Sunday, September 11, 2011

A Mother's Prayer: 10 Years Later

A letter written to my children September 11, 2011

Dear Kelsey and Kyle, 

Ten years ago today, I stood in my small family room in a brick ranch in Paris, Ky., watching on a 25-inch RCA as Tom Brokaw and Peter Jennings tried to decipher why our planes were flying into buildings. I witnessed not only buildings crumble that day, but a nation. Some will argue the red, white and blue never flinched, but believe me, children, we were on our knees -- in shock, disbelief, fear and prayer. It was a punch to our collective gut, a robbing of innocence, a shattering of security, a faltering of faith.

I was in denial. We all were. After all, I had been a child of the Cold War days -- of America trumps Russia in everything from cheesy Rocky Balboa movie plots to Olympic hockey (U-S-A! U-S-A!), but those nuclear holocaust fears were behind us. The Berlin Wall had crumbled 12 years earlier, and freedom, peace and prosperity reigned in 2001. The American way was the way. We were the super power of the world. Liberty and justice for all!

So how could this be happening to us? Who would want to hurt us? That's what the world asked that dark day. And that's what I attempted to answer when I sat at my computer that night and wrote A Mother's Prayer to four-year-old Kelsey. I did not yet know how history books would respond to Sept. 11, 2001. I wanted you, my children, to know how I felt that terrible, terrible day.

For even in my deepest, darkest fear that night, I still believed we, as a nation, would rise from the ashes.

And we began to do exactly that. We reached out to each other in those next days and weeks. Regardless of political and religious differences, we held out hands to our neighbors, clasping tightly to our fundamental faith in our great country. We helped each other up to wobbly knees. United we would stand.

Ten years later, I re-read A Mother's Prayer with a heavy heart.

Today, a few blocks from where we live now, a young, brave soldier will be laid to rest.

Army Private First Class Brandon Scott Mullins, 21, from Owensboro, Ky., died Aug. 25 in Kandahar province, Afghanistan, of wounds sustained when insurgents attacked his unit with an improvised explosive device. His funeral is today, on this somber national anniversary. I did not know Brandon, but I have heard that he was a great young man, who was proud to serve his country and planned to re-enlist. Regardless of how any of us feel about the war or what side of the aisle we stand on, we owe Brandon our deepest gratitude for his service and sacrifice.

While Osama Bin Laden, the mastermind of the attacks that fateful day, has finally been killed, the war rages on, at such a costly price. I would give anything if it weren't so. I wish we could turn on the news and not see that another brave solider has died in a desert or mountain pass far from home. I wish we could hop on airplanes without fears and invasive searches. I wish we did not have to fear the worst when a backpack is left unattended in a public place. I wish we did not look have to look over our shoulders.

I wish Sept. 11 was just another day.

I cannot make that so for you. But I wonder, dear children, if there are things we can do.

I often bemoan that we somehow lost that spirit of unity and determination that bonded us in our collective grief 10 years ago. We were not red states or blue states in the weeks that followed the attacks. We were the United States.

Please do not misunderstand. I do not want us to become a country of sheep or lemmings, who are herded into only one belief and lead off the proverbial cliff. Questioning our leaders is healthy, as is the system of checks and balances our forefathers were wise enough to institute.

But a decade after that horrible day, we are a divided nation. I am not questioning anyone's patriotism or love of country. I still feel a surge of pride when I hear the national anthem, and I am sure my neighbor -- though he votes differently -- does, too.  If we were attacked again, we would all do whatever it took to fight back. I believe that.

What I hope for you, Kelsey and Kyle, is that you do not have to grow up in a country that has to be attacked to stand strong.

Our country is hurting. Our politicians might not want to phrase it that way, lest someone doubt their faith in America, but I do not think we can deny our troubles. Yes, we are still a strong and mighty nation, but we also are a country wounded by war, serious economic woes and deep political division.

Perhaps it is time we stop pointing fingers at each other, and in remembrance of Sept. 11 and the many lives lost and forever altered that day, turn those fingers on ourselves. What can I do to build a better America? How can I help my neighbor? How can I help my country? We have overcome wars and depression. If we work together, what can we not accomplish, America?

Fifty years ago, in his inaugural speech, President John F. Kennedy Jr., said the following:

"So let us begin anew -- remembering on both sides that civility is not a sign of weakness, and sincerity is always subject to proof. Let us never negotiate out of fear, but let us never fear to negotiate.

Let us both sides explore what problems unite us instead of belaboring those problems which divide us."

Granted, he was speaking of our enemies across the world. But can we not apply these same wise words to each other today? Someone is not my enemy if he or she is registered with another political party. That person is my  fellow citizen, the brother or sister I reached out to 10 years ago, when our fears were powerful and palpable -- but ultimately -- our faith was stronger.

Dear children, you are the most precious resources our country has. I do not want to be selfish and think about what Band-aid America can put on its wounds today. I want to heal those wounds for your tomorrow. I hope and pray you will grow up -- and grow strong -- in a country that recovers from Sept. 11, 2001. In a spirit of unity and cooperation, we can outshine that dark day.

President Ronald Reagan once said, "The future doesn't belong to the fainthearted; it belongs to the brave."

For your sake, my beautiful, hopeful children, may we bravely go forward.


[Reprint of A Mother's Prayer]

There have been a few moments in my life when the emotions have been so strong, so overwhelming, that I shrugged off my cloak of daily writing insecurities and immediately - without procrastinating, censoring or editing - attempted to capture my feelings on paper.

I wrote letters to my children the moment I learned of them; I wrote tributes to my grandparents when I lost them; and I wrote this, a letter to my then four-year-old daughter, when her world forever changed on a terrible day in September.

Some of you have read it before, but I have never posted it from the Porch. I hope we all remember how we felt that September day. How we grieved, hoped, prayed and vowed collectively. How we shrugged off the cloaks of labels, denominations and red and blue. How that dark night, we were simply mothers, holding our babies, praying the world they grew up in would be a peaceful one.

A Mother's Prayer: A letter written to my daughter Kelsey on the eve of September 11, 2001

As I tucked you into bed this eve
I wondered how the sheets--thin, flimsy, transparent--would protect you.
Would the blanket, soft from so many washings,
The teddy worn, dingy, tattered,
Be enough this night?

I arrived at your school early today.

You were laughing on the playground
Beneath a cloudless sky
Not a single vapor trail tarnishing the sheath of blue.
As I watched you swing, jump, slide through the morn
So unaware,
I realized the promise the day might have held.

A day of baseball games, recess tag and lawn mowers
Windows rolled down and sleeves rolled up,
Not quite summer, not yet fall.

Instead, it was a day of odd, quiet chaos
As the frightened lined up for gasoline
And bought ground beef, canned goods, milk, bread, and bottled water.
Searching for reassurance, people crowded into the cinder-block ice-cream stand
To hear the president
And mumbled "bomb the sonsofbitches" or
"God bless us all."

It was a day of cell phone calls,
Open churches,
And closed businesses.

I held your small hand and lead you through parking lots,
And I was ashamed that you completely trusted me
For I am not the person I was when I went to bed last.

 I witnessed too much this day
And my eyes are stamped with images of
Thick black smoke
And ash.

I run my fingers through my hair continuously,
As if the dust, miles away, somehow reached me.
And old woman nodded at me today, her eyes haunted by another time.
"You haven't seen this before," is all she said.

I called my mom, my mother-in-law,
My sister, my brother,
Again and again,
As if we could make ourselves believe
The unbelievable.

While carrying in groceries,
Your father and I had stopped
Dropped bags and held each other tight.
We ate frozen pizza for supper,
Not saying a word as the TV blared.

Later I caught you peeking at the screen,
And I drew you onto my lap, kissed your head
And tried to explain what I still can't comprehend.
I promised you the world is good,
You are loved.
You are safe.

I nestled beside you in bed,
Clasping your hand, warm and moist from the tub.
I breathed your smell of soap and toothpaste.
I sang your lullaby.

We prayed.

I told you America is strong and right, mighty and free.
As you drifted away, I pictured America's mothers.

We are blacktop roads, shotgun houses, and Spanish tile.
Marble, loose shingles, and Bradford pears.
Gated communities, brick ranches, and trailers.
Three bedrooms and two baths.
Geraniums, roses, and dandelions.
Linoleum and sidewalks.
Mortar and stone.
Sand, salt, and dirt.

Tonight as One,
We held our children closer.
We crept into your rooms many times
As if you were babies,
Fragile and new.

We touched your cheeks and felt your breath on our hands,
Warm reminder of life.
We looked through the window at the darkest night
Anxious for the sun to shine on us again,
Silently weeping for the innocent lost
And lost innocence.

Friday, August 19, 2011

The Toaster is in the Mail!

I glanced at my pitiful, neglected blog today and suddenly realized I have -- get this -- 50 porch sitters! And you want to know the best part? Some of them aren't even related to me (like maybe two aren't, but still...).

So I am celebrating this milestone by eating a(nother) big slice of chocolate cake. Yes, I would do that anyway, but everyone knows you absorb far fewer calories if you have an excuse. I also am throwing imaginary confetti around the room and dancing on my couch. Yes, I would do that anyway, but everyone knows you burn far more calories if you have an excuse.
Dang, that cake is delicious. I'll be right back....

[5 minutes later]

Look at what you made me do, 50th porch sitter:

For the record, that was a whole cake at 49 followers, but you are so worth it. I love you. Oh. Um. Sorry. I was talking to the cake.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Is This Thing On?

Hey, guys! Long time no see ...

Wow. Have you lost weight? Did you change your hair? You look fabulous. I feel like Grandma Helen on "Sixteen Candles": Let me take a look at you... Fred, she's gotten her boobies! And they are so perky!

Me? I've been up to my usual tricks: friending Californians on Facebook in the hopes of obtaining Chocodiles; sipping sweet tea on the porch swing; and trying to figure out how circles work in google+ (if I have to calculate a radius, I am so out of there).

Obviously, I've been neglecting the Porch -- bad blogger! BAD! -- to focus my energy elsewhere the past few months. I would update you, but I prefer to be mysterious. Maybe it involved Hugh Jackman. Maybe it didn't. I'll never tell. That's a condition of my parole.

Relax, potential future employers. I'm totally kidding. It was Christian Bale.

In all seriousness, I have spent the past few months being, well, serious. Who wants to hear about that? Since we're constantly bombarded with news of the economic crisis, bickering politicians, crazy weather patterns, and most importantly, reports that George Clooney dumped yet another girlfriend (uh, hello, George? Fellow Kentuckian here. Holla!), I figure we've all had enough weighty issues to deal with for a while.

Since I have my poignant moments, I'll never rule out writing the occasional melodramatic post, but not today.

Today, I simply want to say hi (I'm waving at you right now! Wave back, so I don't look like the only idiot waving at my computer); thank you for checking in occasionally; and recommit myself to writing regularly. I put that in bold-faced type so you know I mean it.

In fact, I'm strongly considering writing full-time and seeing where that leads me. My guess is I'll be living in my van (DOWN BY THE RIVER!) but I'll sit on the hood and call it my van porch, so we're good.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

I'll Be Back. You've Been Warned

Hi, Porch Sitters!

Thank you for hanging out on the Porch and waiting for me, while I was inside scarfing down Cheetos and not watching "The Bachelor". As if I would watch that George W. Bush sound-alike and Texas cry baby Brad! Puh-lease, people. I have standards, you know. Not high ones, but standards. But um, now that I assume the final rose has been handed out to Emily (lucky guess) and I am no longer not watching "The Bachelor", I need suggestions for other Monday night shows I will not watch.

For instance, I actually did not watch an episode of "The Real Housewives of Orange County" the other night, so I did not notice that the housewives all have identical long, blonde hairstyles to match their identical plastic Barbie bodies and shallow, catty personalities. Nope. Never seen it.

Regardless of all the mindless television shows I most assuredly do not watch, I apologize for the long delays in posts. Your readership and feedback are important to me. Believe me, I have wanted to write and, at times, desperately needed to write lately, but I am going through a major life transition, and my focus and energy are elsewhere -- as they should be.

Maybe I will write about it here eventually; maybe I won't. Elizabeth Gilbert already wrote Eat Pray Love, which pisses me off, as it killed my book idea: Eat (Chips that End in "o"), Pray (Hostess Puts the Ding Dongs Back in Foil Wrappers), Love (Trashy Television). Or maybe it didn't. I sense a bestseller in the works...

But that's tomorrow, and I must first get through today. That's enough. In fact, it's plenty.

A wise friend of mine told me this is the storm before the calm, and I believe that. I also received a fortune in my monthly crate-o-Chinese takeout the other day that declared, "Spring has sprung. Life is blooming!" I believe that, too, as we all know cookies never lie.

But spring is a fickle season that fluctuates between cold, gray, rainy days and sunny, blue-skied ones. I sincerely believe that brighter days are ahead, but I am not foolish enough to think that I won't have to go through some storms (and God knows how many bags of Cheetos and boxes of Ho-Hos) before the sun emerges again.

One thing I have going for me is that I am, for the most part, an optimistic gal. I'm not quite Charlie-Sheen-I'm Tired-of-Pretending-I'm-Not-A-Total-Bitchin'-Rock-Star-From-Mars optimistic, and I certainly have my non-winning moments (duh!), but I am the type of (yes, annoying) person who attempts to glean the good from the muck.

For instance, I was on a dreary drive a couple of weeks ago, and was so damn tired of the rain and barren winter landscape, when I rounded a curve to see an entire hill dotted with daffodils. I have to believe my daffodil hill is just around the bend. Sorry. Maybe I have rainbows imprinted on my DNA. Or maybe I have a chemical imbalance in my brain brought on by vast amounts of polysorbates. Whatever.

While I look for my daffodil hill, please be patient with posts. Things are difficult enough, and I'm trying to avoid additional melodrama when possible. If you've read this far, you see I'm not that great at it yet. And while humor and pain can be sisters of sorts, there are days when, quite frankly, it's just too hard to find the funny. I do good to find the trashy television shows I'm soooo not watching. When does "Jersey Shore" come on again?

Friday, February 25, 2011

For Women Only: Things Other Women SHOULD Tell You...But Don't

If you're a man, go away. Get out of here! I mean it. This isn't for you. If you read it, you'll be sorry. I use words like "period" and "grandmother's nipples." Don't say I didn't warn you.

If you're a woman, brace yourself. I'm contemplating writing a book about all the things the women in your life should tell you, but most likely, never will.

Why other women won't impart this wisdom is beyond me. Come on, girls! We're all sisters, right? Don't we owe it to each other to share such truths? Maybe other women are embarrassed or afraid the knowledge will depress us, since we in all likelihood can't avoid our female trappings. Perhaps our women friends are in deep denial about their own issues.

But knowledge is power. With that in mind, I am going to lift the veil of silence...or at least open the medicine cabinet of a woman's life. As an almost-41-year-old-woman, I still have a great deal to learn. But here are a few things I've picked up along the way that I think all young women should know:

  • Practicing kissing on Tiger Beat posters is fine, but if you wear Bonnie Bell lip gloss when doing so, people will know what you've done. (But damn, that John Schneider as Bo Duke was a good kisser.)

  • When you start your first period, your mother will embarrass you, in spite of her best intentions. You will be eating breakfast at the kitchen table with your brothers, and she will say, "Sweetie, did you remember to pack some doolollies in your purse today? You're going to need those doolollies before school is out." As your brothers snicker uncontrollably, you will want to drown yourself in your Lucky Charms.

  • You probably will start your period in school one day -- most likely the very day your wear those white pants and expect the cute boy to ask you out. It happens to every girl at least once. Don't sweat it. Keep a jacket, a change of underwear and, yes, doolollies in your locker. You won't regret it.

  • The boy you love in ninth grade? The one you will omg love forever and ever and always? You won't.

  • When you're a teen-ager, you think your Mom is stupid. She's not. In fact, she's smart enough to know you think she's stupid, and she somehow loves you in spite of all your eye rolling. Love her back because you will never stop needing her. She will always be your staunchest ally.

  • High school sex sucks. When that boy says, "I love you, and I want to make you feel good," what he really means is, "I love my penis and I want to make it feel good." If you're smart, you'll at least save sex for college. It's a whole new world. And if you're old enough to "do it", you're old enough to protect yourself from pregnancy and disease. So if you want to use your vagina, use your brain first, please.

  • A significant other who makes you laugh is a very big, huge deal. Chemistry will ebb and flow. A long relationship is a roller coaster. But laughter? That can get you through anything.

  • Whenever you are at the gynecologist's office, you will inevitably hear the doctor say, "I need you to scoot your bottom down to the end of the table" no matter how appropriately you think you have positioned yourself. It still amuses me that they place a sheet over your belly for modesty when your legs are in stirrups, a spotlight is trained on you and someone is wrist-deep in your lady business.

  • Be proactive with your health. Take care of you, and listen to your body. If something seems wrong, don't delay getting it checked out. I know women who saved their own lives.

  • The sexy guy isn't the one who sends flowers. It's the one who vacuums (the older you get, the more this will matter).

  • During your wedding ceremony, the primary thought in your head should not be, "Oh no! They gave him the wrong boutonniere!" If it is, turn around and walk back down the aisle until you're mature enough to focus on the marriage, and not the wedding.

  • If you hate laundry, be aware that every child comes with 487,543,211 loads of laundry. At least.

  • Children are messy, unpredictable, often exasperating and always expensive. But when they are yours, they are everything.

  • Not every woman "glows" during pregnancy. Many of us puke -- daily and repeatedly. In the shower. On the road. In our purse during that boring meeting at work. But the damnedest thing about morning sickness is that right after puking, you will suddenly want to eat a cheeseburger. Or three.

  • When you are at the obstetrician's office for your check-up, and your swollen, sweaty pregnant feet smell like rotten cabbage, know that the doctor will walk in on you as you're frantically scrubbing between your toes with the feminine wipes. Every time.

  • You will never love anyone more than you love the anesthesiologist who gives you an epidural during labor.

  • If you must forgo an epidural for medical reasons, you should not think, "If the baby is coming that way, then I'm going this way," and flip yourself heroically off the back of the hospital bed as the baby crowns. Turns out, this maneuver will not keep the giant baby from coming out your vajayjay. It will only injure your back.

  • Immediately after having the baby, when the nurse hands the precious bundle to you, you are supposed to feel this incredible, magical connection to this miracle you've waited nine long months to meet. While family members snap pictures of your "bonding" moment, you will actually have the following thoughts:
  1. Oh my God. I am so freaking tired. Can someone take this to the nursery? Please? Anyone?
  2. I never want to be touched again, yet I'm supposed to attach this person I've never met to my boob right now? Are you kidding me? Where's the pacifier? No -- not the baby's. Mine.
  3. I never want a penis in there ever again. But honey, if you really want to make me happy, I would love a cheeseburger.

  • When they give your baby to you as you leave the hospital, you will feel woefully unprepared. You are.

  • First-time moms are incredibly anxious to leave the hospital and get home. That's dumb. Experienced moms do everything in their power to stay in the place where they bring you hot meals and take the crying infant so you can sleep.

  • When the pastor from the local church comes to visit your new baby, he will politely pretend he doesn't notice the damp nursing pad you left out on the arm of the chair. But as a new mom, it will be all you see or think about during his 30-minute visit. The horror! Fortunately, before he leaves, he will whisper in your ear, "My wife breastfed, too. It's okay." And you cry tears of gratitude. When you breastfeed subsequent children, you will do so openly at ballgames and restaurants, and you won't give a darn who might inadvertently see your breasts. Baby has to eat, yo. It's a boobie. Deal with it.

  • If you have small breasts and choose to nurse, beware the electric breast pump. All I'm saying is that the space between your small boob and the large cup creates a powerful vacuum, and the neighbors three doors down will come running when they hear you screaming, "Get it off! Get it off! For the love of all things good, get this mother&#@!-ing thing off of me!" Removal of the pump will most likely involve a crow bar, firefighters, the Jaws of Life and a future nipple transplant.

  • Speaking of nipples, they change as you age, and with each child. Remember that one time you saw Grandma naked, and how scary it was? I'm sorry, but that's your future.

  • After you have a couple of children, you'd damn well better cross your legs when you sneeze. Trust me on this.

  • As a parent, your instinct is your best friend. Rely on it. Believe in it -- even if no one else does. And pray your children turn out okay in spite of you because we all fly by the seat of our pants.

  • If you choose not to have children, or if you cannot have children, you are not less of a woman. You will find other meaningful ways to use your superpowers. Mother Teresa wasn't actually a mother, you know.

  • If you work outside the home, you are a good mother. If you stay home with your child, you are a good mother. What works for your family is the right thing. Stop beating yourself and other women up for the choices we make.

  • There isn't enough true love in this world. So wherever you find it, whomever you find it with, whenever you find it, you are lucky to have it. That is all that matters. Celebrate it. And screw the people who judge you for it.

  • You will not know who you are before age 30. It's a shame, in a way, since you will make so many major life decisions before then.

  • There is power in educating yourself and in earning your own money.

  • Your body will change at 35, and at 40, no matter how much you exercise or eat right. Things will ache that never ached before. White hairs will show up in interesting places. You will grow a mustache (see below). Accept it with grace and be grateful for another day. Or better yet, pour another glass of wine.

  • The adage "use it or lose it" is very true. This applies to lots of things: your mind; your body; sex; and most importantly, dental floss.

  • A woman over 35 should invest in good tweezers and have regular appointments at the salon for waxing. Otherwise, you will look like Chewbacca. And just because the lighting in your house is poor, and you can't see the hair, that does not mean it isn't there. Bert on Sesame Street can get away with a unibrow. You cannot.

  • Men like sexy, little lacy undies; sadly, you are far more comfortable in big ol' cotton granny panties. The silver lining of your period is that you get to wear the old, comfy underwear with the holes in it, and your man can't say a damn thing because he is scared of you. Also, men like to refer to your period as your "Aunt Flo." Ridiculous. A woman would never do something so cruel to another woman; therefore, your period should always be referred to as "Uncle Asswipe."

  • Old flannel pajamas with cows on them double as awesome birth control. In my experience, they have been 100 percent effective.

  • Yes, we know by now that the beautiful, thin, perfect women who grace magazine covers are photoshopped. But did you know they also have bad breath and hairy asses? True story.

  • As you get older, do not ever make the mistake of looking in one of those super magnification mirrors. EVER. See, you might be having a great day and think you look like this:

       But at 12 x magnification, you'll discover that you, in fact, look more like this:

  • Men will let you down. Your girlfriends will pick you up. Hang onto them. If possible, keep your best friends from childhood close -- you know, the girl you talked to at recess because you were both scared of your third-grade teacher, or the one who told you she liked your dress at the elementary school talent show. That girl held your hand then, and she will hold it later, too.

  • The best moments in life are probably not the big, giant moments you anticipate. You'll likely find your greatest joys when you least expect them: the way the back of your child's neck smells as you tuck him in after a bath; your daughter's sweet voice as she absentmindedly sings while doing homework; the sun on your face as you sip wine on a porch swing; laughter over coffee with a good friend; or the serenity of lying quietly in fading sunlight with the one you love . When you find those moments, recognize them, for those are where true happiness resides.

  • Remember, my dear sisters, beauty fades. Brains last. Don't ever play dumb* (*this blog excepted, naturally). Other women worked too hard to open doors for you. If you have a gift, use it. If you have knowledge to impart, share it. On that note, my work here is done (for now, at least. I figure the men who read this in spite of my warning can only absorb so much. Serves you right, suckers.)

Friday, February 4, 2011

Mo' Better Foods

Bacon. French fries. Ding Dongs. Mountain Dew.

What is ... Val Kilmer's favorite breakfast? I'll take "From Iceman to Fatman" for $600, Alex.

Bad form. I love Val Kilmer. To be fair, add a chocolate long john, and the list above is my favorite breakfast.

In the throes of intense monthly food cravings (is it bad when the neighborhood Chinese restaurant staff knows your menstrual cycle?), I have been pondering food products that are always good, but are better under certain conditions. Lots better. Mo' better, if you will.

For instance, I was chowing down on pudding in a cup the other night, and sure, the pudding was decent. Layers of chocolate and vanilla pudding were swirled in a little plastic could anything chocolate and vanilla be bad? Eb-ony and i-vory / live together in perfect harmony / side by side in my pudding cup so sweet / Oh, Lord, why don't we? Damn, I love it when pudding brings people together, but I digress.

Today, most snack-size puddings are in those little plastic cups with coated, thick foil lids that are darn-near impossible to pull off without the foil splitting into a gazillion pieces. Seriously. You spend about 25 minutes attempting to pull the lid off a snack that will take about 2.5 seconds to eat. Perhaps it only tastes good at that point because you've worked up a heck of an appetite opening it.

But do you remember when you could buy single-size puddings in the little aluminum cans? Mmmmm. Something about those little cans with the pull-top lids made the pudding taste better. Lots better. Mo' better.

At least I assume the little cans of pudding were better. I can't be certain, since my mother rarely allowed me to have any of those delectable canned puddings because they were saved for my incredibly picky little brother's home-packed lunches, while I was forced to endure school lunches (rectangular pizza served with corn. Amazing that combination never caught on in the pizza industry).

I'm not bitter. On the few occasions I was allowed to have (read: sneak into the bathroom with) a treasured can of pudding, I would pull back the top, lick the chocolate pudding off the metal lid, be rushed to the emergency room for my cut tongue, return home and savor the best pudding in the world.

Sadly, pudding snacks aren't the same now. You blame nostalgia. I blame plastic containers. Pudding in little cans was better. Period. (Now I want Chinese food).

But puddings aren't alone. I have a whole list of foods that are good, but are much tastier if certain conditions are met.

For example, french fries are mo better when dug from the bottom of the fast-food bag while driving. I don't know why this is true, but we all know it is.

And bacon [chorus of angels] is always delicious, what with its delicate marbled, crispy, salted, smoked fatness. But for some reason, it tastes the very best when stolen from the plate as soon as it is removed from the frying pan. Try it. You'll see. Stolen bacon snatched from the bacon plate is fantastic! And if the person frying it swats at your hand and yells, "Hey! Keep your greasy, grubby fingers the hell out of my bacon!" it tastes even mo better.

It isn't just food. Beverages are tastier within certain parameters, too. I love to "Do the Dew" as much as the next dentally-impaired Kentuckian, but I must have my Mountain Dew served ice-cold in the can (though I sometimes drink it in the kitchen, too. Ba-dum-DUM!). On the other hand, I would never, ever drink Ale-8-One, Kentucky's premiere supa-caffeinated soft drink, out of the can. Blech! Blasphemy! Ale-8s must be served ice-cold ... in the bottle. Why? 'Cause it's mo better that way, yo!

But the mo better food I yearn for the most is the Hostess Ding Dong from my childhood. Back in the day, kids, Ding Dongs were wrapped in a delicate, thin, crinkly foil. And no, this is not the beginning of a safe-sex lecture. Once you gleefully peeled back the shiny wrapper, you discovered the most incredible, moist, chocolate, cream-filled goodness ever (still not a sex talk). Ding Dongs were so yummy in those foil wrappers that I once ate one even though it appeared to have a bite taken out of it when I unwrapped it. True story (but not a sex one).

Sadly, when Hostess switched the Ding Dongs to the current plastic wrappers (booooo!), the snack cakes lost something. And then Hostess took the Chocodiles away. Why does Hostess hate me? WHY? But the point is, Ding Dongs aren't the same.

Neither are Taco Doritos, which tasted mo better eaten right from the orange bag I hid from my siblings on my parents' carport roof in 1978. I'd tell you more about my affinity for 1970s Taco Doritos, but I'm jonesing for some cheap, greasy Chinese food, which everyone knows is mo better in cardboard containers with red Chinese lettering.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Rerun: A Tutorial

I mentioned in an earlier post that my daughter's friends now routinely read my blog (much to her delight, naturally. What 14-year-old girl wouldn't love her friends reading and commenting on her 40-year-old mother's most intimate thoughts and feelings?). But hey! Readers are readers!

Anyway, when I picked up my daughter from school today, one of her friends climbed into the swagger wagon and said, "Mrs. Reese, I read your blog today, and I saw that guy in the red beret and suspenders dancing, but I don't get it. That was Kenan Thompson, right?"

::crickets chirping::

No, fellow children of the '70s, I did not promptly toss him out of my van for confusing the awesome groove-master Fred "Rerun" Berry of What's Happening!! fame with Kenan Thompson of Saturday Night Live. But perhaps it is time to educate the youngin'.

This, dear readers, is the one and only Rerun:

He is not to be confused with Rerun van Pelt from Charles Schultz's The Peanuts, although he also rocked a snazzy hat:

On the other hand, this is the very handsome Kenan Thompson, who clearly does not wear a hat of any sort:

Thompson, who was robbed by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences when he failed to be nominated for his riveting performances in both D2 AND D3: The Mighty Ducks, also magnificently portrayed this 70s icon in a movie:

Hey! Hey! Hey! That is Faaaaat Albert, who is not to be confused with this Albert, who I think we can all agree, totally beasted* his Facebook profile pic:

*I have no freakin' clue what words like "beasted" actually mean, but I'm trying to keep the kids happy. Word.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Unfurl the Dang Sail, Already!

Today's post will be a rerun. Nope, not this Rerun, though I do totally dig dudes who coordinate their berets with their suspenders:

So much win.

Instead, I'm re-posting a piece I wrote a year ago in an attempt to motivate myself to take chances, embrace opportunities and live more fully. I'm sharing it again not because I'm a blog slacker lately (hangs head in shame) but because I hope to remind myself that (a). I can be as melodramatic as anyone (for legal purposes, "anyone" does not include Angelina Jolie when she was wearing the Billy Bob Thornton blood vial) and (b). I can work the problem. I CAN.

So I hope I listen to myself this year because I need to get the heck out of my comfort zone and live, dammit! If I'm eating in a restaurant, and a good song comes on the jukebox (because sooooo many restaurants have jukeboxes these days), I want to ask myself, "What would Rerun do?" And then -- because I'm brave and/or possibly brain-damaged from years on a Chocodile/Cheeto diet -- I'll adjust the beret I always wear when I eat, and I'll dance my little suspenders off.

Thanks for cutting me some slack for the re-post. You're good people.



Life is short.

We hear it all the time, but does it resonate? Or is it another one of those three-word phrases that is said so often, so nonchalantly, that it becomes trite and loses its depth: I love you. I miss you. Grande white mocha (okay, so maybe I'm the only one who uses that one daily)?

As my friends and I stand at the brink of 40, our lives play out like records in a small-town newspaper. Our names have slipped from the honor rolls, the college graduations, the wedding announcements, the birth announcements and the real estate transactions to, for many now, the divorce listings.

One day, our names will be recorded in the obits, our existence summed up in three tidy paragraphs: our birth and death dates; our work, church and civic memberships; our survivors.

When I began my career in journalism, I had to write obituaries. The funeral home directors and I would prattle about the weather or joke about something in the news as the details of Mr. Morgan's or Mrs. Buchanan's lives were jotted down in my spiral notebook in nice, neat lists.

I would type them into the VDT (um, yes, VDT; they ran on hamsters back then) and shout over to the copy desk: "Obits are in!" Then I'd take a swig of Dr. Pepper and down some barbecue Fritos as the newsroom police scanner reported yet another car fire.

That was all there was to it. I learned to write obits in Journalism 101. The process is fairly standard, unless the dearly departed is famous or a local big-wig. The protocol is the same because most of our lives are fairly standard. We're born, we live, we work, we love (if we're lucky), we procreate and we die.

The question is, do we appreciate what will one day appear in our obits? Do we celebrate our lives while we're living them? Do we embrace the moments that blow past us, like wisps of a dandelion? Or do we live by the standard, doing only what is expected and reaching for nothing more?

To be fair, it is difficult to reach for more. We often feel trapped by our circumstances. We don’t have enough money. Our children are young. The job pays the bills. We're too old. People will talk. It's good enough.

My grandparents, whom I loved dearly, were survivors of the Great Depression. As a result, they lived their lives frugally. They stored canned goods beneath their beds and socked cash away in pillow cases. They toiled and saved. They never traveled, for that seemed a frivolous use of their hard-earned money. They sat in lawn chairs in the front yard of their gray brick house and watched other people go places.

When I was in high school, my mother decided that my grandparents should see the ocean. They protested, but my mother persisted until she convinced them to make the trip with us one summer. We all scrunched into their Buick and drove 10 hours to Destin, Fla., where we rented a cottage by the beach.

My grandparents complained: they grumbled about the temperature in the cottage being too cool and they wore sweaters. They frowned at platters of seafood and talked of missing "home cooking". They were old and stubborn; it was almost too late.

When they stepped on the white sand beach, when they saw that big, wide ocean stretched out before them, crashing and churning, they were afraid of it.

But my grandmother walked to its edge, anyway. She allowed the wind to whip her perfectly curled silver hair. She stooped to pick up tiny white seashells and slipped them into her pockets.

When she died, we found those seashells tucked away with some of her most treasured belongings. I slipped one into my own pocket.

Her shell reminds me of "George Gray", a poem by Edgar Lee Masters that I first heard in a high school honors English class. It's from Masters' Spoon River Anthology (1915), a collection of epitaphs written for the fictional residents of the small town of Spoon River. I loved the poem so much that I cut it out of the poetry packet in high school and pasted it in a scrapbook. I give full credit to Mr. Masters and hope that it is acceptable to share it with you here, because it is so meaningful to me:

George Gray

I have studied many times
The marble which was chiseled for me -
A boat with furled sail at rest in a harbor.
In truth it pictures not my destination
But my life.
For love was offered me and I shrank from its disillusionment;
Sorrow knocked at my door, but I was afraid;
Ambition called to me, but I dreaded the chances.
Yet all the while I hungered for meaning in my life.
And now I know we must lift the sail
And catch the winds of destiny
Wherever they drive the boat.
To put meaning in one's life may end in madness,
But life without meaning is the torture
Of restlessness and vague desire -
It is a boat longing for the sea and yet afraid.

For many years, the sad story of Mr. Gray was ignored in my high school scrapbook, tucked between pages of cheerleading camp and school dance photos. It wasn't until a health scare a few years ago that I reached for it again.

I'm fine, thank you. But a few years ago I began to have muscle twitches I couldn't control. I ignored them at first. Most people get involuntary muscle twitches on occasion, usually beneath their eye or maybe in a calf muscle. They're harmless and go away as quickly as they came. But mine didn't go away.

I was having muscle twitches off and on for days, and they occurred all over my body (yes, all over. Some are more fun than others). Muscles twitched in my arms, my thighs, my abdomen, even my tongue. I would wake up at night twitching. After three weeks, I was a little concerned, so I mentioned them to my sister, who is a nurse. I thought for sure she would blow them off, but she discussed them with her doctor, who told her the medical term for muscle twitches is "fasciculations" and recommended simple blood tests, as they most likely were the result of a thyroid condition, Lyme Disease or a lack of calcium or magnesium.

I had the blood work. My thyroid was normal, as were my calcium and magnesium levels. I tested negative for Lyme Disease. The twitching continued daily, so the doctor referred me to a neurologist for additional testing. That terrified me. A neurologist? No one wants to be referred to a neurologist.

That's when I made the mistake of googling the word "fasciculation." The links that immediately popped up on my computer screen were for Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), often referred to as "Lou Gehrig's Disease." It turns out, muscle fasciculations are a primary symptom of ALS. And I knew one thing about ALS: Lou Gehrig died from it. No one survives ALS.

I was 37-years-old, and suddenly, doctors wanted to test me for an incurable, cruel disease. I couldn't even look at my children without bursting into tears. I found myself praying for neurological conditions that while horrible, but might not prove fatal, like multiple sclerosis. I could live with multiple sclerosis.

A few weeks later, I saw the neurologist. A neurologist's waiting room is an incredibly depressing place, where old people waste away in wheelchairs or stumble to their seats with canes. I was too young, felt too alive to be there. I tried to read old copies of Time magazine but I couldn’t focus on the words.

Eventually I was called back to the exam room and told to put on a gown. I sat nervously, waiting for the doctor. My heart pounded and I fought back tears as he came in and asked about my symptoms and my twitches. In a heavy Indian accent, he told me to calm down, that my fasciculations most likely were the result of a benign condition. Then he put me through a series of tests in his office. I walked on my tiptoes and my heels. I pushed his hands away with mine. The bottoms of my feet were poked with safety pins. I listened to chimes vibrating near my ears. And then he tested my reflexes. He tested them again. And again.

"Your reflexes are a little fast," he said, his brow slightly furrowed. "It's probably nothing. You've probably always had hyper reflexes, but I think I want to do an EMG on you."

I had scared myself on Google enough to know what Electromyography meant. "You're testing me for ALS," I said, and then I promptly broke out in hives.

"You do not need to worry so much," he said, patting my hand. "But I think we need to rule it out, yes. It's just a precaution."

So two sleepless, restless, unnerving days full of crying jags later, I was back in the waiting room, awaiting a test that involves a needle jabbed into virtually every muscle in my body to measure the electric activity of the muscles. Electrical currents are sent through the needle to stimulate the muscles, registering the strength or weakness of them. If my muscles showed significant weakness, I most likely had ALS.

In the gown again, I stretched out on a table, as my doctor said, "I'm not going to lie to you. This is going to hurt. I'm going to start with your toes and work my way up your legs to your back."

Ahhh. How comforting. Turns out, you can't have any medications before an EMG because it can impact the test results.

I practiced Lamaze breathing as he jabbed and electrocuted the muscles throughout my body. But all I could think was, "When this is over, I'm going to find out if my life is over. This could be it for me."

I tried to tell myself there would be some comfort in knowing, that in some ways, it might be a gift. I would have time to prepare my children and say my goodbyes. I also thought of things I never thought an optimistic person like me could think of; I found some sympathy for Dr. Jack Kevorkian.

An hour or so later, my time as a human pin cushion was over. My doctor pulled me up, took my hands and said, "Good news! I did not detect muscle weakness, so I do not think you have ALS. I think this is a neurological disorder called Benign Fasciculation Syndrome. But I still want to see you annually because you are so young. Like I told a doctor friend of mine who suffers from BFS but is still convinced he is dying, if you're not dead in three years, then we know you're okay!"

I didn't know whether to laugh or jab him with one of those electrified needles.

I am thrilled to say that I will reach the three-year mark this March with no muscle weakness noted. I still suffer from random muscle twitches daily (a great party trick!), but they no longer scare me or send me running to play Dr. Google. I remain under the care of my neurologist because I am symptomatic, but all of my checkups have been reassuring.

So, as horrible as that time on the EMG table was, it indeed was a gift. It was a fresh start. My life was handed back to me.

Not long after that, I dug out that yellowed copy of "George Gray" from my scrapbook. I read it again, and it spoke to me like never before. Like my annual neuro visits, poor George Gray's epitaph is a reminder to use it or lose it.

I appreciate all that I have and all whom I love; yet, I also must remember that life is for learning. Whether we play it safe or take chances, we're all going to end up in the obits eventually. Why not try to glean something along the way?

So I ask myself: am I milking life for everything it has, or am I just going through the motions? Am I that boat at rest in the harbor?

Someone close to me, a 31-year-old mother, was recently diagnosed with breast cancer. The day I learned of her diagnosis, I sat outside on the front porch swing so my children wouldn't see me cry. I prayed for her and her family and cursed the unfairness of it. She is a fighter, and thankfully, her prognosis is good. Even so, I grieve that her life has been marked by disease, discomfort and fear.

As I prayed on the porch that day, I heard a terrible cry coming from the tree in my front yard. I jumped from the swing in time to see a hawk snatch a dove from its perch on the dogwood. The dove was screaming; its mate was shrieking. I watched in horror as the hawk clasped the dove in its claws and swooped in circles above my yard. The dove was crying as it frantically fought to free itself from the predator's talons.

I couldn't believe my eyes. I live in the heart of town. I had never seen a hawk in town before.

The hawk flew back and forth across the street, trying to hold onto its prey, which continued to shriek and struggle. While it seemed to go on forever, it was only a minute or two before the hawk dropped the dove from a great height. The dying bird fell at my feet in my front yard.

The timing, horror and symbolism of it were not lost on me. I stood in my yard, shaking and crying. I tried to comfort the dove, which was mortally wounded. I screamed at the hawk and frightened it away.

It was as if God himself had driven home the point: Life is fragile. It's the dove in the dogwood. We can be fine one minute, only to be caught in talons the next.

Really, I'm not a downer and I have an annoyingly optimistic view of the world. I live, laugh, love, dream and hope. I dance all the time to songs only I hear. I tell goofy jokes and I play. I often slide down my hall in sock feet instead of walking. I might even turn cartwheels in my backyard on occasion.

Why? Because I can.

I have reached out and renewed friendships I had let wane, and I have embraced new relationships.

I began writing again because it's not too late. It's never too late.

I'm not trying to be preachy or syrupy. I'm not your personal Jesus, Dalai Lama or Oprah.

I share these stories with you only because they mattered to me. They were important lessons to move through life, to not be paralyzed or rooted in place by circumstance. Embrace the journey, even if it scares you. Even if it might end in bitter disappointment, there are lessons in the trip.

Open the doors you thought were closed.

Unfurl the sail.

Go ahead.

I dare you.

Friday, January 21, 2011

I'm Back, Baby! (for the time we have left, anyway)

Please accept my sincerest apologies for the inexcusably long delay in posts. Then again, you regular Porch sitters probably needed the break to boost brain cells with more cerebral, high-brow reads -- like Snooki's A Shore Thing. (My God, I am so bitter. If I'd only known it took a perennial tan, a Bumpit and a catch-phrase like "get it in" or "DTF" to have a bestseller, I'd be surpassing Harry Potter by now).

But why the long delay? I could tell you about how everyone in my house was stricken with the flu during the holidays; how seasonal affective disorder makes me kind of, well, s.a.d.; how I'm contemplating a return to the workforce (you know, one with paychecks, though I never tire of the donuts I pay myself); how I've had an epic case of writer's block brought on by a "Where do I go from here?" crisis; yadayadayada, but I'd be lying. Totally. That stuff never happened.

Here are the actual reasons for my hiatus from the Porch:

1. The sky is falling. I've become obsessed with the Aflockalypse and mass animal deaths around the globe. Thousands of birds fall from the sky; dead fish and crabs wash ashore in droves; and now cows--COWS!-- are dropping dead in Wisconsin.

Unfortunately, I am tied to these events because (a). my brother lived for years in Beebe, Arkansas, where 5,000 dead birds littered the streets on New Year's Eve (b). I graduated from Murray State in western Kentucky, where from what I gather, the first dead birds might have been discovered and (c). I like fish and chips and also Big Macs.

I'm not saying I'm freaked out, but when I heard the street cleaner whoosh loudly down my street at 5 a.m. one morning, I jumped out of bed screaming, "OMG! It's the Mother Ship!"

Clearly, these events are correlated and tied to Armageddon, right? Not so fast, Chicken Little. These are just weird coincidences, according to Kirk Cameron, who played the dreamy, Tiger Beat-alicious Mike Seaver on the 80's series Growing Pains. Now the apparent prophet for the End O' Days, Cameron assured everyone via CNN that the recent animal deaths do not signal the end of the world. I'm a little fuzzy on the details, but I believe the exchange between Cameron and Anderson Cooper went down like this:

Anderson Cooper: Kirk, try to tear yourself away from my brooding, bedroom eyes and chiseled anchorman jaw long enough to answer the following question: Is this, in fact, the end of the world? And more importantly, can you tell I'm wearing makeup? I try to make it look natural, so I maintain my ruggedly handsome international correspondent look, but is the pancake too heavy tonight?

Kirk Cameron: End of the world? Aww. Show me that smile again, Anderson. Don't waste another minute on your cryin'. We're nowhere near the end. The best is ready to beginnnnnnnn. As long as we've got each other, we've got the world spinning right in our hands. Baby, rain or shine, alllllll the time, we've got each other, sharing the laughter of lovvvvve.

Anderson Cooper: Uh. Can we get Carol Seaver on the phone please? She was always the smart one, right?

And that brings me to the second reason I've been delayed in posting:

2. I have fallen back in love with Mike Seaver. 

Next to Bo Duke, that delightfully dense, curly-haired Seaver was the biggest crush of my youth -- but not to the point that I applied bubblegum-flavored Bonnie Bell lip gloss and practiced kissing on his Tiger Beat pull-out poster or anything. Because that would be weird. And, if I recall correctly, sticky.

So of course, I trust Mike Seaver when he says this isn't God's wrath on a wicked world. But if it's not the rising of the antichrist, what in the world is causing thousands of species to die in such a short span of time? I can only think of one rational explanation, which leads me to the third reason for my break from the Porch.

3. I have been trying to convince the NSA that the Earth is under attack. Puh-lease. We know who is really behind the animal deaths, the floods, the earthquakes and the magnetic pole disturbances, don't we? It's not like he didn't warn us for years that he was going to destroy Earth. It's obviously someone with a Napolean complex, an axe to grind and a cool-ass mop helmet:

So far, no one from the NSA has returned my calls or answered my emails; therefore, when Marvin the Martian comes after us with his
Illudium PU-36 Explosive Space Modulator, don't say I didn't warn you.

Now, these aren't all of my reasons for neglecting the Porch. If the end of the world is nigh, I have things to do, people! I've always done my best work under a tight deadline, so here are a few other highly important things I've been trying to accomplish in the time we have left:
  • Finish removing eleventy gazillion security twist ties, plastic coverings and tape from my eight-year-old's Christmas gifts, so he can play with his toys. Sadly, it would be easier to steal gold from Fort Knox (or underwear from a Hugh Jackman movie set; don't ask me how I know this) than free an action hero from its plastic confines.
  • Convince Frito Lay to mass-market my new chip: PremenstrualOs. They're a delicious flavor combination of mini chocolate donuts and Chinese take-out. You know you want them.
  • Study up on surveyor symbols so I no longer confuse them with gun crosshairs in political target zones. How embarrassing.
  • Perfect scratch-and-sniff app for iPhone called Paolo Nutini's Hair Smells Like This. If the technology matches the dream, it will smell like salty ocean breezes combined with Necco Sweetheart Conversation Hearts.
  • Figure out why characters named Luke are subpar in Hollywood. Bo Duke (yum!) was hotter than Luke Duke (ho-hum). Han Solo (yowza!) was hotter than Luke Skywalker (yawn). Luke Brower, while played by Leonardo DiCaprio in Growing Pains, was less adorable than Mike Seaver. That must be why no one is asking DiCaprio if it is the end of the world.