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.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Oatmeal: Breakfast of Controversy

There are two kinds of people in this world: those who love oatmeal, and those who think it's positively disgusting.

I mean, it's not embryonic stem cell research or anything, but bring up oatmeal in a public forum and you will surely see that there are strong opinions on either side. The folks who are for oatmeal believe it's wholesome and cheap and lowers your cholesterol. (Unless you don't have a television, you've probably heard this too.) The folks who are against it say it has the texture of glue, the taste of nothing, and the appearance of you-know-what.

I guess there are a few people in the middle. I have a friend who says she loves the idea of oatmeal. She wants to like oatmeal. She thinks it looks delicious. But the texture frightens her, and she can't bring herself to try it. Hers is a fantasy oatmeal experience.

I used to be one of those fence straddlers, until about six months ago, when I got the following recipe from Weight Watchers, of all places. It used to help me lose weight, which is why I'm telling you about it on Works For Me Wednesday. Now I love it so much I'm afraid I need to put it on the same list as homemade chocolate chip cookies and hummus with pita chips.

Now brace yourself -- the name may not be particularly persuasive. But I promise the taste will make you a believer. So here goes.


For one serving, mix 1 cup milk and 1/2 cup of quick oatmeal in a saucepan. Add salt (I THINK THIS IS WHERE MANY PEOPLE GO WRONG WITH OATMEAL, AND WHY THEY SAY IT'S TASTELESS.) For one serving, I'd add 1/4 teaspoon. Stir in vanilla to taste. I like LOTS of vanilla -- like maybe 1 to 1 1/2 teaspoons for one serving.

Start cooking this according to the package directions, which means in a little over a minute, it will be done.

"But wait," you say. "What's custard about this?"

Geez ... keep your pants on!!! I'm getting there.

To make this custard oatmeal, beat one egg (or three egg whites if you avoid yolks) in a bowl until it's all mixed up. Then plop a few blobs of oatmeal into the egg, and mix it up well. That gets your eggs warm so they won't scramble. Then plop the egg-oatmeal stuff back into the pot, stir it until the egg seems cooked, and take it off the heat. This is when I sweeten it -- for me, about 1 1/3 packets of Splenda is plenty.

That's it. You're getting dessert for breakfast, and you can even call it healthy with a straight face. You may thank me now.

Of course, lilies can always be gilded, and my favorite improvement is banana. For one serving, cut up about a half a banana in slices and smush them up in the milk before you stir in the oatmeal. This takes incredibly delicious everyday custard oatmeal to new heights of nirvana-iciousness. (To me, it's even better if you save some of the banana custard oatmeal and chill it to eat mid-afternoon for a snack. I realize that may be taking the oatmeal thing a bit far for some of you though.)

If you want to make it healthier, you can put other fruit on top, or you could make it with old-fashioned oatmeal (you'd just have to cook it the five minutes like the directions say before you mix in the egg).

If you don't like this, there's no hope for you, oatmeal-wise. But I'm sure you have many other lovely qualities.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Brother, Can You Spare a Toyota?

Betsy Bird is unavailable for posting tonight and asked that I send her regrets.

She has spent the entire day trying to buy two cars and is too tired to do anything on the computer other than continue to search in vain for two safe and reliable vehicles available immediately at fire-sale prices.

Yes, two cars does sound like a lot. But less than 48 hours after the rear-ending of her son's decrepit van, which was only worth a couple of thousand at best, her husband's car expired of natural causes. The nerve! It was only 22 years old and had a mere 165,000 miles, which obviously means it was a wimpy, lily-livered thing.

Betsy will be back tomorrow, when (we should all hope) she is in a better frame of mind.

Yours sincerely,
Betsy's Keyboard

Monday, April 7, 2008

My Son, My Hero

This is not the post I was going to write.

As I mentioned in last night's post, my kids were rear-ended Saturday night by an elderly woman while Bob and I were at a Diana Krall concert. There was another car involved, but that was a whole 'nother story, which I wanted to save for tonight.

That story was about A Grownup Behaving Badly.

That bad behavior enraged me, and I was eager to vent.

But that story also involved A Grownup Behaving Kindly and Nobly. And the two grownups happen to be married.

Since the tale involved Billy, I let him read it before I posted it.

Billy told me it was my blog and I could write what I wanted. But he asked me how I would feel if I had been the Grownup Behaving Kindly/Nobly and I someday found out that the mother of the kid in the wreck had trashed the Grownup Behaving Badly on the Internet.

The answer is that I'd feel as hurt and angry as the Grownup Behaving Badly had made me feel. I'd feel like my kindness had been overlooked by someone eager to get revenge against someone I couldn't control.

I've known for several years now that Billy is sometimes more mature than I am. (Now that's a humbling experience.) He may still giggle about stuff like Hooters, but when it comes to treating people with respect, he can teach me a thing or two. Or two hundred.

So the post I was going to write has now been vaporized into the blogiverse. Trust me when I say that it was witty.

And that my son is the person I hope I'll be when I grow up.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Two-and-a-Half Songs With Diana Krall

One of the perks of Bob's job is the occasional chance to fill out a corporate table at a black-tie event. Last night we were on the list for An Evening with Diana Krall, which was a combination cocktail reception, concert, and fancy-schmancy dinner dance to benefit a concert hall in our city. (If you have been stalking Diana Krall, now's your chance to figure out where I live.)

Sometimes I can think of about 50 things I'd rather do than try to make conversation with people I don't know across a 60-inch round table in a noisy ballroom while wearing a dress that requires me to hold in my stomach. But this was one I was really looking forward to. We had a fun table; for once I was able to wear something I already owned; and it was the first time in weeks that Bob and I had anything more exciting planned for Saturday night than Law & Order reruns.

The concert began at 7, and, due to an unfortunate mascara accident shortly before we had planned to leave home, we were running late. We only had time for a few sips of wine before we worked our way with the crowd to our seats.

Bob and I and our crew had, oh, only about the best seats imaginable!!!!! We were smack dab in the middle of the second row, ideally located to watch Diana play and sing.

Now I'm going to make a confession here: I'm not much of a music fan. Say that to people, and you get the same sort of response I imagine greets statements like "I don't like kids" or "no thanks -- I don't care for chocolate." But this is MY blog, and I'm just being honest. I'd rather listen to All Things Considered than the latest CD.

So it's saying something that I know who Diana Krall is, and that I was actually excited to see her.

And what a treat it was.

Sure, she sings smooth like butter, and really, the only word you could use to describe what she was doing to that piano was tickling its ivories.

But she was also loads of fun to watch. She had on an adorable black cocktail dress (Diana, if you read this, could you please tell me where you got it? Because we have another of these corporate events in a couple of weeks and I'd really love to wear that dress.), black-and-white stilettos, and a gorgeous diamond bracelet that danced on her wrist. She also wore her hair, which is just so enthralling that it's really not fair to the rest of us who ended up with plain vanilla, just-a-head-covering hair. Diana Krall's hair is an accessory. It's long and blonde and very, very shiny, and if her grandmother were around she'd keep pushing it out of Diana's eyes and saying "Why won't your mother buy you a barette?"

So as the first song begins, I'm sitting there in satin and sequins, watching this great-looking woman play this great-sounding music, and my handsome husband is on my left and one of our dearest friends is on my right, and I'm feeling fine. It was going to be a great night.

Diana finished, and started another song. And then Bob leaned over in his seat, as if he was searching for something he'd dropped on the floor.

In a moment, he was back up. "That was Ben," he whispered. "I just missed a call from him."

"Don't worry," I whispered back. "If it's an emergency, he'll call back."

Immediately, Bob bent over again. This time, he was down a bit longer, before he was back with the whispering.

"It's an emergency. They're okay, but he and Billy were in a wreck."

This did not come as a surprise to me. Every time the phone has rung for the last 22 months -- in other words, since Billy got his drivers license -- I have known he had been in a wreck. Finally, I was right.

Considering he was sitting in the middle of a concert, Bob couldn't give me elaborate detail, but he managed to relate the following:

1) They'd been rear-ended.

2) The rear-ender in question was an 85-year-old woman who was refusing to get out of her car.

3) The two cars (plus another I'll write about tomorrow) were in the middle of three lanes on one side of the busiest highway in town.

4) The police were on their way.

This was all from a message Ben had left. I knew my boys would want to talk directly to a parent, and I wanted that parent to be me. So as Diana finished the second song, I got up from my choice seat and, stabbing only a couple of insteps with my stilettos, made my way out of the concert hall.

I called Ben from my cell phone (Billy was busy being the responsible "adult"). He actually sounded fine. The car in front of them had stopped suddenly for a light, which caused Billy to stop just inches from the front car, which caused the little old lady to drive her Olds '88 under the rear of the hand-me-down van Billy drives. Ben reported that Billy couldn't get the van to start.

Which meant that, though the kids were fine, a parent was going to have to go pick them up and talk to the tow truck driver.

And the parent on the phone, having wanted to avoid bringing a purse, had left her car keys at home.

Which meant that the other parent, who was still listening to Diana Krall with a set of car keys and his wife's lipstick in his pocket, was going to have to go get them.

I called Bob. (By this point I'm sure most of the people sitting around him thought he was feeling awfully faint, but they probably thought it was Diana's mesmerizing hair.) He met me out in the lobby, where it was completely impossible to hear the concert, and I told him where he would find the kids.

Now, if I'd been an incredible music fan, I probably would have gone back in. But I wasn't sure exactly what was going to happen. The kids might need to call again, or Bob might have a question. I just felt a psychic need to stay where I could easily answer my phone. So as Diana sang and played and (I heard later) told charming stories, I sat in the lobby, sipping a glass of wine that the sympathetic house manager had brought me.

Sitting in the lobby outside a Diana Krall concert is, in its own way, entertaining. And educational.

Here is what I learned.

1) Spanx are not necessarily a girls' best friend.

I'll grant you that the area actually encased in Spanx beneath your clinging, satiny ball gown will look firm and reasonably fat-free. Unfortunately, too many women (and I fear that heretofore I have been one of them) have failed to think critically about Spanx and ask the obvious next question: Just where did that fat go? Based on an informal visual survey I conducted while waiting for phone calls in the lobby, it generally gets shoved up or pushed down, which means that the back view in many a form-fitting dress looks a bit like an upright dumbell. Ladies, do what I now plan to do: NEVER leave the house again without giving your back half a careful and well-lit review in a full-length mirror. Better yet, find yourself a velvet caftan in a flattering color and leave the silky backless dresses to the prom girls.

2) Ice sculptures are heavy.

During the five minutes we got to spend at the cocktail reception, I hadn't noticed the four-foot ice thingy in the center of the lobby. But it was hard to miss once six male members of the catering staff started to take it home (wherever home was).

The ice was wrapped in a blanket, and three men were on either side. Maybe it was because I was in a concert hall, but I thought to myself that it appeared the corpse of Luciano Pavarotti was being escorted outside the building.

But it is good that it wasn't Pavarotti, because just as the pallbearers stepped over the threshhold, the front end of the sculpture started to tip, and the men started shuffling faster, and the next thing everyone knew the ice Pavarotti had fallen on the sidewalk and shattered.

I don't think it had a long life ahead of it, unless maybe it was headed home to a freezer to wait until the next Saturday night someone needed an ice sculpture. Still, it was kind of sad.

3) Catering work is exhausting.

I know this because, as I sat sipping my wine and pondering Spanx, a woman wearing a shirt labeled "Catering Staff" walked through the lobby and announced, "I'm too tired to have sex tonight."

I'm not sure who she was talking to. Perhaps she was speaking into a Bluetooth phone, or was just finishing a conversation she'd begun as she walked through an adjoining room. Maybe she just wanted the world -- particularly her fellow catering staffers -- to know she was headed home to a hot bath, a good book, and some sweat socks. (Frankly, she needn't have worried. The guys who'd been wrestling Pavarotti were probably pretty well wiped out themselves.)

I wanted to suggest that perhaps she'd experience an energy boost if she put down the three-foot long, armload-sized roll of Saran wrap she was carrying, but she buzzed through pretty quickly and I didn't get the chance.

Anyway, the time passed fairly rapidly, and I'd heard from Bob that he'd picked up the kids and would be taking them home as soon as he got them some dinner (which was where they'd been headed when the little old lady drove into them). So I decided I could finally go back in.

I found a seat in a folding chair against the back wall and, peeking over the sound board, began to watch and listen. It was wonderful.

And then, that song was over. As was the concert.

Two-and-a-half songs into my evening, Diana and her band stood up, took a bow, and left the stage.

Oh sure, there was an encore. But just as that started, my phone vibrated, and I had to go back to the lobby. It was Bob, calling to find out if the concert was over yet.

It was for me.

The evening wasn't a total loss. My kids were fine, for one thing, and actually kind of excited that maybe the van would be totaled and we could finally replace it with something that wasn't quite so embarrassing. The dinner was absolutely delicious, and due to the fact that I'd had an unfortunate evening, there was not a single calorie nor gram of saturated fat in my tenderloin with leek mashed potatoes and crab Bearnaise sauce. Plus, Bob and I had certainly gotten out of the house.

And we went home with two Diana Krall CDs, which were party favors for the guests at the benefit.

I'm going to listen to them tomorrow. Just as soon as All Things Considered is over.

Friday, April 4, 2008

My Blog Ate My Homework

I come to you this evening an extremely unhappy camper.

And the night had begun so auspiciously.

The kids were out, you see, and there was leftover pizza, and Bob and I had settled in for a night in front of the TV to finish the DVD of the first season of Friday Night Lights. A perfect, labor-free evening. All I had to do was finish a little post during the commercials.

And I did it. It was reasonably good. I copied and pasted it into Blogger.

Except the thing I pasted wasn't my post.

It was a very interesting thread about "match" schools that I'd copied last night from College Confidential -- I mean, very interesting if you're the mother of a high school junior. If you're anyone else, not so much.

I looked in my Blogger drafts. I looked in my Word directory. I pasted and repasted. Lots of College Confidential. None of my post about Ben explaining the finer points of students' constitutional rights to me while eating Fun Dip, which meant his teeth and face were bright blue. (Maybe you had to have been there. Which of course you never will be.)

Now it's nearly 9, and we're in the final episode of Friday Night Lights. They're driving to the state football championship game, and Coach Taylor's wife is about to tell him she's pregnant, and he's about to tell the boosters he's leaving Dillon for TMU. I really just don't have the stuff to write an entirely new post from scratch tonight.

So tune in tomorrow. If I'm lucky, sometime tonight I'll wake up and my post will be lying next to me in bed.

Or maybe it will just show up on College Confidential.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

How to Know For Sure You're Middle Aged

I have no illusions that I am a spring chicken.

My birth certificate and driver's license say I'm 48, and I'm not about to try to hide it. I've got lines, saggy upper arms, some gray hairs, blah, blah, blah -- in other words, I am More magazine's target audience.

But that's just what people see on the outside. Inside (except for the times I see teenagers speeding in my neighborhood or young women with their thongs riding above their low-rise jeans or kids skateboarding without helmets and pads) I'm about 25.

Except for the days I'm 15.

And the occasional afternoons when I'm 9.

Which is why what happened yesterday stung a bit.

I'm about to go back to work. Like, in an office. I've been a freelance writer and editor for awhile now, but as of April 14, I will be a real live part-time employee, with a parking decal, a W-4, and my very own taupe cube I can decorate according to my personal style. (Clutter is my signature look.)

Rest assured you will hear a lot more about that in coming posts, as I already run short of hours every single day even without spending half my week away from home. But what I want to tell you is this:

Yesterday, as my new boss was walking me out of the building, I asked her a question. And she answered me, "Yes, ma'am."

Oh. my. Gawd.

We are going to have to nip this in the bud.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008


I found it!!

My calendar, subject of a massive search-and-rescue mission these last few days, was discovered this morning in the bedroom of one Billy Bird, 17, lying amid a stack of school papers and a bunch of folded laundry that should have been put away days ago.

When asked for comment, the calendar said, "Oy vey! You would not believe how often she misplaces me. Will someone please help this woman????"

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Ain't Too Proud to Beg (You to Watch Scum on TV)

It has come to my attention that some of my readers have not yet met The Real Housewives of New York City.

This is a dire situation I feel obligated to remedy. Not filling you in would be like seeing you standing by the side of the road with a flat tire and just waving as I drove on by. There are oh, SO many reasons why you should check in with these women THIS VERY NIGHT. Here are just a few:

1) This show is wonderfully entertaining, in the way that hearing middle schoolers talk about who is mad at whom can be the most exciting thing in your day. (C'mon -- you know you listen. Manning the student checkout desk is the hottest volunteer commitment at Ben's middle school. I am proud to say I have restrained myself, but then again, I have a communicative carpool.)

2) You will learn that you are actually lucky not to have a vacation home in the Hamptons.

3) No matter how whiny/selfish/immature/tacky/downright mean you've been today, you can go to sleep knowing that there are at least five women who are worse.

TRHNYC follows five "ordinary housewives" -- Alex (pretentious former model with really creepy husband), LuAnn (a humble countess), Ramona (a female wrestler in designer clothes), Jill (the voice you hope never to sit next to on an airplane), and Bethanny (skinny, single, career woman trying desperately to become some sort of wife). These women are "ordinary" in the way that George Clooney is an "ordinary" hunka hunka burning love. They are "housewives" in the way that ... well, they live in houses, and four of them are wives.

Here's how BravoTV's website describes the show:

"The new series features an elite and powerful set of New York socialites as they juggle their careers and home lives with busy calendars packed with charity fund-raising galas, the social whirl of the Hamptons, and interviews for elite private schools. These driven and ambitious women show everyone what it takes to make it in the upper echelon of society, where money and status are an essential way of life."

See what I mean? They're just like you and me!

TRHNYC follows on the heels of several seasons of The Real Housewives of Orange County. Those women mostly appeared to be former Playboy bunnies -- long, platinum blonde hair; basketball boobs wedged into ultra-low cut tops; many, many, many diamonds (so many some had to be cubic zirconias) -- but occasionally they would be pictured nudging a sponge around the kitchen or driving a child somewhere in a Hummer, and some of them seemed sort of sweet, although not to each other.

After the first season, I never let myself officially watch The Real Housewives of Orange County. I proudly told myself I had better, more enriching things to do. Bravo is a veritable treasure chest of reruns, however, and I could roughly keep up by tuning in while I was washing dishes or folding clothes.

I had sworn I wouldn't even start with TRHNYC. But I've seen bits and pieces of every episode through the reruns, and I've decided I just can't stay away. (Unless I can't stay up till 9 Central, in which case I'll have to catch a rerun some afternoon when I'm ironing. Yes, we are a TiVo-less family.)

If people are your favorite thing to watch, refusing to watch this show would be like an art lover going to the Louvre and checking out the bathroom instead of the Mona Lisa, or a geologist skipping the Grand Canyon to take a bus tour to Branson, Missouri. It just wouldn't be right.

So come on, treat yourself -- tune in tonight. And if watching TRHNYC will make you ashamed, do what I'm doing.

Keep the television on PBS until then.