
I have an excessively hairy and destructive dog.
I’m currently very busy creating a playlist of New Wave love songs.
My husband works too much.
I think my house is haunted, and I don’t want to be in it.
I’m exhausted; I’ve been exercising the demons.

People keep telling me I need a routine. That sounds horrible. I don’t want to know what I’m doing every Monday, especially if it’s: “cleaning the upstairs bathroom, washing all the whites, making lasagna for dinner, and changing the sheets.” How very the opposite of droll.

Nothing scares me more than thinking that all the weeks of my life will ride the never-ending waves of laundry, dirty dishes, grocery shopping, and scrubbing stains off the toilet seat.

Yet, Peggy and Pam insist that if I get a routine going, cleaning will take up a small portion of time, and I’ll have the rest of the day to read romance novels, watch Dr. Phil, and take naps.

They said that. I’m not even joking.

I don’t like Dr. Phil.

But there’s no other month like September to get it together. I think I’d be happy if it was September all year long. And the other day, a friend called to ask if I could keep an eye on her son for a few hours, and I almost said no because I didn’t want the seven-year old kid to see my house. This is a problem.

Honestly, I’m tired. I go through dramatic mood changes. One day, the sun is shining and I truly believe: I can do this! Today, I will prepare three meals, dress my children in appropriate attire, put them on the bus, workout, take a shower, play hide-and-seek with the twins, write for three hours, do three loads of laundry, make doctor and dentist appointments, update my calendar, clean at least one bathroom, correct Caleb’s homework, scrub the crayon markings off the wall, sweep the kitchen floor, fix my hair before greeting the husband, and floss.

Other days: This is pointless. I am useless. Who ate the last oatmeal cream pie I will kill you. I hate flossing the dental hygienist can kiss my @#$.

The doctor calls it bi-polar disorder.

I call it motherhood. Some days are decidedly better than others. Would a routine help? Or is it just another goal I will fail to meet?

Also- someone has broken into my house and taken ½ of every pair of socks. I am sure of this, but the policemen think I’m crazy.

“Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could. Some blunders and absurdities no doubt crept in, forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day, you shall begin it well and serenely...” Emerson.

(The serenely part is really funny.)

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

The Toothless Miser

Ben lost a tooth today. It was so gross. There was blood all over. He lacks those two front teeth, the ones so many children covet at Christmas-time. The gaping hole in his mouth doesn’t seem to bother him, however. He had other things on his mind, like how much his tooth was really worth.

“I’ve heard of kids getting $5 for their teeth,” he said.

“I’ve never heard that,” I responded.

“But I washed my tooth and it’s very white.”

“What are you saying?”

”I’m saying that you should call the tooth fairy’s boss for me.”

I may have called the tooth fairy’s regional manager once to complain about lack of service here on our street. The tooth fairy had an appalling habit of arriving late to our house.

The regional manager was quite apologetic. She even had the tooth fairy call to tell Ben she had been suffering from flying sickness and was very sorry for her tardiness.

“You really think your tooth is worth more than other kids’ teeth?” Ben nodded his head fervently. “Why?”

“Because it’s so cute. Look at it.”

Good grief.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Happiest Girl...

Married 12 YEARS! This calls for the dedication of a supremely cheesy yet very sweet song...

Skippidity doo-da

Thank you Lord for making him for me

And thank you for letting life turn out the way

That I always thought it could be

There once was a time when I could not imagine

How it would feel to say

I’m the happiest girl in the whole U.S.A.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Beware the Nevi

Unfortunately, I grew up with the skewed belief that if I kept at it religiously, I would become a person who tanned well. This led to years of blistering sunburns. I read somewhere that each blistering sunburn increases your chance of getting skin cancer by like 900%, so it’s no surprise that in the past few years I’ve had several basal cell carcinomas freeze-dried off my face, shoulders, and back, each time leaving a small, shiny, white recessed scar. (I call my doctor Mr. Freeze, like the Batman villain. He seems to get a kick out of it.)

It’s a highly unpleasant process.

We watch my moles like hawks. In the past year, a freckle beneath my eyebrow started expanding like it was Napoleon and my face was continental Europe. So the doctor shot novocaine into my head, removed the thing with a scalpel, and sent it off to be biopsied.

“I’d be highly surprised if it’s melanoma,” he said.

Never say the word “melanoma” in front of a pale person whose major regret in life is that her vanity led her down the path of sunburns, sun rashes, and some dehydration that may have led to mass faintings. Especially is she has libertarian leanings. She’s liable to go all Yosemite Sam, shooting at the ground and vowing to destroy melanoma varmints like she did when she discovered the sudden appearance of an ugly black mole on her chin. Thankfully, her self-diagnosis proved the spot to be completely benign (chocolate cake batter) and a crisis was averted.

(If I could go back and kick 16-year old Holly’s skinny little a@$, I would. Then I’d douse her with SPF 30 and tell her to stop skipping gym class; she’s gonna fail the semester and have to make it up her senior year.)

Last week, a nurse called me with the biopsy results.

“Your biopsy came back. It showed a dysplastic compound nevi.”

There was a moment of panic. A dysplastic compound nevi sounded like major cause for concern. I glanced at my poor sweet children who were playing happily with blocks, completely oblivious to the fact that I was suffering from a dysplastic compound nevi. The sun kept shining, my neighbor kept mowing his lawn, the world kept rotating in spite of the fact that I was sitting there with a severe case of dysplastic compound nevi.

“Oh no,” I said.

“Nah, this is good. That’s just fancy terminology for a benign mole. No cancer. Okay?”

I strongly believe she should have led off with the benign mole bit.

Crisis averted again. I remain happy, relatively healthy, and pale. It’s disconcerting, however, that the husband doesn’t seem to understand that I have to lay pretty low for the next month or so. I had a dysplastic compound nevi surgically removed from my eye. Or above my eye. Same thing. It was traumatizing. I demand chocolate pudding and popsicles.

And sunscreen. Lots of sunscreen.

Friday, August 12, 2011

The Nighttime Visitor

Four children, and not one of them had ever crawled into bed with us in the middle of the night. Nor have they bounced on our bed on Christmas morning; they howl from their rooms, as if we’ve imprisoned them in there, “Waaaake uuuup!!! MOM! DAD!” Most consider us lucky, but I always felt like I was missing out on something. I like cuddling.

Two weeks ago, Daniel woke up in the middle of the night screaming. I walked in his room and he started blubbering about a weird noise, the rain, a bug, the rise of China and the threat of global warming. He was bereft. So I gathered him in my arms and brought him into our bed. He burrowed down into the covers and lay completely still, like a warm loaf of bread. He let out a tiny sigh, went to sleep, and stayed perfectly still until 7 in the morning.

It was glorious.

My other three children are cuddling failures. Caleb slept for the first four days of his life and then took up a hobby: screaming at the top of his lung until he turned purple for large portions of the day and night. He adamantly refused to go asleep on his own. He required to be moving in his swing at about 80 mph or bounced on my knees for a good half hour before he would drift off. Forget about trying to set him down. The moment he felt that easy drop toward his crib, he would wake up and passionately recite a speech by Benito Mussolini. My life had been taken over by a 10-pound fascist dictator with no teeth and a penchant for drooling.

For the first four months of his life, I ended up curled up on the couch with Caleb, where I lay perfectly still and came in and out of uneasy, murky sleep. Living a life in perpetual fear of waking your dictator child is not really a life at all; I had to break Caleb of his habit. Which was like trying to unseat Mussolini, minus the hanging bit.  Since then, Caleb has been a restless, twitchy sleeper who gets about seven hours of shut-eye a night and is not one for cuddling.

Ben’s a good sleeper- has been since day one. He’s squirmy, though. We shared a bed once, and I woke up in the middle of the night with his heel in my eye. I gently moved him back into position and woke up 20 minutes later with no covers and his other heel in my eye. I pity his future wife.

Ella is too social to cuddle. She wants to talk. And sing. And discuss plans for her birthday, which is seven months away. She wants to jump on the bed and tickle feet and recite a monologue by one Dora the Explorer. She wants to dabble in Spanish and make animal shadows on the wall. She wants to giggle, randomly, for no apparent reason. She wants to know where her twin is; she sleeps well next to him. She refuses to be still with the rest of us.

A few nights ago, Daniel came into our room and tapped me on the forehead until I woke up. I couldn’t make out what he was saying. He was upset about something. I grabbed him and he molded into the side of me and stayed there until the morning. He’s so squishy and soft.

Sadly, it hasn’t happened since, so I’ve been telling him some slight untruths. Like the following:

1. The book “There’s a Nightmare in My Closet” by Maurice Sendak is based on a true story.
2. So is “Where the Wild Things Are.”
3. Sharks swim in oceans, but occasionally make it to Lake Ontario. Occasionally.
4. The buzzing sound in his room is probably a nest of bees in between the rafters, but they won’t get in unless they find that tiny hole in the corner.
5. I don’t think his stuffed animals came alive at night and gave him that bruise on his leg, but I can’t be sure.
6. Sometimes mommy forgets to lock the front door, but bad guys only rob yellow houses. Our house is yellow? Well, I guess mommy should start locking the doors!
7. Sometimes dogs turn into werewolves in the middle of the night, but only dogs who live in yellow houses.
8. Come to think of it, yellow also attracts aliens. Maybe we should get new siding?
9. Did I ever tell you the story about when an alien stole me from my bed and took me to his planet and made me eat copious amounts of peas?
10. Yes, that’s why aliens are green. Because they eat a diet solely consisting of peas.

Any night now…

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Obedience School

Holly's Turn

Dog obedience training at the local community center was postponed a week due to inclement weather conditions. Last week, I went to an informational session without Kiah, which was nice because there were no children or dogs there. Just a bunch of harried looking dog parents with questions like “How can I get my dog to stop chasing my cat?” and “How can I get my dog to stop chasing the mailman?” and “How can I get my dog to stop chasing me?” The girl next to me was the frazzled owner of a young golden retriever. As I looked over our training materials, I commented that my dog was going to be the worst dog in the class. The girl next to me insisted her dog was going to be the worst dog in the class. The argument escalated from there, both of us stubbornly insisting we had the worst-trained dogs in the entire world. There was arm crossing and glaring. When your dog’s bad manners become a point of pride, something is wrong. It’s like bragging to New Yorkers that Rochester’s crime rate is higher than New York’s.

Anyway, yesterday was the big day. I dragged Caleb along. Walking into a room with nine other dogs, quite frankly, filled me with a lot of anxiety. Kiah used to be really good on the leash, but this past spring, she went rogue. It has become impossible to walk her. Last week, I had two elderly gentlemen say, “Who’s taking who for a walk? Ha ha ha.” Real original, guys. Real original.

Kiah pulled on her leash and started walking on her hind legs, as she is apt to do when I won’t allow her to just run up to a strange dog. Caleb grinned as I pleaded with Kiah to behave herself.

All in all, the session went pretty well. Our first lesson was to teach the dog not to pull on the leash. Then we worked on sit and topped if off with the more advanced sit/stay combination. Kiah is a smart girl and catches on quick; I just need to be more consistent. One thing I’m really good at is the high-pitched gushing that dogs respond so well to. I was praised for my dog-praising technique, which consists of baby-talk and lots of scratching behind the ears. I say things like, “She’s such a good shmooki lovey boo boo doggie woggy yes her is and I loves her! Yes I do! I loves her!” Caleb rolls his eyes at me when I talk like that.

“That’s kind of embarrassing, mom.”

“Yeah, well, you loved it when you were four months old.”

“I doubt it,” he says.

The last ten minutes are dedicated to free play, which means the owners let their dogs off their leashes and allow them to run around the gym to sniff one another’s butts. I’m a little surprised this is legal in the state of New York. The trainer explained the rules for free play. She called the most submissive dogs to the center of the gym first, followed by more friendly dogs, followed by the most dominant dogs.

Molly, a meek black lab, went first. After she was let off her leash, Molly ran with her tail between her legs to a corner, cowered, and shook like a leaf. Next went Jenny, a yippy terrier. She stood in the middle of the gym and, well, yipped. Brody the chocolate lab went next. The two Codys were called, as well as the golden retriever puppy.

Kiah was called last.


The alpha dog went last.

We have a lot of work to do these next few months.

Kiah’s Turn

Last night, my non-fuzzy adopted mother and my non-fuzzy adopted brother accompanied me to a special program that trains adults to perform tricks while we canines watch them with amusement. Watching my non-fuzzy mother jumping up and down like an imbecile because I sit is the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever seen. Yes, I can sit! I’ve always been able to sit. Why we’re celebrating this now is beyond me, but okay. It seems to make her happy, so I acquiesce.

There were so many other dogs there! I sniffed everyone’s butt. Every single one. There was this little tiny dog there; I’ve never seen anything like her. I took my paw and pushed her and sure enough, she kind of fell on her side. So I stepped on her, you know, just to let her know I was big and important and she was small and insignificant. Holly was mortified. She pulled me away and said, “No Kiah. Play nice.” The funny thing is, even though Holly’s bigger than I am, and I mean big- the woman is enormous- she has never pushed me over and stepped on me.

She is an inferior being.

We did a lot of walking around in circles. I’ve always been a proficient circle walker, but Holly felt she needed the practice, so we trotted around and the trainer scrutinized Holly to make sure she was performing well. She wasn’t. She was pretty much the worst walker in the class. It was kind of sad.

Then, the canines were taught how to train our non-fuzzy parents to jump up and down and make ridiculous noises when we sat and stayed. If you have the opportunity to try this at home, I highly recommend it. Watching grown men and women say things like, “She’s such a good shmooki lovey boo boo doggie woggy yes her is and I loves her! Yes I do! I loves her!” is a good time. It’s hard to believe this is the species that created the wheel, modern medicine, and those wonderful chew toys they call Nerf.

Before we left, everyone went leash-free and we had an official butt-sniffing convention. Brody peed on the side of the wall. I think he was trying to prove something, so I knocked him over and stepped on him. Holly kept trying to make me act in a manner to which I am not accustomed, and she knows I hate that. I think she’s jealous because I am social and loved by everyone, and she’s kind of shy and awkward and let’s face it, ridiculous with that high-pitched voice. I don’t know why she was even there. She did not sniff one butt. It was kind of rude.

We have a lot of work to do these next few months.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Mimosas for Breakfast

NYC at 100 degrees is only fun if you go with your best girlfriends. I know. I was in NYC this weekend with my girlfriends while all the smart people were leaving Manhattan in hoards. Thankfully, in NY there is always a shop or a café with air conditioning to patronize or a window air conditioner dripping condensation from above.

The weekend is a little hazy because the weather was hazy, and also perhaps because I started off each morning with mimosas for breakfast. I sweat a lot. On Saturday, I didn’t go to the bathroom between 1pm and 8pm, despite drinking over 40 ounces of water and one diet coke. This was shocking to me because I pee, on average, every 47.5 minutes.

My friend Lyd and I drove this time, hoping to save both money and Holly’s stomach, which is still funky after her flight back from Dallas. We didn’t even make it to Geneva before we got stuck in a 2 ½ hour traffic jam. We were upset about it. There was complaining. And then we found out a tour bus had pulled out in front of a tractor trailer, was immediately set on fire, and that the tractor trailer driver perished.

We felt a wee bit bad about complaining.

I have a love/hate thing going on with the British woman on the GPS. I love her because she knows where I am when I have no clue, but I hate her because she’s bossy and takes me through the Holland Tunnel when the George Washington Bridge is the better route.

We did find free parking one street away from Christine's apartment for the entire weekend.  This is a miracle akin to turning water into wine.  Or mimosas.

It took us ten hours to drive to the Upper East Side and six hours to drive home via the George Washington Bridge.

Lyd and I are not quite assimilated to the Big Apple, though we try to fit in. Lydia is, strangely, single. Otherwise I WOULD NOT be checking out handsome men in uniform on the street because I am happily married to a suit.  I'm trying to help out a friend. 

Holly: Lyd, did you see that cute pilot over there?
Lyd: Ooooh, yeah. Danny!
Christine: That’s a doorman, guys.

I was also concerned about how crowded all of the coffee shops were.

Holly: Is it always this crowded in these places? Even in the dead of winter?
Christine: Yes.
Holly: (Deeply concerned.) But then where can all of the writers go to pen their great novels?
Christine: It’s the stupid writers that make it so crowded in here. They sit and they don’t move for days. (Glares at girl sitting at table with laptop.)
Holly: Oh. I feel sheepish. (I did not say that. But sheepish is just how I felt.)

I took fewer pics than I usually do, but here are some of them with commentary:

On Saturday, we ventured out to Governors Island, which is located at the bottom of Manhattan near the Statue of Liberty.  Formerly a military base, the government is in the middle of preservation efforts, turning the island into a sort of park/ historical destination.  You can access the island via ferry (the port is right next to the Staten Island Ferry port.)  The island was pretty dead; of course, it was 100 degrees out.  Once on the island, you can rent a bicycle, fly a kite, enjoy a free game of mini-golf, eat lunch, and appreciate the view.  Here's me and Lyd at one of the many modern sculptures located throughout the island. 
A tourist boat sailing by the island.  The orange boat is the Staten Island Ferry.
View of lower Manhattan from Governors Island.

View of Libby from Governors Island

Castle Williams located on Governors Island
On Sunday, we had Brunch at Cafe Lalo, which is the cafe from You've Got Mail.  (Which I wrote about recently, right here. Tom Hanks goes to meet Meg Ryan, who sits waiting expectantly with her rose and a copy of Pride and Prejudice.)  The cafe is renowned for their vast dessert menu.  They offer an "Around the World" brunch.  Christine got the New York brunch.  Holly stupidly got the Irish brunch.  If you ever have the choice between a New York brunch and an Irish brunch, go with New York.

At Cafe Lalo.
I love corner flower shops.

There is a Food Emporium located under the 59th Street Bridge.  Wegmans has a nice ambiance, but this makes grocery shopping quite elegant. 

We went to Tiffany's because Christine had a return to make.  So, there you go.  The inevitable Holly Goes Lightly at Tiffany's pic, sideways, because she can't seem to fix the Blogger pic problem.  I'm wearing my brand new Angel Batista hat. 
  If you happen to go to Tiffany's with a same-sex friend in the next few months and want the Tiffany salespeople to simply fawn over you, pretend you and your friend are getting married, and you're both getting 5-karat engagement rings.  I swear, they will go nuts.

We did not do that, of course. 

Christine, by the way, lives one street away from Holly Golightly's fictional apartment building.  I failed to get a snapshop, yet again. 

We did too many things to list.  Some stops:  The GreenFlea Market, Zabar's (where I got Lydia a bag of coffee because John drank the last two brought home from NY for her), The Strand, of course, Pylos Greek Restaurant, etc, etc, etc. 

It was good times and noodle salad, despite the heat.

Walking around with my girlfriends, I don't feel like a 33-year old mother of four.  I feel fifteen again, wandering about with no resonsibilities, feeling a tiny bit rebellious having a mimosa with breakfast even though I'm of age.  For three days, it felt like no time had past between now and the tenth grade. 

Today, I feel very much 33.  Daniel is waiting for me to open the garage.  I better do that.

No one has their very own garage in Manhattan.  Poor saps.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Top Ten Reasons Holly Should Get a Pool in 2012

1. The home in which she rears her children and works lacks central air. Yet, the long-suffering and meek individual that she is, she rarely complains.

2. She enjoys swimming and is exceptionally good at the side-stroke.  Her children ALSO enjoy swimming.  Studies show that families who swim together stay together, and children who come from homes with pools are 88% less likely to fall into drinking and drugs.  It's true. 

3. A pool is the perfect place to hold "2012 the world is ending" parties.  If should also be pointed out that since the world is coming to the end, concerns about paying off the pool are moot. 

4. She feels bad that every time a friend calls for a play date, she asks if they have a pool. She’s starting to feel desperate and rude.

5. She is currently undergoing a rigorous physical exercise regime that will ensure that by the summer of 2012, she will look perfectly acceptable in a bathing suit.

6. She gave birth to twins.


And one jumped of them into the world feet first.

She feels she should also mention the epidural was not working at full capacity toward the end.

It should be mentioned that she breastfed said twins for 15 months, saving $3000+ in formula costs. Of course she did it because it was the best thing for her babies, but she can’t help but also point out that a pair of perfectly lovely 34Cs were absolutely ruined in the process.

7. She acquiesced to becoming a dog owner and has, for the last 10 months, been responsible for 90% of poop-pick-up duties, despite promises made by certain individuals who shall remain nameless but know who they are. Yet, the long-suffering and meek individual that she is, she has not complained, even when picking up steamy feces before her rambunctious children run barefoot into the backyard.

8. Two weeks ago, she purchased a $50 Walmart pool with filter, commissioned a friend to help her put it together, and filled it up with fresh water from a reliable hose. Exactly 5 hours later, a certain individual who shall remain nameless let the aforementioned dog run outside, jump into new pool, and rip open pool with claws which resulted in the demise of the pool. Yet, the long-suffering and meek individual that she is, she has not complained.

9. She’s pretty sure that inserted into the wedding vows was, “after twelve years of marriage, I promise to buy my wife a pool. Not doing so allows the wife to run off with Timothy Olyphant who will provide her with multiple pools and cosmetic surgery to restore her boobs to their former glory."

10. Holly is "nice."  Niceness should be rewarded with pools. 


Holly reads post to husband.

Husband:  I feel like this post is leading up to something.
Holly:  What?
Husband:  You asking me for a pool.

Can't pull anything over on this guy.