Friday, May 16, 2008

Ohhh, colors...

In between eating paste and running with scissors, I have been having fun playing around with oil pastels, trying to come up with something interesting to put on the wall. I think the hybiscus is going in my office and the Lighthouse is going in the bedroom..

Don't Drop the Baby Down the Muskrat Hole: Parenting Tips From My Father

My parents have been married for 45 years- they must be doing something right...

That, or Mom is afraid that if left alone my father would simply wander out into traffic.

It's a tossup.

The man is either an unsung genius, or a cousin to Forrest Gump.

At work, he was brilliant. A design engineer for a multinational company.

At home, well, he could find his sock if it was on his foot.

I don't think Mom suspected that she was marrying the possibly impaired at first, though when he went scuba diving in their apartment pool she may have suspected.

It takes children to really reveal a man's character- and eventually there we were.

I first suspected Dad was a few eggs short of a carton when Mom asked him to see if my then diaper-wearing baby sister was "dirty".

The engineer, the man who exactingly designed bits that made big dangerous machines run without inconvenient fires and explosions, STUCK HIS HAND DOWN THE BACK OF THE BABY'S DIAPER TO CHECK.

He brought his hand back out, covered in baby throughput.

For a minute I thought a new dance craze had overtaken him as he deftly deposited the baby in her basket, and ran screaming straight up one wall. I believe I actually applauded at he did a half twist off the ceiling.

Granted near-Messianic abilities in the presence of poo, he then dashed across the top of the open fish tank, bounced off the couch, and did a one-rail slalom down the basement steps to the work sink.

Due to the speed at which he was moving, this part is a blur, but I think in the haze I saw Lava soap, Mom's washing bleach, and a pad of steel wool. My mother managed to wrestle him to the ground when he pulled out the hacksaw.

In just a few short months he was ready to return to the parenting fray. He had even begun to approach my sister wearing nothing more than a welding mask, hip waders, and flack jacket. The barbecue tongs and leather gloves were slowly put away.

Mom decided it was time. He was ready to move on to the big leagues.

He was going to take the kid fishing.

As I was the kid, and the pond was next door, how much trouble could he get in?

Need you ask?

Armed with cane pole, worm can, and packed lunch, I happily set out.

Unfortunately, Dad had not yet learned the First and Great Commandment known to all mothers, everywhere- if the little booger can outrun you, slow em down. Large rocks and chain can often be employed for this purpose, if no dog, wagon, or smaller sibling is available.

No one told Dad.

Mannerly to a fault, he took my can, bag, and pole so that I might proceed unencumbered to the pond. He stopped to adjust his new red fishing hat.

He realized his mistake in the 1.2 seconds it took me to climb the barbed wire fence, reach the bank, ... and disappear.

Into a muskrat hole.

From Dad's perspective the situation was startling, to say the least:

"Well, one minute I had a kid, and then next I had a head, sticking out of a mud bank. All the screaming and crying was pretty bad too- glad no one was around to see me. Wouldn't have been so bad if the muskrat hadn't actually been in the hole."

The next few minutes got a little confused, as all three of us fought to re-establish our proper places in the natural order of things. I stood on the muskrat and Dad pulled. Dad stood on the muskrat and I pulled. I stood on Dad and the muskrat took a few casts with my cane pole.

Eventually order was restored, and Dad and I stood on the bank. Muttering something about "Geez, what a couple of weirdos" and still munching on my chicken sandwich, the muskrat wandered off.

Hosing off the mud in the back yard, we plotted out a cover story. Hush money was obtained, and pocketed with glee (hey, a buck was a lot for an hours work back then!).

We would have gotten away with it, but that woman has interogation instincts that would make the KGB proud. She pointed out the window, towards the pond.

Who else would have noticed a smirking muskrat, wearing a red fishing hat? Some of his casts weren't even that good.

I think he had inside help.

Dad agrees.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Things to Do Before I Die...

What do you want to do before you die?

I'm part of a blogroll where this is the week's subject, based on a girl's lifelist left unfinished when she perished in a car accident.

I spent about ten minutes trying to think of some noble and exciting things I want to do, and places I want to see... Spots to park my feet and stand with my chin outthrust in American defience of death...

Aw, screw it.

It's not gonna happen.

Why? My honest, serious answer?

Because I'm not waiting.

I've already done most of any list I might make, and I'm damned lucky not to have died in the freaking process. Noble my tuchas.

Let's see...


Australian rappelled down the majestic cliffs of the Red River Gorge, and vomited in terror at the bottom.

Gone cave diving in Kentucky, and concussed myself on a stalagtite

Tried parasailing in the Bahamas and discovered I'm afraid of both heights and falls.

Waterskied down the Mississippi, and gotten a turbo wedgie.

Stood on the edge of a majestic mountain peak in Canada, and realized both that I had to pee and that there were no trees in sight.

Swum in the glorious Gulf of Mexico, and made friends with the jellyfish in my drawers.

Eaten the glorious native foods of exotic foreign lands, and been treated for food poisoning and dehydration in places where no one spoke English, French, Hebrew, or obscene gesture.

I've taught children and adults, and I've packed gunshot wounds. I've helped to bring a child into the world, and I've cleaned a body after death. I've written a book and I've eaten a snake. I've hunted and fished, and I've learned how to prepare what I killed. I've made clothing out of buckskin, and I've sewed silk prom dresses. I've been in a fistfight, and I've stepped between two people before anyone got hurt.

I have left partners and I have been left. Fallen in love and been loved in return. Roasted meat over fires, and prepared 5 star dinners. Ridden a skateboard and tried bodysurfing.

I've gone rollerskating and tried Minnesota ice fishing. Ridden some coasters and avoided hang gliding. I've cross-stiched some samplers, and built a big dollhouse.

I've married for love, and I've married without it. I've ridden a Harley and driven a Hummer. I've been in a limo, and on a small airplane.

I've danced and I've sung, even if people were watching. I play the guitar, dulcimer, and bowed psaltry.

I got a tattoo and I've shaved my head (once). I've marched for a cause and I've spoken in Washington.

I've seen friends die too soon, and I've helped others live.

I've seen men off to war, and thanked G-d they came home.

I buried my sister, and I met my birth Mom.

If I died today, right now, it would be without regret at things undone. No moments wasted, or years spent wishing that the time was right. No list left to do.

I have lived, and loved, and fought, and played, every day of my life. And when it comes time to lay it down, it will be with sadness that I could not have one more day, but also with joy. A tired kid coming home to bed at the end of a long day. And I will be able to say honestly, "Wasn't it all marvelous!"

Friday, May 9, 2008

Have You Seen My Cast Iron Float By?

Once upon a time I went through a rebelious stage. What I was rebelling against at 22 is up for grabs, but at the height of my madness I decided that (briefly) marrying the 6'4", 280 pound, quarter-Cherokee, 58 year-old, tattooed biker I had been dating was a good idea.

I have asked friends since why no one stopped me- they swear they couldn't get the commital papers signed in time.

Anyway, we got married, in a field, surrounded by teepees...

Did I mention he was a frontier re-enactor?

It certainly was not a stretch to see Tee put on buckskins, even though in street clothes he looked more like the type to just club the freaking animal to death and drag it back to his cave. Add in the waist-length braid and warpaint and there were days I kept making sure he wasn't sneaking up behind me.

So I learned to re-enact.

I tried to become a Buckskinner (Why yes, I was granted a Native American name- it's Burns-Down-the-Lodge. No, you don't need to know why). I owned a blow pipe (for the fire you perverts!).

I went camping.

Most of the trips were fun- during the day I got to answer tourist questions like:

"Is that a real fire?" (No- it's electric. I have it plugged into that rock over there)
"Is that real food? (No, it's made from frontier play-doh. The pizza delivery wigwam is over there.)
"Why you got a real bed in the tent?" (because frontier outlets for LL Bean sleeping bags were so hard to find)
"Are those real animal skins?" (Yes. We tried getting the skins off some naugas to make naugahide pants, but the selfish little bastards kept biting us. Deer are easier to kill."

At night the camps were filled with gentle jests, subtle humor, and good company- and then the Baptist Ladies Auxillary sponsoring the things went home and all hell would break loose.

Buckskinners loooove jokes. One of their best ones goes something like this:

Group is seated around the fire, with one tenderfoot (newbie) in the midst. From out of the darkness sails a brown-paper-wrapped wad, with a lit fuse. You hear,

"Fire in the hole!"

Everyone ignores it but the tenderfoot, who hits the ground.

The wad fizzles out.

General cursing ensues, a few rocks are thrown in the general direction of the yell. Drinking recommences. Newbie gets up and brushes himself off.

Ten minutes pass. Another wad zooms by, wick burning.

"Fire in the hole!"

Everyone ignores it but the newbie, who again hits the ground. This time he gets up cussin', ready to fight. There is much placating, and moonshine passing to calm him down. He finds a big rock, and throws it wildly into the darkness towards the direction the wad came from.

Ten minutes pass, another wad comes through, wick blazing.

"Fire in the hole!"

Everyone EXCEPT for the newbie hits the ground. He sits determinedly in his seat, tired of being made a fool of...

The dirt bomb explodes- showering him with paper, dirt, and straw.

The ladies cover their ears as the tenderfoot goes out into the darkness to make friends with his bomber. The Native American known as "Makes With the Stitches" is often called at this point to join in the festivities. Someone begins to play a fiddle to accompany the gentle sounds of the Bomber's head bouncing off a rock.

The tenderfoot had become a Buckskinner.

There are other ways to become a "real" Buckskinner of course. The most common in my area involves surviving a Spring Rendezvous at the local NMLRA camp site.

Why, you ask?

Because the bleepity bleep bleeping bleep campground floods every bleeping spring.

Having the proper approach to this flooding, however, is what seperates the Buckskinners from the Tenderfeet.

Everyone agrees that the proper first response to "Wake up! The bleepity bleeped Creek done flooded again, and the tin teepees (tourist RVs) is goin' under quick!" is to run to save the tourists and get them ferried to safety on our horses, backs, canoes, and rafts.

The tin teepees camp in the creek lowlands, thus, they get it first. Our tents, teepees, lean-tos, and throws are all on higher ground, meaning we have at least 30 minutes before the water hits us.

Once the tourists have been saved (with great speed, and force as needed) Tenderfeet snatch all available "important stuff" from their camps and run to the concrete bunker sunk in the high hillside for just such flooding.

Buckskinners don't run. Hell, they don't even walk.

They amble back to their camps, or occassionally swim, stopping along the way to grab some coffee with Two-Dogs, or to watch as the Porto-Pottie from the front gate floats away. When they get to camp they simply put the food, firearms and powder, weapons, sacred items, and clothing on the bed, and sit down to watch the excitement.

I once stood in water up to my hips, moouth hanging open, as Tee and friends calmly set up 4 tall iron poles, supported our fire grill on them, and used a shovel to "raise" the fire itself and place the burning logs on the grill. Tobacco pouches and pipes around their necks, the guys put their camp chairs and the table on boxes, and sat down to play cards.

A few minutes later Tee noticed me, and said "Hey honey, I think your cast iron kitchen gear just floated by in that there box. Current's getting mighty strong; might wanna tie that down."

Shaking my head, I did it, then went off to do needlework with the ladies in the next camp.

You know, it really is easier when the embroidery hoop is floating...

Come to think of it, I guess I became a real Buckskinner after all.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Hogwarts Here I Come!

If I could be any fictional character, who would I be?

No one, honestly. But where would I go, oh that is another question.

Straight to Hogwarts and the world of Harry Potter for me, without hesitation, to replace the Minister of Magic du jour.

Why, you ask? Is it my childlike sense of wonder at the magical world of J.K. Rowling?

Um, no.

It's because I see an epic FAIL sitting in the MOM office, and I would get elected Chief Mugwhump and Grand Hi Poohbah after the three weeks it took me to mop up He-Who-Dances-With-Snakes and all his friends.


I cheat.

I'm a witch, in charge of finding and destroying a group of evil witches and wizards who follow a Dark Lord, but who cannot be identified. I mean, it's not like they have tattoos...

Oh, wait.


DING DING DING, we have a winner here!

My first act as MOM would be a wizarding dress code- sleeveless robes for all! Hurray.

Blast targets would sure be easier to find...

And as far as that goes, where are the Uzis? And the bioweapons?

The hell with magic attacks- just put some Anthrax in the Malfoy's next salt purchases.

Laugh that one off, Snake-Boy.

Teach half my Auror's to do the fastest body-bind and disarming spells on the continent, and the other half to use guided missiles. Stick a GPS locator on Draco's broom, and bomb the estate into a crater from orbit. Non-plottable my rear.

I think I'd stop whinging about how inferior Muggles are about day 3 of a Death Eater panic, and start investigating the possibilities inherent in, oh, say, Severus Snape and the Goblet of Weaponized Ebola.

Can you tell I've spent too much time thinking about this? My husband swears they are going to find me somewhere in the British Isles, standing in a toilet and trying to flush my way in.

I say a girl's gotta dream.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Touring the World With Two Accents and an Attitude

What do you get when you cross Baby Elmo with the Omen, then throw in the Monty Python troop for good measure?

My husband, thats who.

Known in his native UK for being a silent, studious, and somber man, Moisha, at 55, made the suprising decision (suprising to his family anyway, because he hadn't spoken to anyone in weeks) to leave it all and start over in the new world.

I am not sure if the pod people had gotten him by then, or if it happened on the plane.

The man I met a few years later had certainly learned to talk.

He hasn't shut the hell up in years.

And somber? The guy who is currently doing a version of Hebrew line-dancing behind me, clad only in green boxers which say "Fragile"? Riiiiigggghht.

Taking the hip hop Hebe here on vacation has proved to be one of the more interesting aspects of our marriage (and I'm talking about a marriage where I wear frum black and he wears a kipot with a propeller).

Last year we went to Ontario, Cape Cod, Boston and Maratha's Vinyard, and the summer house in Michigan. Each trip was special in it's own way (and by special I mean we were candidates for short buses and possibly helmets).

In Michigan, Captain Chaos noted the outside world-

Him (standing in 40 inches of water next to the dock and staring down at his trunks): "There's fish."
Me: "Why, yes there are. Those are called..."
Him: "They're nibbling my willy."

He also discovered on this trip that the pontoon boat would go around the cove backwards, with a wake, if pedled fast enough, and that if you can't swim your wife may have a heart attack when she sees you heading backward at speed into the main body of the lake.

Next we went to Cape Cod, with his sister and her husband, who had flown over from the UK. Here's a hint- don't take British tourists to Plymouth Rock, somehow they just don't apreciate it.

Him (staring down at Plymouth Rock): "That's it? It's a bloody great rock."
Me: "Well, it has a lot of historic importance. See the..."
Him: "Right. Look, what happened? A bunch of mates got in a boat, crossed the ocean, and couldn't park the ship. They went 4,000 miles just to run over a rock."

I should have known better than to take him to Boston and Martha's Vinyard to meet up with my Aunt and Uncle; the policeman who removed the "boys" from the cow outside Faneuille Hall was a very nice man, and I'm sure he often begins to laugh hysterically like that for no good reason. It may surprise you to know that screaming "The British are coming, flee for your lives!" is also frowned upon on Martha's Vinyard beaches.

Aunt has announced that the "pigs in shoes" are now only allowed to play together with adult supervision, preferably while the two of us vacation on another continent.

Niagara Falls, Ontario. Where to begin...

The Falls are not turned off at night to save water, neither can they be flushed. To the mother of the ten year old boy standing next to us and listening raptly, sorry about that.

You cannot "claim this place for England, in the name of the Queen". She doesn't want the port-o-potty, even if it is "a highly strategic location."

You cannot offer to trade George W. Bush to the Canadians in exchange for "what have you got in your pockets."

No one is going to "rally to your banner" and "seize the unclaimed land across the way" if the banner in question is a chip bag and the land across the way has skyscrapers on it.

There were no "little known Jewish Crusades" and the "Holy Land" is not in a Niagara Falls Casino.

This year?

This year we are meeting his family in Florida, to visit the World of the Mouse.

Does anyone know a good therapist?

Friday, May 2, 2008

How I Got This Way...

I started out normal, but it didn't last.

“For Sale
One embroidery hoop.
1 First Aide kit, slightly used
1 pair blue jeans with unique cross stitch design.”

Some people, namely members of my immediate family, blame me for my grandmother’s fear of needlepoint samplers. Strangely enough, my grandmother is one of these people. She sees me with a needle and begins to shiver, often vibrating out of her seat and across the floor before she can grab something large and heavy to hang on to. Conversations at this point are not pleasant.

Grandma (quavering): “You’re going to sew something, aren’t you?”
Me (snarling): “I’m a nurse; this four-inch long needle is for giving a shot in the spine.”
Grandma (wiping her forehead): “Thank God. I was afraid you were going to hurt someone.”

She then wanders off forking the evil-eye, muttering to herself, and snatching up any loose thread in my house. (Yes, those are staples hemming my pants. Why do you ask?) It wasn’t always like this. For a brief period when I was ten, Grandma and I shared a special bond.

Grandma, who I called Mammy, liked going on frequent outings with me, often going as far as admitting to others that we were related. Of course, even then the woman went out of her way to fill my life with chaos.

On day in the early ‘70’s, after much begging and pleading, Mammy agreed to take me with her to a Cincinnati department store.

“I couldn’t stand to see your mother begging and pleading like that,” she snarled. “Just get in the car.”

At the store she was forced to turn around in order to pick up some fabric and I happily skipped over to the toy aisle. Not wanting to leave Grandma out of things, I smiled at the nice elderly black woman and her grandson beside me and hollered-
“Hey, Mammy, look at these!”

The next few minutes are a blur in my mind, but I do remember her shouting as she passed me-
“Keep running, I think we’re losing them.”

To this day I’m not sure what she did to cause such a fuss, and since every time I mention it she turns a peculiar shade of green, makes the sign of the cross, and curses Margaret Mitchell, I have chosen to discretely allow the matter to drop .

But back to the sewing…

A few months after the department store incident, my mother decided that my current goal of becoming a mountain man lacked several important elements- namely dignity, grace, and femininity. Over my father’s feeble protests (“But Carol, the kid has three thumbs!”) my mother turned me over to Mammy with some vague instructions about embroidery floss.

At the time, Mammy was working two jobs. By day she sewed furs into fur coats, and at night she cut meat for a local deli. Working sixteen hours a day, five days a week, always brought a certain element of excitement and danger to any packages she might bring home.

“Hey Mammy, the hair on this sandwich is sticking in my teeth !” I’d wail.

“Shaddup and add more mustard,” she’d mutter, stomping back to her sewing. Paw-paw Harry and I would then sit and applaud as she neatly stitched a quarter pound of pickle loaf into the lining of a full-length mink coat. Wearing one of Mammy’s creations involved not so much glamour as speed and an ability to leap tall fences persued by numerous neighborhood dogs.
On my first evening of sewing lessons, I dutifully gathered up hoop and embroidery floss, and ploped down into Mammy’s favorite chair.

“AAAAAiiggggh!” I screamed, leaping up and pawing frantically at my arm.

“Don’t bleed on my pins,” Mammy said, deftly removing them from my skin. “I keep ‘em there so they’re convenient.”

Resigned to my fate, I immediately stuffed the nice thick end of the floss through the hole in a four-inch needle. For those of you not familiar with frontier life, a four-inch magnetized needle is the friend of mountain men everywhere, useful for removing splinters, sewing up a torn baseball glove, and occassionally acting as the center of a compass. In times of true hardship, it can also be used to stab small game and spear fish.

Mammy winced, and handed me a silver eyelash from her needle case.

“Peel off two strands and thread the needle..”

“TWO strands.”

“Just pull them off the…”

“Don’t get your fingers caught in the…”

Many of you may not realize this, but embroidery floss has been implicated in several mysterious deaths and can represent a Class 4 health hazard to the improperly trained. The paramedics agreed with me, but Mammy refused to believe them. I tell you that woman is weird.

After much thrusting and parrying with my now threaded eyelash, I approached the fabric I was supposed to adorn.

“Where’s the design?” I asked.

“In your head,” she said.

I checked.

“Nope,” I said.

It was strange. Prior to that moment I never realized that my grandmother, a strict Roman Catholic, was familiar with the tennants of island voodoo.

Her eyes rolled back into her head, and her hands began to shake. Her trembling fingers snatched up a pen and traced arcane symbols on the smudgy white material. I could almost hear the beat of Hatian drums as a flood of strange words poured from her lips.

“Dorothy,” said my Grandfather, setting down the crucifix he had snatched up, “Don’t use language like that around the kid.”

Relieved that I wouldn’t have to sacrifice a chicken, I took a closer look at what she had drawn.

“The alphabet!” I wailed. “I don’t wanna sew the lousy alphabet. Write some words at least.”

“Your mother wouldn’t want those words on the wall,” Mammy said. “Now sew.”

Noticing my 6’4” Grandfather calmly attempting to ease himself beneath the sofa, I frantically began to push my threaded eyelash though the material. I noted with fascination that floss pulled easily through the material, leaving a trail of holes behind it.

A few minutes later I heard a sound.

Glancing up from the spots of blood which had inexplicably sprouted on the inked letters B through H (possibly the work of local elves), I noted a strange look on Mammy’s face. I watched her suspiciously as I attempted to massage away the sharp, stabbing pains in the tips of my fingers

“The thread... th’ th’ the thread...,” she stuttered.

“It’s right here,” I said triumphantly, holding up the entire length. “See?”

Without a word, Mammy took the embroidery hoop and needle, presumably for framing. Paw-Paw assured me later that their subsequent disappearance was indeed, as Mammy said, a case of spontaneous combustion.

Later that night, Mammy presented me with my uncle’s coonskin cap, a bow and arrows, and a packed lunch.

“Don’t let ‘em kill your dreams kid,” she said sweetly in my ear. “The mountains are in Tennessee.”

You just can’t argue with that kind of love.