Thursday, June 23, 2005

Baking a Souffle

Women and their bathroom phobias. It's a topic that needs to be exposed to the light of truth so we can at last be free. Free from the shame. Free from the lies. Free to be and do who we are and what we must! Today, with a sense of righteous purpose, I choose to reveal the truth.

Women use the bathroom for more than putting on makeup and checking their hair.

There, I said it and I'm glad. Glad, I tell you!

While men can happily announce to all and sundry that they need to use the bathroom for its intended purpose (going so far as to even use the WORDS), many women don't share that comfort level. Rarely will you see a woman tuck reading material under her armpit in proud defiance as she marches to the nearest rest room something that Ladies never, EVER talk about(insert your favorite euphemism here). No, most of us prefer to have the world think we're going to "check my souffle," "make a phone call," or "let the dogs out" (three of my personal favorites) as we excuse ourselves and furtively slink down the hallway in search of relief. To further illustrate, I submit the following true story from the archives of my life.

The other week at work my stomach was upset and I couldn't put off the inevitable any longer. Just thinking about what I had to do brought about nearly phobic levels of horror that I was going to have to go public with an intensely private situation.

Luckily, we have a bathroom on Mahogany Row that was once the Executive Washroom but had been reappointed a unisex/unistatus bathroom by the powers of ADA compliance. It's been my own personal rebellion to use that bathroom when the need arises. The benefits are that there's only one commode, so I don't chance running into another soul in there, AND it's superbly satisfying on an emotional level to sort of thumb my nose at all the executives who used to have exclusive rights to this particular sanctuary. Power to the people and all that.

My normal (okay, that may be an oxymoron) way of coping is to enter the sanctuary, turn on the fan, turn on the water, sing a song really loud, and quiver and quake with nerves until finished. If my visit required the use of air freshener, I'd crank the water pressure up to flood stage while spraying enough freshener to produce a fog dense enough to easily choke anyone following me in there.

This day, however, fate was unusually cruel. At the time of my most dire need, the Executive Washroom was filled with an Executive. I was bereft. I was distraught. I was getting sicker by the moment. I had no choice but to use the multi-stalled facilities known as the Ladies Room.

Looking up and down the hallway, waiting until the coast was clear, I made my way there. Fate tossed me a reprieve. Both the little parlor room with the sink, mirror and seating area, AND the stalls (and believe me, I crouched down to check!) were empty. Wheew.

I'd lost my cover of running water (located in the parlor area), noisy exhaust fan (damn them to hell for having an exhaust system in good working order!) and privacy, but I still had access to the air freshener. That was of some comfort, at least. So, I did what I'd come to do, all the while spraying air freshener and praying that no one would come in and realize that I wasn't REALLY checking my souffle.

Feeling better, I left the stall and wandered into the bathroom parlor to wash my hands, check my hair and do the myriad other little things that bring a sense of closure to an otherwise traumatic event like being sick at work.

Glancing in the mirror, a horrified gasp escaped as I noticed that my hair (liberally starched with hair spray that morning) was covered with teeny, tiny flecks of white. Accumulated on my bangs were a gazillion unexploded bubbles from the air freshener which had rained down on me while I had been happily spraying half the can in the stall during my ordeal.

I looked like a flocked Christmas tree. All I needed to complete the holiday theme was a red cardinal perched in my hair and some tinsel.

With a frenzy born of sheer panic, I started slapping my forehead repeatedly with the palm of my hand to make the bubbles GO AWAY! And, of course, that's JUST the moment when my boss walked in.

She grabbed my hand, thinking the stress had finally made me snap, and pulled me over to one of the chairs, all the while oozing concern. "Karen, stop. It'll be okay. You'll be fine. What can I do? What's wro..." That's when she noticed the bubbles that I hadn't been able to kill before she walked in. Watching her expression change from sincere concern to sincere bafflement, she asked "Karen? What's wrong with your hair?"

The flood gates of my psyche opened with a WHOOSH loud enough to be heard in the next building. Babbling incoherently, I stammered out my story. "My stomach...sick...Executive Washroom busy...air freshener...white noise...tiny bubbles...make them go away...Christmas tree...Waaaaaaaa."

Her face changed from bafflement to disbelief to lip twitching amusement in a matter of seconds before she exploded with laughter. My humiliation was complete. Wiping the tears, she stood up, took one good swipe at my flocking with her palm, and left the bathroom while I sat there stupefied and mentally calculated how long it would take for the story to make the rounds of the office.

Five minutes. That's how long.

Coworkers started showing up in my office bearing gifts. I received a vial of perfume, a scented candle, some stomach medication, a Japanese folding fan, and one witty soul even brought a cork! And every ONE of them inspected my hair for the possibility of remaining bubbles with the hope that they would have a good excuse to hit me. Oh, yes. A grand time was had by all.

Ladies, here's the deal. We put things (hopefully just food and drink) into our digestive system, and things (again, hopefully just food and drink) must somehow come out again. It's a natural process. We must learn to find peace with the process. We MUST.

Okay, *I* must. And I will. I really will. Or maybe I'll just find a whole new set of clever euphemisms instead, and learn to point the air freshener away from my hair. ;-)

Thursday, May 05, 2005

It's a Dog's Life

Chasing Tail - As I write this, out of the corner of my eye I can see one of our dogs, Beamer, trying to catch his tail. He's making tight, frantic little circles, nearly spinning off his axis, just to get a taste of that which he thinks he simply MUST have. The very elusiveness of his tail is what makes him so adamant about capturing it. Beamer is cute, but a little dim. Okay, he's the doggie equivalent of a box of rocks when it comes to intellect, but we love him. Of COURSE, he's never going to catch his tail. And if by some miracle he DID, he'd only end up hurting himself by enthusiastically chomping down on it. You can't tell him that, though. He's on a quest. And he's stupid. Lovable, but stupid.

Life Lesson - Lots of energy poured into lots of futile activities usually results in nothing but lots of frustration. And if DO attain your goal, chance are good it's going to be painful in one way or another. So relax. Grab some chocolate. Find a good book and a comfortable chair. Take a nap. Believe me, a piece of tail isn't worth so much angst. Thinking it is is just...well...stupid.

The Princess and the Pee - Cede (pronounced "Sadie" - short for "Mercedes") has at least one redeeming quality. She's cute. Look at this dog and you see a small bundle of blonde Terrier energy that is endearing - for all of five minutes. Stick around longer than that, and you'll see other stuff that's not quite so endearing. Like puddles. Cede is a bed wetter. It doesn't matter who the bed belongs to, or even if it IS a bed. A sofa will do. Or a chair. Even your feet. There's no pea on the planet big enough to disturb the sleep of this princess. After one of her "episodes", Cede will awaken, move to another spot, and promptly fall back to sleep. No remorse. No restitution. She is who she is, and she does what she will. As with Beamer, we love Cede. But we've learned that it's up to us to carry a towel or 12 with us and never sit without first checking for wet spots.

Life Lesson - We all have times when we unintentionally mess up. No one likes the wet spots in life, but they happen. You goofed. You know it. They know it. With a swish of your tail and a nod of acknowledgement and apology for wrongs committed, fix what can be fixed with the towel of your good intentions. Then move on to another life moment and don't look back. Don't let useless regret become the pea that keeps you from trying again.

Discriminating Taste - Jag (short for "Jaguar") is our one-year-old yellow lab. He's the Baby of the family. His head is as big and as solid as a cement block, his body resembles a small tank, and his heart is as soft as a marshmallow. He exudes charm and innocence, and people constantly coo over him. He's got them all fooled. Beneath his dopey grin is the heart and soul of a connoisseur. Jag is responsible for eating my best underwear, my digital camera, two leather wallets, every pair of genuine leather shoes I own, and the occasional steak that he pulls off the kitchen counter. He WON'T eat my 23-year-old maternity panties (don't ask why I still have them; that's another blog entry.), my 100% authentic vinyl wallet, the disposable camera that cost me $5, any of my buy-one-get-one-free shoes from Payless, or the broccoli that was being served with the steak. Jag has his standards, and they won't be compromised.

Life Lesson - When you're cute, you can take anything you want and be safe from recrimination. Wait. That may be true, but it's not the IMPORTANT lesson. The IMPORTANT lesson is that in a world filled with delectable choices, occasionally indulging your taste for quality will usually bring a great deal of satisfaction, if not downright happiness. Go to the four star restaurant rather than McDonalds. Read a piece of literature and let the Purple Passion novel wait for another time. Wear the sexy undies instead of waiting for the "right" occasion. Buy the perfume instead of eternally rubbing your wrist over the sample in Vogue magazine. Go visit your friend instead of picking up the phone. Indulge yourself now and then without regret or harm to others and life will be just a little sweeter.

Always Leave Them Wanting More - Kelsey is the matriarch of the family. She's 14 years old, and became a part of our family before we started naming dogs after cars we'd never be rich enough to own. Kelsey is not going to be with us for very much longer. Her joints are worn out and cause her pain. She doesn't see well anymore, and she's deaf. The cycle of life is drawing to a close for this beloved creature of our heart. She's given us untold moments of joy and love over the course of her life, and I'd like to think that we've given her the same. When Kelsey finally leaves us we'll mourn sincerely and deeply.

Life Lesson - Endings are as inevitable as beginnings. Poets, song writers, philosophers - they've all admonished us to live a life that leaves something behind when it's completed. That something may simply be a smile that warms someone's heart at the memory of you. But make no mistake; we all leave SOMETHING. We are not islands of solitary existence, but are parts of a whole. More than we care to admit, I think, we have the ability to choose what we leave behind. Choose now. Choose well.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

My Child My Heart

Brianna, my youngest daughter, is bursting forth with life. Literally. She's almost six months pregnant and shows no signs of changing her mind about the whole thing.

Every day brings about a new and amazing change to her body, it seems. At the alarming rate her bust is increasing, she'll soon be able to offer nourishment to starving infants all over the world. Bri is now in an F cup and it's conceivable that she won't stop until she hits every letter of the alphabet.

And not just her body. Her emotions, driven to the brink of insanity by hormones and reality, are in constant flux. Everything is changing. Life is happening within her and without. It's amazing stuff.

I love this woman-child who is my daughter. And I know her. She is becoming. She is discovering herself. She is assuming a new role and a new responsibility. And she is scared. She looks in the mirror and doesn't recognize herself anymore. She's not quite ready to fully embrace the reality of what is about to happen to her. She needs to find her way, but she's not sure how to do that.

So she clings a little more tightly to me, using whines and complaints to mask the fears. "I can't find a bra that fits. Will you please go shopping with me?" "I have heartburn. Mom, how can I get rid of it?" "Mom, I can't see my toes. Is there anything below my stomach that I should be aware of?" "Mommy, I need some money to support my craving for poptarts smothered in hot sauce?" "Mom, can you..." "Mom, will you..." "Mom, what do you think..."

And then there are the questions she only whispers. "Will I be a good mother?" "Will he stay with me after the baby is born?" "Will I ever feel beautiful again?" "How will we afford day care and diapers and doctor bills?" "Are you ashamed of me?"

And I ache for her, this child of my body and my heart. She is my own precious daughter. How can I explain the inexplicable? That her life will no longer be hers? That she's embarking on a journey that will forever change her; body, soul, and spirit. And how do I prepare her for the beauty, joy, and pain that will teach her lessons she can't begin to imagine right now?

I can't.

So I do what I can. I go shopping. I scratch her back. I answer her questions as best I can. I hold her. I dry her tears. I reassure. I encourage. I pray. I love.

My child. My heart. With awe, I wait. With hope, I anticipate. With gratitude, I accept the continuing cycle of life.

Monday, April 11, 2005


A sky-filled benediction
Proclaims that day is done.
As whispered vesper glories
Are painted by the sun.

What was to be has happened.
What is to be will come.
Memories of the waning day
Speak hope and joy to some.

To others a reminder
In soft and dappled hues
That time slips by unmindful
Of all that’s left to do.

With brilliant hallelujahs
The sun will rise again.
The promise of a new day
To ask our Why’s and When’s.

But in the glow of twilight
We hear a call to peace.
The fading sun a comfort.
Let fear and struggle cease.

Monday, April 04, 2005

Beauty...It's a Beast!

You know, there are just some inequities in this world that make me mutter under my breath and shake my head in disgust. One that always gets my panties in a twist is the inequity between how men and women approach self-beautification. Oh, sure. It may be society’s fault that women are held to a different standard. It may even be our own fault for buying into that standard, but it’s still a major harrumph in my life. Until men suffer from having ANYTHING waxed in an effort to look more attractive, I don't want to hear them complain about the burdens THEY carry in this area.

I recently took stock of some of my self-improvement rituals, and I've decided that the time has come to confront a few of these beasts of burden and see JUST how critical they are to me. The Critical Rating Scale ranges from 1-10; 1 being the least critical and 10 being a ritual that allows me to leave my bedroom every day.

  • Alignment Issues: No matter how many times you see a man reach down to "adjust" himself, I'm still more than half convinced that they actually enjoy those special moments. I, on the other hand, have decided that I should invest in a laser level to help me get The Girls (lovingly named after those madcap gals, Lavern and Shirley) aligned every morning after they've been safely holstered. There's nothing worse than looking in a mirror at the end of the day only to realize that Lavern has been in a perky mood all day, while Shirley has been a little down, so to speak.
    Critical Rating: 5
    Critical Rating on a Cold Day: 10

  • Brush Strokes: Makeup is a powerful force in a woman's life. We are lured by promises of pearlesque skin, lips that beg to be kissed, and eyes that say "Come hither" with absolutely no shame. While I understand the temptation, I've had too many close calls with evil mascara wands that want to poke my eyes out, and lipstick that ends up on my teeth without my knowledge, so I've just about given up the battle. The sad truth is that no amount of foundation is going to disguise the fact that I'm a 43 year old woman who still suffers from the teenage indignity of occasional blemishes. No artistic application of eye shadow will make my eyes anything other than a gloriously average brown. And no amount of lipstick is going to make my lips whisper an inviting "kiss me" while I continue to enjoy garlic as a condiment in my life.
    Critical Rating: 3
    Critical Rating on "Add a New Picture to My Profile Day": 10

  • Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow: When I was a young lady, I could confine my hair removal to the usual areas: legs, armpits, and eyebrows. As I age, I've noticed that the scope of work and time commitment involved has increased exponentially. I now do a daily once over to check legs, armpits, eyebrows, upper lip, and chin. I think it's a cosmic conspiracy, frankly. Some poor man no sooner loses his hair than it immediately finds its way to a woman somewhere in the universe. It's a sad thing. And it's getting sadder. The other day I actually heard myself mumbling, "I wonder if they make nose hair trimmers for women?" That's just wrong on so many levels. To help in this battle, I have a lovely Vietnamese woman who waxes stuff for me. Her promise is always the same, "I make you look like woman again, Kalen. You see. You be happy with me, Kalen." After the wax and hair has been cruelly RIPPED from my skin, she holds up the removal cloth like a trophy to show me that my $10 was well spent. A necessary evil? Yep. I never want earn the title "Stubbly."
    Critical Rating: 10
    Critical Rating In Low Lighting: 9

I could go on and on. Pantyhose, high heels, underwire bras, perfumes that cost more some third-world countries, jewelry and accessories, matching ensembles, tone, texture, style...we have to consider them all! It's not a thing for the feint of heart.

When my husband rolls out of bed in the morning, HE never looks like he should iron his face! He hops in the shower and emerges five seconds later smelling like Safeguard. A swipe of a deodorant stick, five more seconds with the blow dryer, a couple passes with a razor and he’s done. His only remaining decision is which of his 50 gazillion tee shirts he’s going to wear with his jeans. I think I hate him. I really do.

It’s exhausting being a woman in search of beauty. It’s expense. And it’s damn depressing because despite all the hard work, all the expense, all the hopes for success, you know darn well some smart ass teenage Adonis is going to call you “Ma’am” and offer to help you across the street before the day is over.

When he does? Step on his foot “accidentally" and tell him you poked your eye out with a mascara wand and couldn't see well.

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

LIfe Lessons and Building Nests

A few years ago I was an office manager at an agricultural consulting firm. During the spring, our consultants would take soil samples from farmer’s fields to test them for lime content. Soil testing was dirty, mind-numbing, and tedious work. Because of the sheer volume of testing that had to be done, we would hire seasonal help to perform the tests. This particular story is about Charles, one such temp.

Charles came to our firm right after graduating from a prestigious college with a degree is molecular science. He was a Man of Science. Though he was really sweet, every time I was around him I got tongue tied and shy. I was just so impressed with everything about him; his credentials, his personality, his work ethic, even his appearance. The man was at least 6’ 5” tall! Testing bag after bag of soil in a hot, dusty barn didn’t seem to bother Charles at all. He was grateful to have a job, and he did his best to make sure he earned his paycheck. He was delightful, intelligent, and unassuming. But still! He was a Man of Science! Men of Science know stuff. Important stuff! That was enough to inspire a little bit of hero worship in me.

One afternoon I was enjoying a break from my desk by wandering outside for a few minutes. We were temporarily out of soil to test, and I saw that Michael, the owner of our company, was talking with Charles in the parking lot. When Michael left, Charles disappeared into the barn and came back out a moment later carrying a bucket. As I watched, he stooped over (and at his height, he really DID have to stoop) and started weeding our stone-covered parking lot.

I was appalled! What was he doing? Is this what Michael had told him to do until more soil came in to be tested? This was not the sort of work a Man of Science should be doing! This was busy work! This was menial labor! This was insulting! Pulling weeds, for heaven’s sake? I was horrified, indignant, and just plain miffed on his behalf.

Though I stewed, I noticed that Charles didn’t seem to share my sense of outrage. He was humming while he worked, perfectly content to being doing what he was doing. His humility and easy acceptance only made my harrumph worse. I went back to my desk convinced that Charles was a saint. Simply a saint!

Later that afternoon I made up an excuse to go outside and check on Charles and his progress. He was back in the lab, a truck load of soil samples having been delivered for him to test. There was a pile of weeds waiting to be tossed into the dumpster, and I decided I’d relieve him of that particular duty. It was the least I could do, I felt.

Before I could take a step toward the pile of weeds, the most remarkable thing happened. A robin swooped down to the pile, grabbed some of the weeds with its beak, and flew back to the rain gutter that bordered the barn. He dropped the weeds into the gutter, spent a few moments arranging them, and then flew back to get more to add to his collection. Back and forth he flew, taking what he needed to make his nest. He worked with amazing single-mindedness and purpose. I stood in absolute awe and watched a Life Lesson unfold before my very eyes.

The work that Charles had done, work that I had thought of as menial and demeaning, made it possible for that robin to build a nest. And that nest would someday soon provide a place of safety and shelter for his mate when she laid her eggs, and later raise her young.

I’m sure Charles already knew the lessons that I was learning all over again. Nothing is menial if done with the right heart. Nothing we do is without repercussion, good or bad. Humility is not weakness, it is a strength. Pride is a poor companion that benefits very few. Sometimes the most life-giving gifts are those done with very little fanfare.

Now I know stuff, too. Important stuff.

Monday, March 21, 2005

Life is Like a Box of....Exlax

With all due respect to Momma Gump, I have what I think is a more realistic analogy. Life is like a box of Exlax. It looks good. It even tastes okay. But you know with dead certainty that more often than not someone's going to need a good pooper scooper by the end of the day.

This post is dedicated to all those hard-working, devoted parents who are trying desperately to survive parenthood with their sanity intact, their credit rating out of the toilet, and their blood pressure levels in the safe zone. As if accomplishing those things weren't enough, chances are good that one or more of their children will be trying just as desperately to prove my Exlax analogy. If I were a betting woman, I'd put my money on Mom and Dad as the couple voted most likely to need the old pooper scooper.

Let's explore some of the evidence I have to back up my theory, shall we?

  • My oldest daughter read me the riot act the other day for borrowing one of her necklaces without asking her permission. I had a little trouble feeling bad about this error in judgment on my part because my brain was fogged by the fact that she was wearing my red blouse while delivering her lecture about having respect for the belongings of others. You know the one I'm talking about? The red blouse I bought as a reward for myself for not killing her at birth? The same blouse she immediately claimed as hers when she saw it for the first time, reminding me that, "Muuuuther, you KNOW you don't look good in red. It washes out your color." Uh huh. She was actually HELPING me, you see. This is the same logic that has lost me innumerable pairs of shoes, scads of makeup, and even boxes of tampons. "Muuther, you shouldn't use tampons! You could come down with a nasty case of toxic shock syndrome, and at your age, you'd go just like 'that!'"
  • I have an annoying little habit. I like to shave my legs and armpits with some regularity. So sue me. There are five razors in our shower stall. I'm old, and I confuse easily. Besides, they all look the same to me. And I was desperate. My arm pits either needed a shave or a braid. I opted for the shave. The next morning there was a note on the bathroom counter. "Muuuther, you used MY razor. ALL the razors in the shower are mine. I don't know where yours is. Please open the bag of disposable razors that I got you for Christmas and use one of them in the future." Five razors. She has FIVE razors. I have a disposable and a styptic pencil. I also have razor burn and "skippers" on my legs because I'm not allowed to use her shaving gel, either, but what does THAT matter, eh? Forgive me, Daughter, for I have sinned. Again.
  • I can't wear my favorite perfume anymore. The Daughter has a dog with a VERY sensitive olfactory system. "He SIMPLY can't tolerate anything more strongly scented than Safeguard, Muuther." One whiff of my perfume, and he starts to heave and shudder and starts playing out a death scene that would make Shakespeare proud. I've pointed out to her that this is the same dog who cheerfully sniffs the butt of any creature he comes near, but she swears his "sensitivity" is legitimate. I've been warned that if I continue to use my perfume I'll be eligible for inclusion in the ASPCA's Most Wanted List. It doesn't matter one iota that this dog can produce enough noxious gas to clear out the living room, or even the entire house, with one expulsion of gas. Nooooo. That's "natural." That's "healthy." That's God-awful, that's what THAT is.
  • Talking on the telephone is another problem. At least when I do it. Heaven forbid my talking on the telephone two rooms away should provide such a distraction that she can't concentrate on one of her 30+ weekly episodes of CSI! You know me. I'm just a barrel of distracting fun. Who in their right mind could easily pass up the opportunity to listen in to one of my phone conversations when I'm explaining my latest experiment with using hemorrhoid cream for eye puffiness? Then there's the problem with my breathing. I do it. That's the problem. "Muuuther, could you PLEASE stop making that racket while I'm trying to listen to the radio? Honestly, you should have that checked!" What? WHAT? The air goes in, the air goes out. How have I transgressed? As far as I can tell I don't wheeze. Nothing comes shooting out of my mouth or nose that shouldn't. And I SWEAR, if I feel the urge to snore, I quickly take myself off to my bedroom where I can do so without tumbling whole civilizations. Sheesh.
  • She "needed" to borrow my car the other day. And the day before that. And the day before THAT. But the latest instance of borrowing was needed because she had to go pick up some dinner for herself at McDonald's. She had to go to McDonald's because the balanced, healthy meal that was prepared for her didn't suit her craving du jour. She had to go herself, rather than asking either her Dad or me to go FOR her, because her father was away, and I was on my near-death bed with a rotten cold. Go figure. She needed to borrow MY car because her snazzy little two-door Cougar doesn't have cup holders, and she didn't want to risk a spill on her leather upholstery. MY leather upholstery, however, isn't worthy of being protected from stains because I drive a big, honking SUV. The obvious correlation here is that I lost the last of my "cool" genes the moment I bought the Explorer and thus gave up my right to care about whether I sit in a pool of spilled sticky soda goo. Coolness has its privileges, and I abdicated mine.

I love my daughter. I really do. But sometimes I think that if I don't assert myself I'm just going to curl up into a withered ball of Muuther Putty and start dribbling when I try stand up to her petty tyranny. Sooo...

The other day while she was out of the house I gave her dog a teeny, eeny, weeny bite of an Exlax and let him "play" in her room for a few hours. When she discovers his indiscretion, I'll calmly hand her the pooper scooper and remind her that parenthood can really be a bitch sometimes.

And then I'll go downstairs and breathe REALLY loud, just because I can. :-D