Sunday, December 30, 2007

I Made Minnesota My Home

While I was up north, a local station was running a feature called "The MN 150." Basically, a list of 150 people/places/things from Minnesota that elicit native pride. So after all the time I had to myself on the flight back to Memphis, what with The Admiral and Miss M in first class and Mr. Baby and I jammed into coach with the entire Christian Brothers University basketball team, I'm expanding my original list. These are personal and don't reflect all the great things about my home state, just the things that make me love/proud of/happy to be from Minnesota.
1 About-to-snow smell
2 Accents intensified by miles from Minneapolis
3 Adults wearing knit hats
4 The Andrews Sisters
5 Augsburg Press
6 Aveda
7 Bagel shops aplenty
8 The Basilica of St. Mary
9 Being no more than ten minutes from a large body of water at all times
10 Bemidji
11 Best Buy
12 Betty Crocker
13 Birch trees covered with snow
14 Bob Dylan
15 The Bookcase
16 The Boundary Waters
17 Briana Scurry
18 Broom ball taught in p.e.
19 Byerly's
20 Cabins up north
21 Canterbury Downs
22 Caribou Coffee
23 Carleton College
24 Charles Schulz
25 " Christmas Card from a Hooker in Minneapolis"
26 The Coen Brothers
27 Count Chocula
28 Creepy Talking Paul Bunyan statues
29 Dairy Queen
30 Dayton's
31 Dudley Riggs' Brave New Workshop
32 Duluth
33 Eddington's wild rice soup with warm breadsticks
34 Elaborate Park & Ride stations
35 Every small town having its own festival
36 F. Scott Fitzgerald
37 Fine Line
38 First Ave/7th St. Entry
39 The Fitzgerald Theater
40 " Franken '08" bumper stickers
41 " Funkytown"
42 Gale Mansion
43 Garrison Keillor
44 The Gay 90s
45 Gov. Jesse Ventura
46 Grand Ole Creamery
47 Grumpy Old Men
48 Gustavus Adolphus College
49 The Guthrie Theater
50 Hamm's
51 Harmon Killebrew
52 Hating the good people of Iowa for no good reason
53 Hating the nefarious people of Wisconsin for innumerable reasons
54 Holidazzle
55 Hotdish
56 Interstate 35W
57 The Iron Range
58 Jane Russell
59 Jerry Juhl
60 Jessica Lange
61 Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis
62 Joan Kroc
63 Judy Garland
64 Kenwood
65 Kid Jonny Lang and The Big Bang (technically a Dakotan but they don't have cities so he got famous in MN)
66 Lagoon Theater
67 Lake Calhoun
68 Lake Minnetonka (and its purifying waters)
69 Lake smell
70 Land O' Lakes
71 Laura Ingalls Wilder
72 Lefse
73 Liberals
74 Loon calls
75 The Mall of America
76 Mankato
77 Mary Tyler Moore
78 The Mayo Clinic
79 Mickey's Diner
80 Minnehaha Falls
81 Minnesota Orchestra and its rich history of having the silliest named conductors in classical music
82 Minnesota State Fair 1: fresh french fries, fried cheese curds and chocolate malts
83 Minnesota State Fair 2: Princess Kay of the Milky Way butter sculptures
84 Minnesota State Fair 3: biggest pig in the state and the world's smallest horse
85 The Minnesota Twins
86 Morris Day and The Time
87 Mr. Wizard
88 Mystery Science Theater 3000
89 Nearly European levels of social services
90 NFL fight song featuring actual Norwegian
91 No sales tax on clothing
92 Noerenberg Gardens
93 Northern lights
94 Ojibwe
95 Ole and Lena jokes
96 Olivia
97 The Ordway Theater
98 Outdoor ice rinks
99 Paisley Park
100 Paul Wellstone
101 Pee-wee league hockey
102 People who jog in the snow
103 The Pillsbury Doughboy
104 Pinky Nelson
105 Pontoon boats
106 Prairie Home Companion
107 QVC
108 Red Balloon Bookshop
109 Red Wing pottery
110 The Replacements
111 Richard Dean Anderson
112 Rollerblades
113 Schwan's
114 The Science Museum of Minnesota
115 Scotch tape
116 Sears, Roebuck & Co.
117 Seven Corners
118 Shinders
119 Sinclair Lewis
120 Skyways
121 Snowplows
122 " Song of Hiawatha"
123 Spam
124 Spoon Bridge and Cherry
125 Spritz cookies
126 St. Olaf College
127 The St. Paul Saints
128 St. Paul's Winter Carnival
129 The State Capitol building
130 The State Theater
131 Steve Zahn
132 Stillwater
133 Summit Avenue
134 Sven Sundgaard
135 Target
136 Terry Gilliam
137 use of the word uff-da
138 The University of Minnesota
139 Uptown
140 Valleyfair
141 Wabasha Caves
142 The Walker Art Center
143 Walter Mondale
144 Way more than 10,000 lakes but we rounded down
145 Wayzata
146 Will Steger
147 Women's high school hockey
148 Wood fires
149 Wooden docks
150 You know who

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Through The Years We All Will Be Together

The holidays are about tradition, but no one ever really knows when a tradtion is starting or when one will have to end.

For almost as long as we've lived in Minnesota, my parents have hosted Christmas for both sides of our family. This has meant an average of twenty or more guests piling into the ancestral estate each year, from grandparents to baby cousins once removed. But this year, due to an unfortunate combination of weather, illness and loss, it was a relatively quiet Christmas. With Uncle Pete and Aunt Greg snowed out, Pottymouth Grandma with Grandpa Ace in the hospital, and the Mater Familia and Todd celebrating with unlimited platters of divinity in Valhalla, we were down to just two of my dad's brothers and their families. Two aunts, two uncles, two cousins and a spouse. That's it. It was practically like being by ourselves.

Traditionally, our extended family has poured into the house around noon, swooping past a gullet-gorging buffet to gather in the living room, where we would then offer gifts to Gramma B and open those she'd given to us. It was an almost painful exercise, due to Gramma's fondness for craft fairs and garage sales, but as we got older we learned to appreciate the humor and misguided affection in receiving a beadazzled sweatshirt or an almost-complete set of coasters.

Traditionally, our busy Christmas days have wound down into mellow Christmas evenings, with the elders parked around the kitchen table and the older cousins taking advantage of the fully stocked bar/gameroom that my parents felt driven to create five years after I graduated high school. But this year, no amount of foosball smack talking could cover up Todd's absence, and watching my dad and cousin stomp our husbands in pool didn't bring my sister and me the satisfaction it should have.

I don't know who suggested it, but somehow, all of us but an ailing Cha Cha found our way out into the steady snowfall and into the front yard of our more topographically blessed neighbor. We dragged sleds and pre-schoolers up the hill and then went down, over and over again. It's such a goofily simple enterprise, sledding, but requires no mental effort and is filled with such basic joy. It was exactly what we needed to fill the gaps left by those who weren't with us. There was no way to ignore that they were hurting, but watching Todd's brother and mother, and even his uber-Nordic father, flying head-first down that hill with huge smiles on their faces was an enormous gift to all of us.

I don't know if this is a new tradition or not - Minnesota weather is too unpredictable to count on sled-level snow every year, let alone a group of grown adults wiling to go play in it - but it was a transition. It gave us the time we needed to enjoy each other's company without losing too many moments to the company we missed.

Monday, December 24, 2007

You Make Loving Fun

The official motto of my paternal grandmother's family is "Haec Omnia Transeunt," which translates to "All these things pass away." If my nuclear family had an official motto, it would be "Amas Quacae Krusteus," or, "We kid because we love."

It's something I feel I should explain to strangers, if I were capable of speaking to them. I realize every time I'm together with my parents and sibling that our primary form of communication is to mock each other. Our first language is sarcasm. To an outside observer, I'm sure it seems odd, or maybe even harsh, but we all understand that it's with only the deepest affection that we pick each other apart.

This blog itself is the subject of mockery. Cha Cha and Auntie K were sitting at the kitchen table having a conversation that, frankly, I wasn't paying much attention to when they wondered aloud if they were being bloggable. And they weren't, especially, but now I can take this chance to make fun of them for their desperate plea for attention. Turnabout!

We realized this morning that we've passed this predeliction on, as we watched Cousin A observe Mr. Baby sucking his thumb, then stare at her hand, pretend to gnaw on it, then giggle. Clearly, she's one of us.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

It's Like A Hard Candy Christmas

Greetings from the North!

After an only slightly delayed start, we made it to the homeland in good time. Much better time than we would have in the Mitsubishi - thanks, Worldperks miles!

Our first stop after the Lindbergh Terminal was Byerly's, a grocery store that denizens of Schnuck's or Kroger or, lord help you, Piggly Wiggly can't even comprehend. The olive bar alone is bigger, cleaner, and better lit than any grocery in Memphis. There's an expansive organic selection, easy access to international goods, a well stocked natural health section, and the take-out - oh, the take-out! It contains an entire Big Bowl to-go, plus several other fresh, ready-to-eat options, just in case all that crazily easy shopping makes you too tired to cook. Both children fell sleep while we navigated the rush-hour-on-the-Fridy-before-Christmas-in-front-of-the-Mall-of-America traffic, so we cruised by Byerly's on the way home from the airport and arrived at the ancestral estate with two grocery bags full of hot food. Which was exactly what we needed after losing at least one child in the snow drift beside the ancestral driveway.

This is just the beginning of the Minnesota food idiosyncrasies, of course. The Commander (aka Uncle Buckbuck) came home from his Byerly's run today with a giant pack of Nut Goodies, which he mistakenly believes will survive the night just because they're in the freezer. If they do, it will only be because I'm too stuffed with venison sticks and kettle corn to open the Amana.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Visions Of Sugar Plums

Holy crap, are these good!

I have not found a seasonal treat as tasty since the lamented demise of the Kemps Santa-shaped ice cream sandwiches of my youth, a never-duplicated combination of vanilla ice cream and a vaguely gingerbready outer cookie-ish layer that got just the exactly right amount of soggy. I check every year just to see if they've started making them again, but am foiled again and again. Although this year, my search did bring me to these. Do not ever doubt the sinister genius of midwestern dessert-makers.

All I Want For Christmas

I don't consider myself a materialist. When called upon to make up wishlists, I have a hard time thinking of anything I want badly enough to ask someone to give to me. If I had a little more pocket change I'd probably spend it on carcinogen-free make-up or some clearance Steve Madden pumps, but I don't really long for any particular thing.

Except, of course, my tattoo. As I mentioned way back in February, I've been plotting my first tattoo pretty much since the start of my last pregnancy. The baby is here now, and yet the ink is not. This, however, is not due to any lack of desire or even planning. I've been carefully researching tattoo shops and artists and I came to the conclusion several months ago that I wanted to get my tattoo done in Minnesota. The design I've chosen represents my homeland, and I really like the idea of having it actually created there. So I picked my shop, picked my tattooer, and compiled a whole online folder of inspiration images to help in the generation of my design.

With our upcoming trek to the tundra at hand, I emailed to set up my long-awaited appointment and was swiftly and heart-breakingly informed that the artist whose portfolio I've been flipping through for the last six months will be out of town for the holidays. Gah! I'm not giving up, though. I've emailed back to check on another artist's availability (the shop is chock-full of great ones), so there's still hope that I'll be able to get the one thing I really want for Christmas. By which I of course mean my mother's complete and unending disapproval.

P.S. I'm only going to have one week in MN to see my tattoo from design stage to completion, so if any of you artist types out there would be interested in taking a quick stab at a design to speed up the process, let me know and I'll send you the link to the Idea File.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Better Not Pout

The very few exceptions to the previously stated end date of acceptable holiday music:

1) Pretty Paper: Booker T produces Willie Nelson, what's not to love?
2) Springsteen's "Santa Claus Is Comin' To Town"
3) A small portion of the retro-poser crooners (Bublé, Connick, Krall) who don't mess too badly with the old school arrangements
4) The annual public resurrection of Darlene Love to sing "Christmas (Baby, Please Come Home)" on Letterman
5) The Elf soundtrack

Sunday, December 09, 2007

They're Singing Deck The Halls

Throughout my childhood, the coming of Christmas meant that the giant six-hour Christmas tape would be threaded into the reel-to-reel player, filling our home with a constant loop of holiday music drawn primarily from the 40+ songs included on the original Time-Life Treasury of Christmas. This set of albums featured classic songs by unparalleled artists - Ella Fitzgerald's "Jingle Bells," Gene Autry's "Rudolph," Julie Andrews' "Joy to the World," an indispensable dose of Johnny Mathis and of course a couple from Elvis. Perhaps this is why I have so much trouble listening to any Christmas music recorded after 1972, but I think the real reason is that all Christmas music recorded after 1972 is, quite simply, ridiculous.

This point was emphasized for me when we pointed the satellite toward XM's "Holly" channel. The constant stream of Amy Grant, Celine Dion and Clay Aiken is just about enough to send me crawling back to the analog altar of my youth. With the single self-righteous, religiously confused yet relentlessly appealing exception of "Do They Know It's Christmas," I unilaterally dismiss all seasonal music offered by or to my generation. XM would truly be earning its fee if it thought to separate Christmas music out by decade, or at least at the dividing point between good and horrendous (that point occurring, of course, in the joyless 13-year void between John Lennon's "Happy Christmas" and Wham's "Last Christmas"). Because really, all I want for Christmas is to be able to hear The Ronettes harmonizing about their "Sleigh Ride" without having to worry that Mannheim's Steamroller is following right behind.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

I Know Now Why I Live In Shame

Things That Prove I'm A Dork, Or Possibly 68 Years Old:

1. As funny as I find "How I Met Your Mother," given the option, I will always choose to watch "Antiques Roadshow" instead.
2. The most frequently used pre-sets on my car radio feature stations playing music recorded before I was born.
3. I can hand-code a website but don't know how to play any video games created after Super Mario Brothers.
4. I really want a Sonicare toothbrush.
5. I wore a plaid button-down shirt the last time I went out alone after dark.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Baby, Baby Keep Me Happy

On to happier things then. Constantly happy things, specifically.

I know that somewhere down the road this will probably come back to haunt me - like when his teachers say he's disrupting class with his cheerfulness or his big sister's friends can't stop agreeing to go out with him - but right now it's hard to do anything but enjoy the fact that Mr. Baby seems nearly incapable of being in a bad mood. He has eased incisor-free out of what seemed to be a teething phase and is now back to being his regular contented self.

Sure, he fussed a bit when his sister (avoidably but accidentally) kicked him square in the frontal lobe. But he was back to chipper in no time. He smiles at us, at our friends, at our friends' children, at strangers, at animals, at personable-looking buildings and engagingly patterned socks. If anyone looks at him for more than five seconds, they will get a grin in return. It's the greatest party trick ever. And at this point, I feel like it's sort of cyclical. He's so used to people smiling at him when he smiles, that he just likes to get things going.

And while I know better than to take credit for an easy or even a happy baby, I do feel like my general outlook, stage presence and coping ability have been better with this child than with my first. Of course, other times I feel like he's developing a people-pleasing personality to handle the unusually high stress level in his life, what with the constant onslaught of curious strangers and reckless, four-year-old feet.

Friday, November 30, 2007

My Dog Will Always Come Through

I'd never really even heard of an English Mastiff, but when I entered all my canine preferences into the online Dog Finder Quiz, this giant yellow dog kept popping up at the top of my list as a 100% match.

The Mastiff Rescue coordinator described the dog then named Goliath as "bulletproof," the dream adoptee, because of his sweet, calm temperament and better than average obedience. We drove six hours to a fosterer's home outside of Knoxville to pick him up, sight unseen. During the drive home, we decided to name him Finn, after the giant. And then he was ours.

I always told people who marveled at our 160-200lb. dog that our house was too small to have a dog any littler, that Finn was really more furniture than pet. But he was, of course, much more. You don't live with a man-sized dog because he matches the rug. He was our friend and protector, our babysitter and security system, our napping companion and neighborhood ice-breaker.

I'm not one of those people who would call a pet my best friend, let alone my "baby," but Finn was a loving, faithful member of our family. He could have easily killed us all had he ever taken the notion to, but instead he used his size to keep us warm and happy and safe.

We'll miss him very much.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Snowflakes In The Air

Continuing on the holiday theme ... this past weekend marked our earliest ever effort to Christmasify our casa. We usually push it off until the week before we leave town, scrambling to mainline the holiday spirit before it whips right by us. But we got a headstart this year, pulling all the various seasonal geegaws out of the attic just days after Thanksgiving. We made a go of it, putting out the tiny tree and the Dickens village and the sadly crapping-peasant-free nativity, but I have to admit that I still have trouble acknowledging the season when there are green plants on the porch. How can it be Christmas time when I can still go outdoors without socks? I don't even know where my mittens are!

We were watching the compendium of Charlie Brown Christmas specials tonight and it suddenly occurred to me that, as a native of St. Paul, Charles Schulz documented the childs-eye view of Minnesota winters. The snowscape is constant, endless and always right at about shoulder-height. Although if he were really being accurate, there would be at least six inches on the ground while Linus waits for The Great Pumpkin.

So I guess that's why it's hard for me to accept that I should be gift shopping while The Admiral is mowing the yard. It just doesn't feel like Christmas to me without icicles hanging from the gutters. Or at least a remarkably dexterous beagle.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

And This Is My Thanksgiving

It only took eight years of restrained pouting, but we finally scored an invitation to a real Thanksgiving meal. Three of them, actually, although we only managed to squeeze in two. I guess the extra child must have made us look extra pitiful, because our "traditional" low-key Thanksgiving was replaced with two days of full-on feasting thanks to the friends who are just like our extended family, except for their silly accents and uncontrolled drinking (my real family's, I mean. Maybe.).

On Wednesday night, we reconnected with Patrick and Nancy, our former duplex-mates and very first Memphis friends. We originally met as engaged couples, and coming together for the holiday with our five kids among us really emphasized how much has changed in the time since our displaced-Yankee days.

On Thursday, we celebrated the more recent additions to our social circle. Steph and Chip went all out, despite my reassurance that, after nearly a decade of pizza, it wouldn't take much Thanksgivinging to impress us. They're just show-offy like that. And we are ever so grateful for it.

Both evenings reminded us of how lucky we are to have met and held onto such great friends during what have been some of the most tumultuous years of our lives. We moved down here without knowing a single soul on this side of the Mason-Dixon, and it doesn't take much effort to remember those first months when I often went days at a time without talking to anyone outside our apartment (except people I knew online; hi, Stacey!). It's overly simple to say I wouldn't have made it without friends, because it's not just about friends in general, it's about these specific, irreplaceable people who have become my daily diversion and long-standing support. I hope you know who you are, and that I thank you, thank you, thank you.

Photo by Chip, of course.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Chapter One, We Didn't Really Get Along

As we were winding down our weekly Cocktail Hour (everyone who reads this invited, by the way; just remind me to tell you where it'll be on any given week), we started discussing our top five books and, briefly, albums. Kristy said she only had one American author on her list, which made me realize that my list is comprised entirely of Yanks. Caleb listed a bunch of works I've never heard of but which I'm sure have massive indie intellectual cred, which made me realize that my list is quite prosaic. So I didn't say any of my list out loud, but here in the safe confines of my prosaic American blog, I present you with My Top Five Books, Plus Bonus Tracks.

1. The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald
2. Bluebeard, Kurt Vonnegut
3. A Prayer For Owen Meany, John Irving
4. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain
5. To Kill A Mockingbird, Harper Lee
6. Slaughterhouse 5, Kurt Vonnegut
7. My Antonia, Willa Cather
8. The Nick Adams Stories/The Snows of Kilimanjaro and Other Stories, Ernest Hemingway

Yes, I know it reads like a 10th grade summer book list. But those are the only books I can think of that I have voluntarily re-read multiple times, thus pushing them into the small category of literature I remember. There are a lot of things I've read that I know should be on this list but I've left them off just because I can't remember anything about them other than that I liked them. There are also the books that I know have a justified place but just can't put up there because, much as I appreciated them, I just didn't love them. Lolita falls into this category, along with The Sound and The Fury and pretty much the whole of pre-1950s British literature (this entire last sentence written at the risk of Kristy never speaking to me again). And yeah, I wish there were more women on there. And I'm sure I'm also leaning towards publicizing the more respected works, because it seems entirely unbecoming of a Northwestern University English-degree-carrying writer to admit that she found High Fidelity more moving than For Whom The Bell Tolls.

(This took longer than expected to explain/justify, so the Top 5 or So albums will have to wait ...)

Time May Change Me

Well, it was bound to happen eventually. My perfect little lump of a baby is turning on me. Well, not on me exactly. More on the entire concept of physical development. He's still doing his best to maintain his happy demeanor, even when in obvious discomfort. I'm assuming it's the start of teething, perhaps accompanied by a poorly timed growth spurt, that has been causing his fussiness, sleeplessness and constant desire to nurse. I sort of blew it off the first night he woke up every 90 minutes, and then got a little annoyed the second night, and by the third night I was starting to panic a bit. I've heard of agreeable infants morphing into cranky, combustible babies at this exact age, so I started to worry that our carefree days were over. But this baby is still just trying so hard to be content. He'll have half a smile on his face, even when he's fussing.

I know I shouldn't gloat over his placid personality, and I really shouldn't compare it to Miss M's. Because of course, Miss M will end up as the CEO of a Fortune 500 company and sitting on the board of the Jolie-Pitt Foundation while I'm still trying to get a very calm, content Mr. Baby out of his apartment in our garage.

Monday, November 12, 2007

So Angry

Miss M: "Daddy's stupid."
The Mom: "We don't call people stupid. You're just mad at him because you got in trouble for doing something you knew you weren't supposed to do."
Miss M: (pause) "I'm just mad at myself."

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Time To Get Your Picture Pages

A fairly accurate pictorial representation of the current state of the mother-daughter relationship:

A very accurate pictorial representation of the current state of the sibling relationship, except that Mr. Baby has some semblance of an oxygen supply:

A totally accurate pictorial representation of Mr. Baby in his worst mood:

(All photos courtesy of our staff photographer, Chip.)

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Has The Moon Lost Her Memory

So the last entry, along with the daily mental exertion of parenting a second child, has got me thinking about my memory. I've always been mystified by the things I manage to remember and what I don't, thinking there's no rhyme or reason to it. But the more I think about it lately, I realize that, while there might not be much reason, it does have to do with rhyme.

We recently got the satellite wonder known as XM Radio at our house (or as Miss M calls it, "space music"). I'm partial to the 60s and Soul Classics stations, because I'm a 57-year-old woman, but once in awhile we land on the 80s channel. And this is almost more distracting than entertaining, because I can't help but blurt out the name and artist of every song that comes on, generally after hearing the first couple bars of introduction. Not just of songs I liked or owned on cassette single, but every random Top 40 pop debacle that comes up. Just instantly recognizing Richard Marx tunes is bad enough, but it turns out I recall all the lyrics, too. And that's what made me realize that the only way for me to remember something is to put it to music.

Along with Casey Kasem's playlist, I still have all the cereal jingles, sit-com themes and playground chants of my childhood rattling around in my head. But when it comes to anything spoken, it's like I have a trapdoor between my ears and brain. I'm useless in a discussion involving past discussions because I can't remember the bulk of any conversation I've ever had. Ditto the written word. I graduated college with honors in English Literature, and yet I have a severe case of literary amnesia. There are maybe five books that I can name any characters not listed in the title, let alone any plot details. When I got involved in the music industry, it was really more as an appreciator of good writing than as someone with a discerning ear. It just happens that I'm better at absorbing good writing when it's presented with mandolins.

There are a few non-melodic things stored in my personal hard drive - the roll call of my 4th grade class, one entire Frost poem - but even these have a rhythmic base. I think I'm just going to have to accept that the only way for me to hang onto information is to have it harmonized. So keep that in mind, folks. You can tell me anything you want, but if you really want it to stick, you're going to have to sing it to me.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Where The Boys Are

It always surprises me when I hear that people resist the urge to look up old flames, because personally, I think that's exactly what those Google guys had in mind when they invented the interweb. I can pretty much do a comprehensive rundown of my entire pre-marital romantic (and not) history. Behold the power of the Boolean search!

1. The First Crush
2. The First Love
3. The Guy Who Was Always Grounded
4. The Heartbreaker
5. The First Kiss (okay, not really, but the name is too common and I can't find the real one)
6. The Last Of A Long String Of Disinterested Lutheran Boys
7. The Missionary
8. The Disgruntled Prom Date
9. The Composer
10. The Actor
11. The Welshman
12. The Secret Admirer

(The first person I looked up when I originally thought of this post was Scott, aka "The Jock," but it doesn't seem right now to slide him in there with the felons and tuba players. If anyone finds this post when Googling him, let me be one more person echoing the chorus; he was a good guy and a good friend and opened my eyes to the fact that hockey players could enjoy Monty Python.)

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Baby Love

Miss M rolled over for the first time when we were visiting my family for Christmas. I don't remember much about that hazy newborn time, but I do recall that the three and a half months between her birth and that milestone seemed to take fooooreeeeverrrrr.

Mr. Baby turned four months old yesterday. About two weeks ago, he did his first rollover, in the sufficiently impressed company of his Auntie K and The Commander. And the first thing I thought was, "Holy crap, already?" The time has gone so much faster this go around. We thought our lives were hectic with one new baby, but now with two children, a business to run, an actual social circle and all of our various other activities and commitments, the days are flying by and this happy little baby-man is just chilling out for the ride. I can't do anything but shake my head sometimes, so amazed that he is as laid-back and content and easy as he is. He goes anywhere, sleeps anywhere, nurses anywhere, and smiles all the dang time. I sometimes have to remind myself not to squeeze his little guts out because he is just so incredibly huggable and sweet.

In other milestone news, he's gotten very vocal and is happy to comment throughout an entire episode of The Office. He's fallen asleep completely on his own (and without us even suggesting it) twice in the last week. If we set him up in the corner of the couch, he sits himself up independently and looks around like, "Who're you calling a baby?" And he's much, much better in the car. He has also discovered the true and abiding joy of thumbsucking, which is already making our days better and our nights smoother. I'm trying to remind myself every day to enjoy this time, this fun-but-still-entirely-portable stage of his life, before it flies by, too.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Now Is The Hour Of Quitting

Well, it's been a good run, but I think it's time for me to hang it up. I just don't have the free time I once did, and something, finally, has to give.

No, I'm not giving up the blog. Or the store. Or, of course, the whole mothering thing. But that leaves only one expendable occupation. Yes, dear reader, Secret Agent Mom is an agent no more, secretly or otherwise. As I explained in the email to my currently neglected clients, the whole running-two-businesses-while-raising-two-children thing wasn't working out quite as smoothly as I expected. I think the breaking point was when I realized that, after working either at or for the store all day, then settling both kids to bed at night, I was still feeling like I had things to do. A lot of things to do. Route planning and phone calls and emails and press pack mailings and website updating. I just couldn't ever catch up, and my genetic inability to admit I was having trouble made me suck it up and keep making promises that I couldn't keep without the discovery of at least three wormholes in the space-time continuum.

And so, with some regret but mostly relief, I'm letting this ball drop. I'll miss the regular contact with my musician friends, as well as the in-show shout-outs (should I ever be able to go to a show again), but I know they all understand. I'll still be clinging to some fragment of my former cool by continuing my work with CB's website and merchandise sales, although with the full acknowledgment that Webslinger doesn't have quite the same credibility or intimidation factor as Agent. But that's okay. I'm still a mom, and that's about as credible and intimidating as it gets.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

And The Skies Are Not Cloudy All Day

In the interest of safety, I don't like to mention The Admiral's trips out of town until after he returns, but by then, I usually forget all the solo parenting anecdotes I've been storing up the whole time. His most recent adventure away was to attend our good friend's wedding to a bona fide cowgirl at a ranch in Colorado, where members of the wedding party actually helped to construct the ceremony, from building the platform where vows would be exchanged to baling hay for guest seating.

Things weren't quite as exciting here at the homestead, although we did receive a surprise visit from Cha Cha and Pops. It was so very helpful to have them here, doing pre-school pick-up duty and getting to the random household tasks that we never seem to find the time to do (our back security door has never gleamed so brightly before). They left Friday morning, though, leaving the three of us with a full day and a half to fend for ourselves.

Which was, as usual, where Castilo Urf came in. Due largely to my ability to look pathetic and helpless after 3 hours with both children, Kristy and RJA took us in, once again, and eased the remainder of our week with food, cocktails and the usual lively conversation. I'd like to think it's my vibrant, loquacious personality that makes me a welcome guest at the Castilo, but the fact is, the doors are always open to any friend, whether in need or just in between errands. As much as they kid about the overcrowding, they've made the home that everyone feels comfortable in. I hope they know how much we all appreciate their kindness, hospitality and, of course, non-stop supply of cheese pizza.

(Happy Birthday, Kristy!)

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Party Like It's Yo Birthday

There's nothing really remarkable about turning 31. Except, I guess, for the realization that you're a full decade past the giddy thrill of the 21st birthday. What was most remarkable about this latest anniversary was what it lacked - namely, the company of my youngest child. Thanks to a very selfless aunt and uncle, The Admiral and I were able to join my fellow Libras (and a couple hangers-on) for an actual dinner out and a post-meal sojourn to flout our parental responsibility at the local watering hole (see Fig. A). With only one stop at home in between to get the sleep-resistant baby to bed.

It was, quite simply, delightful. Three months is a long time to go without a night of (relative) freedom. I remember that my first night out after having Miss M was a two hour dash with my sister (aforementioned aunt), and I was stressed out pretty much the entire time. But with more parenting experience and a pint of Dos Equis in me, even the fact that Mr. Baby had never taken a bottle wasn't getting to me. With good friends, good food and a jukebox considerately loaded with Prince's greatest hits, there was really no way not to enjoy the evening. And coming home to see Auntie K calmly feeding Mr. Baby his first indirect dosage of breastmilk made it that much better, because I walked in the house and immediately felt like we may, someday, possibly, get to do it again.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Exciting And New

The final part of Miss M's bedtime routine, after the toothbrushing, toilet-using, bathing, and book-reading, is her bedtime story. On an easy night, we can get away with a standard; she's generally fond of Little Red Riding Hood and The Three Little Pigs (sometimes in their original form and sometimes combined into one mega-story). But other nights, she wants an original work following very specific guidelines. Coming up with freehand fiction at the end of a long day can be a challenge, especially when she throws in random requests like "the one about the fly-bird." The other night, though, she said, "Tell me the one about the commercial people" and that set The Admiral's creative wheels spinning. He then regaled her with a classic tale of a poor mountaineer who came across a magical liquid in the woods. Black gold. Texas tea, as it were.

I can't believe it took us this long to incorporate classic TV shows into bedtime. Last night, I told a story combining The Love Boat with Fantasy Island, and Miss M found it riveting. I took some creative license - the Pacific Princess was an actual princess, for one - but it was still a ratings winner.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Summer In The City

Stealing collectively from a variety of my most-read blogs, I now present ...

Things I Meant To Do This Summer But Didn't:

1. Go to the drive-in
2. Take Mr. Baby to his first baseball game
3. Get a tattoo (officially postponed until my next trip to Minnesota)
4. Extract myself from at least one of my businesses
5. Keep my car clean
6. Choose all winning Powerball numbers at least once
7. Use the massage gift certificates I got as shower gifts
8. Figure out my hair

But whatever. I had a baby.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Love, Angel, Music, Baby

Mr. Baby strode by another milestone this weekend. No, he's not rolling over or reciting Pi in Spanish. Not this week, anyway. He is, however, now a seasoned veteran of the Memphis live music scene. This past Saturday night, I put him in his slackerest onesie and hauled him out to Otherlands to enjoy an evening of arty folk rock with my friend and fellow high school/college alum John Elliott, his lovely and talented touring companion Raina Rose and my newly re-established client, Jamie Randolph.

If enjoyment of a show can be measured by how soundly one sleeps through it, then Mr. Baby had a fantastic time. As did I, what with it being my first post-partum attendance and the closest thing I've had to a purely self-centered social evening in a very long time. And making an effortless switch from Big Mama to Hot Mama, I think Sassy Molassy enjoyed herself as well, although I'm going to stop taking her on dates if she continues to ditch me after a couple beers to go get musicians' phone numbers.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

There's Got To Be A Better Way

Urf! has been trying to watch The War this week, and I've been trying not to watch it. I turned it on by accident one night, just as it was starting, and saw the big "graphic depictions of violence ahead" warning. That was pretty much all I needed to see.

It wasn't queasiness or my already firmly established pacifism that made me change the channel, though. It was my dad. Any war images set in the 20th century drive my thoughts to the unpleasant place where my imagination holds a 22-year-old Minnesota boy in jungle-dank fatigues. Seeing photographs or, worse yet, film from WWI, WWII, Korea and of course Vietnam forces me to think about the things he saw himself and the trauma he suffered because of it.

Not that he talked about it, of course. Being both a Norwegian and the son of a WWII veteran, it was natural that he kept the details to himself. Even as a child, however, I knew that his reasons for suppressing discussion of his war experience went much deeper. It wasn't hereditary reticence that caused him to take cover if a late-night phone call startled him awake.

Something about the familial disaster of the past month spurred a sudden outburst, though. As we were gathered together in grief, he shared a story about his last week in-country that he'd never breathed a word of before that night. It was a surprisingly light-hearted anecdote, but it couldn't help but reinforce the knowledge that the vast majority of those 52 weeks would remain unknown to anyone else. Because there was really no way to describe them.

Ken Burns is attempting to dissolve that cloud of mystery, at least for the second World War, but I think I prefer being on the other side of the fog. There's no reason for a daughter to be able to picture so clearly a field of fallen soldiers, the faces of desperate civilians, or the actual second-by-second death of a friend, not while knowing that those same images were burned into her father's brain before he had bought his first car. Burns has said (is actually saying on Letterman right this minute) that the greatest thing about documentary film-making is meeting the people, but knowing my dad as well as I do, there are some things we still don't need to talk about.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Hey Baby Hey Baby Hey

Oh, yeah, right, the baby!

In case anyone was going through infant withdrawal, a quick update. As Mr. Baby sneaks up on three whole months old, he's entering that magical state where his personality is emerging but his inconvenience has stayed at its regular, low-grade state. I'm holding my breath, waiting for the post-fourth-trimester wake-up that even the calmest babies seem to go through, but in the meantime, I'm truly enjoying his laid-back, super-smiley self.

As far as milestones, they've been more geographic than developmental. He took his first journey through the air this month, and of the two of us, handled it better than his travel partner. He was an angel during our trip north, chilling out on the flight up (despite my own meltdown when we missed our first plane) and managing to stay calm during a 45-minute ground delay on the way home while I was trying to figure out how to nurse him without elbowing the special double-issue of People out of my neighbor's hands. Even his car behavior is getting better. On any given trip, there's a solid 30% chance that he won't scream his ever-loving head off the entire time. Although I have a feeling that after a weekend of 45- to 90-minute car rides with an utterly inconsolable infant, Cha Cha and Pops won't be gambling on that statistic anytime soon.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Same Old Stupid Boy

I was walking into Bookstar with Mr. Baby the other evening, to pick out a surgery-distraction gift for Miss M, when I heard a polite voice behind me.

"Ma'am? Excuse me, ma'am?"

I turned and saw a youngish person that I'd previously noticed at Petco with two friends. I'd looked kindly at the group, thinking how hard it must be to be transgendered in Memphis. And now this sweet-voiced twentysomething was right behind me and looking directly at Mr. Baby.

"How old is your baby?"

"He's twelve weeks."

I gave my usual humble smile, preparing for the inevitable praise that generally follows any acknowledgment of Mr. Baby. Instead, I heard ...

"I just wanted to tell you ... I know you don't know me, but I wanted to say ... I have a friend who carried her little girl in one of those ... canvas sacks? And her baby got dehydrated from sitting on her legs like that. I'm not saying you're doing something wrong, but ... I just wanted to tell you. She got really sick."

I was so shocked by the ridiculousness that I just stood there with a polite but quizzical raise of my eyebrows. As I was walking back to the car, though, I could hear in my head, clear as anything, the righteously astonished voice of Sassy Molassy saying, "Who wouldn't notice that their baby was dehydrated? And it would take an idiot to think that it was caused by the way she was sitting. And it would take an even bigger idiot to get in someone else's face about it."

Sidenote: When I got home and opened the Disney Princess Dress-Up Activity Storybook (shush, it was for my sick kid) and saw that the Colorforms-esque dresses designed to go over each princess were actually somewhat translucent, allowing an obscured but still obvious view of their princessy underthings, I heard a distinctly different voice in my head, and I'm pretty sure it was RJA's.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Your Pale Blue Eyes

I promise we'll get back to our regularly scheduled snarky SAM soon, but first we'll conclude the synopsis of our Two Weeks Of Drama.

Miss M finally succumbed to the scalpel today, after nearly two years of eye-patching and frequent visits with our friendly neighborhood opthamologist. We came to accept that her left eye just wasn't going to strengthen up on its own and something permanent needed to be done before her vision was affected. It wasn't a way we ever longed to spend a Thursday morning, but it went as well as we could have possibly hoped.

With everything else going on, I'd sort of pushed this particular soul-bruiser to the back of my mind, but there was no getting around the phone calls from the pre-op nurse and anesthesiologist yesterday or the alarm going off at 6:00 this morning. We arrived at the surgery center at 7:30am, armed with the pajama bottoms, blanket and extra lovey (in M's case, a folding feather fan, because I guess looking like an 1880's madam makes her feel secure). A very Grisham-esque medical professional of some unknown title (is there such a thing as a 60-year-old male nurse?) came out right away and tried to warm M up with the booming, cartoony persona that she never really appreciates. He got up to take her back into the check-in area and asked which one of us would be going with her. The Admiral and I looked at each other with barely concealed panic. The pre-op nurse had said we could all stay with her, including her infant sibling, but Murse Oxford seemed to be balking at Mr. Baby's attendance. I wanted to protest but was afraid I'd tear up in front of Miss M (it's been happening a lot lately), so I just said I'd stay with the baby and would see her soon.

While I was trying to figure out how to talk my way back to my child, The Admiral was guiding her through the check-in process. According to him, this went pretty smoothly, with the staff pulling out special pediatric tricks like blowing bubbles and having her reach out to catch them so she'd be distracted while they checked her vitals. The only problem was when they wanted her to change into the cute little hospital gown. As anyone in the waiting area could attest to, she resisted this procedure as if she were being asked to put on a straight-jacket. Made of glass shards and fireants. They finally got the gown on, but she refused the modesty-enhancing pajama bottoms and the non-skid slipper-socks.

This is how she was looking - post-tantrum and half-naked - when I was finally brought back into a conference room for a pre-op chat with Dr. H. I know he really wanted us to have questions, and I desperately wanted to show my parental responsibility by having some, but after three phone calls with surgical staff the day before, I really couldn't think of anything I still needed to know. We got our post-surgical instructions and were ushered into the main waiting room where the time passed surprisingly quickly thanks to the piles of toys and Nurse T's perfectly timed loading of The Little Mermaid video.

M was still telling us that she had no intention of going anywhere without us when the anesthesiologist and her nurse came out for a final briefing. I thought this was just another little conference but it ended with them asking us to follow them out into the fabled Bunny Room, a little narthex outside the surgical area absolutely stocked with brand-new toys. Miss M was given a chance to pick one, and after realizing how overwhelmed she was by her choices, I pointed her towards the familiar Play-Doh logo. Thus distracted (these people are brilliant!), Nurse J gently took her out of The Admiral's arms and let her push the big button to open the automatic doors leading to the unknown. She turned back and waved and said good-bye without a single note of distress in her voice.

Her parents weren't quite as carefree. We headed back to the non-Disneyfied waiting zone and tried to keep our minds on other things. Mr. Baby made this easier with his between-nap fussing and diaper-filling. I was actually kneeling over his changing pad in the bathroom when I heard Dr. H's voice in the hall outside. When I got back outside, The Admiral informed me that the surgery was over (all of 20 minutes after she went in), she'd done great, and that they'd come get us when she started waking up. Dr. H said this would be in about five minutes, but having paid attention to all those details from the anesthesia professionals, I knew it would be more like 20-30.

Sure enough, an hour after our initial separation, we were called back into the recovery area. She was still 93% unconscious, a tiny little oxygen mask blowing into her face. All hair-matted and blanket-bundled, it was a pretty pitiful sight. We sat next to her bed and waited for her to come around completely, which was signaled by her trying desperately to climb out of the bed and onto The Admiral's lap. This effort was stymied by her IV tubing, and I had a moment of queasiness as I remembered the tale of my sister's midnight battle with an IV stand that involved the unsupervised removal of an inserted needle and resulted in my lifelong fear of intravenous ports. Nurse C came over quickly, though, and helped get her out of bed and cuddled into The Admiral's lap. While Mr. Baby and I rocked in the chair beside them, we spent the next half-hour trying to get Miss M fully awake and distracted away from her efforts to rub her eyeball completely out of the socket. Other than being a bit bloodshot and having one pupil all blown so she bore an admirable resemblance to David Bowie, she was already looking much better. After she got down some ice chips and half a popsicle, we were ready to leave the medical bubble and move on to the home-based recuperation.

And now, after an afternoon on the couch followed by a rigorous walk to her bedroom, she's crashed out on crushed Tylenol. As hard as it was to see her in discomfort today, the grogginess was sort of a pleasant change from her usual mania. Tomorrow's going to be a whole new adventure, as she'll likely be feeling like her old self, which exists in direct violation of most post-op instructions. In M's world, a day without excessive activity hardly counts as a day at all.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

To Brighten Up Even Your Darkest Nights

Something happened when I got back from Minnesota, something I don't recall happening after any previous trip. After years of traveling away from Memphis, I was, for perhaps the first time, welcomed home.

Those in my household have always noticed my absences (usually, anyway) and seemed grateful for my returns, of course, but after this last, unexpected, nerve-fraying visit to the north, my friends put their collective arms out in sympathy and support. With just simple words like "welcome home" and "glad you're back," they gave me a handrail back to my normal, daily life and the many happinesses within it.

They also reminded me, knowingly or not, about the crucial place friends have in the lives of parents, and parents of young children in particular. Sure, I wish I had the easy babysitting access and travel-free holidays of my cohorts with local family, but if I had to choose between living a mile from my folks and having the close-knit group of friends that occupy practically every day of our week, I'd have to go with my peers. As we raise our kids together, we've been witnesses to the personal triumphs and disasters each of us continuously encounters. We've seen each other at our best and, quite a bit more often in my case, at our weakest, meanest, and most brittle.

I have similar bonds with my family, but they've had my entire lifetime to get accustomed to my quirks (and, let's face it, me to theirs - you can untuck that t-shirt now, Dad). It's not like me to let anyone get within hugging distance unless I've known them for at least a decade, yet most of the people I consider my dearest friends only crossed my path within the last few years. Now I can't imagine how I ever got along without them. As eager as I was to leave town to go mourn with my family, I was just as excited to get back here to regroup with my friends. It's not where I was born, but this is where I've made my home, and these people are the family I've chosen.

Monday, September 17, 2007

I Hope You Had The Time Of Your Life

I'm torn between the impulse to document the heartbreak of this past week and the acute knowledge that no words can really explain the full spectrum of emotions, from horror to hilarity, that fill up the spaces of a true family tragedy.

My cousin TR was born six months after me, 80 miles away. Our whole lives were like that, in a way - very close, but not close enough. My family moved away from Minnesota when I was a baby, and from then on we only saw each other during our yearly pilgrimage back to the homeland or during their very rare trips out east. But then we came back, and our holidays and summer vacations intertwined again. We had run around my parents' small hometown pretending to be twins when we were younger, but being adolescents, we of course shifted into a cooler, more distant relationship. We never detached, though. Partly because my grandmother was just as likely to send me a news clipping about TR's most recent athletic feats as an inspirational Dear Abby, I always knew what was going on in TR's life, and based on the strength of our pre-WWW familial internet, I'm guessing he was pretty aware of mine. As we went off to college and crept up into adulthood, however, we got closer again. We went from mocking each others' first girlfriend/boyfriend to attending each others' weddings. We made extra trips around the holidays so that my sister and I could spend time with him and his brother. We got to know each other as grown-ups, and we got to be not just family but friends. With the recent birth of his first baby, we had all the more in common, and we were looking forward to bringing together the next generation when we were all back home for Christmas.

My family, nuclear and extended, is wrapped around the core of my being, and I have never had an event that shook that core as suddenly and violently as the phone call from my sister telling me that TR had died. There was no immediate explanation, which seemed both fitting and insane. If there was no way to understand it, how could we possibly accept it? If we didn't know what happened, maybe it didn't.

The next few days were a conflict between my regular daily life and the overpowering desire to get the hell out of here and go be with my family. I shrugged off an indecent amount of responsibility to my business and finally caught a plane to Minnesota on Thursday morning, arriving just a few hours before the reviewal service. Or what anyone less Protestant would call a wake, but that term seems to indicate a level of celebration that us grieving Midwesterners couldn't quite muster. We don't celebrate the life lost, we comfort those left behind with buttered ham sandwiches and an almost sinful assemblage of home-made bars.

And there were so, so many left behind. I've been to far too many of these things in my life, but I've never seen a line extend all the way through a church sanctuary and out into the hall. I've also never seen a pastor start crying during his devotional moment with the family, and I felt a strong urge to have him un-ordained for it. We already had a room full of weeping Lutherans; the professional was supposed to keep it together.

No one could blame him, though. He barely even knew TR, but he knew his parents - my godparents, one of them Miss M's namesake - and all it took was one look at their sweet, stoic faces crumpled in grief to break the resolve of the most Nordic. Which is to say, the rest of my family. From the moment I arrived in the homeland until the minute Pops helped me load my diaper bag onto the airport security X-ray, someone in my family was crying. Crying so much that, at least in my case, the act itself caused physical pain - a bloody nose, an upset stomach, actual bruising in one eye. That's not us, that's not what we do, but there was no way around it. How do you not cry when you see the body of a vibrant, healthy 30-year-old lying in front of his wife and baby? How do you keep it together when hearing a younger brother eulogize a man who was clearly his best friend? Even if you didn't know these people, you would weep for them. Knowing them as we did, there was nothing else we could do. And we shared that feeling with the hundreds of friends and relatives who packed into my grandmother's former high school auditorium to remember a very brief but very powerful life.

I expected the weekend of services and family gatherings to be nothing but somber, but there was a surprising amount of humor, too. Not light-heartedness, exactly - our hearts were too badly broken to be light - but the stress of the event forced us to find release wherever we could, from tipsy Trivial Pursuit matches to a highly unexpected Captain Ron quote-off. These less serious moments weren't a testimony to our coping skills but rather a reminder of TR's essential nature. He was a happy young man. Funny, sweet, charming and bright in every sense of the word.

These moments were also a reminder that the reason families come together during times like this is to provide Trivial Pursuit partners and movie quote opponents. For as long as I was in Memphis, I was a solitary mourner, but once I got to Minnesota, we were one big, catastrophe-addled unit, using each other to lean on and gathering enough strength among our numbers to begin healing.

Because of that strength, this family will get through this. But because of TR, we will never be the same.

Monday, September 10, 2007

You Say It's Your Birthday

I can only hope that, from the other side of the wide angle lens of childhood, Miss M won't distinctly recall her fourth birthday as woefully inadequate. Hopefully that will just be my memory, another log on the ever-burning pyre of maternal guilt.

I blame Wednesdays. Wednesday is no reasonable day to have a birthday. It sneaks up in the middle of the week. Monday comes and you think there's so much time left to plan, Tuesday slips away too fast, and then there you are, running out of work on Wednesday night in hopes of getting home in time to supervise the opening of three hours' worth of presents piled up in the living room. The cake and gifts were all Miss M really expected, but I still felt that our scrambling approach to her big day was a pretty weak excuse for a celebration. But no matter, I thought, we'd make it up at her party.

Oh, crap, the party! As of Saturday morning, there was no theme, no decorations, no games, no plan at all. I spent the day wracking my brain and finally McGyvered up some decent ideas. Just before I hit Party City for all the needed gear, I checked the forecast. My entire outdoor-based plan was instantly foiled. Tired, hot, and Rocked'n'Romped out, I went to bed Saturday night with no clear vision as to how we were going to entertain the dozen children about to breach our defenses.

The promised rain was already coming down when I got up and headed to the grocery store at 8:00 Sunday morning. I felt strangely invigorated by the challenge of pulling off a party this close to the last minute, though, and I woke up enough to conjure up a menu that I hoped would, for once, please our small guests as much as the tall ones. I got back home and The Admiral and I set to work preparing the house for the coming onslaught. We were alternatingly cleaning, cooking, and requesting that Miss M please return her new stuff to her room, and after a Twister-offering text from Kristy, I started to feel like we'd actually be able to pull this off.

And then the phone rang. I don't think I want to discuss what that call from my sister was about, not yet, but it put an instant pall on the day's festivities. I tried not to let on to Miss M that anything was going on, and I think I pulled together enough Norseness to keep our adult guests from detecting anything, but I couldn't help feeling like the party ended before it even began.

The show went on, of course. There's no stopping the train of a pre-schooler's birthday party. The children ran happily amok and the adults enjoyed each other's laid-back company, as well as a pleasing variety of Coca Cola-based food products. Based on the contented exhaustion with which Miss M fell into bed last night, she had a full, happy day, and I hope that's how she remembers it. It will stick in my memory for other reasons, while at the same time standing on its own as the marking of another year filled with both sorrow and incredible joy.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Trust In Me When I Say ...

I've been so woefully lacking in posts about the actual agent part of being a secret agent mom lately that I thought I could at least try to make it up by posting some of my basic beliefs about music:

  • "Kokomo" is the worst pop song ever.

  • The little-known "I Could Never Take The Place Of Your Man" is the best single Prince released.

  • Anyone who can avoid dancing when they hear "Can't Take My Eyes Off Of You" should look into serious pharmaceutical treatment.

  • There's nothing wrong with any song that can't be fixed with hand claps and a horn breakdown.

  • Tuesday, August 28, 2007

    In Stitches Dug Out In Half

    So I got this mysterious package yesterday. Plain DVD case, inside it a solid white DVD with nothing on it but the hand-written words "You Rock." It took approximately 1.4 seconds for me to stick it into The Admiral's PowerMac, whereupon I was face to face with ... my face.

    I'm not supposed to say exactly what this is or where it came from, but anyone curious enough to peruse the November archives might get a pretty good idea. All I can say is that I'm really grateful to have a chance to actually see what was going on up there. Laugh away! But you know, in a good way.

    Thursday, August 23, 2007

    Hey Shona

    It has recently come to our attention that The Admiral is famous.

    Not so much because he has a video on YouTube, but because, as of this writing, 827 people have bothered to look at it. And only 34 or so of those are The Admiral.

    For the record, this video was taken at a campground in central Illinois, so don't be confused by the woman speaking Thai in the background. The mbira The Admiral is playing was one of his very first carpentry projects - before constructing the giant stereo cabinet, before disassembling and reassembling an upright piano, before The Boat - built while he was in graduate school. Doesn't seem like much to work on, but each of those keys is made from a piano wire hammered flat. Hammer one time too many? Note's bad. Start over. This was apparently a very long, tedious process, which is why it gets a place in the Admiral Project Hall of Fame. And why I'm very glad we didn't start dating until he was finished with it.

    It's really pretty, though. And the spirits it conjures make babies sleep.

    Wednesday, August 22, 2007

    Destiny Will Arrive

    Okay, I think I've got a little time to mention this before I'm summoned to tucking-in duty, so here we go.

    I counted back and it's been right around forty weeks since I originally mentioned my need/desire to sell Mothersville. I wasn't really eager to let the store go, but I just couldn't figure out a way to stick with it, especially with another child on the way. Several possible options came and went since then, but as of just a few weeks ago, I really didn't know what was going to happen when the lease expired at the end of August. But looking back, it seems quite fitting that it took this long for a solution to my retail dilemma to present itself.

    Which brings us to right about now, when I am so pleased and excited to announce that the super-lovely and uber-talented Melissa Anderson Sweazy has bravely stepped to the helm as the newest co-owner of Mothersville. A Memphis native graciously returned to us by the City of Angels, Melissa brings a Southerner's wit and charm curled up around a left coast artistic sensibility, and best of all, a deep and true desire to help out the new mamas of Memphis. She, babydoll Harlow, and the clearly game Caleb are fairly new to the Memphis parenting scene, but are eagerly throwing themselves at the mercy of Midtown. Give a hand, y'all!

    I admit, I was a little hesitant to get back into a partnered situation, not sure if I could give up the thrills of dictatorship. But it quickly became clear that we shared a passion for Mothersville, as well as sharing several other passions (e.g. Prince, Mini Coopers, Xanadu). And it's taken a little time, but I think I can even overlook her grotesque flaws (i.e. publishing a book, having a super-sleeper baby, sharing the same general oxygen as George Clooney). I mean, hey, nobody's perfect, right? What really matters is that we both believe in Mothersville, both want to keep providing support to Memphis moms, both have faith that the tide of natural parenting will eventually flow to the midsouth. And of course, both appreciate the wonder that is Olivia Newton-John disco-roller-skating with Gene Kelly.

    Monday, August 20, 2007

    Tag Team Back Again

    I've been blog-tagged! Which apparently means I'm supposed to post eight little-known facts about myself. Now that my entire family is reading this blog, however, along with my spouse and friends, it's harder and harder to think up facts that are still little-known. But here's my effort to toss out a list that is at least 50% surprising to any one reader.

    1. Aside from negligible traffic infractions, I've never done anything illegal.

    2. I wrote a letter a week for two years.

    3. I often sleep with my right foot tucked up against the inside of my left knee, like a horizontal flamingo.

    4. The first album I bought with my own (okay, Grandma's) money was Jack Wagner, All I Need, purchased at the Ben Franklin drugstore in Olivia, MN.

    5. I sold my first car on eBay (for more than retail) and negotiated for my next one over the phone (for less than retail). This doesn't sound that surprising unless the reader knows about my crippling phone-phobia.

    6. I don't get nervous about public speaking as long as I'm working off a script.

    7. I can sing the jingle for Pac-Man Cereal. (But no, I won't.)

    8. I've only had my heart broken once. The breaker is currently serving 16 years for aggravated kidnapping and probably more for an unsuccessful escape.

    A Good Man Works Until The Daylight's Done

    My dad's a consultant - a corporate hired gun doing service, in his case, for the auto industry. He's in the midst of a big six-week project that's taking him all over the south. When I woke up this past Saturday morning, one of the first things I said was, "I wonder where Pops is right now." Within an hour, I had my answer: Pops was less than 200 miles away and rapidly (very rapidly, I'm guessing) approaching Memphis.

    It was a very pleasant surprise, having him buzz up for the day. No matter that we had no plans for the day and could think of very little to do that would keep us out of the blazing heat. It didn't even matter that the house was still a little trashed from the previous night's cocktail hour. We just hung out, plowed through leftover snacks, and all worked together to keep Miss M's body from literally unraveling due to another day stuck inside.

    It was a very quick visit, with Pops back on the road less than 24 hours after arriving (and 10 minutes before we left for the playground to celebrate the temperature drop from 105 to 95 degree - pansy Yankee!), but it was a fantastic treat. Sort of like eating a bag of Lemonheads and watching Pure Country at the same time. With your dad.

    Friday, August 17, 2007

    The Update

    I feel I've been blog-negligent this week, but I really have nothing to report. Well actually, I have something very big to report, but it's going to take more than the 7 spare minutes I usually have in front of the computer to write it all down. So in the meantime, the quick SAM news is this: the air conditioning is working, the children are stir-crazy but otherwise handling the heat fine, The Admiral has been besieged by an unexplained back pain but he's soldiering up and we're still having folks over for drinks tonight, because nothing gets between me and my Friday mojito. Except my Tuesday mojito.

    Sunday, August 12, 2007

    Grandpa, Everything Is Changing Fast

    This past weekend marked the introduction of Mr. Baby to his paternal grandfather and namesake. Grandpa H drove all the way down from the Northland for a quick visit, making various familial and historical stops along the way. He's an extremely unobtrusive houseguest, so much so that he refuses to even stay at our house, but we tried to make him feel as welcome as we could. He spent most of the visit fighting off aerial attacks from Miss M, although they reportedly had a very pleasant afternoon together at the Pink Palace, marveling at the wonders of parabolic acoustics and really, really big crystals.

    I always enjoy having H around, and we were lucky to have the chance to show him off to our friends as well. I wasn't sure exactly how he'd handle being thrown into a crowd of young parents, but he reinforced my belief that he can get along with just about anyone. He's so deferential and diplomatic in social settings that I want to put a big sign above his head that says, "I've been to all seven continents! Ask me stuff!"

    He took his leave of us at about 8:00 this evening, not wanting to interfere with the school night bedtime routine even though it meant returning to his barely functional hotel. Of course, by that time, we had little to offer but two screaming children and a broken air conditioner*, so perhaps a fifteen minute wait to share an elevator with half a dozen Elvis impersonators didn't seem so bad.

    *Did I mention the broken air conditioner? Because our air conditioner? Is broken. And the temperature? Is record-setting. At 10:20 pm, it's currently 84 degrees with 54% humidity. No, no, not outside. In our living room. And tomorrow's forecasted high? 107, baby.

    Wednesday, August 08, 2007

    You'll Be The Perfect Boy

    As I write this post, I am typing with one hand and knocking wood with the other, because I'm about to officially report that we have somehow been given An Easy Baby.

    I'm tempted to say A Good Baby, but I know that most of the pleasing behaviors Mr. Baby demonstrates are beyond his conscious control. I can't really give him any personal credit for not puking very much, or for keeping his diaper-change showers to a minimum, or for - oh lord bless him - going from consciousness to sleep without significant outside assistance. But in irrational moments, it's hard not to think he's being so accommodating on purpose. As if it's not enough that he's simply adorable.

    Last week marked my return to retail, baby in tow, and aside from a minor meltdown during the first ten minutes (mine, not his), we've been doing pretty well. It's taken some adapting, and I still haven't quite managed to tackle the mail and to-file pile growing ever larger on the counter even though I've figured out how to do 118 other things with a baby slung onto me, but overall we're handling things. And again, most of that is because I have a baby who is easily contented. As long as he's dry and full, he's a happy kid.

    Sure, he's got some less than perfect habits, the primary being his dislike of being in a stopped vehicle, demonstrated by high volume, inconsolable crying that can last anywhere from 5 to 50 minutes. And he's also got an uncanny ability to wake from a dead sleep and enter his grumpiest state the moment hot food is about to enter my mouth. And he still has some highly questionable nursing habits (although those didn't stop him from tipping the midwives' scales at 12 lbs this week). But in general, I can't help but feel awestruck at his temperament. And, I must admit, a little proud. There's just something so Norse about the way he can lie calmly and quietly in a room/house/yard/store whirring with chaos.

    Monday, August 06, 2007

    Second Time Around

    I was so wrapped up with fictioning last week that I failed to mention a milestone in Mr. Baby's life: his first movie. The Admiral and I took advantage of my last day of maternity leave, and our wedding anniversary eve, by taking the wee one with us to a matinee of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.

    And that went ... about as I expected. We went during his afternoon naptime, but the thing is, as good a sleeper as Mr. Baby is, he's also loud. Every fifteen minutes or so, his face will turn red and scrunch up and he lets out a pitiful wail. It's easy to correct - a little bit of rocking or shushing or even benign neglect and he goes right back to silent mode - but that's not a simple fix in a movie theater. So I spent two hours of the two hour and eighteen minute movie standing in the little entrance hallway, Mr. Baby slung and mostly-sleeping on me.

    It occurred to me while I was leaning there that every movie we've seen this summer has been part of a series - Spiderman 3, the third Pirates of the Caribbean, Ocean's 13 and now this fifth Potter installment. And with this second baby in tow, it did indeed feel like the summer of the sequel. Yes, we have a better idea of what to expect this time, but there are still plenty of surprises. And an entirely inappropriate amount of candy.

    Thursday, August 02, 2007

    Circle In The Sand

    It's very hard to believe that at this very moment one week ago, I was sitting on a deck chair facing the Gulf of Mexico, watching my and assorted other children running happily amok on the beach. Or I may have been a few feet from the deck, curled up on a sandy but blissfully comfortable armchair, napping with a drowsy newborn on my chest.

    Speaking of the newborn, people keep asking me how he did on vacation. The answer is: variable. He slept for most of the drive down, but screamed his tiny little head off when he was awake. For the first few days of the trip, he slept so much and so deeply that I was at risk of drawing the ire of every other parent there. He even slept on the beach under his little cabana while I tried to set the new world record for jellyfish stings. But then the next few days were so difficult that I pulled enough sympathy to reprise my role as Lazy Extra Wife, spending hours trying to get him to bed while everyone else cooked or cleaned up dinner. And yes, it was hard to sit inside with him while everyone else was out swimming and sunning, but sitting inside a beachfront condo sure as heck was more fun than sitting inside an overheated midtown house for a week.

    I don't know if it was the limitations of the baby or just a general awareness of our group's overwhelming reproductive powers, but it struck me about halfway through the week that this was the first vacation I'd taken where I really felt like one of The Grown-Ups. We went on beach vacations with our neighbors when I was young, and over the last few years we've crashed my parents' timeshare in San Diego, and I always spent those trips feeling like I was just along for the ride - not really in control of what was happening, but also absolved of responsibility for how things went. But as I was sweeping up goldfish crackers and slathering unrelated children with sunblock, I realized that this was it, I was A Mom. Not just in my home, but full-time in the world. Which has its drawbacks (didn't eat a hot meal all week) and its perks (um, see Fig. C).

    I can't fully detail everything that happened down there, for sentimental as well as legal reasons. It was one of those periods of time that you worry might be spoiled by talking about it too much. But what I can say is that we're going again. Next year if not before.

    Postscript: Other accounts of this trip are here and here.

    Monday, July 30, 2007

    I Write Sins Not Tragedies

    I would really love my 100th post to be about our big ol' beach trip, and I promise I will get to that (for the three of you who might care), but I couldn't stand to leave my last post hanging there all sad like that for one more day. But I also can't stop to write a real post right now because I'm trying to cram ten months' worth of creativity into one hastily finished short story for the Memphis Magazine fiction contest. Stacey got a group of us bloggers into this, and we're all in various degrees of scramble at the moment. I do have a tendency to wait for deadlines and usually operate pretty well under pressure, but I'm starting to realize that being under fire makes me more verbose than graceful and I can already feel my framed portrait of Hemingway seething his disappointment from across the room.

    Friday, July 20, 2007

    Top Expert

    I have to admit, I'm a little disappointed in myself.

    Because of my years of service at Mothersville, attending playgroups and breastfeeding support groups since Miss M was just a seedling, I figured I'd have the whole second-time parenting thing down. With total control over my choices, the birth would go seamlessly. Mr. Baby would emerge after five pushes and two restrained groans, just like those calm Scandinavian ladies in the birth videos.

    Well, we all know how that worked out.

    But nursing? After breastfeeding for almost three years and hanging around nurslings for a year after that, what could go wrong?

    So of course, almost everything did. Mr. Baby's latch was abysmal, when he bothered to latch at all. I had to manually adjust every part of his mouth to get it into proper position, but I still couldn't do anything about his flippy little tongue and its refusal to lie flat instead of creating constant friction against my skin. I blistered almost immediately, which led to me taking advantage of his short, sleepy feeding times by popping him off me as quickly as possible. Thus resulting in a foremilk/hindmilk imbalance and a couple days of green diapers.

    We got that fixed by accepting shorter, more frequent feedings, staying on the same side for a couple sessions instead of alternating each time. That helped him get more balanced nutrition, and also gave me more of a chance to heal. I also followed La Leche League's advice to use breastmilk as a topical treatment, and whenever possible I air-dried after a feeding. As I healed and Mr. Baby's technique improved, things started going more as I expected.

    So then, of course, I woke up yesterday achey and feverish and with stabbing pains in my chest. I recognized the plugged duct symptoms right away, but unlike when I was nursing with Miss M, I didn't have a chance to stay in bed and rest all day. The Admiral had to go into work and Mr. Baby was in a foul mood, so I spent the day with him strapped on top of my sore boobs, my fever-pained back hollering the whole time.

    Amazingly, that didn't seem to help much, although a perfunctory pause in front of the shower spray helped stave off anything more severe. I'm teetering on the edge of mastitis, but hoping that sheer force of will can keep me from infection. Because I know better than to think that copious amounts of knowledge will do me any good.

    Monday, July 16, 2007

    Big Sister Will Be Watching Over You

    One of the most frequent questions we're asked these days, right after, "How are you feeling?" and "How is he sleeping?" is, "How is Miss M handling things?" But the answer to this last question is even less predictable than the others.

    Miss M loves her brother. Loves him dearly. And, if not restrained on a regular basis, might just love him to death. Given the option, her face would never be more than 1.8" from his, her hands would always be stroking as closely as possible to his soft spot, and her feet would be pressed up against his so she could "measure them up."

    And it's quite obvious that she loves her parents, too, although the ways she chooses to demonstrate this can vary from spontaneous kisses to an insane, frenetic limb-flailing that has gotten her permanently banned from the couch during nursing sessions. We're trying to be sensitive to jealousy issues, reminding ourselves that her misbehavior is often a form of settling. Most three-year-olds understand that negative attention is better than no attention at all, and she's perfecting the art of attention-getting.

    We've also finally figured out that this tiny girl requires a massive amount of physical activity to keep her on an even keel. If we try to have a calm, quiet morning of cartoons and cuddling, she makes it until about 10am before taking on the demeanor of a cracked-out ferret. The Admiral can usually keep up with her, since they are, by rights, his spastic genes. But with the recent addition to our household and subsequent loss of downtime, neither one of us can quite muster the energy required to drain her tank every single day.

    So the short answer to the question is, she's doing her best. And so are we. We're all adjusting in our own ways, whether that means taking naps when the baby does or screaming at the top of our lungs inside a moving vehicle.

    Postscript: speaking of moving vehicles, Mr. Baby went a little feral on the way home from the lake last night. After trying in vain to soothe him with our voices, we realized that he was only quiet when Miss M was talking. So she talked to him, telling him an elaborate story for as long as her exhausted little self could manage. And it worked. He stayed calm all the way up until she fell asleep in mid-sentence. And I caught just a glimpse of how they'll be in a few years, able to comfort and amuse each other (when they aren't driving each other crazier than cracked-out ferrets).

    Friday, July 13, 2007

    And I Want To Thank You

    Because I know I failed to inherit my mother's thank you note gene, I'm hoping that publicly acknowledging the people who have helped me out over the last few weeks will be at least a halfway acceptable form of expressing my gratitude. Plus it's always fun to play Academy Award Acceptance Speech, isn't it?

    First off, and above all, I need to formally thank The Admiral. Not just because he, quite literally, helped bring this baby into the world, but because his support and very active assistance made having a homebirth possible. He overcame many of his own reservations and put his trust in my body and the skills of our midwives. Without that, I may have had a perfectly happy, healthy baby, but I never would have succeeded in reaching the goal of a perfectly happy, healthy birth.

    Running a close second to The Admiral as far as making this experience possible is, of course, Cha Cha. Being a normal mom, she also had her concerns about her daughter giving birth in a non-hospital setting. Being my mom, she managed to suppress most vocal demonstrations of her worries. I still knew they were there, though, so it meant all the more to hear her say how moved she was by being present for this birth, and that she had been completely converted to the homebirth ideal. And that doesn't even begin to cover the three weeks that she spent entertaining a very, very active three-year-old during one of the tensest periods of our family's life. I knew she could tolerate the various philosophical whims of her daughters, but now we also know that the woman has infinite patience for Play-Doh parties and rock-picking expeditions.

    And, well ... I don't have the words to thank Amy and Andrea. I just don't. I hope seeing me bouncing around ten days after an incredibly difficult labor shows them how much they did for me.

    And now continuing in no particular order ...

    I'm doubled over in gratitude for my store volunteers, who have not only been ably handling the daily duties of keeping Mothersville open, but have been taking extra care to minimize my urges to step in and direct operations from afar.

    Since having Miss M, I've been blessed to befriend a messload of amazing women and their families, and having them for support, commiseration and much needed help during and after this pregnancy was a colossal gift. I'm nervous to call anyone out by name because I'll be mortally embarrassed if I forget anyone, but I do need to offer specific thanks to the food-bringers - Kristy and RJA (for the meals brought after the birth as well as the dozens provided during gestation, including whatever I managed to get down while my pregnant, flu-ridden, husband-in-Europe self was languishing on their couch), Stephanie (not only for bringing food - hotdish, even! - but for dragging people to my house to eat when I wasn't able to get out), Stacey (for honoring my deep-seated love of the empty carb), Katie (for bringing pie despite how miserably I failed her after her own delivery) and Amanda (it takes a good person to bring thrice-washed organic salad to a new mom she barely knows).

    And thanks to you out there, everyone who has been reading the blog, offering your sympathy and good wishes as the situation warrants.