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 ...