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Category: laughing at myself

lysol’s got nothin’ on st. babs in a can

i know, i know, now you think i’ve been holding out on you, keeping all my secrets shrouded in the back hall closet. back behind the moldy tennis rackets, and the shoes that lost their strings.

you’ve been wondering–for months and months, i’ll bet–why everything–oh, excuse me, i seem to be coughing–runs so smoothly–no, i’m surely choking–here in the world i call my house. how come the broccoli never burns. and the children never pout.

well, i figured today’s as good as any to pull out all the stops. and while i’m at it, i might as well let you in on my supernatural* domestic secret.

you see, upstairs right now, there is a 6-foot-something creature who is trying hard to sleep. but he’s got finals any hour now, and he is moaning in his dreams. i am not thinking these would be the moans of growing child rolling in whipped cream. these seem to be the utterances of a pupil in distress.

then, over in the next room, the only one with heat, the one that feels a bit like sleeping in an anteroom of hades, is a little one who went to bed last night in tears. he nearly water-logged his pillow telling me that of all the children in his class, he’s the “unsmartest one.” in every single thing.

oh, lord, God almighty. where did i tuck the all-purpose house-protecting spray? it seems i’ve not been keeping up with all the troubles seeping in the cracks.

and, no, people, the spritz for which i grope is not some hyperallergenic thing that will keep away the microbes. phht, on little germs. i’ve no cares for them.

it’s the woopsy-daisy vibes that i intend to spray away.

you thought, perhaps, that all it took was hours on your knees. and perhaps a hundred dollars to the nearest voodoo doc. mais, non, i have an angel friend who came riding to my rescue.

who knew that you could buy a saint and tuck her in a can? complete with aerosol spitzer, no less.

this one, the one in pink who’s pirouetting up above, well, she came to me, as if in a fevered dream. she came to me just as i was blowing out the candles on my latest birthday cake. (51 candles, thank you, is as close to fevered dream as i’m inclined to get.)

so really i’ve not been holding out on you for all that long at all. in fact, i’ve only really just begun to understand her powers*.

what, you ask, is with all the little asterisks, the floating stars every time i mention all her super*celestial magic tricks?

well, i am only being fair, only being forthcoming, for the little tiny print running up the seam of that pink paper label spells out, in no uncertain terms, the limits of her contents: “does not have supernatural powers,” it says, in teensy-weensy caution. just in case you thought maybe you could turn the family frog into something altogether else.

oh, darn. it’s right there, in black-on-pink. my jewish husband saw it, the disclaiming, right away. (hmm, do we think it odd that the back-pedaling had escaped me, little catholic me, completely?)

ah well, the label then informs me–and i, in turn, am informing you, lest we get some lawsuit; what, the saints on high will come down and haul me off to court?–that there is nothing truly sacred about the piney mist that comes splurting from the nozzle.

ha. that’s what they think. unbeknownst to fellow inhabitants of this house (they just thought the christmas tree had gotten old and redolent), i have been unleashing little clouds of holy mist for the past few days, in hopes of keeping bad, bad karma out of doors where it belongs, where it stands a chance of going up in most unholy smoke.

but, given the elevated state of dread around here this morning, i intend to up the ante of my holy showers.

heck, i will spray until we’re in a rainy forest here, if that’s what it takes to rid these walls of all the angst of children up against the rigors of the blackboard.

i have no idea why such a godsend is so hard to find. i’ve no clue why it’s not there on the highest shelf of every single grocery. you would think the world would clamor for sanctified and pressurized protection.

praise God, then, that i’ve got allies with divine connections.

my blessed angel friend, the one whose wings, i swear, are tucked beneath her sweater, she rode miles and miles to drum up my new-year supply of saint babs’ artillery. the spray promises “peace in the home,” the candle is all-purpose, and the parfum i’m guessing is for the girl on the go, just a dab behind the ears and you are covered till you take a shower.

i’m told it all comes in a few saintly flavors: besides ol’ babs (who, by the way, was debunked of her saintliness nearly 40 years ago, but don’t tell the fine souls who make these aromatic vapors), there’s chris (yet another debunked saint–hmm, maybe after all this is the dumping ground for saints no longer). and i’m pretty sure there’s dearest saint theresa, who is forever the little flower.

so, dang, if you don’t find your holy patron among those three, just ask, and i will let you borrow mine.

but first i need to go see if i can shush the nasty smells coming from the boot tray.

bet you didn’t realize you could find such housekeeping secrets here. come back again, and i’ll let you in on how i keep my oven bright and shining. anyone else have a trick divine up their blessed sleeve?

over and out

if, in my leafy little town, they give a prize for last one out to the garbage bins, i think i might be a winner. although some around here might call me a loser. a big fat christmas tree loser.

there was a wind change over the weekend. light changed too. suddenly the december in my backyard looked a little dated. it was like i got the itch.

after weeks of not noticing the spruce faded to not-so-spruce faded to brown, suddenly everywhere i looked it was blkkhh, that color that knows no redemption.

there seem to be two overarching developments out my door (notice we now move beyond the passive looking through window of winter, we advance to actual tiptoeing through door into, voila, out-doors, an early exercise of spring): we’ve got squish, and we’ve got browning.

everywhere you walk, a little water wobbles up from underneath the earth. the final days of winter sticking out their tongues. and then there’s the brown. olive brown, the color of the lawn (or what’s left of it). brown brown, the color of the christmas greens long past their expiration date.

okay, so i surrendered. at last i got the message. hey, lady, your christmas trees are overdue. we’ll see if the garbage man lays on a fine.

i find, as i haul my beloved trees, the ones whose branches harbored so many english sparrows through the most blizzardy of days, the ones in which the juncoes played a sprightly peek-a-boo, that i am pure, plain, sad.

i am decidedly not so good at change. not change of any sort. i–once a catholic school girl confined to the same plaid skirt and navy sweater for eight long years–still look down and find myself wearing a variation on a theme day after blessed day. i am a girl not good at shifting gears.

not even when the gear is shifting from one season to the next. or maybe it’s just leaving winter that makes me pine.
i know there will come a day, come a day quite soon perhaps, when the earth is bursting. when every morning i will be drawn from my bed before dawn to go check the progress in the beds. to see if the delphinium has bloomed, to check the hyacinth unfurling. to keep a mama’s eye–if i’m really blessed–on some mama bird and her baby brood, nesting on a low branch, where i can monitor the long, dramatic road from egg to flight.

but that is not now. right now i am grinding gears. finding the loss of winter just a tad bit sad.

it was not for lack of wishing, wishing for one more morning’s waking up to white, to white that shooshes and silences the sound of a world that sometimes needs a blizzard to slow down, that i finally succumbed and swallowed hard as i unscrewed the screws of the ol’ christmas tree stands and slung the sorry branches over my shoulder, down the path, to back where the garbage trucks do their rumble.

i think of all the things i’ll miss about winter: the sweaters pulled tight, and wrapped around; the frost that swoops and swirls on windowpanes; the crackle of the logs, burning, tumbling from the grate, collapsing in a red inferno of wintry glow. the shock of papa cardinal’s scarlet coat against the all-white tableau of snow, snow and more snow.

the sanctuary of being tucked in a cozy farmhouse kitchen looking out at a winter world of which i am in awe. the contemplative nature of the season that draws us all deep into the back of our cave, where i, curled up under a blanket, with a book, with my thoughts, find deep fuel for the year ahead.

i will await the tender shoots pushing through the earth. the first signs of color amid the brown and ooze. i will, i know, be swept up into spring. but right now, i am feeling empty for the branches no longer there to hold my sparrows.

is there, anywhere in the whole wide world, a single other soul who sadly waves goodbye to winter? or at least to the poetry of winter? certainly not to buckling little boots and stuffing little arms into puffy sleeves, certainly not to cars fishtailing down the lane, but to the beauty of the season that demands retreat to the inner recesses of our shivering soul?

if you missed the first go-around about making bird sanctuaries of christmas trees, take a peek back in the archives to christmas tree leftovers….

in memoriam

be still, your pounding hearts. we gather today to—wait, to consider the death that abounds in vases all over my house. the bouquet that’s gone bust. the flowers duly expired. the blooms well past their best-if-used-by prime.

fitting we should consider the limp, the faded, the still–to my eye—beautiful here in the desperate days of end-stage winter. where if things don’t lighten up, warm up, spring forth, or d.) any of the above, we shall make like the flowers and go limp, fade, flop over, or d.) skip the above bit about beauty beheld.

as we limp, no we stagger, toward spring, where week-ahead forecasts for 50s and 60s (remember, chair headquarters is here in chicago, along the shivering shores of lake michigan) tempt us to roll up the scarves, shove away mittens, we are exhaling the last final puffs of spent, dry, stale air from the pits of our lungs. we are clinging to walls, waiting for updrafts from parts of the world where, by now, it is blooming, it’s warm.

we have, if you’re like me, tossed away sum after sum in the grocery store line, week after week plucking those plastic-sheathed posies, thinking a rose in a see-through sleeve is a beautiful thing, is the only thing really that might keep your spring hopes alive.

i’ve done tulips by the near truckload. opted for a few precious clumps of wordsworth’s golden host, the daff-o-dill. clutched white roses at christmas. antique porcelain, with a mere wisp of mauve, up above. the hydrangea beside it spoke to me, too; i couldn’t leave the grocery without it.

fool, me.

between my cat who decapitates tulips like my little one sneaks handfuls of gumdrops, and the rather short-lived life of a stem out of soil, i watch clump after clump go the way of all flesh: peaked to shriveled to brown-tipped to dried. dehydrated right there on the stem, in the vase, on my counter, long past the point you might consider polite. (if flowers have pride mine might be ashamed.)

quite aware of the fact that i’ve shot my winter’s allowance for flowers, i am now milking my petals for all that they’re worth. thus, the tea rose up above, the hydrangea beside it, they’ve been in serious need of resuscitation—or recycling bin—for the better part of a week.

but i’m not budging. i have, not yet anyway, no intention of tossing. long partial to the weak and infirm, i have every intention of milking every last drop of my fading bouquets.

besides, i rather like the more challenging task of searching for beauty where others see none. in a world that rewards in-your-face, pop-up aesthetics, anna nicole’s bosom versus katie hepburn’s upsweep, i’ll take the upsweep. any day.

and, yes, looking in the mirror is a daily reminder that to fade, honestly, naturally, without shame, is an ennobling possibility.

so i will keep my bouquets parched as they are, gasping for that last breath of life. i will watch the sunset of their petals, as they fade into the horizon. i will honor them, keep them, well after death us do part.

in the share-a-quirky-secret society, anyone else hold onto floral abundance ’til it’s turned into floral decay? beyond the dead buds, anyone else see the beauty in things old and faded and dry? wabi sabi does….

pssst, don’t forget the green eggs

as the self-appointed director of whimsy around here, a role i relish, really i do, i hereby declare today a day of national honor and import and food dye. it’s green-eggs-and-ham day, for cryin’ out loud. at least at our house, it is. and technically, kosherly, it’s green-eggs-and-turkey-bacon day, thank you. has been for quite a few years now.

but today the green eggs are greener than ever, and the ham it is hammier. for today the cat with the hat and the mischief tucked under his mitts, he turns 50. which means the ol’ wily fellow with the stripes on his stovepipe was born a mere 58 days after moi.

matter of fact we both came to the planet within a full moon or two. which means the two of us have seen just about the exact same show over the last half century. although i’ll bet he’s been in more bedrooms.

the cat with the hat is just the latest excuse to wake up my boys with a bang. there are, come to think of it, quite a few bangs in this cottage we call home sweet home. in fact, sometimes it downright rattles under these rafters. just ask the one who sneaks out for the early-morning train, ever scheming to wake up with no more tympany than the splash of the oj gurgling into his glass.

mind you, it’s all in the name of silly. and silly is not such a bad name. what with all that there is to worry about, to feel afraid for the world as you take in the news, a little silly is just the inoculation you might need to keep from going under.

especially when you are 13, and mindful, and you think very big thoughts much of the time.

you need a mama who’s nuts. and so, i offer myself, wholly, completely; exhibit a, in the she’s-nuts department.

i think i learned nuts from my aunt. my beloved, wonderful, kooky, aunt nancy. i wanted more than anything to wake up at her house every morning. to go to sleep hearing the sound of her house-rocking laugh.

aunt nancy, whom my papa called noo, she made, among other eccentricities, jell-o that jiggled 1,001 fruits, nuts, marshmallows, whipped cream, mayonnaise, even cole slaw, i swear in that jell-o. and cakes that oozed super goo. she penned love notes, too, that oozed the same goo, only not sticky.

every day at aunt nancy’s was reason for joy. every day was a new definition of what in the world could be done to make you laugh silly.

my own mama, her sister, tended toward serious (a quality i have come to hold dearly for her rock-solid stance in a wobbly world). at our house, jell-o came three ways and three ways only: straight, whipped, or laced with mandarin oranges.

although she did pull her pranks now and then, my mama she did. i remember one april fool’s pouring green milk on my o’s. my mama, she giggled. from back by the stove where she tried to keep a straight face.

so maybe this green gene comes as a birthright. maybe i got it from her.

all i know is that life is a wonderful thing when you’re little and someone much bigger than you gets all silly.

so the eggs will be scrambled in green. and the seuss books, scattered all over. the cat’s hat will be worn, will be tipping.

and we’ll all settle in for a reading of the little red house, with the blue swaying tree. the house where the sun did not shine, it was too wet to play. so they sat in the house all that cold, cold wet day. and then something went bump! how that bump made them jump! how the cat in the hat, he stepped in on the mat, and said to sally and friend (forever left unnamed except for the first-person, i): “i know it is wet and the sun is not sunny. but we can have lots of good fun that is funny!”

not a bad cat, that cat 50 years old. you might bake him a cake. you might break a few eggs. just make sure that they’re green. that cat likes green eggs with his ham.

hey look, it’s eggs that are scrambled and green! bet you’re glad you weren’t here for breakfast….

little miss hyacinth

hmm. when last we left little miss hyacinth she was asleep at the back of the fridge, tucked back by the leftover spaghetti and the butter-under-cow.

she had, just before last dispatch (“honey, what’s that growing in the fridge?” 12.14.06), been rescued from the deep recesses of the laundry room. where she had unwittingly, and against her deepest desires, been wrongly abandoned. there on a shelf with the holiday wrappings and curlicue ribbons.

what did i know about hyacinths? i was, still am, a hyacinth virgin. when the little cheat sheet that i carried home with her told me to leave said bulb in a cool, dark place, i thought the back of the storage room was as good as it gets.

i was wrong.

so i righted my ways—once shown the light by my bulb lady friend.

i fetched poor miss hyacinth, hoisted her up from the cellar and into the back of the fridge. where she sat, nestled alongside her leftover neighbors, sinking her tush in a bath of cold water, soaking up all that she needed, all that she wanted, so she could let rip a tangle of white waxy roots.

i don’t know about you, but if i sat in cold water for a month and a day i might go on some sort of a strike. a protest, you know. a no-growth, no-how, sort of horticultural tirade.

hmm. seems that she might have.

friends, little miss hyacinth has been out of the fridge for a full 11 days now, and barely a peep has she made. her green leaves, they are tight. her buds-in-the-making, they are pursed and determined. she seems, by all measures, hellbent on not moving.


remember how our bulb lady friend likened the big red amaryllis to that teenage boy who had no desire to move ’til he was good and well ready (“red triumphant” 1.18.07)?

well, meet little miss prissy hyacinthy who seems to be the bulb equivalent of the teenage girl who has locked herself in the bathroom for hours on end, swiping mascara, dabbing gloss here and there, sweeping cobalt-blue blush all over her most striking cheekbones.

we have been banging on that bathroom door for days now. but she won’t answer. won’t come out. won’t even humor us with a note slipped under the transom.

by even the worst prognostications, she was, by now, supposed to be strutting her stuff, perfuming the daylights out of the kitchen. but nooooooo. here we are bounding toward february and she is in there doing god-only-knows-what with her girlie-girl bag of botanical tricks.

so we just thought we’d let you in on the big bulby letdown. and tell you that little miss hyacinth seems to have turned into some sort of behind-closed-doors balled-up prima donna.

we’ve little to do here but leave her there on the sill. we shove her toward sunlight. we whisper sweet nothings. it’s useless, it seems.

so we slump by the door and we wait and we wait. she’ll be out as soon as she runs out of mascara.

p.s. and meanwhile, ol’ stud boy amaryllis, mr. red buds on long tall stout stalk, is putting the rest of the winter garden to shame. he’s up to six, count ‘em six, trumpets on high. the boy, finally roused, is running and running the bases. long past home, he’s back over to second. (if you can do such a thing in baseball…) maybe he’s showing off so little miss hyacinth will come out of her shell.

christmas tree leftovers

near where i live, they are lining the streets. dumped by the curb. unceremoniously hauled out and left to shiver in the finally-arriving cold.

they are the fallen soldiers of christmas. they are the once-proud trees, stripped, humbled, strewn.

all their trappings, packed and stashed back in the attic, the basement, the closet that holds way too much.

not so many weeks ago, it seemed every car, suv, minivan had one strapped to the roof like some botanical five-point buck, grown, felled, strung up by the limbs, just so we could carry home christmas.

for awhile there we flirted with the poor thing. made all nicey-nice. left cookies down by the stump one star-studded night. draped it with shimmery stuff. turned on the lights. might even have remembered to give it a drink.

then it got old. we loosened our affections. the calendar changed. we declared: time to dump.

and so, all around me, and maybe around you, they’ve been dumping. like a forest of the unloved, they are askew at the curbs all over the place.

not at my house.

we are proudly, defiantly, giving them life ever after. they stand, the big one listing west, the little one leaning to the east, out in the back where we keep an eye on their doings. they are there for the birds, for the critters who crawl deep inside them.

now the interesting thing about leftover trees is that you don’t have to have had a tree in the first place to go out and, er, simply adopt one. if you’re supremely polite you might knock on a door, ask, hey do you mind if i borrow your tree? the look might be quizzical, but i doubt they’ll say no.

come on, who’s going to turn down a kook who wants to haul home a dry tree?

take a stand. or a coffee can of sand. (remember when the coffee you drank came in cans? yes, it still does.) or just lean it jauntily against something else.

if you want to go for the st. francis of assisi supergold medal, you might refer to that long-ago meandering (“for the birds,” 12.22.06), and make yourself and your birds some peanut-butter-and-birdseed hearts. or dangle some suet muffins. or string cranberries and popcorn.

then watch the birds have at it. watch the tree come back to life. if you listen, you might even hear it humming. some ol’ resurrection tune, perhaps.

there are worse ways to savor your leftovers.

and at my house, they’re welcome to stay ’til the last little needle drops to the ground. then i’ll grind it up and make mulch of it. which, come to think of it, doesn’t sound very nice.

vote here if you think this is all for the birds.

get set, ready, dash…

a page ripped from my to-do list, on this the day when a constellation of holidays converge on one little square of my calendar…

6:02 outa bed, sweetheart.

get oatmeal going, dump in dried fruit.

6:40 get 13-year-old out door to orchestra. our turn for carpool. do not forget toothpick bridge.

treadmill (how ironic).


latkes out of freezer.

teddy up, fed, dressed.

9:30 leave for hockey. don’t forget bag of chocolates for coach.

rent shin and elbow pads.

wedge feets into skates. lace up. squeeze helmet on head. let loose.

10:00 tedd on ice. re-make grocery list. refine to-dos. call editor.

10:45 strip sweaty hockey player of pads, skates, helmet.

look one more store for latke mix, darn it.

pick up gift cards for junior high teachers.

stop for two loaves holiday bread.

make fruit salad for kwanzaa at kindergarten.

make stewed apples for hanukkah.

finish setting table for hanukkah dinner tonight. don’t forget to let tedd put candles in menorah.

don’t forget to feed tedd.

12:30 drop tedd at school.

try again to file expense report. call computer help desk.

write bike accident essay.

2:30 kwanzaa at kindergarten. don’t forget yam chips, fruit salad, cups, napkins, forks, books. and notecards.

3:15 pick up tedd from school.

3:30 go to shake-shake at physical therapy.

4:10 pick up jelly donuts for hanukkah.

4:30 grate potatoes for latkes.

slice and reheat brisket.

salad ready to go.

check will & homework.

get little christmasy things off coffee table–toddler is coming.

6:30 hanukkah dinner for 12, at long last. hallelujah.

9ish clean up.

tedd to bed.

will to bed.

write teacher christmas letters. stuff gift cards inside.

line-up all gifts for delivery thurs.

make to-do list for thurs.

make fat bowl of popcorn.

do nothing.

don’t even begin to think about christmas eve, and what it’ll take to get there….

because i believe it’s therapeutic to share the madness, feel free to lay your to-do list on the table. i’ve always thought a year’s collected to-do lists, or the amalgamated lists of so many busy people, would make for one fascinating anthropological analysis…we begin here….