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Last Friday, the final day of our stay in Colorado, Tom and I decided to do a bit more sightseeing up in the mountains. Specifically, we wanted to go back into Rocky Mountain National Park and hike around the Alluvial Fan. Just briefly, for those who might not be familiar with it, the Alluvial Fan was formed in the early 80s when the dam of a lake sitting high up in the mountains failed. The rupture sent more than 29 million gallons of water, slit, rocks, trees, and SUV-size boulders cascading down the mountainside and onto the floor of the valley below. The devastation to the surrounding landscape was mind-boggling. Even worse, three people in its path were killed. Tom, the kids, and I visited the site a few years after the disaster when the area still looked raw and broken. It was a sobering experience.

Now, nearly 30 years later, neither the mountainside nor the valley floor looks like a war zone. The entire area is covered with trees, bushes, and other vegetation, and little ground squirrels scamper everywhere. If the gigantic boulders weren’t scattered around like old cars in a junkyard, you might not even give that section of the park special notice. We were amazed–and heartened–by Mother Nature’s power to reclaim her own.

Looking back up the mountains where the water came down through
Looking back up the mountains where the water came down
Looking out across the scattered boulders toward the valley floor

Looking out across the scattered boulders toward the valley floor

We had also decided that day that it would be fun to stop at The Stanley Hotel in Estes Park for breakfast before going up to hike the Fan. This created a conundrum. Should we dress in appropriate hiking attire–a.k.a. t-shirts, jeans, and tennis shoes–or should we kick it up a notch to avoid looking like a couple of rubes schlepping through The Stanley? What a silly question. We were on vacation. We schlepped.

The Stanley Hotel - Boulder, CO

The Stanley Hotel - Boulder, CO

The Stanley Hotel is really quite lovely, sitting on the mountainside overlooking Estes Park. The entryway leading to the main building makes a sweeping arc around the expansive lawn, leads you past a field of grazing elk, and deposits you next to a little white guard house from which Barney Fife pops out to extract a parking fee from you. The interesting thing–in hindsight–about Barney and the parking fee was we realized there were no signs posted mentioning anything about parking fees. Sharp tack that he was, ol’ Barney saw us coming. Heck fire, we were from out of state. We were driving a late model car. Surely we were good for a little extra pocket change…which is exactly where he put the money I idiotically gave him…into his pocket. No receipt to display in our window. No cash register in his little guard house in which to deposit the bills. No “Thank ya, ma’am.” No “Kiss my arse.” The money went straight into his pocket with a smile. Forehead smack. I bet he got that cheap-ass badge he was wearing off the internet!

Once we got parked and had finished debating the legitimacy of Barney and his fee collection, we headed into the hotel. Whereas I had earlier dismissed our casual clothing with the excuse that we were on vacation, my tune did a 180 when we entered the lobby…which was elegant…and full of business professionals at some sort of a business conference…in business attire. Groan. We wandered around–as inconspicuously as possible–for several minutes, looking for the restaurant without luck before I finally resorted to asking for help at the front desk. It was a beautiful day, and the hotel staff had all the doors and windows wide open to let the fabulous mountain breeze to blow through. As I stood speaking to the desk clerk, I could feel the breeze, but I could also feel something else. Something strange. Something that felt like a sail waving back and forth on the top of my head. I patted the top of my head and continued speaking with the clerk until I had the information I needed, and then I turned to Tom and bleated, “Do I have a sticky-out pointy-thing on my head?”

“Well, yes,” he said hesitantly. “Your hair is kinda sticking up.”

Here, I must backtrack. When we got ready that morning, the only water coming out of the showerhead in our cottage was scalding hot, so grooming had been a bit dicey. I’ve got my own hormonal heat source going full blast right now, so the hot shower gave me no alternative but to retreat from the steamy bathroom as quickly as possible. Before leaving, however, I did attempt (admittedly a half-hearted attempt) to blow dry my hair. I didn’t even consider putting on makeup. I figured I’d sit in the other room to read and cool off while Tom showered, and then I’d go back in and do my makeup. Brilliant. Well…fast-forward back to the hotel.

“What do you mean my hair is ‘kinda sticking up’?” I hissed, and then I noticed Tom’s hair. He’d taken his ball cap off and his bangs (do men have bangs?) were standing straight up like…well, like…you remember in Something About Mary when Cameron Diaz uses “gel” to fix her bangs? Yeah, his bangs looked like that, so off we went to the bathrooms.

My attempts to get my hair under control were futile, and, in the process, I saw that I have forgotten to return to the bathroom at the cottage to apply makeup. I was a pointy-haired, mottled-skinned, lip-less, eye-less, brow-less freak. Tom came out of the bathroom with his hair all slicked down looking like a grease monkey.

“Shall we?”

“Yes, let’s.” And we headed upstairs to the restaurant.

When we arrived at the entrance to the restaurant, we discovered that we were 20 minutes too late for breakfast and 10 minutes too early for lunch, as were several other guests who had congregated around the door. Not wanting to waste any more time looking for another restaurant, we decided to see the thing through and stood trying to blend into our surroundings. As we waited, Tom began fumbling around with his hat which sent his sunglasses clattering to the hardwood floor. He stepped back in an attempt to avoid stepping on them, but instead…CRACK…and a lense went skittering across the floor. “Man,” he muttered. “That was close.”

I stared at him in disbelief. “No,” I thought. “You got those sons-o’-bitches dead on” and then burst into laughter…uncontrollable laughter…laughter that sent me staggering around where I stood. I’m guessing at that point we were no longer inconspicuous.

I was still snickering 10 minutes later when the hostess seated us and even later still when our waiter, “Guido,” finally came over to look down his nose, give us the squonk eye, and take our order. Fair enough.

But just so you, my faithful readers, know…the food at The Stanley is NOT worth the effort…or the parking fee.

The Meandering Matriarch recently posted a lament about the proliferation of black in the working woman’s wardrobe. As one of those “penguins”–or at least a former penguin (you can hardly call what I’ve been doing lately “work”)–I feel compelled to respond.

I wore black because it made getting dressed in the morning sooooo easy. No brain cells required. On any typical morning, before I could get myself out the door, I had to get my husband and children up and on their way, take care of the animals, throw a load of laundry in, think about what I was going to serve for dinner and maybe even start dinner, check my email one last time before leaving the house, gather up my own crap, and get myself ready. And that was a typical morning. Heaven forbid, I’d have to get one of the animals to the vet’s or run by the post office before going into work. If I wore black, I reduced my stress load tremendously.

A basic black wardrobe requires a few pairs of black pants, a black skirt or two, a black purse, a pair of black pumps, a pair of black flats, a couple of black jackets, and a few colorful tops with coordinating jewelry. If you live in a cold climate, you have a short black coat, a long, black wool coat with a brightly colored scarf and gloves, and black dress boots. Simple. It all coordinates, so you can’t screw any of it up. If your gray matter is scrambled with everything else you have to think about while you’re getting ready, wearing black dramatically reduces your chances of winding up at work with two different color shoes or a hideously mismatched ensemble. Brainless. Totally brainless.

Plus, black is the hands-down champion at hiding–or at least camouflaging–figure flaws.

I worked with a woman once who, years ago when she entered the work force, repainted her fingernails every night to match the outfit she’d laid out to wear the next day. I have no idea HOW or WHY she did it–and she laughs about it now–but I can tell you one thing for certain, based on the women I know, those days are long gone. Most working women are stretched to the limit. I can’t speak for them all, but I can tell you that there were days when I was just grateful I’d managed to make it to work with my teeth brushed, my bra on, and shoes on my feet. Who cares what color my clothes were. I suspect there are others who feel the same way.

My dad sent me an email note last week telling me he’d been selected for jury duty. For a moment, I was jealous. I’ve been called for jury duty three times and selected once. The one trial I was selected for was nearly twenty years ago, but it was so entertaining, I’ve looked forward to doing it again ever since. Dad wasn’t so lucky. His services were required for a civil trial between a flatwork contractor and a wealthy homeowner in the Tucson foothills who didn’t want to pay for the 2,700 square feet of concrete the contractor had poured…probably because the homeowner had over-extended himself building a multi-million dollar shrine to himself…but that’s just a guess. In any case, the jury deliberated less than five minutes before ordering the homeowner to pay up. Borrrring.

The civil trial that I served as a juror for involved a car full of lawyers from a prominent Midwestern law firm, a moon-less night, a hilly two-lane county road in the middle of the Flint Hills (cattle country, for those of y’all who ain’t from these parts), and a lone black bull standing smack in the middle of that dark, deserted road.

In all honesty, I don’t recall the specifics of why the big-city lawyers were out in the middle of the Flint Hills in the dead of night, but it’s ultimately unimportant. The fact was that they were…and so was the bull. All the lawyers in the car–as I recall, there were four–claimed the driver was going the speed limit when they crested a hill that night and found an enormous black bull staring back at them in their headlights, a claim that would be debated hotly during the trial. Anyway, the driver swerved to miss the huge animal, careened through a ditch, and came to rest against a fence.

Fortunately, the bull escaped unscathed, but the lawyers weren’t so lucky. Three of them had minor injuries requiring a visit to the local emergency room, but one guy was hurt badly enough that he had to be brought back to Kansas City in an ambulance. Please note, this is the one part of the story that I do not think is funny. But he recovered, so…

Because the injured were lawyers, it would naturally follow that there would be a lawsuit. And there was. Specifically a lawsuit against the rancher who owned the bull. The lawyers claimed the rancher was negligent for “allowing” the bull out onto the road, so they were suing for the pain and suffering, blah, blah, blah caused by the accident resulting from said bull in the road. Sigh.

For one whole day and part of the next, we listened to repetitive testimony from local law enforcement officials, the rancher, and even experts hired by the prosecution to prove the rancher’s negligence, none of whom ever managed to find any breaks or weak spots in the fence surrounding the pen where the bull was kept. Moreover, none of them could provide a rational explanation as to why the other six or seven bulls kept in the same pen were still there at the time of the accident. Points to the defense.

For another day and a half, we listened to expert testimony about the particulars of the accident itself. First from a former highway patrolman who, at the time of the trial, was making his living by recreating accidents and providing details for whomever needed the information. In this case, the information was incredibly interesting. The facts, in a nutshell, presented via nifty charts, pictures, and drawings: one, the car left the road and traveled sideways (called yawing, I learned) for nearly 200 yards through an unmown ditch before slamming into the fence; two, the ditch was full of tall weeds, sizable seedlings, large rocks, and ruts.

The highway patrolman’s conclusion: the car was traveling between 85 and 90 mph when it left the road. Ooooo. Well over the posted speed limit and way beyond what any reasonable driver with gray matter between his ears would attempt under similar conditions.

But hold on. The prosecution had an expert witness, a rumpled college physics professor, who was supposed to take the stand and refute the facts and the patrolman’s conclusion.  Not too surprisingly, the poor guy was smart enough not to attempt refuting the facts, but he gamely and vehemently argued against the conclusion. He didn’t present any evidence to support his argument, but he argued nonetheless. It was all very dramatic, very Perry Mason-ish. But very lame. Again, points to the defense.

Now, the best part of the trial, the part that made it worth sitting through nearly four days of testimony about fences, bovine behavior, tire tracks, yawing, and culpability…oh, this is sooo good…after a long break on the afternoon of the fourth day, the judge turned to the jury, removed his glasses, wiped his forehead, and informed us wearily that a new wrinkle had been added to the case. Apparently, the wife of the lawyer who was brought back to the city by ambulance–the lawyer I will now refer to as Tiny Johnson because I don’t remember his real name–wanted to add one more claim to the suit. She wanted to sue the rancher for a quarter of  million dollars for loss of conjugal relations for the eighteen months since the accident. I suppressed an audible snort. There was noooooo way ol’ Tiny was worth that kind of loot, and everyone in the courtroom knew it. It took every ounce of self-control to suppress the laughter that was struggling to erupt. But I managed it, and I mentally patted myself on the back for being such a grown up.

Well apparently, I congratulated myself too soon. After we came back with a verdict of “not guilty” (for any of it) and the judge had thanked and then dismissed us, the court reporter came up to me and asked, “Do you play poker?”

Startled, I mumbled, “Ummm, no.”

“Good. You’d be a lousy poker player,” she smiled. “Your face gave away everything you were thinking. Thanks for making this trial so much fun.” And she walked away before I could say anything else.

“Good to know,” I thought to myself, but, “Ye, gods, how embarrassing.” Then I thought about Tiny, his cronies, and the Mrs. Now that’s embarrassing.

This past weekend, we celebrated my mother-in-law’s 80th birthday with a luau-themed open house. It was a terrific party. Friends and family came from all over the country to help her celebrate and to raise their glasses in toast to her.

Weeks before the party, one of my sisters-in-law  suggested the luau theme as a nod to my mother-in-law getting to go on her dream vacation to Hawaii this coming October, a start-the-celebration-early-whet-the-appetite type event. Brilliant. With the theme agreed upon, a couple of my other sisters-in-law and I sat down to plan out how we were going to turn a Midwestern suburban backyard into a Hawaiian island. Ideas flew fast and furious, and in the middle of the melee, I jokingly said, “I’ve seen Sandra Lee make a volcano cake that really smokes…I could do that.” Snort.

Apparently I didn’t snort loudly enough because the gals gathered around the table immediately jumped on the idea. “Wow, that’d be great! Can you do that?”

Wait…wait…I didn’t mean…huh?

For those of you who do not know who Sandra Lee is, she’s a tall, gorgeous, incredibly freakish, blond woman who has several cooking shows on Food Network. In a nutshell, Sandra’s a fruit loop. An entertaining fruit loop in an good-grief-I-can’t-believe-she-just-did-that kind of way, but a fruit loop, nonetheless, who dresses to match the curtains over her kitchen window and the color of the standing mixer on the counter behind her. A fruit loop who closes every show by sipping a cocktail as she goes through a long-winded explanation of the “inexpensive tablescape” she’s created that just happens to match her clothes, the kitchen curtains, and the standing mixer. The same tablescape that is taller than your average sixth-grader and easily more expensive than my first house. I can go on, but I won’t. If you don’t believe me, read what Anthony Bourdain wrote about her recently on his blog in a post called A Drive By Shooting. Anyway, Sandra’s schtick is “semi-homemade cooking” which means that most of what she “cooks” on the show comes out of a box or a package. She uses an expensive-looking chef’s knife to hack the boxes and packages open–which, I suppose, makes her feel justified in using the word “Cooking” in the title of her show–but the knife gets very little use otherwise.

Anyway, the aforementioned volcano cake is no exception to Sandra’s “semi-homemade” repertoire. Made from boxed cake mixes, canned frosting, and those aerosol cans of decorator icing, it truly is a pastry chef’s worst nightmare. It is, however, a five-year-old’s dream. It smokes. It’s covered in frosting. Lots and lots of frosting. And it smokes. Did I mention that? Tom wanted to know if I’d make one for his last birthday…but I digress.

The freakishness of its original creator aside, however, I have to admit the idea of a volcano cake as a conversation piece for a luau-themed party isn’t bad one, especially–I reasoned–if I made the cake and the frosting from scratch. All righty then.

The Friday before the party, I began baking the cake layers. Five in all: two 10″ round layers, two 9″ round layers, and a bundt cake. And here, I’m going to admit–after extensive searches through my recipes and a number of online recipes–I did make the cakes from a box. Or, more specifically, boxes. I’ve never been much of a cake baker, but of the cakes I used to make before going gluten-free, none seemed dense enough to withstand the weight of the other layers once they were all stacked atop one another in volcano formation. I felt pretty confident I wouldn’t have a lack-of-density problem with boxed cake mixes. All those artificial ingredients I can’t pronounce have to have some purpose, I suppose.

I did, however, make the frosting from scratch. I’m not a big fan of sweet frosting–plus, I really wanted to do something special for the big event–so I decided to do a cream cheese frosting instead of the typical butter cream frosting. Saturday night, I made nine cups of chocolate cream cheese frosting and six cups of white chocolate cream cheese frosting. The white chocolate frosting got divided up and colored red, orange, yellow, and green. Each color went into a pastry bag, and the whole lot went into the refrigerator until the next morning when I would take it to my in-laws where I planned to assemble the cake.

Before falling asleep that night, I began to worry that the masses wouldn’t like the cream cheese frosting. I fell  into a fitful sleep and woke the next morning at 5:30 to resume worrying. By 5:45, I was out in the kitchen trying to decide if it was worth the gluten-intolerant side effects I would experience if I taste tested the cake with the cream cheese icing on it. Luckily, Tom wandered into the kitchen about that time, offering to sacrifice himself for the cause, so I smeared a blob of the icing on one of the mutant 10″ layers I wasn’t using and asked for his thoughts. “It’s not what I was expecting,” he said sheepishly as he tried to lick the icing from the corner of his mouth.

Well, that’s all it took. If it wasn’t what he was expecting, then it wouldn’t be what my mother-in-law or any of her guests were expecting either. Within seconds, Tom was off to the grocery store for more butter and powdered sugar, and I was warming up my KitchenAid. By 9 am, I was showered, my car was loaded with the frozen cake layers and buckets of butter cream icing in all the required colors, and I was on my way to my in-laws.

I’m happy to say–after all the hoopla of getting the components of the cake assembled–the cake itself came together without much fuss. Most importantly, it was warmly received by the crowd for both its novelty (we did actually get it

The volcano cake (aka The Giant Chocolate Boob)

The Giant Chocolate Boob (aka The Volcano Cake)

to smoke) and its taste, and my mother-on-law seemed genuinely pleased. So, what’s the problem? Well, there was no problem until after the party when I saw the pictures of the thing. Viewed in person, it was a pretty respectable replica of a volcano. At least, I thought it was. In the pictures, it looks like a giant chocolate boob coughing up party streamers! Seriously. Take a look. Once again, just as I’m feeling pretty cocky about myself and my abilities, my ego gets side-swiped a la raisin on the white capris. I fear I will go down in family lore as the creator of the giant chocolate boob, particularly by anyone who didn’t see it in person. I can just hear future generations talking about the demented aunt who made the obscene birthday cake for her dear, sweet mother-in-law’s 80th birthday party. What a freak.

I’ve been thinking for the last several weeks that it’s time to do an update on Teddy, fill you in on how he’s doing. Problem is there’s so too much to tell in one posting. Several times, I’ve started writing, but I quickly become overwhelmed with the amount of information I want to share. Before long, I’m cutting, pasting, and erasing what I’ve written, staring at the screen in frustration. Then this afternoon, I got the bright idea of doing a bulleted list, just like I used to create in my old technical writing days. I’ll still not be able to tell you all the wonderful ways in which Teddy has brightened our lives in one posting, but it feels manageable this way, so here goes:

  • I’m confident saying Teddy loves Tom, me, and the rest of the regulars around here as much as we love him. He fits into our family and our lives like it was all meant to be. And it was, I have no doubt.
  • Teddy has the most expressive eyes and the sweetest little wrinkly face. He uses both to his full advantage. Knowingly. With no apologies. I’m toast.


    Teddy vogue-ing for the camera

  • After more x-rays, discussions with his vet, and a consultation with a physical therapist, the general consensus is that Teddy’s left front leg doesn’t work properly because of damage to the brachial plexus (the network of nerves that conducts signals from the spine to the shoulder, arm, and paw) in that limb. Possibly the result of falling from a vehicle or from a high place such as a porch. The physical therapist does not recommend professional physical therapy at this time, nor does she recommend–for multiple reasons–putting Teddy in a brace (much to Tom’s dismay), but she does hold out slim hope (since we don’t know how long ago the limb was hurt) that the damaged nerves may one day start firing again. She has also suggested that we try to get him to put weight on that paw when he is standing by pulling the paw to the ground. We know the poor little guy feels pain (or at least some discomfort) in that limb because he tucks it up tightly to his torso and licks it incessantly when he hasn’t had the daily dose of  his pain med–which we withheld a couple of times on purpose to see how he, and the limb, reacted. Otherwise, he lets his left paw hang freely to the ground and occasionally uses it as a kickstand. On a happy note, Tom is beginning to have a bit of success at getting Teddy to shake with that paw.
  • Our initial assumption that Teddy’s status as a three-wheeling pup would mean no need to have a fence was wrong, wrong, wrong. We have several companies coming next week to give us an estimate.
  • Teddy does have a voice. For the first three weeks he lived here, we heard little more than a whispery “woof” on the few occasions when someone new entered the house, but all that changed after he spent time with Carey and Austin’s dog, Otis. Otis taught Teddy to voice his opinions and concerns boldly to all within earshot. Teddy’s still not what you would call a “barker,” but he’s more than happy to let you know when someone is passing in front of the house or when he’s none too happy with you for leaving him behind when everyone else is getting in the car to leave.


    Teddy and Otis guarding the homestead

  • The ear infections Teddy had when he came to live with us are all cleared up. Finally. The vet says he’ll be prone to them thanks to the Shar Pei in his lineage. What that means for Teddy is he goes to the vet every two weeks for a bath and to have his ears irrigated. He doesn’t seem to mind either procedure all that much, but he’s none too happy about the scarf the groomer puts on him when it’s all over–especially the sissy-colored ones.
  • Probably as a result of a lifetime of untreated ear infections, Teddy is hard of hearing. Not stone deaf, but dang close. Of course, there are those occasions when I would swear his lack of response is more a matter of selective hearing than non-hearing (learned behavior from the other males in this house?), but I have no way to prove it, and he knows it.
  • Teddy loves to ride in the car, and he practically wets himself at the thought of getting to ride in the truck. His cruising stance of choice in the truck is to stand on the flat surface in the back–created when we fold down the back seats–and then to lie across the large console between the two front seats, gimpy paw in the cup holder for stability, ears flapping in the breeze created by the air conditioner. He can get into all three vehicles without help, but does need to be lifted down out of the truck. No worries, as long as the shapely, little lhaso apso across the street isn’t watching. When he rides in my car, he likes it when I keep the windows down, the stereo turned up, and my hand on the shifter, so he can use my wrist and forearm as a chin rest and drool catcher. He hates it when we come to a light and I have to shift.
  • Teddy is also quite happy to lie at my feet–actually on my feet–here in my office as I write. He’s there now, snoring and farting. Which brings me to…
  • Teddy has a very temperamental tummy. Again, because of the Shar Pei in his background, the vet warned us he would probably have a sensitive digestive tract, and he does. That would be no problem–we’re happy to feed him the salmon and rice dog food recommended by the vet–but, although Teddy ate the fish diet without complaining for the first several weeks, he grew tired of eating the same food every day and refused to eat even a nibble of the stuff after a while. He is both strong-willed and hard-headed, so, of course, I blinked first and got him some other food to eat. Oh, happy dog. A different dog food every other day. And then, because he wasn’t eating the sensitive formula dog food anymore and was doing just fine, we mistakenly reasoned that we might be able to give him…well…give him just a taste of…of bacon bits…of a little baloney and cheese…a nibble of leftover chicken…it can’t hurt. Right? Oh, man. Last night we came back after being gone for a couple of hours and knew immediately when we opened the door that something was wrong. Teddy was uncharacteristically curled up in the laundry room and the house smelled like something had died. Sure enough, the poor little guy had made a mess in our bathroom. An hour or so later, he began dancing again, and I raced him into the backyard. He was a man on a mission and went racing in front of me out into the darkness. When he got about 20 yards from the back of the house, I couldn’t see him, but I heard an explosive sound I typically associate with big burly guys who have been eating hot dogs and drinking beer all afternoon. All I could think as I raced toward him was, That poor little thing just blew his bottom off. It must have un-nerved Teddy, too, because he took off for the back of the yard as fast as his legs would carry him with me in high-speed pursuit, hoping every step of the way that I wouldn’t step in the aftermath of the explosion. After two additional middle-of-the-night excursions into the darkness (me looking lovely in my nightgown and flip flops), Teddy’s tummy seems to finally have settled and Tom and I are in complete agreement that Teddy will never again eat people food.
  • And finally, I must confirm something Marie, Teddy’s foster grandmother, told me the day I picked Teddy up from her house: Teddy is extremely modest. Given the opportunity, Teddy will go as far to the back of the yard to conduct his business as he possibly can–to the point of pooping on the neighbors fence out beyond the bog on the back property line. If he can get behind a bush or a tree, all the better. Whatever you do, don’t look. He hates that.

Seriously, put the camera down and come feed me!

And now, I must stop, but I will tell Teddy tales again soon. I’ve got a million of ’em.

Tom, Brian, and I are on the road. Well, technically we’re not on the road at the moment. Brian is out with some of his buddies, and Tom and I are in a hotel…in Fargo, North Dakota. Why we’re here is irrelevant to this particular posting, so I’ll spare you the details. Suffice it to say, Fargo is really a lovely city–really, it is–and we’re having a great time.

We rolled into town around 3:00 this afternoon. Brian wasn’t meeting up with his friends until 4:00, so we decided to use the time to run a couple of errands: fill the car with gas, fill Brian with food and drink, etc. Errands which required getting out of the car and walking around in public places. Places where lots of other people were also out walking around. Places where other people were possibly watching me out walking around.

After we finished our errands, we returned to the hotel so Brian could change his clothes. As I got out of the car, I noticed a raisin smashed on the seat of the car where I had been sitting. A raisin from the trail mix we’d been noshing on off and on since early that morning. Hmmm. This was bad. This was very bad. All day long, I’d been prancing around in my white capris, sequined turquoise sandals with matching purse, and kicky turquoise T-shirt, pleased with myself that for once I wasn’t dressed like a bag lady for our long car ride. But a raisin! A smashed raisin and white capris! It doesn’t take much imagination or many brain cells to picture the outcome of those two objects meeting under pressure.

My mind raced as I spun in circles in the parking lot trying to see my rear end: When did I drop the raisin? Was any of it still stuck to my keister? Did anyone see? Was it situated on the car seat so it was right under a butt cheek or –please, dear god– could it have possibly been between my legs? Maybe it didn’t leave a stain at all! Oh, please! Please, don’t let there be a stain!

Dizzy from chasing my tail, I finally bent over with my ass pointing directly at Brian and moaned, “Do I have raisin smashed on my butt?” The poor kid. That’s an image I’m sure he wasn’t anxious to have burned onto his retinas. Nor, I’m sure, was he anxious to tell me that, yes, in fact, I did have a rather ugly-looking splotch in the most inconvenient of places. ARGHHHHH!

That’s what I get for getting tarted up and being smug about it. Hubris. Gets you every time.

An hour or so later, after Brian was off on his adventure, Tom went down to the lobby to get us a copy of the local newspaper. Any embarrassment I was still feeling over the afternoon’s humbling was immediately vanquished (or at least overshadowed) when I scanned the front page of The Fargo-Morehead Forum he brought back upstairs with him.

Under the headline: “ARREST ENDS 9-HOUR S. FARGO STANDOFF” were two pictures. One showed a man, Leonard Ritter, waving a cigarette around in the air while pointing his finger at and defiantly back-talking members of the local SWAT team (after shooting at and flattening one of the tires on their law enforcement robot, I might add). I share the picture here:

Before Tazer

The second picture shows poor ol’ doodie-for-brains Leonard being tased into premature–albeit temporary–rigor mortis by the same SWAT team, a SWAT team that had clearly had enough of Leonard’s shit:


I doubt Leonard was having many coherent thoughts at the moment of his tasing, but one would hope that at some point after he gets over the shock of the whole affair (yuck, yuck) he thinks something along the lines of, “Holy crap. That didn’t turn out so well. Maybe I should reconsider my current policy of copping an attitude with police officers wearing military camoflauge and carrying automatic rifles.”

Okay, okay. He probably won’t, but…

My first thought after looking at the pictures was this: Leonard’s lucky he lives in Fargo, North Dakota, instead of a bigger city. Police officers in a larger, meaner metropolitan area probably would have shot Leonard and his cocky attitude with real bullets as soon as he fired at the robot. Like I said, Fargo’s a lovely city. You really should visit sometime.

In any case, I’ve learned my lesson. We can only hope Leonard has learned his.

I finally got to play with my Monday night golf league. About time. The league started back at the beginning of April, but between rain-outs, having company, being out of town, and life in general, I haven’t managed to get out there, that is until this Monday.

The upside of Monday evening was I got to meet some of the ladies in the league. The downside was I played like…well, I don’t know what I played like. My game defies description. Suffice it to say, I could not find the holes. I had little or no trouble getting to the greens, but I couldn’t sink a putt to save my soul. On at least two holes, I putted past the cup at least four times. The ball always rolling within a inch of the edge of the cup and then coming to rest at least three or four feet past the cup. Often farther. You could almost see the ball smirking. It eventually became a joke. A twisted, painful joke.

I wish I could blame it on the gal in our foursome who was so slow she all but went backward. Truly. She was a sweet lady, but she’d obviously did not subscribe to the concept of ready golf. Slow to get out of the cart. Slow to get to her ball (often without a club). I swear, I never saw her move faster than a mosey, and she took multiple practice swings on every shot. Personally, I think there ought to be an iron-clad rule that any golfer who takes more than one practice swing  before a shot is instantly vaporized. But I digress.

As frustrating as it was to lose sight of the foursome in front of us and to be pushed by the foursome behind us, I can’t blame Pokey McPokerson. Well, actually, I can blame her for making us take nearly three hours to play nine holes, but I can’t blame her for my poor performance. I just sucked. And the really sad thing is I can’t wait to get back out there. Why is that? What is it about golf that makes a person want to go out and publicly humiliate herself over and over again? Six years ago, I wouldn’t have played a round of golf at gunpoint, and now I’m salivating to be on a course every chance I get. It’s a disease.

I’m guessing my performance on Monday night made quite a first impression on the other women in the league. If it didn’t–if they missed seeing me play–the score I had to post in the clubhouse will certainly WOW them. They’ll be fighting over who gets to play with me. Groan.

I hope you all had a wonderful Mother’s Day. I certainly did. My goal was to get through the day without any mental or physical exertion. Mission accomplished. I slept late. Tom fixed my breakfast, retrieved the newspaper off the driveway (which I uncharacteristically got to read from front to back), and made the bed–upon which I promptly took a nap. Carey and Austin co-hosted a lovely Mother’s Day luncheon at Austin’s folks in the afternoon at which all I had to do was drink margaritas and engage in witty repartee. My children showered me  with lovely gifts, and Tom washed and vacuumed my car. It was a fabulous day. I suppose I did have to shower and put on makeup…

Yesterday was my 27th Mother’s Day. I wish I could tell you I remember my first Mother’s Day, but unfortunately I can’t. Carey would have only been about six weeks old at that point, so it’s safe to say I probably had dark circles under my eyes, baby barf on my shoulders, and two big wet spots on the front of my shirt where I’d leaked through my breast pads. I know my boobs were ginormous and my butt was months away from getting back into my jeans, but I honestly don’t recall being upset by any of it. I just remember being so excited to be a mom. I was only 23 when Carey was born–and she was an easy baby–so I operated under the “Naivete Is Bliss” rule for months after her arrival. In hindsight, it wasn’t a bad way to fly. Tom will never let me forget how I used to pick her up as soon as I’d get out of bed in the morning and head out to sit in my rocker recliner to nurse her. When she was finished, I’d change her diaper and head back to the chair where we’d nap together–Carey in my arms–until she’d wake up again to eat. We’d repeat the process all day long until Tom returned from work in the evening to find us both still in our jammies. Whoops.

Really, Carey’s entire first year was pretty easy. I only remember two unpleasant episodes. The first was an ear infection in the middle of the night and the requisite hellish car ride to the emergency room. I will never ever forget one minute of that night, particularly being forced to stand out in the hallway while the doctor examined Carey. I was ready to rip someone’s head off–specifically that prune-faced nurse who all but shoved me out the door. Luckily, Tom (as always) was there to provide a more level-headed perspective.

The second episode was really more humbling than unpleasant; although, I’ll warn you right now to stop reading if you’re eating. On that occasion, I was reminded that no matter how else I might see myself, I was, always and forevermore–no exceptions–a mom. I had gotten all dressed up to go out with Tom and some friends. It was the mid-80s, so I had the big hair, a bright yellow sweater with a fringed scarf wrapped fashionably around my neck, tight jeans, high-heeled boots, and fake fingernails. I thought I was all that and a bag of chips. That is, until I went to the ladies’ room after dinner. There, as I washed my hands before returning to the table, I discovered a chunk of bright yellow, dried baby poop under one of fabulous fingernails. (I told you to stop reading if you were eating.) It’s not that my discovery wrecked the evening so much as it finally sealed the deal. There was no escaping the fact that my primary role in life was now Mom. The proof was under my fingernail.

By the time Brian came along, I was pretty well settled into the job. At least, at the time, I thought I was. Like Carey, he was an easy baby. Unfortunately, the two of us didn’t get to spend a lot of quiet time together when he was an infant because by then Carey was an active three-year-old. As an illustration of just how active, one day while I was putting Brian down for a nap, the phone rang. It was a neighbor about five houses up the street who had two daughters just a little older than Carey. We had only moved into the neighborhood a few months earlier, so I was mortified when my new neighbor–whom I barely knew–told me that Carey had just arrived at her house on her tricycle. What?! What!?

How in the world that child got the garage door up, I’ll never know. Thank goodness there was a sidewalk and she had enough sense to stay on it. That the neighbor didn’t call the authorities on me for negligence, I’ll be forever grateful.

When Carey started school, Brian and I finally got our one-on-one time together. One of my favorite memories is of our bike rides together. I would strap him into the seat on the back of my bicycle, and the two of us would peddle all over town, usually stopping at one of the city parks for a picnic lunch. He looked like a Weeble in his big ol’ bike helmet. I was crushed the day he told me he was too big to ride on the back of my bike anymore.  Just like I was crushed his first day of preschool when he told me I didn’t need to walk him into the building and crushed the day Carey dressed herself because she didn’t like the outfits I picked out.

That’s the insidious thing about motherhood. You think, “When in the world are you ever going to outgrow waking me up in the middle of the night…needing me to dress you…making a mess every time you eat? And then, I’ll be danged if they don’t do it, and you’re facing your 27th Mother’s Day and the only thing you’re responsible for is getting your own lazy backside into the shower. Your grown children are planning the festivities, preparing the food, and treating you like a queen.

I’m not complaining…exactly. I’m just saying…

I sincerely hope that you have someone in your life who makes you laugh out loud at least once a day. For me, that someone is Tom, the hubby. Tom has many fine qualities, but his most endearing has to be his ability to find humor in nearly every situation, even when the laugh ends up being at his expense. In the more than 10,230 days we’ve been married, it’s no exaggeration to say he’s made me laugh audibly at least 10,000 of them. Yesterday was no exception.

Late yesterday afternoon, I was working in my home office with the windows open. It was a gorgeous spring day, so it came as no surprise that Tom headed straight to the bedroom when he got home from work to swap his dress slacks and pinpoint Oxford for his “play” clothes. On his way back down the hall, he stuck his head in the office and said, “I’m going outside to mow.” Because I was distracted with my own project, I heard the words, but I didn’t absorb their meaning. At most, I managed a grunt in response.

A few minutes later, when I heard Tom ratting around down in the basement and heard the mower start, the neurons in my brain finally fired, and all I could think was, “Oh, crap. I hope he doesn’t try to mow behind the willows.”

We live on just a little over an acre– most of which is high and dry–but the very back of our lot includes a swale that gets downright swampy after a really heavy rain or rapid snow melt. Years ago, we planted a bunch of willows in and around the low spot thinking the water-loving trees would soak up the excess moisture and hide the muddy mess from the rest of the yard during the soggy seasons. It was an un-characteristically brilliant bit of landscaping. The willows have done exactly what we hoped they would do, which means there are truly very few times when the ground is so soggy you can’t maneuver through the swale on foot or on the mower. But still…there are times…

As I mentioned, yesterday afternoon was perfect. Perfect temperature. Perfect blue sky. Perfect southernly breeze. However, the day hadn’t started out that way. The morning had been grey and dreary. More than two inches of rain had fallen overnight onto ground that was already struggling to absorb the rainwater from previous storms. For the last several weeks, walking on the golf course has been like walking on a sponge. Even our yard–which normally drains really well–is squishy in spots where it normally isn’t squishy. Under the circumstances, I wasn’t surprised when I could see standing water under the willows from clear up on the back porch. Surely, Tom wouldn’t take the mower down into that mess, I thought to myself. Surely.

I heard Tom engage the mower blade and head out into the yard. Without giving his activity another thought, I turned my attention back to the computer and began scanning the screen to see where I’d left off. I had just managed to recapture my train of thought when…WEEEEEE, waaaaaaa, WEEEEEEE, waaaaaa, WEE WEEEEE, Waaaaaaa…I froze…WEEEE, waaaa, WEEEEEEEE, waaaaaa…you have got to be shitting me…I got up from my chair and walked over to the window…WEEEEEEE, waaaaaaa, WEEEEEEE, waaaaaa, WEEEEEEE…oh, for the love of …sure enough, Tom and the mower were in the middle of bog, the mower buried up to its back axle in slime…WEEEEEE, waaaaaaa, WEEEEEEE, waaaaaaaaa…Tom was trying to rock the mower out of the mud much like you would rock a car out of deep snow…WEEEEEE, waaaaaa, WEEEEEE…I stood there and watched…WEEEEE, waaaaaaa, WEEEEE, waaaaaaa. I repeat, you have got to be shitting me.

After a few minutes, Tom finally grasped the futility of the situation and shut the mower off. He stepped down off the deck of the mower and into the mud, picking his way gingerly through the willows to the near side of the swale and firmer ground. Oh, and did I mention he was wearing baloney-slice-slick flip-flops? Once on solid soil, he stomped back up toward the house–I guarantee you, cussing all the way–so I returned to my desk. I knew what was coming.



“Can you help me?”

Here’s where things get dicey. We live in a neighborhood of large lot homes. Around here, manhood is measured not by the size of a man’s kick-stand, but by the size of his lawn mower. Mower attachments–seed spreaders, aerators, tillers, snow plows–all earn a guy bonus points. I’m not joking. Tom put a good size riding mower on lay-away two days after we signed the contract to have the house built, weeks before the builder even had a chance to start scratching around in the dirt. But mower fever didn’t stop there. A few years after we moved in, Tom succumbed  to mower envy and bought (cue the heavenly music) The Grasshopper, a professional zero-turn radius mower with a 60-inch deck. We’re talking a manly mower here. He attempted to whitewash the whole business by claiming he’d bought it for our son to use as a way of earning some money, and, admittedly B-man did earn much of his mad money and a good chunk of his college tuition running a rather lucrative mowing business while he was in high school and college, but that’s beside the point.

Tom wanted that mower. He loves that mower. He loves to mow. And, in his defense, I understand why. Tom works in a profession where most projects morph into different projects before they can be completed. He rarely gets to enjoy the satisfaction of seeing a project through to the finish line. With mowing, he gets to complete a project in 45 minutes or less. The grass is long. He gets on the mower and runs it around the yard. The grass is short. The job is done. Ahhhh.

But, again, that’s all beside the point. The point is I can’t drive the dang thing. There’s no steering wheel or anything remotely similar to a steering wheel and/or a shifter to get it to move forward, go in reverse, or turn in the direction you want to go. What it does have is two inverted L-shaped levers, one on either side of the driver’s seat, that you push and pull and yoink around in various combinations to get the mower to move in the direction you want it to go. The two front wheels spin spastically in all directions, and the back tires are so wide you can’t possibly keep them from running over flower beds or getting caught in the neighbors fence. And here was Tom, standing at the top of the stairs, asking if I could help him. Sheezzz. The possibilities weren’t good. The way I figured it, my options were either to stand in the muck and push while Tom splattered me with mud or to get on the mower and try to get it to do what I needed it to do without leaving Tom face down in the gunk or, worse, under the mower. Decisions, decisions.

I followed Tom downstairs and donned a pair of B-man’s huge rubber boots. Tom shoved his bare feet into an equally oversized pair, and we began our trek to the back of the yard, clomping along like a couple of goobers. As we walked, Tom kept looking at me like he expected me to say something, but what was there to say? There was no need to state the obvious.

The decision as to which role I would play in the recovery mission was easy once we reached the mower. The mud stunk. There was NO way I was going to end up covered in that stuff, so I climbed on the mower, and Tom gave me a review lesson on operating the mower while I kept thinking, “Holy crap. I’m going to kill him. I’m going to kill him. Holy crap.” After several anxious minutes of cussing and grunting and pushing and cussing some more, the mower was out, the newly formed ruts in the yard were rapidly filling with water, and we were on our way back up to the house. This time, when Tom looked in my direction, waiting for me to say something, I couldn’t help but smile.

“What?!” he almost yelled.

“What do you mean, ‘What?'” I started snickering. We’ve been married 28 years. He knew what I was thinking. It started with a “dumb” and ended with an “ass.” We kicked off our muddy boots at the edge of the patio. He grabbed the hose and began blowing the mud off the boots as I climbed the stairs, laughing harder with each step. But the time I reached the top step, I was gasping for air. I’m pretty sure he wasn’t laughing then. I couldn’t have heard him over my own guffaws even if he was, but, in typical Tom-fashion, he’s laughing and making snarky comments about the whole escapade now. As I said, it’s a very endearing quality.


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