Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Five Things I've Learned While Training for a 5K

5. Running takes a lot of time. Especially if you are slow.

This is something I know something -- actually a great deal -- about. I am VERY slow.

How slow?

So slow that there is, as of yet, no font size sufficiently small to allow me to type for publication just exactly how long it takes me to run a given distance.

So slow that when walkers pass me -- and they DO pass me -- I know they are thinking "why does she bother?"

So slow that "race" may be a bit of a misnomer for the 3.1 miles I'm going to run on June 28 with a whole bunch of other people.

This tremendous amount of time that it takes me to run is time that I have not been blogging (or washing, or drying, or folding ...) At least you know I've been busy.

4. Running makes you hungry.

This would seem somewhat counterproductive. After all, when my great whites and I decided to start rolling out of bed an hour early four days a week, it was not so that they could get bigger. That, however, seems to be what is happening. By 10:30 each morning, I am starving. I eat lunch before noon and then want another lunch before dinner. Cookies are not safe in my presence. And in addition to mommy blogs and The Huffington Post and blogs about how to run faster, now I have to read food blogs to figure out what I'm going to eat tomorrow.

As I said, running takes a lot of time.

3. Like most things, new clothes make it better.

The coach of my Couch to 5K program insists it's better to run in fancy synthetic tops, shorts, and socks that don't absorb sweat like the wicked and evil cotton t-shirt. I wanted not to believe this, but he was right.

The more expensive clothes keep you cooler. When you're cooler, you feel better as you run. When you feel better, you run faster. I don't, but you would. In the meantime, though, I know I look cute.

And there's another benefit. Don't ask me how I know this, but if your thighs rub together in the middle of the summer, they start to sweat and stick together. This leads (I am told) to chafing. It's also hard to get a good long stride when your thighs are glued together. This means there is at least one situation in life when Bike Shorts Are Our Friend.

2. Women runners sweat as much as men.

I've have smelled scents emanating from me after a run that I honestly didn't know female bodies could generate.

1. It is possible to have fun while you're miserable.

I do not enjoy the beginning of my runs. I don't care much for the middle, either, and by the time I get near the end, I'm counting the seconds until I'm done. And yet when it's over, and I've covered a distance I've never run before -- like yesterday, when I RAN 3.1 MILES FOR THE FIRST TIME IN 48 1/2 YEARS -- I feel absolutely amazing.

Cue the theme from Rocky.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Now What Did I Do With That Image?

Last night I posted here about the alarming state of my house, which was all the more alarming because my mother was on her way to Chez Bird for a visit.

As I noted, I didn't actually post pictures of my own home -- wisely, I thought, since the pictures I had found on Google all seemed to have come from other people's blogs, which taught me that the "personal" photos you post on your own little corner of the blogiverse don't stay personal for very long. But the pictures I found were both highly evocative of my own house and very entertaining.

So imagine my surprise when I visited myself today only to see that the kitchen picture I'd found had disappeared and been replaced by that annoying little blue-and-white question mark.

Last night when I signed off, that photo was there. Today, it is gone. Except for the fact that it was a really FABULOUS messy kitchen picture, that's all I and my limited computer skills can tell you.

I tried to get it back, but when I tried to repost the image, it seems to have vanished. All that's left is the little thumbnail on the Google Image search results page.

So if you want to see just how bad my kitchen was (and unfortunately still is -- my mother loves me for qualities other than my housekeeping), you will just have to do a Google Image search of "messy kitchen." My personal favorite was the very first one, but I promise that many of them will be worth your while. Do it before the post-dinner cleanup, and you will probably even decide to save the dishes for another day.

Believe me -- you will not be alone.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

I Don't Need a Thousand Words, But a Thousand Maids Might Be Nice

In less than 17 hours, my mother will be in town to spend a few days with us.

This is great news. My mom and I get along great. Her grandchildren look forward to her visits. My husband doesn't even know any mother-in-law jokes.

There's just one problem.

Here is what our* kitchen looks like:

(This is not actually my kitchen, nor are any of these photos actually my house.

These images are from other people's blogs, courtesy of Google. They make me realize that posting photos of one's own domestic sloth is perhaps unwise. Certain children members of my family will kill me if they someday see a group gathered around pointing at a laptop and it turns out to be our house. But trust me, people -- ours is really this bad.)

Our living room looks (almost) like this:

(The only difference? We don't have a pile of bones like this person has stacked neatly in the lower left corner. Other than that, spittin' image.)

Our guest bath? Except for the black countertop, just like this.

The room where Mom's supposed to sleep? Other than the guitar, remarkably like this:

And me? Well, right now I look EXACTLY like this:

Monday, June 9, 2008

Gone Too Soon

So tonight I'm in the kitchen, starting dinner while I'm watching the NBC Nightly News. Ben is headed to a movie night at a friend's house, but Billy -- once he finishes chauffeuring Ben and returns a video -- is planning to be home for the evening. Between his job and his internship and a moderate social life, that virtually never happens anymore. It's almost as if he doesn't live here at all.

I explain to the two of them how to get to Ben's friend's house, and they head out the door. I focus on the news.

Every year around this time, network news programs fill space with a compilation of some of the year's more inspiring/provoking/entertaining moments from college graduations. Like every year, tonight's NBC montage shows speakers in funny hats and graduates doing funny little dances and kids with their names painted on the tops of their mortarboards and the ubiquitous pretty girl blowing bubbles.

But this year, there's something different.

I'm sobbing. SOBBING. Gut-heaving, nose-stopping, shoulder-shivering bawling.

Because I realize why I've felt so odd these last few days.

Two weeks ago, Billy finished his junior year of high school. A week ago, he turned 18. The child who made me a mother is now old enough to choose a president, to sign a binding contract, to fight a war.

And in just over a year, he'll be gone.

Not just out-three-nights-in-a-row gone.


My heart is breaking.

No ... that's not right. My heart is cracking, like an egg forced to let something hatch before the egg, at least, feels ready.

It hurts more than I ever imagined.

After a few minutes, the phone rings. It's the kids. They hadn't been paying attention had each thought the other was focusing on my directions, Ben says, and realize they aren't quite sure how to get to Ben's friend's house. This pisses me off brings me back to my senses, and my kitchen, and the dinner I need to fix. I wipe my face as I tell them yet again how to get where they are going.

But as I prepare to get on with my evening, I'm left wondering: Where am I going?

The only place I want to go right now is backwards, to the days of diapers and naptimes and Disney-festooned plates of bite-sized foods. Tonight, I'd give anything to start all over again.

Where did 18 years go?

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Me and My Friend John

I am not an athlete.

I fall down a lot.

My hands and eyes do not speak to each other, much less coordinate.

My life has been shaped by a free-floating fear of balls of all shapes and sizes. Today I might be a wealthy partner at an important law firm were it not for the fact that early in my career there I burst into tears when a senior partner insisted I play on the firm softball team. Trust me -- that's what's known in the legal world as a career-limiting gesture.

Yet strangely, it turns out that John Smoltz and I have something in common -- at least enough that if we ever find ourselves next to each other at a cocktail party, we will have something to talk about besides the weather.

Who is John Smoltz, you ask? What does he do? Here is a picture to help you out.

As you can see, Mr. Smoltz throws balls. (Just typing those words scares me.) Apparently, he has done this very, very well for a long, long time.

His shoulder is not happy about this. It's so unhappy, in fact, that Mr. Smoltz announced last week that tomorrow he will undergo arthroscopic surgery on his shoulder to figure out just why it is so pissed that it is making noises about ending his career.

Which brings me to our connection.

Some of you may recall that a couple of posts back I said I'd be having surgery on my own shoulder on June 5. That didn't happen, because on June 2, I finally saw the highly touted Rock Star surgeon, and decided he was The One. This was in no small part because Rock Star and the more senior physicians in his practice have become the orthopods of choice to people who tear up their knees, elbows, and shoulders the old-fashioned way -- by using them to earn millions of dollars as professional athletes.

Like John Smoltz.

Mr. Smoltz and I do not actually have the same surgeon, but we will sit in the same waiting room (although when i think about it, he probably doesn't have to wait long) and stand in front of the same X-ray machine and perhaps even lie upon the same examining table.

This is as close as I will ever come to athletic greatness.

Meanwhile, I am thinking of proposing to Rock Star that his practice get some new photographs for their examining rooms. Like the other orthopedic surgeons I've visited, Rock Star's rooms are decorated with photos of famous athletes. While I waited for Rock Star (who looks so young that I swear his Mom has to drive him to work each morning), I counted at least seven pitchers in mid-hurl (I was so afraid I was cowering on the floor). I have no doubt that once Mr. Smoltz's shoulder is healed, he will autograph an 11 x 14 of himself, which Rock Star's mom will have framed and which he and his colleagues will hang with pride in their lobby.

Frankly, this concerns me. "Do you ever operate on Regular People, or only professional athletes?" I asked Rock Star.

"Actually, the athletes are a minority," he said. "Most of the people I operate on are like you."

Well, if that's the case, Rock Star and Company need some new photos. I have some suggestions.

Since I tore up my shoulder by being clumsy, what about this:

(Work with me, people. Google assures me this is a photo of a person who's fallen forward. Since I tend to do this a lot, perhaps next time I could have myself photographed in mid-fall, autograph it, and present it to Rock Star as a token of my appreciation.)

Since I can't get my jacket on without help, how about this:

Ironing is not as enjoyable as it used to be, so he might also try this:

And it's nearly impossible to blow-dry your hair with a bum shoulder, so how about this?

(The fact that this woman is smiling proves that she does not have shoulder issues.)

And since my shoulder makes it completely impossible to show affection to anyone on my left, I'd also suggest this one:

I'll be thinking of Mr. Smoltz tomorrow. From what I hear, the week he's got in front of him will not be pleasant. Hell ... the summer he's got in front of him won't be much fun, either.

Which is why I've postponed my surgery until after we go to the beach in July. After all, here's another thing you can't do with a bum shoulder:

And every summer needs a little fun.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Maybe I Should Not Post More Often

Haiku Friday

Life in disarray,
Blog abandoned for nine days.
Subscriptions? Up one.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

May 2008 -- The Month of Living Crappily

Hi! Remember me? I used to blog here.

Then some stuff happened, and some other stuff happened, and some of it I could talk about because it happened to me, but other parts of it I couldn't talk about because they happened to someone else, and in the World According to Betsy Bird, you only have free rein to blog about it if it's your stuff. If it's someone else's, maybe not.

No one's dying, and no one's getting divorced. No one's been arrested, and no one's run away from home (although I've considered it). All I can say is that the words "New Post" at the top of my Blogger screen tonight might as well have been "Welcome Home." I've missed this space.

So if you'll indulge me, I'd like to write about what I can, a sort of "Since I've Been Gone" for the blogiverse.

1. I kept running ... for awhile.

As some of you may recall, not long ago me and my great whites began a Couch to 5K running program, with a goal of running an actual, real-live, finish-line race the end of June. Last week, a miracle occurred. I actually ran 3/4 of a mile, walked a half-mile, then ran another 3/4 of a mile. Celestial sounds poured forth from the heavens. Birds sang along. Rainbows appeared.

And then I got bronchitis.

Not to be a wimp, I decided to keep running anyway. This was a bad idea. By last Friday night, as the Memorial Day weekend began to suggest itself, I was really sick.

But I didn't take my bed. Are you kidding? I'm the mom. Instead ...

2. I packed Billy off for a trip to the beach with some friends.

How nice, you're thinking. Well, yeah.

Except for finding out 48 hours before he left that he and his friends would be staying in a place by themselves. "Don't worry," the host mother told me. "We'll be just down the beach."

Oh, and there was also the part about how, since they were renting a place FOR THE TEENAGE KIDS, MANY OF WHOM HAD JUST TWO DAYS BEFORE GRADUATED FROM HIGH SCHOOL, TO STAY WITHOUT ADULT SUPERVISION, we would need to contribute $150.

Billy's one of these kids who's never given us a reason not to trust him. Sometimes those are the hardest kind. In the lengthy time we had to weigh all our options and thoughtfully consider the pros and cons of letting him go on this trip, which of course had been planned for weeks -- in other words, 30 minutes -- we decided he'd earned the right to go.

Let the worrying begin.

Before we knew it, the phone rang. It was Billy, who'd insisted it was a really, really great idea to take his new, 140,000-mile Volvo, seeing as how he needed to come back earlier than the other kids they day after Memorial Day.

"Mom," he began. "We stopped at KFC, and when we got back in the car, the check engine light came on, and now it's driving sluggish, so we went to an auto parts place, because we thought they'd know how to fix it, but they don't, and now I need to know what to do."


"Call Daddy," I said. There's a time and a place to take a feminist stand but this wasn't it.

Daddy concluded that Billy and his friends should join the other cars and leave his car. Which meant that we got to spend the first day of the Memorial Day weekend driving to a little town, which didn't have much more than a KFC and an auto parts store, to figure out why the check engine light was on.

Which it wasn't.

Meanwhile, I coughed. I coughed so much that

3. I spent Memorial Day at a Doc-in-the-Box.

Previously in this forum I have taken a stand against Z-pak abuse. Like a child raised in an alcoholic home who grows up to abstain, I was raised by people who toss back antibiotics like some folks eat M & Ms.

But there's a time and a place for everything. After a weekend of fever and coughing up stuff the same shade as this year's most fashionable paint colors (one of these days thousands of Americans will wake up and realize they painted their living room walls the color of infection), I would have robbed a pharmacy for some antibiotics.

But we don't have a gun. So instead, I went to a so-called "urgent" treatment center.

Apparently "urgent" means different things to different people. To me, it meant get there and back before the Law & Order Memorial Day Marathon ended. To the 137-year-old doctor on duty that day, it meant treat me before the end of the month.

In theory I think doctors should wait for the results of a blood test before doling out antibiotics. In practice, when the blood is drawn by a nurse who apparently hasn't seen a vein since Christmas, and when it takes two hours to get the results back, during which the nurse and the doctor and some other folks sit around and eat pizza while I wait alone in an examining room where the paper won't stay on the table, I think we should see if the Mafia would be interested in pursuing a new line of business.

Eventually, and with considerable help from me ("Well let's see, what could we try?" "I've done well on Zithromax in the past." "Say ... now there's an idea."), the doctor "treated" me and went back to his pizza.

Did I mention he never listened to my chest? Isn't that Bronchitis 101? Maybe that's why I'm still sick.

But I have to get well, because

4. I scheduled my shoulder surgery for next Thursday, June 5.

I still haven't 100% committed to a surgeon. As you may recall, I had issues with the first surgeon. So last week I went to see Shoulder Guy.

I liked Shoulder Guy. Yes, he had on cowboy boots, which seemed a little "I'm so cool that I wear cowboy boots in a seven-story medical office building 10 miles from the closest horse," but he was nice, and he explained lots of things, and best of all was he said that actually what needs fixing is not my rotator cuff but my cartilage. This may not sound important, but apparently cartilage heals a lot faster, which means my shoulder won't hurt as much or as long, and my summer won't suck nearly as much as it was sounding like it might a couple of weeks ago. Besides, Shoulder Guy has had his own shoulder cartilage fixed. He didn't do it himself, of course, and I didn't feel comfortable asking who did. But it certainly didn't sour him on the procedure. "I LOVE doing these," Shoulder Guy said.

Of course, I love doing crosswords. That doesn't mean I'm any good at them.

Stay tuned ...

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Why CNN is Devil Spawn

Transcript of an actual CNN broadcast (as remembered by me):

12:15:30 p.m. CST (Anchor Don Lemon) This just in: Senator Ted Kennedy has a malignant brain tumor. For more on the meaning of this, we'll go now to you, Sanjay Gupta.

12:16:00 p.m. CST (Sanjay): This is really bad, Don. Malignant brain tumors are dangerous.

12:16:30 p.m. (Anchor) Thanks, Sanjay. And now let's go to Bill Schneider for the political ramifications ...

Yes, Don, let's do that. Let's focus on what really matters.

Monday, May 19, 2008

If Only Their Husbands Would Shut Up and Text

Since it's Monday night and I'm still laughing about something I read Saturday, I don't have to think hard about what to post for Make Me Laugh Monday.

Someone thought to post this IM exchange between Michelle Obama and Cindy McCain. Unfortunately, that someone wasn't me.

Whether you support Hillary or Obama, you're going to like this. If you're for McCain, not so much -- but you've still got to give credit to whoever thought this up.


Thursday, May 15, 2008

Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Rotator Cuffs But Were Afraid to Ask

My two-handed typing days, it seems, are about over.

As it stands right now, a week from today a surgeon will make some tiny cuts in my left shoulder, wiggle a little camera around in there, remodel a couple of bones, and stitch up my torn rotator cuff. Then he'll send me home with a pain pump, a gigantic ice cuff connected to a cooler, a sling, and some sort of bolster-on-a-belt designed to keep my arm out to my side. Which pretty much nips my newfound running obsession in the bud. (5K racing, we hardly knew ye...) As well as the aforementioned two-handed typing.

This all comes as something of a surprise, and not just to me.

Apparently determining why a shoulder hurts is like trying to figure out what's making a newborn cry. You put the baby down for a nap, pick it back up, feed it, burp it, change its diaper, feed it again, bounce it around on your forearm, give it a pacifier, drive it around in the car, call your mom and ask what she thinks, change its diaper again, burst into tears yourself, and finally decide it has colic.

With a shoulder, it's not all that different. First you try Aleve. Later you try more Aleve, and distracting yourself. If that doesn't work -- and it won't -- you try physical therapy. When all that fails, you have an MRI.

Now, as some of you may remember, I attempted to have an MRI last week. Such was not to be, however, so it was not until two days ago that I finally got the chance to be left alone inside a metal tube with a jackhammer banging in my ears.

The noise and the claustrophobia and the nagging neurotic concern about what would happen if the MRI technician was a sadist and left me in there alone with my hands strapped to my sides? Those actually weren't the worst parts. The worst part was the part before all that.

To figure out why the newborn is crying a shoulder continues to hurt when it should have stopped already, you have to put dye inside it. You probably would rather I not describe how the dye gets in there, so I will spare you. What I will share is that the phrase "Gosh ... 99 times out of 100 this thing goes in without a hitch" is not what I was hoping to hear. My butt may be as big as a tractor wheel and my thighs may be great whites, but apparently my shoulder joint is dainty and petite.

Eventually, though, my shoulder was full of an iodine-and-saline cocktail (I am pretty sure it was on the rocks), and a technician shoved me and it into the MRI tube. I was actually quite excited when they handed me radio headphones and asked me my favorite station, but it was impossible to hear NPR over the MRI steel-drum sounds, and I was not a happy camper.

Still, it ended soon enough, and they sent me off with a CD (probably the most expensive one I've ever touched) showing the inner workings of my diminutive shoulder.

Wednesday, I handed the CD to my friendly orthopedist. Thirty minutes later, having watched it on her computer (I forgive her if she checked in with TMZ while she was at it -- I mean, how interesting can the inside of a shoulder be?), she came back and, using her little finger and a pretend knife, demonstrated how my infraspinatus tendon had been cut halfway through, presumably by my fall in California.

No one, most particularly me, had expected this. The prevailing theory was that I'd torn some cartilage. Which just goes to show that maybe, uh, doctors, uh, guess sometimes. (Which reminds me of the time a few years back when one of my pupils got way bigger than the other. (Long story. And yes, it DID involve an MRI.) The doctor in the ER looked at it, scratched his head, said he'd be back in a few minutes, left, came back, and told me he'd just pulled out a bunch of his old textbooks to try to figure out what was going on. "Hell if I know," he said. I loved that man.)

Sometimes doctors advise people with partial rotator cuff tears to try more physical therapy. But before I could even ask, my orthopedist told me, "If it were me, I'd have surgery on this one." Yes, you're right -- I don't have any way of knowing whether she was wearing her "trust me --I made a 100 on rotator cuffs in med school" hat or her "hell if I know" hat. But she has me convinced.

So, after another 45 minutes or so of waiting, she sent a surgeon in to chat with me. This guy met my Number One requirement in a doctor: I understood everything he was telling me. That, and he said I was "almost guaranteed" not to have pain anymore once I got past the surgery and the rehab. (Shhhhh ... I can hear what you're thinking.) So I said yes, and we set a date: May 22, 2008.

Next up was the surgeon's nurse, who also happened to be his wife. Contrary to her happy-go-lucky husband, Mrs. Surgeon made this sound like it would not exactly be a walk in a park. I learned, for example, the following:

1) I won't be able to drive until I finish taking pain medicine. Given what sort of things the surgeon said he was going to be doing while he was in there, I suspect that means I will need a chauffeur for awhile.

2) "Most of the ladies find it more comfortable not to wear a bra for a week." Oh really. Well then most of the "ladies" must have ripped their rotator cuffs while they were still girls, with young and perky girl-breasts. What are old hags grownups like me supposed to do -- wear a strapless bra? Maybe that's why they'll be giving me pain pills.

3) I will need to wear a sling and this pillow thing on the side of my waist for, oh, about three of the hottest weeks of the year. Between that and the lack of chest supplementation support, I feel pretty already.

Once I got home, I figured out some other stuff.

Like, there's no way I'm going to be able to continue training for a 5K race on June 28 if I have to run braless with a sling and a shelf around my waist. But if I put the surgery off until after the race, I'll have to wear the same paraphernalia on the beach in mid-July for a couple of weeks. (Maybe I could get one of those cigarette-girl setups and prop it on the pillow and sell seashells at the seashore.)

And that it's going to be sort of hard to do my job, seeing as how it involves typing only about, oh, all the time. Unless I can find a keyboard with the left-hand keys about two feet to the left of the right-hand keys.

And that it's going to be harder that it already is for me to get meals on the table and clean clothes in the drawers. How do you chop an onion with one hand?

And that I'm going to have to become adept at posting all sorts of visuals real quick if I want to continue blogging with one hand.

And that before Mrs. Surgeon became Mrs. Surgeon, she was just the surgeon's nurse and there was a different Mrs. Surgeon, who is now known as the former Mrs. Surgeon. Coincidence? I think not.

With all this newfound knowledge, I decided today I wanted to stall get a second opinion, and maybe a different surgeon. Yes, he met my Number One requirement of Being Understandable, but Being a Nice Guy is way up there too, and in my book philanderers generally aren't. Maybe that's prudish. But it's my money and my rotator cuff, and I have a perfect right to make a moral statement with them if I so choose. Besides, I heard from two different people that he's had some unhappy customers.

So now I have an appointment with a second surgeon. This one is a Shoulder Guy. But then of course the doctor at the ER that time was an Eye Guy, and we all know how that turned out.

Meanwhile, I plan to spend this weekend looking for a one-armed bra and the world's widest keyboard.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Sheesh ... Nobody's Good at Everything!

I know obituaries aren't typically the stuff of yuk-yuks, but I read our local ones religiously, and occasionally they're laugh-out-loud funny.

Take the one I read yesterday, which is going in that 10-pound box of Things I'm Going to Write Short Stories About Some Day Unless Someone Else Beats Me to It. The photo showed a glamour shot of a bouffant-blonde woman in her mid-60s wearing big glitzy earrings and long gloves that I'm guessing were red. (I'm not linking to the photo or the obituary because it just seems like a real easy way to get in big trouble.) The obit was written by the deceased's twin sister, who hadn't managed to announce her sister's death in the three months since it happened but did manage to use the words "I," "me" and "my" 14 times when she finally got around to it.

There were several digs at the dead woman in this piece, but here was my favorite.

"My sister lived life to the fullest of her capacity. She did not marry well."

Methinks someone still resents the unauthorized borrowing of a poodle skirt in 1956.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

The Best Mother's Day Gift in the World

My children make me laugh. There's no better gift in the world.

Fortunately for me and for them, they were in rare form today. It meant I had a great Mother's Day even though they didn't make me cute little Mother's Day crafts involving their handprints.

At 9 this morning, running late for our own church, we sped past the deaf church on the corner. For the first time, I noticed that there's an enormous metal bell sitting on a concrete slab on the deaf church's property.
Me: Did you guys see that bell? I never noticed it before. Wonder why they have a bell.
Ben: They were going for irony.

At 1, I'm trying on clothes at Gap as Bob and Ben wait. (Billy had to work.) I come out of the dressing room in this shirt I'd been coveting. It's sort of a Liberty-looking print in periwinkle and green, with 3/4 sleeves and pintucks down the front. I loved it.
Me: So what do you think?
Ben: You want my honest opinion?
Me: I'm going to buy it no matter what you say, but sure.
Ben: It look like "Uncle Henry, go get Dorothy! Tornado's comin'!"

At 9, Bob and I come home from a church choir party. Billy, 17-year-and-11-month-old honor student, tells me in grave terms that his knuckles have been bleeding for two hours.
Me: What happened?
Billy:(gravely) Well, I was in the bathroom sitting on the toilet, and I was playing with the plunger. And I pushed it down real hard on the floor, and it stuck. And so I yanked really hard on it, and when it finally came loose, I scraped my fingers on the toilet seat, and now they won't stop bleeding.
Me: Maybe you shouldn't play with the toilet plunger.
Billy: I'm not going to believe it if this means I end up making a 4 on my AP Chemistry test.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Betsy Bird, Volunteer Management Consultant

There's nothing I love more than being shoved inside an insanely noisy metal tube and told to relax.

Actually, no. I don't particularly love MRIs, although we've had quite a few chances to get a groove thing going on, me having an incredibly weird and accident-prone body and MRIs having X-ray vision and all.

But Wednesday, I was actually thrilled to be scheduled for my fifth MRI. (Blue Cross-Blue Shield has my face on a wanted poster under the heading "The Next Person Who Grants This Woman Pre-Certification WILL BE FIRED.")

Way back in February, you see, I fell while I was having an otherwise lovely visit to Palm Springs and, as it turns out, tore my left shoulder all to hell.

The problem is that it's not exactly clear which part. I'm not a lot of help in figuring it out; all I can do is tell my orthopedist and the physical therapists, repeatedly, that when I try to do much of anything that involves my left shoulder, I feel the way Barbie would feel (if she could feel) when little boys try to tear her arms off. (Not to be sexist, but if you've ever given your son a Barbie, you know what I'm talking about.) It's all I can do not to shout "Ken! Ken! Help me, Ken!"

Anyway, when my orthopedist said it was time to look around in there and figure out why my shoulder was getting worse instead of better, I was more than happy to be shoved inside that tube. I would have been willing not to breathe for 30 minutes if it would have given us a nice clean picture of my tendons and cartilage.

Alas, it was not to be. I did my part -- I hauled ass from the other side of town and got to the MRI place exactly on time, and I drank way less coffee than usual so that I wouldn't have an anxiety attack while I was trying not to move a muscle.

I only made one, teensy, tiny mistake, which was that I forgot I'd turned the ringer off on my cell phone. Which meant that when the MRI people tried to call me to tell me their machine was "down," I didn't hear them. Which meant that I'd hauled ass for nothing, and that I can't have my MRI for another week. Which meant that I couldn't see my orthopedist yesterday. Which means that I have to go through yet another weekend with a useless shoulder.

I was not happy. Yes, they'd tried to call, but I didn't and don't believe for one second that their machine was malfunctioning. They'd called me twice the day before the appointment trying to shift the time of my around because of scheduling problems. I think they were just over-booked and I was the one who drew the short straw.

What's more, the receptionist was doing a wonderful imitation of a woman who really would be happier in a job that didn't involve typing, words or people. She claimed not to know who I was or why I was there when I showed up, she asked me how to spell my name three times, and then, once she got my name, she mispronounced it.

Finally, and most important, I wasn't happy because now I have to wait even longer for my shoulder to stop hurting.

I didn't yell or make a scene or say anything ugly. But I also didn't say, "Bless your heart! It sounds like you've been having just a terrible day, hon, with your machine down and all. I'm so sorry." Down here, that registers as pissed.

Which is probably why, just as I was about out the door, the receptionist calls out "Miz Bird?"

I turned around. And she hands me a gift card. A Chik-Fil-A gift card.

I've had two days to think about this, and I still can see only two possibilities.

One is that she personally felt bad, and so she fished around in her purse and found a Chik-Fil-A gift card someone had given her, and she gave it to me. Which is very sweet. Weird, but very sweet. It will be even sweeter if it turns out there's still some money left on the card, which doesn't have a value written on it.

But the other explanation, which I think is the more likely one, is that this MRI office has such management problems that they keep a stack of gift cards waiting for angry clients.

I do not have an MBA, but honestly, I think there are more effective techniques.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

As a Matter of Fact, I DID Give Birth in Preschool

The ever-entertaining Hotfessional always comes up with groovy work-avoiders quizzes.

From her I've learned that if I were an herb I'd be cilantro, if I were a flower I'd be a lily, and that only 40 percent of the things I say are Dixie-isms even though I've lived my whole life in "We'll Fry Anything Once" land. (I attribute this to getting a good education and watching 10,000 hours of Law and Order. It's in New York, y'all!!)

But tonight I love her with a bright white light, because her latest quiz says I've dropped 26 years.

You Act Like You Are 22 Years Old

You are a twentysomething at heart. You feel like an adult, and you're optimistic about life.

You feel excited about what's to come... love, work, and new experiences.

You're still figuring out your place in the world and how you want your life to shape up.

The world is full of possibilities, and you can't wait to explore many of them.

This has just made my day. I think I'll print it out and post it outside my cube tomorrow, so that when the kids my work colleagues drop by with their iPods and their tattoos and their stilettos and their "ma'ams," they'll realize I'm all chillaxin' and flossy and stuff and they'll pick me for their team.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

I Sure as Hell Better Get Extra Credit

It's way past my bedtime, and there are about 15,000 things I'd rather be doing right now than waiting for the eggplant in my ratatouille to get tender. But I can't. I'm a Fox Valley mother.

I haven't written about Fox Valley nearly as much as I expected to back when I began this blog under an assumed name so that I could talk freely about life here in this place that isn't really called Fox Valley. But now and then a situation arises that I really must tell you about.

Many of the mothers here in Fox Valley don't work outside the home. Some of those don't work all that much inside the home, either, seeing as how the average income in Fox Valley is way above the national (or Bird) average and lots of families use that money to hire a whoooooole lot of help.

Plenty of mothers around here are employed, however, most recently me. Word still hasn't gotten around, however, and lots of teachers behave as if they aren't aware that Beaver Cleaver finished grammar school along time ago and June has developed other interests.

Fox Valley teachers love to ask parent "volunteers" to provide food. These volunteers are recruited in much the same manner that prisons get their "guests" to "help" with various projects.

In the case of me and my ratatouille, I volunteered when Ben agreed to make ratatouille for tomorrow's French class picnic. He also said he'd be glad to bring a quiche Lorraine, seeing as how he could buy one at the grocery where he works.

The problem with this admittedly helpful attitude of his is that he doesn't know how to make ratatouille. (Actually, there are many other problems with the ratatouille idea, chief among them that neither Ben nor any eighth grader I've ever known will eat ratatouille. The French teacher has been at it more than 30 years, and I find it hard to believe she hasn't pulled it from the menu and tried to convince her students that baby carrots and ranch dressing are tres Francais.) Nor will he cut up vegetables. He did take the eggplant, zucchini, peppers, and onions out of the grocery bag, but after that I was on my own.

As for the quiche, the ready-made ones were 8 bucks for a quiche-made-for-two. I may not be hoarding rice yet, but there wasn't anyway I was shelling out that much for one I could make myself. My boys have taken French for a combined 13 years, and by now I can make quiche Lorraine in my sleep.

Had I nothing else to do with my life, I wouldn't have been up late trying to stew the eggplant into submission. But I had a lot going on today, so I'm still up volunteering.

But this was nothing compared to what my new friend JoAnne has been through the past few days for the high school art show.

I didn't even know JoAnne until Monday. Nor had I been aware -- until I received an e-mail from the PTA president last Friday -- that I had "expressed an interest in acting as an art liaison" at Billy's school. But according to this e-mail, I had, and that meant I needed to help stage a reception following last night's art show.

This e-mail raised several troubling questions:

1) What art show?

2) What is an art liaison?

3) Why me?

In my new, "ain't-gonna-volunteer-no-mo" mood, I promptly wrote back that I was sorry, but I didn't realize I was an art liaison, I don't even know who the art teacher is, and I couldn't be there Tuesday night (because I was going to be watching primary returns, but I left that part out). And oh yeah -- Billy can't draw a stick figure.

But the PTA president wasn't dissuaded. And to make a long story short, on Monday I was on the phone with JoAnne.

It seems the JoAnne, a PTA officer who is two weeks from parole having her youngest child graduate from high school, saw the art teacher somewhere and casually offered to help with the art show. "Help" as in hanging pictures. The art teacher said, "Perfect! It would just be great if y'all (meaning the PTA) could host a reception. For 150."

There's no connection between the art classes and the PTA, and nothing in the PTA budget to provide the cheese and fruit trays, cookies, and punch "in a silver bowl" the teacher had in mind for this event. And so JoAnne, of course, should have told the art teacher she was out of her gourd. But this is the South, and that's not the way it usually happens around here. Instead, we nod and smile and then get really pissed.

JoAnne had tried to enlist some PTA types and parents of her daughter's friends to help, but as of Monday, the offers of help had consisted of two bags of M&Ms and some ice. I felt sorry for her, and so I agreed to contribute 96 bottles of water (aka $18 worth) for an art show my child wouldn't be participating in and I wouldn't be attending, sponsored by a teacher I wouldn't recognize if she were standing in front of me.

At least water doesn't have to be cooked.

Monday, May 5, 2008

My Great Whites and Me

You may have figured out by now that I'm not what you would call a fitness buff.

I mean, I don't have anything against fitness. At times I've even been fit. But, particularly since I started blogging, I've been spending A LOT of time on the sofa. I mean, there's a dent over on my side.

Which is why the "Couch to 5K" running program I started this very evening purports to be designed for the likes of me. Supposedly, if only I do exactly what the coach tells me, in seven weeks I'll be able to run three miles without either stopping or dying. I'll be able to finish a 5k race. I'll experience enormous feelings of pride and personal satisfaction. "One Shining Moment" will play wherever I go.

The problem is that what the coach expects me and the other 50 people in the program to do is run. Often. As in, this week I have to run FOUR. MORE. TIMES.

Which means that four more times, I have to look at my thighs. The thought makes me queasy.

My thighs came out into the light this evening for the first time since summer. Like two groundhogs on February 2, they quickly tried to dive back into some jeans. But I wouldn't let them. I forced them to get in the car and drive to the meeting site, and then to run with all the other, less white, less trembly, less conspicuous thighs. Poor things -- I tried to pretend I didn't know them, and I think they picked up on it.

My thighs have promised me that if I apply self-tanner to them several more times between now and the next group run, they will stay in the program. I in turn have promised them that if they will stay with it, maybe they won't be quite so trembly. Maybe they will start to have fun.

They called me a big fat liar.

My butt is probably not so happy about being showcased in a pair of shorts, either. But at least it's behind me, and I can't hear it when it whines.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Showing Chicken Who's in Charge

I don't know if you've heard, but groceries have gotten a teensy bit more expensive than they used to be. How much more expensive? So much more expensive that I'm not sure if we're even going to notice that I've gone back to work.

I've been poking around looking for cheap recipe ideas, but I must admit so far I'm not on fire with the idea of eating a bunch of peasant food just as the weather starts to get really hot around here. If you just can't get enough of cabbage, beans, and potatoes, though, I highly recommend that you check out the Recession Cuisine thread on Chowhound. Depending on your palate, it will either inspire you or turn your stomach.

As for me, I've got to find a way to muddle through with meat, at least until the weather cools off. With that in mind, I looked for the cheapest chicken I could find today at Publix. As the food media has been telling me, chicken legs are dirt cheap -- 49 cents a pound. I don't really like them, of course, but my kids do, and if I serve food I find unappetizing maybe I'll just fill up on salad, or better yet, water. It will be like Weight Watchers, only free.

But I wanted some white meat, as well. And so, for what I'm embarrassed to admit was the first time in my life, I bought a whole chicken and brought it home to cut up myself.

Now I know why the already cut-up kind costs more. CUTTING UP A CHICKEN IS DISGUSTING. It's slimy and germ-ridden and cold, and when knife cuts through bone, it sounds like ... well, like knife cutting through bone. Thank God orthopedic surgeons put you out before they get busy.

I'm quite a talented chef if I do say so myself, but I destroyed that chicken in an effort to get eight edible pieces and a back. Little pieces of raw chicken were flying, not to mention raw chicken fat -- quite simply the grossest substance I've ever touched. But I save about 50 cents a pound, by God. Of course if we all end up with food poisoning the four co-pays will be about 200 times that amount, but at least I tried.

Since that won't be the last chicken I cut up, fortunately I found this nifty instructional video on YouTube. (What's not on YouTube, by the way? Any day now I fear I will find that someone has videoed me squirming into my Spanx, set it to some sort of rap music about big booties, and uploaded it.)

This woman clearly makes that chicken her bitch, and I learned a lot watching her. My only suggestion is that you might want to turn the sound real low. Between the bone-sawing and the slimy-squirty sound , you will totally not be in the mood to eat anything but a nice dry saltine for about a week. And I'm not sure whether they're on sale.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Short Pudgy Men Say the Darnedest Things

Bob and I went shopping today.

This is an extraordinarily rare event, even more so because the person for whom we were shopping was Bob.

One of Bob's favorite sayings is that "after the revolution, we'll all wear uniforms." This is a nod to his college days, when he made his own yogurt and didn't wear deodorant, as well as a way of saying that even though he is a lawyer for a big corporation, he hasn't really sold out.

Guys who talk about wearing uniforms aren't all that interested in clothes. So when Bob tells me that he's in desperate need of something new to wear, it's comparable to when those people whose religion forbids seeking medical care say it's time to dial 911. The fact that this past Wednesday was his birthday, and that he is The Hardest Person in the World to Buy For, and that after 22 years of buying him birthday presents I was completely and totally out of ideas, meant that we were destined to spend this weekend at a mall looking for business casual.

Bob enjoys spending money the way most people enjoy vomiting, so most of his clothes are cheap. Extremely. But in the years since Bob's company went to business casual, he and I have discovered that you sort of get what you pay for when it comes to no-iron khakis. We started with Target and JCPenney, moved on to Macy's and Belk, and finally turned to Eddie Bauer and Land's End in desperation. None of these companies' slacks have held up well, perhaps because Bob carries a wallet the size of a loaf of bread. Therefore, it was to Brooks Brothers of all places that we traipsed this afternoon in search of a pair of no-iron pants that would carry him through more than a season.

Bob recently lost a lot of weight, and there was a good deal of back-and-forth between him and the sales clerk as to whether to go with the 32-inch waist or the 33. I didn't really care -- I tend to turn my back on conversations about which of two really tiny sizes is preferable, even if it's a man who'll be wearing them -- so I sat down and people-watched. And that was when I witnessed the following:

This short round man with skinny legs and a baseball cap -- he looks kind of like a hardboiled egg on toothpicks, or Mr. Potato Head -- comes into the store, followed by his wife. Mr. Egg and the Mrs. wandered a bit, fingering these pants, looking at the tags on those shirts.

A sales guy walks past. Mr. Egg waves him down.

Mr. Egg: I've got a 17 1/2 inch neck and I want an 18-neck shirt. Got anything like that?

Sales Guy: Sure. (Sales guy moves a few feet toward display racks) We've got these pinpoints (pointing in front of him) and those wrinkle-free (pointing to his right) and (turning to his left) we've got--

Mr. Egg: (spreading hands emphatically) Just show me your most expensive shirt.

Sales Guy does a 180 and Mr. and Mrs. Egg follow. I listen as Sales Guy explains that the most expensive shirts have a "leaner" cut. If I were Mr. Egg, I'd sacrifice the opportunity to pay maximum price in order to find a shirt that wasn't going to lose its buttons the first time I sat down, but it's a free country.

Just then, slim-trim Bob -- a man who's never in his life asked for the most expensive anything -- came out. It was killing him, but he picked out two pair of Brooks Brothers no-iron pants, although only because if they hold them till next week they'll be 25 percent off.

It takes all kinds.

Friday, May 2, 2008

The Best Night of the Week

Haiku Friday

Friday night’s white wine:
The best tasting of the week.
Sofa, here I come.

Longest work week yet,
my neck and shoulders aching,
I'm glad to be home.

Too tired to cook much,
Microwave my bestest friend,
Last night's food looks great.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Betsy Bird's Top Ten List of Home Improvement Principles YOU Should Know

Oh faithful readers ... how I have betrayed you! It's been seven days since my last post. It's not that I haven't been thinking of you, or itching to post. It's that between a four-day visit from my parents and an overnight trip out of town and three different kid performances to attend and a job and the small matter of a major construction project going on in my backyard, I haven't had time to look for my laptop, much less use it. Please don't feel bad. My laundry has been equally neglected.

But I'm back, and ready to aim for a post-per-day in May. Toward that end, tonight I offer some home improvement advice.

A bit of background is in order. It's a long and tragic story, with many chapters and subplots and a red herring or two. But here is a synopsis.

Long ago and far away, a builder constructed a house on the last undeveloped lot on a Southern suburban street. Neighborhood children had been happily playing on that lot for years because it was so much fun to roll down the ravine at the back of it toward the creek.

The builder sold the house to a family.

Ten years ago, that family sold the house to us. As soon as we left the closing, the family began to laugh.

Cut to five years ago. We began to notice the back corner of our kitchen was sloping.

We ignored it. By a couple of years later, we couldn't anymore. Things around our house -- or shall I say, under our house --were going downhill. Literally.

One pie-in-the-sky architect, five different contractors, one greedy underhanded overpaid engineer, an ocean full of gravel and cement, and a couple of years later, our house is stabilized. Now that that's done, we're finally replacing our deck and screen porch, so that we can look out upon the ravine into which we have poured money equal to the cost of a complete college education for one of our children.

I've learned many things on this journey. (Ever notice how everything today is a journey? American Idol, Top Chef, Project Runway, Dancing With the Stars, running for president -- apparently we've all been traveling and we didn't even know it.) Tonight I'd like to share some of them with you.

Betsy Bird's Top Ten Things Every Home Improver Should Know

10) All home improvement projects involve the modification or removal of a previous home improvement project that didn't improve anything. This is particularly true if the previous home improvement project was undertaken by the husband of the woman living in said home. Tip: Should your spouse announce plans to replace your gutters himself, immediately seek a restraining order.

9) Home improvement is actually a euphemism. The real name of what you are doing is Making One Decision After Another. I can make pie crust, curtains, and spreadsheets, but I have a lot more trouble with decisions. If you do not like to make decisions, you should learn to love the house you already have.

8) Here's a handy formula for determining the cost of the additional furniture you'll need for your improved space. For each additional 10 square foot of living space, count on spending more than you can possibly afford for the whole room.

7) Human life expectancy may increase with each passing decade, but today's appliances live on borrowed time. The dishwasher you buy to replace your 20-year-old one will develop a terminal illness before it reaches kindergarten age.

6) HGTV is not reality television. It is a fictional dramatic series written and acted by the same people who brought you imaginary friends.

5) Porta-potties can blow over in heavy winds.

4) When it comes to electric sockets, three things matter: location, location, location.

3) You know that pest control guy you've been paying to come to your house each month and spray for termites? That's all he's been doing -- spraying. You mean you wanted him to actually prevent termites? Geez ... you should have said so. That costs extra.

2) Laura Ingalls Wilder lived in a little house on the prairie. Surely we can all live in houses without granite countertops.

And my Number One suggestion about improving your home ...


Thursday, April 24, 2008

My Burglar and Me

Last night I promised my 7 3/4 readers that tonight I would post about the time I woke up with a burglar standing at the foot of my bed. And unlike criminals, my word is my bond, so I will.

First, though, a quiz.

If you awoke from a deep sleep with a light shining in your face, and you didn’t know what, or who, was on the other end of the light, would you:

(A) Pretend you were asleep?
(B) Call 911?
(C) Scream bloody murder?
(D) Start a conversation?

If you answered A, B, or C, then you are not me.

Back in 1983, when I was deep in the throes of that intense agony that is known as the first semester of law school, I shared a house with my brother, Casey. He and I had about as much in common as any two strangers randomly selected by throwing two darts in opposite directions, so we tried to stay as far apart as possible. Thus, he had the front bedroom and the run of the house, and I had a big room/study and bath along the back that was sort of a one-woman Law School Angst Cave. Three other students lived upstairs, one of them in a one-room apartment directly above my own.

One afternoon, Casey and I thought we smelled a gas leak. We considered calling the gas company but never got around to it. Instead, we opened one of the living room windows. I studied until about 11 back in the Law School Angst Cave and, unable to keep my eyes open, went to sleep.

About 2 a.m., I woke up. An incredibly bright light was shining on me. Somehow, probably because the light was shaking a bit, I immediately realized that there was a person on the other end of it.

But in my middle-of-the-night fog, I first assumed that the guy with the flashlight was a friendly gas company employee there to fix the leak. "Where's Casey?" I asked him.

No answer.

"Where's Casey?" I asked, this time a little louder. Still no answer.

The flashlight was shining directly in my eyes, so I couldn't see the person holding it, but I was beginning to wake up, and I realized a gas company employee would be a bit more responsive. Whoever this was, he probably didn’t work for a utility. And it pissed me off.

This is where a more prudent person would have shut the f**k up. But not moi. Instead, I just blew up.

"Who are you?" I asked -- okay, yelled. Still no answer.

I can’t really explain why I didn’t back down. All I know was that I was about as pissed off as a person can be. If this guy had the nerve to break into my house and shine a light on me at a time in my life when every last second of sleep was precious, the least he could do was tell me who in the hell he was. I was up on my knees in the bed, shaking my finger at a still completely invisible person. "Tell me where Casey is!" I screamed. "Tell. Me. Your. Naaaaaaame!!!!!"

And then -- as God is my witness, I swear this is true -- the burglar spoke. "I'm Jeff," he said in the calmest voice you ever heard. "Casey's fine. Go back to sleep.

And with that, he strolls away. I could tell because the flashlight was just bop-bop-bopping along, easy as you please. Which is pretty bizarre behavior, if you ask me, although that is perhaps the pot calling the kettle black.

About the time Jeff and his flashlight departed, Casey – who must have had a few before he turned in – finally comes running in. (The cute young pharmacy student who lived directly above me? The next day he said he “thought he heard me screaming.” Wimp.)

Once Jeff was gone, of course, and it had finally sunk in that he was a real, live, certified, card-carrying burglar (which I had just learned in law school simply meant that he had broken and entered my dwelling in the nighttime with the intent to commit a felony therein), I freaked. We turned on every light in the house – no sign of Jeff, of course – and called the cops.

As we waited for them, we looked for what they had stolen. NOTHING -- not one thing -- was missing. My purse was right by my bed where I’d left it. Casey’s wallet was in his room. Those were the only things we had that were worth anything, except my law textbooks, and you’d be a pretty freaking creepy burglar if that was what you were after.

When the cops arrived and we told them nothing was gone, they offered a reassuring comment: “Ma’am, we have to tell you ... we think he was here for you.” That’ll make you sleep like a baby.

The police did help us discover that we’d left our front window wide open, which is kind of like inviting crooks to come on in and bring their friends. The cops filled out an incident report but told us not to expect anything. And then they left.

Shortly afterwards was when I thought to look in my purse, where I found that I no longer had a wallet. Which was frankly reassuring, as it kind of poked a bunch of holes in the rape theory. So I happily went back to being absolutely furious that some asshole thought he had the right to crawl in my open window and shine a light on me.

The next morning, a student at a nearby elementary school saw my wallet in a trash can outside his school. My credit cards and ID were still in it, as was my change. All that was missing was $11 in cash.

A few months later, my mother ran into a family friend whose daughters rented an apartment in the same neighborhood. Someone had broken in and stolen their wallets – nothing else. They had not caught his name.

As time went on, I heard of a number of people who’d been victims of a university-area wallet thief. And seven or eight years later, I read in the local newspaper that a guy had been convicted for stealing hundreds of wallets – nothing else -- from students in the area over a period of years.

His name was not Jeff.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Seven Random Things About Me

You like me, you really, really like me!

Or at least MommyTime at Mommy's Martini does. She just tagged me on my first ever meme, and I'm so excited I have of course dropped EVERYTHING to post. This means that the slim chance I had of ending this day less behind than I started is now over, and dinner will be late, and when the contractor shows up tomorrow morning just as I'm leaving for work to find out where I want the electric sockets on our new screen porch (a story for another time), I won't know, because I will have been writing instead of measuring stuff, and I'll just say "there" and "umm, there," and in mid-July, when I can't get the lamp close enough to my book because the electric socket is on the wrong wall, I'll kick myself for not being more disciplined, and spend a lot of time on the Internet trying to find an invisible extension cord.

But anyway, the deal is this: I'm supposed to post seven weird or random things about me, and then tag seven people to do the same thing. But MommyTime only tagged four people, and I'm so grateful to her for actually being a reader that I'm now totally enthralled by everything she does, like she's in seventh grade and has actually spoken to little old me, a lowly fourth grader, in front of the entire playground, and so if she did four, then four it is. So here goes.

1. I do not like raw tomatoes. I know this because, as a mature 48-year-old who's trying to set a good example for her very picky 14-year-old, I still try them every summer, and they still taste just as awful. I have never tasted embalming fluid, but for some reason I have always imagined it tastes just like raw tomatoes. If you don't think this is a significant social limitation, you obviously do not live in the South. People down here are serious about their tomatoes. "You're kidding," they say. "Come on -- there's nothing better." My grandmother in particular really seemed to think there was something wrong about me. It's kind of like being on Joe McCarthy's blacklist, only different.

2. I once woke up at 2 a.m. with a burglar standing at the foot of my bed shining a huge flashlight on me. Yes, this was scary, but only after the fact. At the time, what it was was INFURIATING. I've never been so pissed in my life. This is SUCH a long story, it will have to be my post tomorrow. If you're intrigued, check back.

3. I am more repulsed by the technical terms for body parts than the gutter words. Not that I'm crazy about those. I prefer pointing.

4. Remember Gary Hart, who had to drop out of the 1984 Democratic presidential campaign because he went sailing on a boat called Risky Business with a young blonde woman not his wife? (If you weren't born back then, you just got a history lesson.) When that happened, it came out that Gary Hart had long been screwing anything and everything in a skirt. Well back in 1983, when I was a newspaper reporter, I interviewed Gary Hart in the coffee shop of a motel where he was staying during a campaign swing through our city. There was not another soul in the coffee shop. Yet the only thing Gary Hart talked about with me were his theories about government. (Maybe it had something to do with #3.) I must admit when all the stories came out a year later, I was insulted. I thought maybe I should print up a T-shirt that said "I interviewed Gary Hart, and all I got was this lousy newspaper story," but then I realized I would be my only customer.

5. I am the only right-hander in the Bird household. I am the only Bird who is bad at math. I am also the only Bird who is not an incredible singer. Coincidence? I think not.

6. I met Bob, my husband, in 1985 when I interviewed at his law firm, but he doesn't remember it. When I went to work there in 1986, he and I went to lunch the second day and became fast friends. When we went home to our respective families over Thanksgiving, we rode together, still just as friends. Hearing me talk about him during that visit, both my mother and my sister wrote on slips of paper their predictions that we would be engaged by the next Thanksgiving. The really weird thing is that (a) neither of them had ever been an underwear-drawer-prediction-hider, and (b) neither of them knew that the other had done it. Less than a month later, we were dating, and the following Labor Day, we got engaged.

7. Having dry sand or dusty dirt on my feet makes my skin crawl. If you ever suspect me of being a terrorist, make me walk barefoot across a dirty grocery store floor and then force me to eat a bunch of raw tomatoes. I'll tell you anything you want to hear.

So there you have it -- not the most bizarre person you've ever met. On the other hand, maybe not quite so plain vanilla as my friend Jane's friend, whom she refers to as "Boring Katie."

***** Here are the rules and my tags. *****
This is the “7 Things” meme, and here are the rules:

Link your tagger. Post the rules.
Share 7 facts about yourself (random or weird)
Tag 7 friends
Leave a comment letting them know they have been tagged.

As for who I'm tagging, I'm a relatively new kid on the block, bloggily speaking, and half the people I read regularly would say "Betsy Who? Emptying What?" if I tagged them. But hopefully at least one or two of these fine ladies will play along.
They are (drumroll, please):
1. June Cleaver Nirvana.
2. Just Chicken Feed.
3. Thursday Drive.
4. Whiskey In My Sippy Cup.

Don't worry about how behind you are! Go read them!

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Mama, Make 'Em Stop!!!

Dear Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama,

I like you guys -- really I do. But enough is enough. I'm sick of you both and we've got a long hot summer ahead of us.

Look at you. You guys look terrible. It would take a bucket of Restaylne to fill in all those lines you're getting.

Pleeeeeeease. I beg you. Go home. Put your feet up. Take up Sudoku, or knitting. Watch wrestling (just don't use slogans from it). See what kind of lamp you can make out of your Grammys. You can even blog, if you pinky PROMISE it won't be about each other.

Frankly, I don't care which one of you gets it at this point. If I were a superdelegate, I'd pledge my vote to whichever one of you shut up and left me alone first.

And if you guys would just cool it, Wolf Blitzer would have to find something else to talk about. A frat boy looking for a new way to get wasted could do worse than to chug one every time Wolf reminds us tonight that CNN has "the best political team on television."

Don't that innocent look fool you. He's the most annoying man on television. Maybe I'll play the drinking game.

Tonight in Pennsylvania, one of you will win, and one of you will lose, and the loser will say he/she didn't really lose because she/he (fill in the blank), and the winner will say that the results show that that he/she is more likely to fix the economy/get us out of Iraq/relate to the lady who works at the Dairy Queen/bowl better in the next state, and then Wolf and Company will talk about it for, oh, I don't know, about the next 36 hours without a bathroom break, for God's sake, and the two of you will still essentially be tied.

I miss the smoke-filled room.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Really, Honey -- A Bowl of Cereal Sounds Faaaaabulous.

As soon as I got home from work this afternoon, I stuck a chicken in the oven.

It's not just dinner. It's a protective measure.

My new job means the Bird boys have been back in the kitchen. That's not nearly as good as it sounds.

Yes, it's extremely sweet, especially in light of the other sorts of places they could be and things they could be doing. But it's also one or more of these other things.

No. 1: IT'S MESSY.

Kids do not clean up as they go along. They use many utensils, at least one electric mixer, and all the bowls. Sometimes the floor gets involved. When they finish washing dishes, the dishes are still dirty.


Take, for example, the night Bob and I slipped out to a meeting. In less than two hours, Billy made floating island and Quiche Lorraine and Ben made brownies. I had trouble sleeping that night because I was terrified Bob would die of cardiac arrest.


Chefs who do not eat fruit and/or vegetables tend to rely on meat, bacon, butter, cheese, white pasta, cream, chocolate, confectioners' sugar, and/or cake mix. (See No. 2.) These are not foods Weight Watchers or cardiologists endorse.


I've got four words for you: Soy Braised Gluten Puffs.

This is a Chinese dish that Billy, who never met an Asian food he didn't like, made once for Sunday night supper. It looks like a bunch of donut holes floating in barbeque sauce. It is scary.

But here's the catch. If I didn't try it, what could I say the next time Ben (not Billy -- he'll try anything) didn't want to try something? So I told Billy I would give it a whirl. I took one bite, put down my fork, and told him that, though I loved him very much, I would not be taking another one.

One night last week he made pork and cabbage in miso sauce with what appeared to be fried rice. It turned out that the little yellow bits in the rice were dried bonito, which is also called "goldfish food."

Whatever happened to scrambled eggs?


Particularly when Chef Billy is at the stove, cost apparently is no object. The night he made the Quiche Lorraine, he bought the ham, the cheese, the cream, and the French butter(!) at Whole Foods. Last week, Ben made breakfast for our 20th wedding anniversary, and Billy did the shopping. He came home with organic strawberries and blueberries (apparently picked by philosophy Ph.Ds who charged by the berry), organic English muffins, organic jam, and more French butter. And here I'm concerned about the cost of rice going up.

Obviously, given the choice between kids who cook for me and kids who don't because they hate me -- or because they're out plotting to blow up their school -- I'd choose the former. And I love that my kids aren't Spaghetti-o addicts who are daunted by the prospect of cooking from a French or Asian cookbook, or sexist piglets who think meals are not their job. Someday they're going to make wonderful, weight-carrying husbands who say "Honey, put your feet up -- it's my turn to cook."

Which means somewhere out there are two lovely girls who owe me big-time.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Every Family Needs a Few Secrets

It's Friday night, the end of my first week at my new job. I'm sitting on the sofa in my usual spot, sipping white wine and watching David Brooks and Mark Shields talk about Hilary and Obama on the News Hour. (I guess by the week's political standards, that makes me an out-of-touch elitist.) Billy's on the way home with pizza, and all's right with the world.

Except for one thing. Too tired to change out of my work clothes, I've still got on my professional outfit. And because the day's blouse demanded it, that outfit includes my Water Wear Push-Up Pads.

If you are not familiar with these personal enhancement devices, you're either Chesty McGillicuddy or about to declare me your new best friend.

Lost a lot of weight one too many times? Birthed a baby or two? Nursed one for more than 15 minutes in your life? Never had boobs in the first place? Check these out.

Here's a closer look at what you actually do with your Water Wear Push-Up Pads.

I became the proud owner of my pair last summer when it became unavoidably clear that I desperately needed them for the pool, and not as flotation devices. Since then, I've learned they come in handy when clothes require a certain, um, volume.

Now, I must warn you: Water Wear Push-Up Pads can get a bit uncomfortable after awhile. So while I'm hanging with my homies David and Mark -- everybody else was in the kitchen -- I reach in and pull them out.

It's been a long week, and I'm tired. So I didn't feel like walking into my bedroom right then to hide them put them back in my underwear drawer where they belong. Instead, I stuck them between the sofa cushions.

Which is where I leave them when I head to the kitchen to eat my pizza.

And where Ben finds them about a half-hour later.

"Maaaaahhhhhhhmmmmmm!" he yells. I'm thinking he just sat in cat vomit or something.


He dangles a pad between two fingers like it's a dying rat.

I grab it and begin to apologize profusely. (Okay, I also laughed a lot and realized I had post material. But I also apologized.) And then he says:

"I don't blame you."

He. Doesn't. Blame. Me. My teenage son thinks it's perfectly understandable that I'd want to pad my bra.

He claims all he meant was that, seeing as how I work with a lot of waaaaaaay younger, stylish women, it was understandable I'd want to look my, um, best.

I don't believe him, of course, but I didn't really want to pursue it further.

Some things are better left unsaid.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

That Darn Freud ... He's Never Around When You Need Him.

So last night, worn out from my new job, I had a really weird dream.

I dreamed that one of my favorite bloggers, who shall remain nameless, was living in my neighborhood. I'd always admired her house, but I'd never been in it. Then one day, the kids and I were headed somewhere in the car, and there was a "For Sale" sign in the blogger's front yard. Apparently, I considered this sufficient license to just go in and take myself a little tour.

Even though she wasn't there.

Even though I hadn't been invited.

Even though I was accompanied by two teenage boys who don't even read her.

I loved her house. Beautiful colors. Just my style.

And then I headed for her kitchen. The blogger had recently written about these great cookies she'd been eating, and I wanted to try one.

The cookie package was in her pantry. The kids and I tried them. They were the best.

They were so good, in fact, that I stole them. I took the bag to my house and, with my children's help, finished them off.

I'm a little fuzzy about this point, but somehow the blogger found out that I was the cookie bandit. For some reason I had thought she'd find the whole thing funny. She did not. Instead, she told me they were her children's cookies, and I had made her kids very sad.

I know why there were cookies in the dream. Last night about 8:30, Billy had to run by the grocery where he works. I'd asked him to bring me home a cookie. He forgot. I was as sad as the blogger's kids.

What the cookies symbolized, however, I'm not so sure. I'm afraid it means I've been plagiarizing or something. The problem is that if I am, I don't realize I'm doing it.

If you've been my victim, I apologize.

And if you bring me a cookie, I promise I'll never do it again.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Emily Latella Goes to Work

If you're as young as you feel, then tonight I am 103.

Today was my first day at my new job, the first real live sit-at-a-desk-on-a-regular-schedule job I've had in 18 years.

Lots of things have changed since then, some of them for the better.

Take pantyhose. The last time I had an office job, you were expected to wear them, at least if you were female. Thank God that's over. Frankly, they'd have had to give me a major signing bonus and a corner office if that were still a requirement.

But some things have gotten worse. One of them is my memory. Another is that something called "technology" has absolutely overrun America's workplaces. The stuff is like kudzu, for God's sake.

My sieve-like brain and I have been at home since 1990 doing just fine with a pen and paper, thank you very much. I mean, sure -- I've got e-mail, and I know how to Google, and I actually even set up this blog all by myself. But as far as most other technology goes, I've either stuck my head in the sand or called on my personal assistants (aka Bob, Billy, and Ben).

Unfortunately, they were not allowed to come to work with me today. Which meant I was out there all by myself in a big wide wired world. Just me and my brain, which was about as useful as those old pantyhose. I felt like Emily Latella, only I could hear.

Let me tell you a story that shows what happens to gals like Emily and me when you put us in the modern workplace. Let's call it "Fun With Phones."

Chapter 1: I see a phone on my desk. I pick up the receiver. It has a dial tone. All's right with the world.

Ch. 2: Mid-morning, a nice man -- we'll call him Mr. Telephone -- comes by my cube. "I'm here to tell you your extension," he says. That's nice, I think. Actually, it's the first time I'd realized that I only knew the first three digits of my number. I didn't let on.

Ch. 3: "It's ####," Mr. Telephone tells me. I write the words "extension is" on my pad. (I'm keeping a running list of everything anyone tells me because I'm a momnesiac. If that pad should spontaneously combust overnight, I can't ever go back.)

Ch. 4: Feeling all chipper and girl-on-the-go, I immediately asked if there was a list of other people's extensions.

What I meant was whether there was an old-fashioned piece of paper with extensions printed on it. Silly me. They don't have those anymore.

Ch. 5: "I don't know of one," Mr. Telephone says. "But I can show you how to find it online."

Ch. 6: Mr. Telephone tells me to type in a Web address, which leads me to a site where I can search for people's numbers. He suggests I make this site a "favorite." I say a little prayer as I click on "bookmark," as I'm not really sure if that's the same thing as a favorite or not.

Ch. 7: I thank Mr. Telephone, and he departs.

Ch. 8: I look back at my pad. THERE'S NO PHONE NUMBER WRITTEN THERE.

In my eagerness to figure out how to find phone numbers for other people, I had forgotten to write down my own.

Nor had I written down Mr. Telephone's real name, or what his title was. Frankly, if he'd magically appeared at my elbow right then, I'm not sure I would have recognized him.

When in doubt, call Bob. As I dialed I thought I heard a few random digits knocking around in my brain. When he answered, I whispered, "Help me figure out what my phone number is. I think maybe it's--"

He cut me off. "I'm looking at it right here on my phone. You just called me from it."

Well, what will they think of next!!! I jotted down that number. It bore absolutely not one digit's resemblance to the number I thought I remembered.

Not long afterwards, my new boss came by to give me the four-digit number I need to access my voice mail. (Note to technology people: could you maybe just once give something a five-digit number? If every number that you need to participate in modern life has four digits, how on earth are we supposed to tell them apart? It's like telling George Foreman's kids apart.)

I told her I hadn't yet set up my voice mail, so she gave me a (four-digit) number to call to start that process and an "option" to choose. We return now to "Fun With Phones."

Chapter 9: At the end of the option was a human -- we'll call him Mr. Voice Mail. (I guess Mr. Telephone is really busy helping people remember their extensions.) I asked him what to do to set up my voice mail.

Ch. 10: Mr. Voice Mail gives me yet another four-digit number to call and a three-digit password to use for something -- I'm not sure what.

Ch. 11: I tried these two numbers. Nothing happened.

Ch. 12: I called Mr. Voice Mail back and asked what to do. He says he'll get back to me.

Ch. 13: Mr. Voice Mail calls back with yet another four-digit number and the same three-digit number. Then he tells me to call "Rob at 5600" if I have any further problems.

Ch. 14: I try the new batch of numbers, and a recorded female voice welcomes me to the voice mail system. She tells me this procedure will help me "increase communication efficiency." Oh, really?

Ch. 15: When it comes time to set my new voice mail password (the one my boss had given me wasn't good enough, I guess), Recorded Female Voice helpfully suggests that I "may want to write it down for reference." She does not mention tattooing, which I suspect was an oversight.

I also had "Fun With Computers" and "Fun With Parking" and "Fun With Remembering Where the Bathroom Is." But those are stories for another day.

And if I forget to tell them, well then ... never mind.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Mom Is The Man

So much for posting every day in April.

I started the month with such good intentions. Since I begin my new job tomorrow, I thought I'd be able to cut myself some slack toward the end of the month if if I already had 13 posts under my belt before Tax Day.

So I was going to post every day last week, and then I was going to get my life TOTALLY and COMPLETELY in order so that from this point forward I'd never have to do ANYTHING else but go to work and blog and give my kids good advice. This was probably not a realistic goal, given that fresh produce is perishable and clothes get dirty and that there are only like, umm, maybe 713 piles of papers around here that need going through, which would take a whole lot longer than a week.

But that was the plan. Unfortunately, things did not go according to it.

Instead, life happened. My husband's car died (as in, forever) and my son's car was totaled. And so I spent practically every minute this past week shopping for two cars.

There are people out there for whom buying two cars is a matter of running by the Lexus dealership, pointing their index finger, and saying "I'll taking this one and that one." There are other people for whom even one totally unreliable deathtrap is way more than they can afford. The Bird family is somewhere in between.

My goal was to buy two safe, reliable, not embarrassingly ugly cars for less than $15,000.

Now listen. You're going to have to stop rolling on the floor laughing if you intend to finish reading this.

Yes, that was a ridiculously optimistic goal. But I didn't know that Monday when I started this quest.

I figured it out pretty quick, though.

Here's the thing. There are two kinds of cars in this world -- those that depreciate quickly and those that don't. The ones that depreciate really fast do that because they really aren't very good. The ones that hold their value do so because they had a whole lot of value to start with.

So if you want a certified Honda Civic with 40,000 miles and an incredible warranty, you're only going to pay a couple of thousand less than you would pay for a brand new one. But if you want a Pontiac that's so unreliable Consumer Reports sends a woman in sensible shoes over to lock you in your house so you won't buy it, you can get that for chicken feed.

And another thing. If you want the absolute best in airbags and stability control, you've got to buy new.

And if you want really good gas mileage, you've got to buy little. And little + old = not really what I want my kids driving.

Along about Thursday, I decided that if I was going to get two cars of any price by sunset Friday -- my goal -- I was going to have to get a lot less choosy. I'd take safe over low maintenance costs. I'd take up-front price over great gas mileage. And I decided not to worry much about how many miles these cars had.

Even with those concessions, by lunch Friday I still had no cars. But by 1:30, I'd bought a 10-year-old Volvo with incredibly high miles for a fabulous price. Actually, it was only the parts of the car you could see that were 10 years old. I bought it from a Volvo mechanic, who'd replaced pretty much all of its innards. And even 10 years ago, Volvo was putting bunches of airbags in its cars. That took care of Billy's automotive needs.

Buying a car is a heady thing. It makes you want to go out and buy another. Which is exactly what I did.

At 3:30, Billy and I met an old guy in a Sam's Club parking lot and bought his Mercury Grand Marquis right out from under him. It's not a particularly sexy car, but my parents have had two of them, and I know they hang in there for the long haul. Plus they have a trunk the size of my kitchen. I felt confident that this one was in good shape as the seller assured me he'd been having the oil changed every 4,000 miles at "the Wal-Mark."

And for Bob, a Grand Marquis is a step up. He's been driving a 1986 BMW with about 165,000 miles on it whose interior thermometer constantly registered -22 degrees despite the fact that it overheated every time he drove it. (It's hard to be punctual when you're never sure how much time to factor in for standing next to the road waiting for your car to cool off.)

Friday night, I was the man as far as the men around here were concerned. And I was exhausted. Like lights-out-and-sound-asleep-at-9 wiped out.

Not surprisingly, I was unable to get my life TOTALLY and COMPLETELY in order over the weekend.

Maybe after work tomorrow.