humor

Making peace with your inner idiot

Have you ever felt “undead”? This is not the opposite of alive – it’s the “no-man’s-land” where you don’t fit in anywhere.  No?  Okay, how about discombobulated?  Where you get that feeling that you have absolutely no idea of what to do so you start doing things that don’t make any sense but you feel better because at least you’re doing something? Yeah, I got you there.

Famous Idiot #1

George W Bush Famous Idiot #1

Being the mentally stable and organized individual that I am, I have only had this feeling a few times in my life.  When my good friend Lisa Schmagenbuch called to tell me her contractions had started and she needed my assistance in the delivery room, well, that was one of them.  This was not sudden or unexpected – it had been the plan for at least six months.  Lisa and her husband Dave were relying on me to be the experienced rock of knowledge in their time of uncertainty.
 
Nothing surprised me more when, after Lisa called to let me know her labor was starting, I turned to my common sense and found it had slipped out the back door.  This is not a good thing because standing in its place, grinning like a fool, was what I call, my inner idiot.

Stupid is as stupid does

I have not had good experiences with my “idiot”.  She has substance abuse issues, continually has her foot in her mouth, does stupid things just for fun and has an IQ bordering on mentally challenged.  Her insults are harsh and usually hit below the belt, and this is just before she kicks you.  I have seen her do things that have made me laugh, but mostly made me cry, and I cringe when I see her coming.  The worst part – she is extremely strong-willed and fights with her are ugly and never end up in a good place.

My friend flicka

Barack Obama It's a requirement for the job - why else would you do it?

Ironically though, I often count on her and I can’t remember a time when she hasn’t been around.  I have turned to her on many of occasions; my inner idiot has never said no to me and is at my beck and call.  I have heard her described as belligerent – and it’s true, she won’t take no for an answer.  She’s obnoxious, rude, and bossy, but she’s been a friend since childhood and there’s a certain comfort in that.  Sounds crazy, I know, but (note to my “friend” Bonnie) I am ridiculously loyal to those close to me – whatever their issues – and I am unable (or unwilling) to give my inner idiot up.

Lisa loses her sense of humor

So, there I was, listening to Lisa tell me she and Dave were on the way to the hospital and I should meet them there.  But, before I could get a word in, my idiot interrupted and spoke up, “What should I wear?”
 
I could hear Lisa’s labored breathing in the silence that followed.  I sensed that she wasn’t in the mood for jokes, but this was no joking matter.  What does one wear to a birthing?  This was a legitimate question – I had never attended one.

I waited patiently until she finally caught her breath.  “You can’t go wrong with black,” she managed to get out. 

“Short or long-sleeves?  Practical or casual chic?” I mentally went through my closet.

I could hear Dave in the background urging her to hurry and Lisa, ever the diplomat, suggested that I ask Craig what he thought, as they were in somewhat of a rush.

Craig! I scoffed to myself.  He was useless when it came to couture and was color-blind to boot.  He would be, let’s see . . . zero amount of help.  I called my friend Kelly to ask her what she wore to my third birthing.

Sarah Palin

Gov(?) Sarah Palin? You make the call . . . you betcha!

But, she didn’t remember and actually had the nerve to say that it wasn’t important.  Lisa was counting on my emotional support and I could show up in a sack – I just needed to be there.

It’s hard always being right

I hate it when people don’t do what I want.  As a result, a teeny tiny attitude crept in and for the next forty-five minutes I fought it off as I tried on a few different options, finally settling on a cute black number that I had only worn once.

By this time, I was actually feeling (and looking BTW!) great and, with brownies in hand, drove off into the night.  I swung by Starbucks for a latte and arrived at the hospital with plenty of time to spare.  After all, this was her first and it would be a long night.

In the dark, the hospital looked way different.  I had been there recently, twice in the past two years for my own births, but they had moved the parking garage or torn it down or covered it up and I couldn’t find it.  Northwest Community is a big hospital and the streets that circle it are all either one way or dead ends and I became increasing frustrated as I passed the emergency room for the third time.

I knew it was boxers!

Billy Boy Clinton I knew it was boxers!

“My God,” I shouted out to a doctor that I cut off as he tried to cross the street.  “What?  You trying to keep the riffraff out?”

“I’m sorry?” He looked at me like I had two heads.

“Where have you put the parking lot?” I yelled.

“It’s always been right there.” He pointed to a structure in front of me.  “Are you alright?” he said, faking concern.

“Like you care!” I retorted.  I gunned it and flew across a speed bump, my minivan bottoming out as I turned into the parking garage.

I will admit it was at this time that I started getting anxious.  It had been almost two hours since I had last spoken to Lisa and I was beginning to feel light-headed.  The caffeine was making my heart race and as I drove up and up the parking ramp looking for a space, I wondered why I had ever agreed to deliver this baby.  I found a spot on the top outside level and, in the December chill, made my way back down to the first floor and found myself outside the emergency room once again.

The woman at the front desk stopped me with a brusque, “What can I do for you?”

“I’m looking for the maternity ward.”

“Other side of the hospital.  Go out the emergency doors and follow the signs.  Can’t go in this way.”  She pointed her long boney finger out at the cold dark night.

I stuck my tongue out at her and headed back where I had came from.  I was now, definitely, discombobulated.

To be continued (one last time-I promise) . . .

Move over Kate Gosselin – there’s room for more than one at the bottom

I don’t usually like to brag, but there are some things I do, and I do well.  The first that comes to mind is yodeling naked in the shower, a close second is starting a land war in Asia, and the third is birthing babies.   I don’t kid myself that I can compete with Octomom, or Kate, but four times is nothing to shake a stick at.  I’ve done it alone, in front of an audience, twice with no drugs, and once as I was arguing with my mother . . . on the phone.

before

By number three, I still hadn't learned how these pictures will come back to haunt you

As a matter of fact, my reputation was such that my presence was requested by my good-friend (let’s call her Lisa Schmagenbuch), at the birth of her first child.  She knew that I had expertly handled all of my own birthing events and was impressed with how effortlessly I had sailed through my personal sea of pain.  Of course, I agreed.  And frankly, being a role model comes as second nature to me.

 But, it’s no secret that the bigger they are the harder they fall.  This is the story of my tumble from grace and the valuable lessons learned as I plummeted from heights of greatness to the humbleness of defeat.  It’s not easy to show weakness and vulnerability, but know this – I share this story with you for one reason only, and that is – it is a required step in a particular “class” I am associated with.

Looking for Lisa

Lisa Schmagenbuck was clinging tightly to the hope that a certain aging rock star would marry her.  But, besides a few brief stalking episodes, they had never met and we all thought Lisa would become an old-maid waiting for him.  Then she was introduced to “Dave” and we were all thrilled when he asked her out.  He was not a rock star, but he was successful, handsome, intelligent, and it didn’t bother him in the least that Lisa practiced witchcraft as a hobby.  I’m sorry, not witchcraft – astrology (I always get the two mixed up).  

Within the year, Lisa broke up with the rock star she had never met and accepted Dave’s request for her hand in marriage.  They had a fairy-tale engagement, marriage, yada yada, and a year later Dave and Lisa found themselves staring at a cross on a urine soaked stick.

after

Notice the lip gloss? The carefully coiffed hair? I look pretty good, huh? Took me until #4 to figure it out.

Lisa has always looked up to me and since becoming a wife and now an expectant mother, she relied on me more than ever.  I couldn’t go five minutes without her calling, wondering whether she should have a bagel or toast for breakfast.  Now, we all know that a bagel in the first trimester is a given, but these are the kinds of things that Lisa was clueless about.  Please don’t blame her.  It wasn’t her fault – she was the youngest of four and had been waited on and babied her whole life.  Once again, I think this is another example where we can point the finger at the parents.

It was apparent she was headed for trouble when, during one training session I held, she put my infant son’s diaper on backward and inside out.  Then there was the time she made a tuna-noodle casserole and forgot the peas!  Her washcloths were always folded incorrectly and don’t get me started on her silverware drawer.  Dave appeared unscathed by these “issues”, but I knew the hard, cold slap of reality would be a painful one for my dear friend, and I vowed to be there to witness it when it happened.  I just didn’t know that I would learn something in the process.

You don’t know what you don’t know

scan0006

Lisa is the pregnant one on the right

When Lisa asked me to be in the delivery room with her and Dave, I knew at once that it was a duty that I would have to perform.  Besides my own experience, I had actually never see a live birth, but judging from my successes, I felt confident I could assist.  We talked at length of the things she would need in the delivery room: lipstick for pictures, refreshments for the hospital staff, “Footloose” on DVD, flattering birthing wear and of course, a CD mix of her favorite tunes.

For a brief time, Lisa seemed preoccupied with the Lamaze Method.  It took a few weeks, but I explained to my inexperienced friend, over and over, that breathing came naturally – she didn’t need to pay someone to help her do it, and besides, I wasn’t sure how legit the whole methodology was.  Sometimes these “necessary” classes are scams.  I can say this with confidence as I had taken the class three times and I didn’t remember it doing much more than relaxing me when the pain became the greatest.

We discussed our birthing plan in great detail.  The brownies were in the freezer – ready to be pulled out at a moment’s notice and Lisa had chosen a couple flattering shades of lip stick.  We went with basic black for the birthing wear but were still up in the air on whether or not to include her former flame’s songs on her CD mix.  Other than that, the stage was set.

Spoiler alert!

I sometimes say “Hindsight is 50/50 – could have gone either way”.  Looking back, this was definitely the case.  We could have sailed through Lisa and Dave’s birthing debut, but it didn’t happen that way.  Like most disasters, you either blame someone else or wonder “what if?”  “What if” I hadn’t lost my temper?  “What if” the brownies had gone over better?  “What if” the whole epidural debacle was just a dream?  Could I have done something differently?  You betcha!  But what?
 
To be continued . . .

Dandy – my favorite midget stripper

At one point in my life, I hadn’t thought much about midget strippers.  I was young and naïve and under the impression that all strippers were the good-looking athletic type.  But (you can see where this is going) we all know that assuming anything can be the kiss of death and I was wrong – sorely wrong – anyone can take their clothes off for money. 

WARNING!

This next blog is not for the faint-at-heart or the politically correct, but I can assure you that you will learn a little something about yourself.  And maybe, just maybe, you’ll be a better person for it.

prince

The artist formerly known as "Crazy as a Loon"

michael

Just a thought - would you even recognize him with hair?

The year was 1993.  A town in Waco had become popular, Prince was known as that “bat-crap crazy” artist, and Michael Jordan retired for the first time.  And me, I had managed to get through my fifth college and come out, for the first time, with a diploma.
 
It was a time to celebrate and I decided to host a party for myself, acknowledging the fact that I had finally finished something I started.  Sure it was fifteen years later than when I first walked the campus of Central Michigan University, but I am a slow learner and, frankly, I had issues that I now understand are my mother’s fault.

both

We don't look so bad together - could he have been "the one that got away"?

The party was to be held in the 600 square foot shoe box my children and I called “hell-hole home”.  Anyone who cared to affirm that I had actually graduated came, and I found myself surrounded  (probably for the first time) with the warmth and love that came with such an accomplishment.  As I remember, it was a lovely party and the joy that we shared transcended the heartache of the world. 

But it all went terribly awry when, during a chorus of Kumbaya, Kelly looked out the window and gasped.
 
“There’s a midget carrying balloons headed towards the apartment!”  She crushed her cigarette out in her beer can and added, “And he’s dressed like . . . an Arabian Sheik.”

A little something special, just for me

We all rushed to the window and, sure enough, a very small man with very large balloons was skipping towards us.  As he came closer we could hear him calling out, “Leath!  Oh Leath!  Where are you?  Dandy ith looking for you!”

I assumed, since my name is not Leath, he was looking for someone else.  But he wasn’t.  He just had a lisp.  “Dandy” arrived, teeth as large as the big bad wolf, with his boom box and balloons and bowed deeply.  “At your  thervice, my lady,” he announced.  “Dandy is all yourths for the nexths thirty minuths!”

dandy

This part was kind of weird - in a freaky way

As he dug through his bag, I searched the partygoer’s faces wondering who could have done this to me.  There was a stunned silence as I met each person’s eyes and I found only confusion and disbelief.  No one had that “ha ha” look – they were as surprised as I was.  Only when my daughter, Gracie, who was just five, burst into tears did anyone even move.
 
By then he had slipped a cassette into the box, removed his shirt and pants, and was dancing seductively, wait . . . seductively is not the word I want.  Let me rephrase that.  He was moving towards me in a strange way and holding out, what appeared to be, a bunch of grapes.  As he swiveled his hips to Ice Ice Baby, he held the fruit out to me, winked and whispered, “Feed me baby.”

me

Here I am, pretending to be embarrassed

For the first time in my life, I couldn’t move or speak.  Bizarre is one word I can think of to describe the situation that I found myself in.  Humiliated, embarrassed, and shocked are a few more.  But it was also funny.  Funny in that really sick way that we all enjoy every now and then, especially at someone else’s expense.
 
After that, things went to hell in a hand basket.  Both my sisters, who are self-professed instigators, started screaming, “Take it off.  Take it all off!”  That’s all it took before the others joined in and the party very quickly went from a love fest to me feeling like Piggy, in the Lord of the Flies.   I may have looked like I was enjoying the gyrating midget as I fed him grapes, but it was all I could do to hold it together and not throw myself off the second story balcony.

Dancing with the Stars

Dandy pumped and danced as the crowd cheered and egged him on.   He sang loudly as he moved around the dance floor, his huge fake teeth causing him to shower anyone in his way with spittle.  I drew the line at having him sit on my lap and tickle his belly, but I couldn’t resist throwing a few grapes in his general direction and watching him dive to try to catch them in his mouth.  At one point, he spun like a break dancer on the floor, his sheik’s headress flying out behind him, and we had to physically contain my sister, Becky, from joining in on the action.   She apparently has some fetishes I am unaware of.

Finally, my little Dandy collapsed on the floor, panting like a worn out puppy.  The music stopped and the manic giddiness disappeared and it became weird again.  We helped him pack up the remainder of his grapes and handed him his sheik’s clothes, thanking him for stopping by.  He told me to keep the balloons and shook my hand before turning to walk out of our lives forever.  I thought Becky would actually break down as she followed him out telling him that “if he was ever in the neighborhood . . .”

With friends like that . . .

For some reason, my friends think it’s funny to do stuff like that to me.  It has been suggested that they are actually being hostile when they send a Dandy or, on another occasion, a Naughty Nerd, but I choose to believe it comes from a good place and not an ugly place some crazy shrink has dreamed up.

I have my friend, Denise (who couldn’t make it to the party), to thank for Dandy.  I can say with all seriousness, he is one midget stripper that I will never forget.  And that, my friends, is just the kind of gift that keeps on giving.

There’s no accounting for taste

It always surprises people when I tell them that I have an accounting degree.  I’m sure this is because I don’t act like an accountant or dress like one or talk like one.  I’m not like all, you know, um . . . put your net worth income in hedge fundsOh wait, I think that’s finance – but you get the drift.

When I first mentioned to my partners, Dawn and Kristyn, that my background was accounting, they were suspect then curious.

Kristyn and Dawn at their Mothers Against

Kristyn and Dawn at their meeting for Mothers Against Mother Accountants (M.A.M.A) Frankly, it bothers me that they look so pleased.

“Really?  asked Dawn.  “Did you graduate?”
 
“I sure did.  When I was thirty-two,” I told her proudly.

“From an accredited school?” Kristyn pressed.

“Yep, Eli Broad College of Business, Michigan State University.”

“And you have a diploma?”

“Somewhere,”  I replied.

Honesty is my best policy

But in all honesty (and I pride myself in being honest – to a fault), I’m not really a good accountant. If I were to interview myself, I would find me charming and witty and a good cook, but when it comes to the numbers, there are issues.  This dates back to my diagnosis of having contracted a viral infection called Fibrosis in Bottom Brain Involving Numbers & Graphs (F.I.B.B.I.N.G.) when I was a small child. 

Because my parents were never interested in my well-being they did nothing to treat it and it has affected my ability to, well basically, count.  And tell time and a number of other digit issues that I share only with my therapists.

I don’t want to jump back on the “blame your parents” bandwagon - again!  I am an adult now have accepted and embraced the fact that they were to blame but there’s nothing I can do about it.  Sure, I can tease them with not caring for them when they are old and kid them about leaving them in dirty diapers for days, but I digress, I was talking about how they royally screwed me with the whole disease thing.
 

This photo has not been doctored!  This is proof that I graduated from something and my green gown is a dead-giveaway that it's MSU!

This photo has not been doctored! This is proof that I graduated from something and my green gown is a dead-giveaway that it's MSU!

So, needless to say, I did graduate, (no thanks to them) but I limped across the finish line.  The horror story that I will share with you haunts me to this day and I have many a reoccurring dream that puts me right back in the situation – with the exception that I am only wearing a towel.

Marketing, shmarketing . . booring!

Marketing classes always threw me for a loop.  The vague terms for the airy-fairy concepts were so different than the vague terms for the accounting concepts and I found the subject tested my patience and understanding.  I studied many hours, often late into the night with my good friend, Karen, trying to master the ambiguous ideas.
 
The last final of my college career was my Marketing one.  It was also on Friday, the last day of finals and at 3:00, the last time-slot for a final – the last of the last of the last.  Karen had been over the night before until the wee hours and when she left, we were exhausted but confident we could hold on to the “A’s” we currently had going into the test.  (At this point I should explain that I what I lack in certain areas, I make up for with enthusiasm and many many hours of rote learning)

What’s that about the early bird and the worm?

I decided to show up an hour early to the test and sit outside the auditorium where the exam was being administered.  I didn’t want anything goofy to happen and I sat, fully prepared, on the bench beside the exit doors and waited patiently for the current exam to finish. 

Eventually, students began filtering out; their faces flush with excitement at having the last of their tests behind them.  I recognized many of them from the business school and from possibly other classes we shared, but when a girl that I had actually done a marketing project with walked out of the doors and gave me a funny look, a feeling of panic hit me like a ton of bricks.
 
I raced into the auditorium and flew down the aisles, past Karen, who called out in a loud whisper “Are you finished?” and over to the teaching assistants at the base of the stage.  I breathlessly explained my situation, stating I had actually been in the building, right outside the doors for almost an hour.  I told them I thought the exam started at 3:00, when  it fact it was apparent it had started at 1:00.  

They looked at me like I had two heads and one cigarette.   There was nothing they could do they said, and I saw them sneak a glance at each other with raised eyes.  They certainly weren’t going to wait another two hours while I took the exam, especially when other students had finished and could have shared questions from the test. 

The best they could do was had me an empty answer sheet and say good-luck.  I had fifteen minutes, which was just enough time to color in every ‘c’ answer throughout the entire exam.

Do not believe this!  (I know from experience)

The rumor that “c” answers are correct more often than not, is simply not true.  I failed the test and squeeked by my marketing class with a C-.  I did not graduate with high honors as I expected I would but, I did still manage to graduate and that’s a good thing.
 
Now, of course, it doesn’t really matter.  I didn’t miss out on any jobs because of that marketing grade that I know of.  And actually, the first job I was hired for as an accountant, was by an ex-football player who liked the fact that I had worked food service at a previous Super Bowl.
 

In my heart, I will always be a "spartan"

In my heart, I will always be a "spartan"

I was totally devastated when I missed that final.   I had restarted my college career as a mother and a “non-traditional student”, paying for the whole thing myself and working two jobs.   At the time, it seemed like an unjust ending to a Cinderella story and it put a damper on the graduation party, though the midget stripper did cheer me up.  (Yes, you read that right)

I feel differently now – actually, just the opposite.  Matter of fact, it makes for a great story.

Idle threats and a new book

There’s an obvious problem with idle threats and that is – they don’t work.  The threatenee (Craig) soon realizes you’re spitting in the wind and the threatenor (me) just gets increasingly frustrated.  Yes, I’m talking about the “divorce” threat and it has long lost its ability to shock and awe.

“If you don’t take out the garbage you can look for a letter from my attorney,” I have been known to say.

“I am your attorney,” Craig has been known to answer.  Boom!  Not a threat.

Or, I could mention that if he doesn’t clean up the garage, run a bubble bath for me or pick up the pile of dog poop in the yard, he might find me heading out the door to singlehood.
 
“Don’t forget the kids,” he’d call out, “and take that crazy dog, too.”  Snap!  Not a threat.

I can hear many of you armchair psychologists calling plays from the bench.   “If you have to threaten you have bigger fish to fry than the garbage” could be one of them.  Well, don’t think for one minute you have me fooled.  Anyone who says they haven’t used threats or bribes or blackmail or any form of coercion with their husband or children is still listing their weight as 125 pounds on their driver’s license.  As they say, denial ain’t just a river in Africa.

If I had a nickel for every complaint . . .

So anyway, back to my complaining and my threats to Craig.  If you don’t already know, I wrote a book last year called “Falling from the Moon”.  I could go on and on and on about how hard I worked and the hours sacrificed late at night writing or the TV shows I gave up to spend the time toiling in front of my computer, but I won’t.  I’m just not that kind of a person. 

front-text

The front cover!

What I will tell you is that I read only that one book in two years and I read it about a hundred times!  I still did a crappy job at self-editing, but that is not my area of expertise.  It is actually something my husband is very good at.  I had hoped he might take one tinsy iota of interest in my accomplishment and do me a solid by reading through it and pointing out any typos or grammatical errors that I had overlooked.

Can’t pull the wool over my eyes

 But I’m sure you can already read the writing on the wall.  He protested that he had already put in eighty hours at work or that he read contracts all day or blah blah blah.  He falsely promised that as soon as he could catch his breath he would, that he was interested.  He just had a regular job, that by the way, paid the bills.  The excuses were staggering and it wasn’t long before I went from “when you get time” to “I’ll divorce you so fast it will make your head spin!”    One can only take so much heartache and abuse.

I think it was when two of his best friends found themselves in divorce court that he saw the light and did what was in his best interest.  Almost one year to the day that I finished the novel, he proudly announced to me that he had read “Falling” and proclaimed that “it was just like a real book”.  
 

back-text1

The back cover from "Falling"

At this point, I had a choice.  I could hold out and pout for a while (which has its advantages) or I could cave and discuss it with him.  My excitement at having a conversation about something other than American Idol or the upcoming Cleveland Brown’s football season won out and my heart raced as I blubbered, “Really?  What did you think?”

“It’s not funny,” he replied.

“It’s not supposed to be.  It’s historical fiction.”

“Well, then it’s one of the best books I’ve ever read.”

My heart sank a little knowing that the last book he probably read was “Where the Wild Things Are” . . . to the children a few years ago.

“No really, Honey, it was great.”  He gave me a little hug and continued, “I couldn’t put it down and even got teary-eyed in a few places.  And the story was very engaging and I found myself caring about the characters and you didn’t leave any loose ends.   “Actually,” he looked at me with a renewed respect, “I’m impressed.  It was a really good book.”

“You think?” I asked.  The image I had of me sitting on some barstool, vodka in one hand, cigarette in the other, faded away.  I wouldn’t have to go back to serial dating!

“Yeah, I really mean it.”  I know him well enough that he is honest to the point of obnoxiousness.  He really did mean it.  “It would be a great movie,” he added.

All my dreams were coming true.  I would be the next Margaret Mitchell and “Falling” would be my “Gone with the Wind”.  It would be made into a blockbuster movie and I would buy a small island in the Caribbean, next to Johnny Depp.  Life was good.

“Have you sold any?”  Craig had the nerve to ask, always the kill-joy.

“Not yet.” I stated indignantly.  “But no one knows that the book’s for sale.  I haven’t announced it.”  My words own words rang out loud and clear as my island get-away slowly slipped into the sea.  It was apparent I needed a way to let a large number of people know that they could buy my book on Amazon or through our website bookstore.   I’m not the brightest knife in the drawer, but I’m sure something will come to me.
 
Hmmm . . .

back-text

High School Reunion, here I come!

It’s funny.  When I was growing up in Michigan, I couldn’t wait to get out of the state and what I considered the blue-collared city of Battle Creek.  The cereal factories, the non-descript row homes, the downtown that could hardly be considered a hub of culture and it all embodied a background that I didn’t want to be associated with.

Battle Creek - Cereal Capital of the world!

Battle Creek - Cereal Capital of the world!

I certainly saw myself as more of a sophisticated kind of gal – one who enjoyed the enhanced opportunities that a metropolitan city would provide.  Like Dim sum on Sunday mornings in Chinatown, a downtown that boasted a skyline comparable to none, renowned universities and museums a cab ride away – the cultural diversity that Chicago could offer.

It wasn’t that I was used to these things.  There were no European trips or sports cars wrapped in a red ribbon sitting in my driveway on my sixteenth birthday.  My parents weren’t successful entrepreneurs or trust-fund babies, they were teachers and we lived a middle-class existence where, when you could start working, you did.  We drove American made cars, ate at Red-Lobster on special occasions and vacationed in northern Michigan during the summers

The Chicago skyline - it is pretty cool!
The Chicago skyline – it is pretty cool!

When I left for Illinois, I hardly looked back.  When people asked me where I was from, I laughingly said Michigan as though it were common knowledge that anyone who could get out, would.  I loved my new life, even though I was living in a two-bedroom apartment in Schaumburg and driving my Saturn into the city to work.  I wasn’t necessarily living the good-life, but I was awful close to people who were and that sort of thing rubs off.  We all shared the unspoken knowledge that, yes, we had arrived.  To where, I couldn’t tell you, but it was somewhere other than Battle Creek.

My life went through another change when I met Craig and the apartment turned into a house and the Saturn to a mini-van.  It was an effortless transition into a new life, one that I had not actively sought out, but rather expected would happen and I settled in, totally comfortable in my newest role.

You can run, but you can’t hide

But, as anyone wise will say, you can take the girl out of Michigan but you can’t take Michigan out of the girl.  It took a couple years, but I did begin to miss trees, and crickets and the stars that light pollution didn’t hide. I missed leisurely drives in the country where you lick your vanilla cone and watch the horses or the late evening farmer finish his plowing.   Ice cream in the suburbs means traffic and lines and a three dollar baby cone.
  

Craig and the boys at Fort Mackinaw

Craig and the boys at Fort Mackinaw

I looked forward to family visits where we took long walks through the woods or on the beach or just sat on the porch with lemonade, gossiping about the latest small-town scandal. It wasn’t hard to convince Craig to vacation on Mackinac Island where walking through horse manure seems charming and fudge is the official hors d’oeuvre, served before every meal.
 
Even Battle Creek was different than what I remembered.  It wasn’t smoke you smelled from the factories, but the sweet aroma of Frosted Flakes and Rice Crispies drifting through the city.  The row houses reminded me of the days when my best friend, Tala, and I would sneak into her older sister Sherree’s bedroom to look at her Led Zeppelin album covers when she wasn’t there.  I recalled riding the bus downtown to shop at Robinson’s department store and eating hand-pressed burgers and shakes at Speed’s Coffee Shop.  Was my childhood far enough behind me that all things once evil had magically become nostalgic?

Returning to the scene of the crime

This weekend I’ll return again for my class reunion.  It’s a bit easier as FaceBook has allowed me the opportunity to pre-connect before meeting up with the classmates from Lakeview High School Class of 1979.  At one time I may have turned up my nose at the chance to see faces that may or may not have been friends, but I view things differently these days.  I’ve grown up now and it doesn’t matter to me how much money you make or how big your house is.  I want to hear how your brother is doing or what happened to your sister, the swimmer.  I want to tell you how sad I was to hear your mother passed away and how glad I am that your dad made it through his by-pass surgery with little complication.  I want to see pictures of your kids, hell, your grandkids, and hear about your life and what you’ve been doing for the past thirty years.

Sure, I’d have liked to have lost the twenty pounds that have found their way home and you betcha I have a hair appointment scheduled this week for a “touch-up” but frankly, I feel pretty comfortable with what and who I am these days.  This is not a claim I make lightly or have even made much in the past, but I have lost much of the baggage that I had dragged around and I don’t feel the need to be anything other than what I am.  Trust me, I still have my issues, but they’re not as life-threatening as I once thought they were.

So, this weekend should be fun.  Kelly comes in on Wednesday and the kids are at camp, so we’ll have plenty of time to reminisce of days gone by and old war stories.  I’m looking forward to seeing the faces of the “kids” I went to school with and remembering the few that didn’t make it to see this reunion.  All in all, I’d say it ain’t so bad.

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Children of the Corn

Little Max and Sam are a bit of a challenge.  Now, I know boys will be boys, but our sweet angels have been known to push the envelope and our biggest challenge is to figure out which household items can be easily converted to weapons.

I’m not talking obvious – sure knives and scissors are considered dangerous by some.  But it’s the every-day candle or can of soup that can throw a parent off.   Did you realize that a dismantled Lego, when thrown with the right velocity and at the perfect angle, can take out a tooth?  Who knew?

Who’s the Boss?

But Craig and I are responsible parents and after a long debate with Max, and to his bitter disappointment, we have decided firearms are off-limits, though the jury’s still out on explosives.  I’m not saying that giving a shot-gun to an angry nine year-old with a vendetta is a bad choice, it’s just our choice.
 
Besides, who needs weapons when good old-fashioned hand-to-hand combat can be just as effective?  And the bonus is it can be done anywhere.   My little guys love to fight at parties, at weddings, on the bus (a favorite), at concerts and movies – really, in just about any public venue you can think of (I think it’s the excitement of having a captive audience).   Why, just the other day I broke up an all-out brawl in the meat department at Costco.  And I only became involved when the manager had the nerve to ask us to leave.

Just another day. . .

Just another day. . .

The best thing about the physical abusive Max and Sam inflict on each other is the colorful language that accompanies the beatings.  For an eight and nine year-old, I’ll admit that  they  have a fairly sophisticated vocabulary. 

Though it’s kind of funny, and I don’t know how  they  got it mixed up, but  both my boys are under the  impression that  the phrase is “damn-god” not the other way around (as in “I’m going to knock his damn-god head off”).  How cute is that?

Now Max is my strategic planner.  Even when he was two, he knew exactly when to push his just-walking one year-old brother down the steps.  He picked on Sam brutally until we showed Sam how effective biting can be.  That seemed to even the playing board a bit.

It’s hard to squelch Sam’s fierce determination to retaliate after an unfair business practice by his brother.  I’m totally astonished at how long he can sit-in-wait for the perfect opportunity to kick Max in the groin.  I have seen him hold out for days before he finds just the right moment.  You have to admit it’s a virtue, that kind of patience.

Weapons training for children – are they ever too young?

Sam is considered by some, an expert in managing the staff, or spear as we sometimes refer to it.  Our “Sweetie-peetie-pumpkin-pie-Sammer” (my pet name!) is becoming so adept at handling this unique weapon, I’m thinking he could be a contender for the javelin in the 2016 Olympics.  Last week I found him working diligently to remove the handle base from my house broom.
 
“There!” he cried as he stood and began twirling.  That five-foot broom handle was turning so fast it was making my head spin.
 
“Light the ends on fire,” he shouted.

“That seems awfully dangerous,” I yelled back through the wind tunnel.  “Can’t we just tape some knives on the end?”

“I want the fire!” he screamed, tossing the stick high into the air.  It landed on the roof, between the rake and Craig’s new putter.

Breakin' the law, breakin' the law

Breakin' the law, breakin' the law

We try not to get involved as we have been advised by the “kid whisperer” that it’s best if children learn to negotiate and solve their own problems without the aid of an adult.  This strategy does tend to throw people off as it can appear that the parent is ignoring the children’s bickering.  This was definitely the case last summer when my good friend, Stacie, came to visit and we took the boys to the beach.

All was going well until Max looked at Sam and smiled.  Apparently it was the “ha ha” smile and Sam wasn’t having any.  I paid no attention to the threats of drowning or even the slaps that turned to punches.  I turned a blind eye to the handfuls of sand that blew our way and only when a rock almost hit Stacie, did I step in and advise her to move her chair.
 
Of course, I explained our strategy and the theory behind it.

“How’s that working out for you?” she asked, in somewhat of a snotty tone (I thought).  But she doesn’t have children so she hasn’t a clue as to what she’s talking about.

Good help is hard to find

It has been difficult to hold on to sitters.  There has been more than one teenager that has gone home in tears and never returned.  We’re lucky that our current adult sitter, Maria, is an admitted masochist and enjoys the “suffering” the boys impose on her.  Though, she was a teensy upset when they locked her in the basement for an hour when they were just three and four.  Of course, now it’s a favorite story and almost always gets a laugh at social gatherings.  And, Maria’s eye tick has finally disappeared so it’s a win- win for everyone.

I know what you’re thinking and believe me, I feel the same way. . . it’s pretty obvious that the boys get their temperament from my husband and his side of the family.  He has admitted as much to me in our family therapy sessions.  Craig grew up the oldest of three boys, all two years apart, and there was more than one wall in their house that took an undeserved punch.
  
But those were the days when children didn’t feel comfortable expressing themselves in front of the adults that could spank them.  We don’t believe in corporal punishment (before nine in the morning), so we are forced to be much more creative.  Bribing and begging almost always seem to do the trick.

Click the picture to watch a short vidio of my talented children

Click the picture to watch a short video of my talented children

Tanner and Me (he’s no Marley)

“Mom. . . Tanner pooped in the laundry room.”  Max shook me gently as I opened my eyes and squinted at the clock.  Six am.  “It’s diarrhea,” he added. 

Isn't our wittle Tanner just the sweetest wittle baby!

Isn't our wittle Tanner just the sweetest wittle baby!

I looked over at Craig who was holding his hand over his mouth and gagging.  I shook my head in disgust and  wondered how he would feel if I told him Tanner used his toilet as a water dish.  Some things are better left unsaid.

We weren’t looking to get a dog.  Craig and I had decided long ago we were not “dog” people (we weren’t even sure we were “children” people).  So you can imagine my confusion when three years ago, an unknown man called and told me he’d received a message from me about adopting his dog.
 
“I didn’t leave you a message.” I explained.

“Someone named Gracie emailed me that she was interested in adopting a dog.” 

“She did, did she.  Hold for a moment, please.”  I put my hand over the phone and screamed in that crazed-mother voice that  Kate Gosselin  would appreciate.  “Gracie!  Get down here!”

Why some animals eat their young

My daughter had always wanted a pet and apparently the thirteen year-old cat she’d had for two months didn’t count.  Come to find out, behind my back my only girl had been emailing shelters all over the Chicago area just to “ask” about the dogs available for adoption.
 
“If you don’t take him we’ll have to put him down,” the very bad man threatened. He had shown up at our house, Tanner by his side.  “We’re moving to Europe tomorrow and he can’t come.”

I thought the circumstances somewhat suspect, but that red flag got lost in the desperate cries to save him and the whispers that good mothers do allow their children pets.  I was also going through a vulnerable phase in my life (the “Protein Diet”) and by instinct, my children found the crack in my armor and exploited my weakness.

Chow? Shepherd? Mutt???

Tanner was an interesting looking dog.  He had the face and upper body of a Shepherd, and the tail, tongue and coat of a Chow.  He was colored as his name suggested, and his owner must have warned him of his future because he sat there obediently as though he knew of the consequences if he didn’t.
  
I questioned him up and down about Tanner’s manners, his temperament, and his ability to use an outside bathroom. I was assured by the man-that-told-many-lies, that Tanner was a model citizen, was perfectly potty-trained, and got along well with anyone – man or animal.  Against my better judgment I gave into offspring pressure and Tanner came to live with us.

Our three boys!

Our three boys!

Tanner started out on good terms.  He stayed near the house, came when called and did his business in the business section of our yard.  But soon his instincts crept back in and the craziness of a Chow combined with the protectiveness of a Shepherd made for an unpredictable mix. 

He was not, I repeat not, friendly with other dogs.  As a matter of fact he was diagnosed dog-aggressive by our vet after he jumped through our electric fence, attacked one of our neighbor’s Shelties (requiring stitches in the dog’s paw that cost us a couple hundred dollars) and jumped back through the fence taking the shock for the second time.  My neighbor has just recently started speaking to me.

The vet recommended that we either put Tanner down or get the dog therapy.   (I forgot to mention, Tanner also bit a hole in one of my mother’s dogs’ head, chased and almost bit a play-date as well as biting my nephew’s leg.  Oh, he also got into a number of fights with any dogs he met while on his walks, chased cars as they drove by and stood in our door and growled fiercely at anyone who dared ring the doorbell)

But by this time, my husband was having a love affair with the dog.  He would call and in a baby voice ask me how our little pumpkin was or if Tanner had had his morning poop.  When he came home from work, he’d brush by me as I stood there mouth puckered, calling out “Tanner” and rolling on the floor and wrestling with the dog that he initially did not want.

Maybe he still has issues with his parents?

We decided to spend the $450 for an hour with the “behaviorist” as we just couldn’t bear the thought of a death-row dog.  This is what we got for our money.

“How do you verbally respond when Tanner misbehaves?” The doctor held his clipboard, pen in hand.

“We usually say something along the lines of ‘Tanner, no, no, no.  Bad doggie.’” Craig spoke up in his baby-voice.

The doctor raised his eyes at us as he scribbled furiously.  “Do you ever hit him?”

“What?” Craig whispered, horrified.
 
The doctor shrugged.  “I’m just asking.”

I couldn’t hold back.  “I know it’s wrong and we shouldn’t compare him to other dogs, but last week after he chased the Fed-Ex man, I told him, in a very stern voice, that he was no Bo Obama, and I was sure that Bo didn’t act that way.”  There I’d said it!

The doctor couldn’t write fast enough.  “What was the situation when he attacked the Sheltie.”

I started to explain before Craig cut me off.  “Those dogs are stuck-up.  The prance by Tanner every day and they tease him.  They’re like ‘Our dog dodo doesn’t stink’.  When they bark it sounds like ‘ha ha ha ha’.”  I looked over at Tanner, sitting nicely beside the vet and I swore he winked at me.

“I think I see the problem,” the vet answered as he put the clipboard down.  His recommendation was eight hours of behavior modification, every day.  We could put Tanner on medication and work with him but there were no guarantees.  As a matter of fact, he told us, it may be too difficult to teach an old dog new tricks and we couldn’t, in good conscious, give him to anyone.  Most shelters did not take aggressive dogs and we may be better off, well you can guess what he told us he would do.

We left in a bit of a huff, wondering why no one saw our dog in the same light we did.  We would just have to keep him, literally, on a short leash.  Now, when someone comes to the door, I ask them if they are afraid of dogs that bite.  If they answer affirmatively, I put Tanner in another room.
 
He is getting older, we guess he may be around ten, and his bark has lost some of the vicious gusto it used to have, but he is our dog and we love him.  We’ve been lucky to avoid a lawsuit so far, but we do we have an attorney in the family so in case of an incident, we got that goin’ for us.  Which is nice.

Let’s Make a Deal

‘Tis the season and either you do or you don’t.  I, of course, do.  My husband does not.  To garage sale or not to garage sale, that is the question.
 
I come from a long line of sturdy salers (no pun intended) and we take our craft seriously.  Any of you in this exclusive club know exactly what I mean.  Timing, appearance, and even tone, play crucial roles in negotiations and can mean the difference between going home empty-handed or with a car full of treasures.

It dosen’t get any better than this

This past Saturday was a red-letter day for our household.   First, my daughter had borrowed my minivan to move her school furniture and I was fortunate to have her car, a 1995 Toyota Corolla.  Second, my husband was working and third, Max and Sam had saved a few bucks and were pumped and ready to roll. The stars had aligned and our antennas were up and searching for the universal neon signs that would guide us to our destiny.

My boys and I can spend hours searching for bargains and I have taught them well. Not to brag, but for children still under ten, they can spot a “good” sale from the slow drive-by.  “Baby stuff, furniture, large dish table,” Max, my nine-year-old, might comment.  “Keep it moving.”

Max and our haul!

Notice the FREE toboggan (his head is fine), the pink skates (I told the boys all professional players start out with these-it was good luck) and the fancy wheelchair and walker!

Many of the life lessons that I have taught my children come from the experiences I have had with the “sellers” that I have met along my journey.  Example, they know how to play the “I’m only a kid” hand in the way that gives the biggest bang for their buck.  They understand the “long face” and how that can mess with an adult’s decision.  Most important, they have seen the power of a “walk-away” and the critical timing involved with the “over-the-shoulder last chance glance”.

You have to know when to hold ‘em

As I mentioned, Saturday we hit the motherload.  It started slow but picked up after we discovered the free (yes, FREE) toboggan from 1965.  It took us a sale or two to get into the groove, but by noon we could do no wrong.  A harried mom in a stained sweatshirt, a damaged beater for a car, kids wearing Crocs that are two sizes too small, blue frosting still on their mouths from the last garage/bake sale . . . we were working it.

“How much for the hockey stick?” Sam, my eight-year-old, asked his first mark that morning.

“Five bucks.”

“It’s a lefty; I’ll give you a dollar.”  Sam reached into his Spiderman wallet and pulled out one of the carefully folded bills and waved it slowly in front of the man’s face.  The “hard-cold-cash” ploy worked and the seller took it.

 “Will you take 25 cents for this?”  Max held up the electric bug zapper shaped like a tennis racquet to the woman at our next stop.

“I paid ten bucks for it,” she said as if insulted.

Max shrugged his shoulders and slowly set the zapper down.  The woman knew that she either had to take the hit or keep the zapper.  “Fifty cents,” she countered.

“Sold,” Max replied cheerfully.

And know when to fold ‘em

This shrewd bargaining is all because of the practice and the training they have received.  Our special time is not only good mommy/me time, but it’s also an opportunity to teach them the value of money and the psychology of the deal.

“Now boys, watch, listen and learn.” I whispered to my little students.  I picked up a stack of used DVD’s, each marked six dollars.  “This seems a bit high,” I mentioned to the woman running the show.  “They sell new ones at Blockbuster for five.

“Well those are my neighbors and that’s what they’re priced at.”

Now this kind of logic is the perfect segue into a life lesson for the children. I waited until we returned to the car and squeezed in, carefully avoiding the pogo stick and the stilts.
 
“This sale is going to end soon and that poor inexperienced woman will still have her DVD’s.  No one will buy them for six dollars.  Not even five or four.  See, we don’t even know they work and you can buy new ones for not much more.”

“What’s a fair price,” my little bargainers asked.

“Well, DVD’s can be rented for a dollar at the red box at Walgreens and how many times can you realistically watch the same one.”  I thought about it.  “I’d offer a dollar for one, five for the whole lot.”

“Hmm,” they replied, and I could tell they took my advice seriously.  Not only was I proud, but I realized these are the times that warm a mother’s heart.
 

Our "special" vehicle

Our "special" vehicle

I can’t help myself but I need to share some of the items we purchased that day.  I guess part of the joy that comes, alongside the value, is being able to let others know that you now own something they don’t.  My best buy came at the end of the day as the sellers were closing up.
 
We were packed into the car, lifejackets and books piled on laps, and the joy from earlier had turned to ugliness.  There had been an out-and-out fistfight over the pogo stick and the woman at the last house had been unwilling to bargain over the four-foot tall armored Knight.  No one was happy.

I left the boys in the car and walked up the drive.  I found a bunch of books for my dad (no big deal) but when I spied the new wheelchair in the corner, I just couldn’t help myself.  I asked how much.

“I was asking fifty,” she told me, “but I’ll take twenty-five.”

I have no need for a wheelchair and I don’t know of anyone who is presently sick, but I hesitated.  Twenty-five bucks was a pretty good deal.

The hesitation did it.

“Okay, ten.  Give me ten dollars and I’ll throw in the walker.  I just want to get rid of it.”  I glanced over and sitting against the wall was a shiny new walker.  It even had the split tennis balls already attached to the front legs.  I couldn’t believe my luck!  Ten bucks for a new wheelchair and a walker!  I accepted and we shook hands to seal the deal.
 
Sometimes you just have to be in the right place at the right time.  My parents would be so proud.

Local Chicago publisher hits the big time!

“That’s a horrible picture of you.”  The woman with the frizzy hair pointed up to the large banner with the caricature of me sitting in my Coffee Blog cup.  “It’s really bad.”

“Do you think so?” I replied, taken aback.  Not only was her manner brusque, but I actually thought the picture was somewhat flattering and  I’ve had worse.  (First photo after giving birth – not good)

“Terrible.  Not good at all.  Your hair looks like a wig and your face looks fat.”  She looked around.  “Are you giving anything away for free?”

I handed her a pair of cotton gardening gloves with the word “MOM” stenciled on them.  “Thanks for stopping by.” I smiled sweetly.  “It has been a pleasure.”

She looked disappointedly at the gloves as she dropped them in her bag.  “My advice – get a new photographer.”

“A real pleasure,” I repeated as I glanced over at Dawn, who was gently peeling a man’s very hairy hand from her arm. “Dawn,” I called out, “can I talk to you?”  She looked at me gratefully as she made her way out of the corner in which she had been backed in to.  We needed a code word.

Here’s the dealio . . .

Situation analysis . . . BEA – BookExpo America, the largest publishing conference in the U.S., New York City, May 2009.  Windy City Publishers was making its debut and I, along with partners Dawn and Kristyn, was manning our booth on the convention floor.  The lines to get in were long and we were crazy busy from the moment the doors opened and a brave librarian threw herself across the entrance threshold, determined to be the first to get Fabio’s autograph.  No one had the heart to tell her the Harlequin icon hadn’t been there since 1995.             

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Lise, Kristyn and Dawn - before the storm hit!

My friend, Debbie, who helps run the show, was kind enough to garner us a booth in the middle of the action, a stone’s throw from Random House and Simon and Schuster.  This gesture was testament to her willingness to let bygones be bygones as earlier this year my husband had gotten into a heated discussion with her.  The debate had concerned some ridiculous provision in the contract for the booth space, and we almost didn’t go as he told me, “You can’t sign this, it’s too one-sided.”  But the threat of divorce can be a serious one and he quickly changed his tune and made nice with Debbie. “I understand,” she told me apologetically, “he’s a lawyer.”

Don’t judge us by our junk!

Authors, publishers, book sellers, book buyers, librarians and anyone who was willing to pay the piper roamed the two floors of the large convention center.  Our goal: to get as many of these fine folk to stop by our small 10 x 10 booth and listen to our pitch.  The hook?  Junk.
 
Last January a local warehouse outlet store was going out of business and I struck a deal with the manager to take cases of the cheesy merchandise off her hands for, literally, pennies.  The thought at the time was to hand out the Speed Racer tire gauges, rulers that said “girls rule”,  gardening gloves (see above), Rubik’s cube erasers and a number of other “gifts” as bait to lure the folks hustling by into the WCP booth.

But Dawn and Kristyn did not share in my excitement.  They didn’t find the charm in the golf balls that said “dear dad” or the lighted magnifying glass shaped like a dog.  “I’m not sure how to tie that in with publishing.” Kristyn, ever the marketer, told me diplomatically.  “They don’t even say Windy City Publishers.”

“It’s just the fact that they’re free,” I said.  Thoughts of my cheap relatives passed quickly through my head – had I unknowingly become my father?  “Everyone likes something for free.”

My argument did not convince them and we struck a deal.  I had one hour after the show opened to make my case.  If the gifts did not perform as I expected, the Ice Age II bouncy balls and Harry Potter stickers, along with the other treasures, would be pulled and stored behind closed doors.  We could then join the ranks of the sophisticated other vendors who were above such nonsense and hopefully Windy City Publishers would have enough time to earn back the respectability that such a stunt might damage.

The Big Bet

Dawn was so confident they were right, she offered to kiss a certain large part of my anatomy for a year if I was proved wrong, and Kristyn joined in the bet, both women convinced that I had relapsed and the bizarre voices in my head had returned.

It could have been the fact that I stood in the aisles shouting “free stuff” or that I practically stalked the patrons walking by, but within minutes it became obvious that the pink lava pens were a hit.  Say it with me, friends . . . we like free junk!  I know I’ll take anything (two if it’s small) of whatever you want to give me, even if I have no need for it, no place to store it or don’t even know what it is.  I actually bought 1500 of the Rubik’s erasers, knowing that I would have at least one item for birthday gift bags for all the foreseeable future.
 
But people pushed into our booth, jockeying for position.  We overheard librarians claiming that we gave out the best chotchkies and they would pass on our location to their friends.  The booth was busting at the seams, folks spilled out into the asles and we couldn’t keep up with the crowds.  We did manage to spread the good word of our company and collected hundreds of business cards in addition to talking non-stop for three days.  We met some really great people (hi to Ray, Barbara and Peter) and some really interesting people (translation: strange).

lise_christine

Check out one of our BEA featured authors, Christine Sandor (This is Not Goodbye). She gives a glowing review of WCP in her brief video - and we didn't have to pay or threaten her to do it. Bonus!

Click here for Christine’s video

I’m not one to rub it in, but WCP was the buzz of BEA, partially because of our swag, partially because of the scantily dressed models we had hanging out (I’m just pulling your leg – Kelly and Leslie aren’t models).  I may slightly exaggerate, but we were very popular.  The “gifts” proved to be excellent bait, and I’m happy to report I have a year of special lovin’ coming my way from two of my very favorite people (That would be you, Dawn and Kristyn).
 
Now if anyone is interested in a Rubik’s cube eraser – have I got a deal for you! 

A special thanks to our good friend and design expert, Jeff Comeau, (IntuitDesign) for all his hard work, on both his design work and his manual labor at the show.  P.S.  Jeff, my leg is fine, the bruises have healed nicely!