Libraries and Little Crunchies

Currently my husband and I are redecorating our library.  I have climbed a giant ladders to paint a wall the turquoise of my dreams.  Meanwhile Ryan and my dad have been building a wall of bookshelves 12 feet high.  Soon I will even get a built in ladder for it.  We are going straight up Beauty and the Beast palace library.

I have also done a bit too much premature online shopping for the room.  Chairs and desks and end tables have already arrived in their giant cardboard boxes.  Unfortunately since the library is still a construction zone my new furnishings have been relegated to the hallway and dining room until further notice.

Then yesterday I was looking longingly at my new treasures sitting there in their giant shipping boxes and it reminded me of my childhood.  No, I wasn’t shipped in a box to a new family or anything.  My dad worked in a store that sold large appliances.  He would bring home the boxes from the floor models they had on display.  Then when we had collected enough he would tape several boxes together making a sort of cardboard box maze fort that filled the living room.

Here is where it gets interesting.  My mom would give us each steak knives, which thinking about it now seems horrifying to hand over a knife to a four year old, but ehh, it was the 1980’s, a simpler time.  Anyway, my sister Julie and I, now armed, would enter out new fort and commence sawing away at the cardboard to make patio doors and windows.  We had to be careful though because over zealous sawing with our knives caused the blades to get fiery hot.  We would periodically saw like little women possessed and then touch our knives to see who could make theirs hotter.  This was not a wise pursuit, but Julie and I found it riveting entertainment.

Once our doors and windows were constructed we would bring in the furnishing.  Pillows, blankets, books, and stuffed animals were painstakingly dragged into our new abode.  We would decorate the best we could, drawing pictures on the walls with magic markers until our fort was home sweet home.  It was spectacular fun, with only a few drawbacks.

First being that we lived in Corpus Christi, Texas, which is about as far south as Texas goes.  Thus our temperatures were never below seventy even in the dead of winter.  To some this is paradise, but I assure you, if your are inside a fort, inside a house, you might beg to differ.  The temperatures inside our cardboard paradise quickly rose to about the 80 degree mark.  Then once we plugged up our rooms with our cozy blankets and pillows we would edge closer and closer to the 90’s. It turns out cardboard is a great insulator for holding in heat.  No matter how many windows we cut it was never quite enough to allow for air flow to drop our temperatures down to a livable range.  Thus our fort was good for only short vacations from the real world outside.

The second problem only became apparent a few days after our move in date.  You see Corpus Christi was quite tropical.  Not in the pretty sense of the word, more in the high humidity way.  Which, apparently provides the perfect conditions for large flying cockroaches to live and reproduce in abundance.  They were everywhere.  My sister and I lived in constant fear of the flying critters.  Unfortunately we learned the hard way that the roaches also thought our homemaking skills were spectacular.

After a few days the roaches would discover our fort and move in themselves.  They would make themselves quite comfortable hiding amongst the books and blankets.  This resulted in screams of terror from Julie and me as we would be in the midst of lounging in our new home only to have a giant roach scurry out of our blanket across our tummy.  Or worse we would pick up books and a roach would crawl onto our arm.  It was terrifying.  We would scream and flail inside our boxes causing roach and book to fly off to destinations unknown.  I can only imagine how much my mother must have laughed watching our boxes bounce and bend as we had conniptions from within.  The most horrendous part was when in the midst of making an emergency exit to try to evade the intruder that had been cast off in the shuffle, you would accidentally squish it with your knee or hand as you crawled to safety.  Once outside I would look at my knee wondering why it felt sticky only to discover half a roach smeared across it.

Other than the roaches and heat stroke our fort was a palace.  Julie and I spent hours upon hours in playful bliss inside.  I do think my new palace is better.  Now I will have my own palace library and there is central A/C and pest control to boot.  I’m living the dream.

Oh Catalogs, I Miss You

Does anyone else miss catalogs?  Growing up I loved it when that giant Sears catalog would fill up our mailbox.  It was more than just toilet paper for my grandpa; inside one glossy tome you could peruse anything from a mail order house to toys.

Personally I spent most of my time looking at the jewelry section.  Even as a young girl I still preferred shiny bobbles to anything else.  I spent hours staring at pages littered with glorious gemstones.  One page would show off tens of different offerings.  I loved it.

I went page by page and picked out my dream piece on each one.  Time melted away as glittering daydreams kept me occupied.  Then I learned that if you cut carefully you could make paper jewelry.  I meticulously trimmed out all my favorite piece and cut slits in the backs of the rings, necklaces, and bracelets.  Then I could wear them.  A little tape on the back of the earrings and voila, you had yourself a brand new pair of stunners.  It turns out all those little jewelry pieces were printed fairly life size if you are an industrious enough eight year old and are willing to power through a few paper cuts around your neck.

Now the days of those mammoth books delivered straight to your mailbox are gone.  Instead web pages display wears, but somehow it is just not the same.  I miss the smell of the fresh ink and the crinkle of the pages as I flipped through them.  And I really miss being able to try on my favorites.

Ribbet

To pass the time on a long car drive Ryan and I were reminiscing about our childhood party experiences.  I was horrified to discover he never once got to play in a bounce house as a kid!  He has never known the joy of eating too much cake and ice cream only to run for the bounce house and swallow your verps (vomit+burps) as you bounced with delight.

Ryan’s never had the joy of tumbling out of the house when your mom came to pick you up and rummaging through 30 pairs of shoes, all around the same size, with every character from He-Man represented.  My poor husband was deprived.  At least I know what I am renting him for our wedding anniversary now.

After the shock from Ryan’s deprivation wore off I got to tell him about the greatest party of all time.  Full disclosure, I actually don’t remember the party all that well or even for whom it was given.  But is was amazing, I promise!  It was the party favors that made it the most spectacular party of all time.  TADPOLES!

Yup, at the end of the party we kiddos were led to a stagnant paddling pool, which had recently been visited by a promiscuous frog and was filled with tadpoles.  Then we were given our very own empty margarine containers and told we could scoop up as many tadpoles as we wanted to take home.  This was the greatest day of my young life!  I freaking loved animals, and I didn’t even care if they were slimy and aquatic.

Much to my mother’s dismay I ran my happy little ass out to the car toting a colony of new pets to raise.   As an adult I can only imagine how annoyed my mother was with that kid’s parents.  Who the hell gives away shitty pets as party favors?  But I could not have been happier.

My new little friends sloshed about on the ride home leaking earthy smelling water from the holes that had been generously punched in the top.  Once home my mom gave me a mason jar to pour my herd into so I could watch them grow.  I can’t really remember feeding them anything, but damned it they didn’t sprout legs and turn into little frogs anyway.

Once they were capable of jumping my mom cried uncle.  There was no way she was going to allow a bunch of baby frogs to hop around her kitchen.  One by one I released my little pets into the backyard.  It was magnificent.  I was so proud of my little froglings.

Ryan was appalled at the judgement of those parents.  But honestly, the guy lacks perspective on the joys of childhood, I mean he’s never even been in a bounce house for god’s sake!

We Can Explain, We Promise

Growing up we lived in a fairly large city.  It wasn’t large enough to have any public transport, so we drove everywhere.  Mom would take me on errands with her, which was never a very exciting activity for a kid.  But there was one trip to the grocery store that I loved.  And I will never forget it.

It was a fall evening and dusk had come over the parking lot early.  Mom and I and just finished checking out a massive pile of groceries at the local market.  It was the end of the day and we were both tired.  So when the bag boy offered to take the cart to the car for us Mom happily accepted.

Mom was making small talk with the bag toting teenager.  My mind was more focused on visions of devouring the Ding Dongs we had just purchased.  Quickly we found ourselves standing before the Ford Aerostar van.  Mom reached over to unlock the trunk and the big door slowly rose to reveal the contents of the trunk.

There lay two items: a pair of men’s pants splayed out with reckless abandon and a rather large shotgun.

All color drained from the bag boy’s face.  My mother began to sputter an explanation about dry cleaners and target shooting, but the bag boy wasn’t listening.  He was too busy shoving bag after bag wildly into the car.  I have never seen a teenager work so quickly.  It was an amazing sight.

In a blur he slammed down the trunk and uttered a feeble bye as he swung the cart around and jogged back towards the safety of the brightly lit store.

Once inside the car Mom started laughing that snorty kind of laugh she only made when something had really tickled her.  It was contagious and we both got a good laugh in before Mom looked over at me and said, “Well, guess that kid will have some stories to tell tonight.”

I am pretty sure we sacred the shit out of that kid, but boy was the laugh we got from it worth it.

Sports are Hard

I grew up in a non-sporting household.  We never had sports on television at home.  And we certainly never played sports.  None of us knew how, or had any interest what so ever.

It wasn’t until I met my husband that I actually saw sports game start to finish on a regular basis.  I didn’t like them.  I loved him though, so now on occasion I watch one with him.  In order to cope with the boredom I knit furiously.  I have an amazing collection of knitted socks thanks to baseball season.

The other night Ryan asked me about how the shots are framed in the television cameras during sports games.  You see I was an Electronic Media major in college.  Basically I majored in television.  Anyway, a large part of my studies included producing crappy student films and public access television shows.

I had to take a cinematography class, learning how to operate a bunch of different cameras.  This became a huge problem when after learning about portable television cameras, our class was supposed to film a live broadcast of the college basketball game for public access.  I had never once seen a basketball game.  Each of us was assigned to a camera position, and I was placed high in the bleachers on a camera crow’s nest.  Then they told me I was the hero cam.  I looked at them with confusion, “And a hero cam does what?”

The answer was not ideal.  I was told it was simple, my job was just to get a close up shot of any player that does something great in the game like making a shot, block, pass, or rebound.  WHAT-THE-FUCK.  I had no idea what any of those words mean beyond a shot.  The director scurried off before I was able to decide if I should admit my sports related impairment.  I was young and still afraid to concede my shortcomings, so I just stood in stunned silence.  Unfortunately this was also before the time of smartphones so I couldn’t even use google to help me.  I was stuck alone in a crow’s nest trying to decipher what a good play was in a game I had never seen played before.

I didn’t have too much time to panic before my headphones started to buzz, the game began, and the director started barking orders into my ears.  I am sure he must have thought I was mentally challenged.  I was chasing random players around with my view finder just praying that they were the one the crowd was clapping about.  I made wild guesses at what looked hero cam worthy.  Frequently I was completely wrong.

As the game went on and I continued to frame up incorrect heroes the director’s voice in my ear became increasingly frustrated.  Eventually he just started calling out player numbers to me.  I would quickly scan the floor and frame up the hero.  This was a bit more successful, but dear god those guys move fast.  It was like trying to frame up a Ritalin soaked squirrel.

I cannot express the sweet relief that washed over me when the game ended.  I could finally put an end to my shame.  When I got down to the truck with my equipment the director glared at me and shook his head.  I shrugged in humiliation and said, “Sorry, I could work the camera just fine, it was the sports I had trouble with.”

But fifteen years later I was more than capable of answering all my husband’s questions about how his baseball game was being shot.  I suppose my afternoon of sporting related disgrace paid off in some ways.  I still don’t know the rules of any sport, but I can tell you how many inches of a sock you can knit in nine innings.  It’s two.  Two inches of sock and you never have to learn how to play the game.

Dressing is Hard

When I was a kid my mom made all of my clothes.  I think I was ten years old before I got my first t-shirt. Mom just sewed everything I wore with the exception of my panties and socks.  This was great in the sense that as a preschooler no one ever had the same outfit as me; I worked circle time like Gisele on a red carpet.  Sometimes mom even made my Cabbage Patch Kid matching outfits.  This was exceptionally cool back in the 1980’s.

The unfortunate side effect of having your mom make all you clothes though is that none of your clothes have tags.  At first you may think this an advantage, no itchy tags irritating your skin.  You are clearly not a four year old.  If you were, you would see lacking tags in your clothes makes it simply impossible to know if your clothes are on backwards.  Every morning I would lay out my clothes on the bed, flip them around a few times, then make a stab at putting them on.

About half the time I wandered into the living room with my clothes on backwards.  It went the same way everyday.  Walk out into the house, mom giggles, shamefully walk back to bedroom to flips clothes around.  Those were the good days.  Somedays I made it all the way to a school backwards.  I would wonder why all day it felt like my shorts were awfully constricting in the ass, or why I couldn’t reach my arms farther than a foot in front of me.  I spent so many days looking like a baby t-rex with arms I could only move from the elbows.  Of course, these were the days I discovered when I got home I had been sporting my clothes backwards again.  Unfortunately, this was waaayyy before the famed rap group of the early 1990’s, Kriss Kross, made putting your clothes on backwards cool.

Mom could not understand why I had so much trouble. “TAGS, woman, I need TAGS!” I screamed.  Ok, so maybe the conversation was a little more subtle.  But eventually I did tell mom how all the other kids had tags in their clothes and could tell the front from the back.  I had total tag envy.  Mom’s solution was to take a little strip of seam binding, because it was prolific and cheaper than ribbon, and sew it into the back of my shorts, shirts, and dresses.  I was saved.  This drastically reduced the number of times I went backwards.  I would say it stopped it completely, but I was not that smart as a kid and there were still incidents.

Years later when I became a teacher I realized mom had given me an accommodation similar to those I would provide to my special education students.  Yup, that’s about right.  I was pretty special when it came to dressing myself.  I’d like to think I have gotten more proficient over the years.  Let’s be honest though, I may have my clothes on the right way, but my fashion choices can still be questionable from time to time.

Ode to School Days

In honor of the beginning of school, I thought I would tell al tale of mystery and wonder from my old teaching days.  Enjoy:

I have a little bit of a problem with food.  That is a mammoth understatement, but hey let’s pretend it is little.  Anyway, my first year teaching I found to be incredibly stressful.  Having 20 kids being all needy and talking at you all day is exhausting.  They never leave you alone, and in addition you are supposed to actually teach them something!

I soon found myself drained of energy and generally grumpy all the time.  So I self medicated with chocolate, mostly, but I also had my way with a bunch of other food that was crappy for me as well.  During school hours though, Hershey’s Kisses were my drug of choice.

This was all well and good in the sense that it got me through the day.  The kids would irritate me, I would go over and toss down a few chocolatey bites, and the day went on.  It didn’t take long for it to catch up with me.  I soon found that much of my clothing was rather uncomfortably tight, and my ass seemed to not want to fit into any of my pants.

The problem was compounded because I was a teacher, and I wasn’t exactly raking it in money wise.  Between student loans, supporting my chocolate habit, and insisting on having cable television, there wasn’t much money to spare.  So I continued to hold my breath and mash myself into those pants figuring that someday I would replace them.  That day was just not today.

And then it happened.  One of those little kids had a problem and I lumbered over to help.  Seven year olds are vertically challenged, so I had to squat down to help the kid out.  And ploof!  I blew out the rear end of my pants completely.  There was no covering this up, my ass had made a dash for freedom from the constraints of that all too tight fabric prison.

Shame overwhelmed me.  Then I quickly moved on the blame.  If those damn chocolates hadn’t jumped into my mouth I would not have the air conditioned butt from which I was currently suffering.  I slowly inched my way tail first into the hall to get the teacher next door.  We quickly ass-essed the situation and decided she would watch both classes while I went to try to sew up my pants.

That is how I found myself sitting alone in the locked principal’s office with no pants on.  It is truly humiliating to sit in your Fruit of the Looms while frantically stitching up your pants with your emergency sewing kit, stolen from some random Vegas hotel when you turned 21.  I stitched like a mad woman until I had created something of a meandering, lumpy seam running up the back of my pants.  Now they were even tighter, but I determinedly shoved my plump butt into them.

I sucked it up, literally and figuratively the rest of the day.  And yes, as soon as school let out I found my way to the nearest discount store to buy some bigger pants.

Questionable Grandparenting

My parents are two of the most normal people you will ever meet.  They are not controversial in any way, shape, or form.  The same cannot be said for my grandparents.  To be honest all four of them were all a little odd, but one of them in particular stole the crazy flag and ran with it.

I called her Memere, which is French for Granny.  She was first generation American as her parents had immigrated from Quebec.  Good ole Memere had a lot of quirks about her beside just speaking in a sort of Fren-glish.  She drank Ancient Age whiskey by the fifth, smoked like a dirty chimney, and said what she thought with no filter.  She was a hell of a lot of fun as a babysitter too!

Occasionally she would entertain my sister and I while my parents went out to dinner.  That is when we really got a show.  Memere would feed us plates of spaghetti bigger then our heads and then for dessert show us how to flip crepes with our bare hands.  Playing with hot pans was something mom never let us do.  It was great fun to see who could get the crepe flipped over best without obtaining third degree burns.

After dinner Memere was known to give lessons in anything from poker to blackjack.  We did a lot of gambling before we reached double digit ages.  Pennies were passed out and the games began.  There was no handicap, it was every man for themselves.   We learned when to go all it, and when you needed to fold.  And oh the joy, when you got to rake in all of your sister’s money as she sat across the table pouting.  What fun!

As the evening went on and the Ancient Age bottle got lighter and lighter the entertainment became a bit of a floor show.  Memere had a dummy, a real genuine ventriloquist’s dummy, and she knew how to use it.  She would sit in her nylon nightgown and house shoes with her cigarette hanging out the side of her mouth and that dummy on her knee.  She would tell jokes and bob his head up and down as my sister and I rolled with laughter.  My sister and I stared in wonder at how Memere was able to keep that cigarette in her mouth the whole time the dummy was talking.  It was really something special.

Being babysat at Memere’s was the five year old’s equivalent to a night on the Vegas Strip.  As we got older though Memere never dulled in her unique ability to care for us.

When I was about nine I asked Memere if she would take me to get a Mother’s Day present for my mom.  She immediately accepted and off we went to Sears.  I had saved up about $35, which was big money in the 1980’s, and I wanted to get something really special for my mom.

Memere and I wandered all around Sears looking for just the right gift.  We passed the kitchen department, the linens, and the women’s wear, and ended up in the lingerie department.  And that is where with Memere’s guidance I found the world’s most inappropriate gift for my mother, and it was perfect!

I was so excited and so proud.  I passed over the counter the black, lacy teddy neglige I had picked out special just for my mom as the sales woman stared back in horror.  Then I slapped my money down on the counter as Memere looked on with an approving smile.  The look of confusion on the sales woman’s face was epic.  I guess you don’t see a kid buying trashy lingerie with her grandma everyday.

When Mother’s Day arrived I was giddy with excitement as mom tore open the package I had carefully wrapped for her.  Boy did she try to look thrilled as she held up that black scrap of sexy lingerie!  I mean what mom wouldn’t be proud to have her nine year old pick out risqué unmentionables for her.  Memere and I looked at one another with knowing grins.  We had done it, we had picked out the best Mother’s Day gift ever.

Childhood with Memere was never dull.  While she never quite had a grasp of the age appropriate, she did know how to show a kid a good time.  That is for damn sure!

I was thinking about moms

A few weeks ago my husband’s mom, Kay, passed away after a valiant nine year battle with ovarian cancer.  We got to spend a great deal of time with her towards the end, for which I am so grateful.

Watching Ryan deal with grief has left me tumbling through my memories about his mother, mine, and even my grandmothers.  That has been what has stuck me as the simplest, yet easiest thing to forget about life.  When life is over all that is left is the memories.

I only knew her for about six years, but in that time Ryan’s mom furnished my mind with some tremendous and sometimes strange memories.

When I first met her I was terrified, because she was quite possibly the most prim and proper church-going person I had ever seen.  She was a church secretary that knit prayer shawls and always covered her food in the microwave with wax paper.  Her hair was miraculously never out of place nor a nail ever chipped.  It was stunningly astonishing to me to meet someone who actually lived that way.

When Ryan first introduced me to his parents we went to a baseball game, which seemed like a low pressure way to break the ice.  Until their whole church showed up.  As a non-practicing somewhat jaded catholic myself, this was horrifying on so many levels.  I was trying to damn hard not to cuss or fart on accident that I could hardly concentrate on anything else.

As we sat in the bleachers watching a game I knew not a single rule to, in one action Kay made my scared little heart relax just a little.  About halfway through the game that tiny little woman bought herself a foot-long margarita and sucked it down like a champ.  And with that large gulp I knew Kay and I might just get along after all.

A few years later I had finally tricked Ryan into marrying me.  Two weeks before our wedding his house had sold and he was going to  (scandalously) move in with me.  I was in a constant blush as moving commenced in part due to the 100 degree heat, and in other part because the jig was up and it was pretty clear to his parents that I was not a virgin bride.  I was jittery with nerves as we packed up all of Ryan’s spectacularly bacheloresque possessions.

Kay was in the kitchen with me helping to toss out three years expired boxes of cereal and maggot infested flour when we came across a drawer of matches.  I shit you not, it was full of matches.  In Ryan’s quest for frugal living he must have at some point come across a Costco size bargain box of kitchen matches.  Serious, how many matches does a modern man need?  It is not like he was a caveman discovering the convenience of preprepared fire, and besides he doesn’t even like camping.

Seeing the absurdity in having so many matches I tossed one package of them in the moving box and announced that we should leave the rest in the drawer as a “housewarming” gift for the new owners.  Proud of my cleverness and firm in my desire to live an uncluttered home I continued to pack.

Minutes later I turned around to see Kay shoving all eleven remaining packages of kitchen matches into the damn moving box!  Apples And Freaking Trees!  I knew at that instant that my husband to be was truly his mother’s son.  Frugality ran strong with this one.

I shut my mouth and said nothing.  To this day I open my cabinet and think of Kay every time I see the mountain of kindling she smuggled into my house.  She managed to ensure that I will keep her in my memories for decades to come, as I am pretty sure that it will take us 75 years to use up all those freaking matches.

I miss you, Kay.