Thursday, December 30, 2010

Five Things I Love About My Mom

It's been a rough night for me. Friday will mark a full year's passing since I lost my mom to leukemia. But rather than wallow in grief, tonight I make the conscious decision to be happy that we had the sort of relationship that is so devastating to end. So here is a list of 5 things I love about my Dee, in no particular order.

1. She was hilarious. One time, she took my best friend Katie and me to see a movie at the drive-in. We stopped on the way to get a bucket of chicken to take with us. She left us in the car while she ran in the KFC, and when she came back out to the car she looked flustered and said, "Well that was a finger lickin' experience."

Another time her boss brought in his girlfriend, a model type with elongated features. He said, "Isn't she exotic?" to which she replied, "Yeah, she looks like a giraffe."

One time, she put icing all over a phone book and served it up as birthday cake.

2. She was spunky. In her younger days, she dated a guy named Johnny Lemon. Johnny drove a cherry red mustang with Woody Woodpecker painted on the hood. He gave her his drop, a gold pendant of his initials, to signify that they were going steady. He had given the same drop to all his other steadies and gotten it back when they broke up. When I helped her clean out her garage a couple of years ago, we came across it. Take that, Heartbreaker!

She got a memo one day at work that was addressed to everyone, but was really just for her. It said that everyone working there had to take up a full parking spot. She had been parking her motorcycle on the yellow line between the cars belonging to the president and VP of the company.

3. She threw great parties. Dee could put together a spectacular event on any budget. She helped me throw the best wedding anyone's ever been to, if I say so myself. But she also made her regular office meetings something to look forward to. In fact, they called her back for years after she retired to help plan conventions. Nobody could do it like her. She did things people would have never thought of. For my 13th birthday, back when I was obsessed with the local hockey team, the OKC Blazers, she helped me plan a bowling party. But when I showed up, my favorite player in the league was there to join us, as well as one of his teammates.

4. She wrote one hell of a letter. When someone wronged her or someone she cared about, she wrote letters so well-worded and scathing that I could hardly proofread them for her without feeling an amount of pity for the recipient, which was nearly always expressed as a nervous laugh because I cannot handle confrontation. When a friend of hers was asked to retire from her 30-year post as church secretary, she wrote a letter to the board of elders, naming names and listing in detail the ways in which this person had helped them. "She planned your mother's funeral. She taught your son in Sunday school. She arranged food for your family while you were in the hospital," and so on. Then she started a new church.

5. She retained her east Texas drawl. It doesn't say anything about her character, but this is the one that makes me cry as I write. Not being able to hear her voice has been one of the hardest parts of being without her. She had such a distinct sound that everybody knew her immediately by voice. People with whom she had only had phone contact knew her at once when they heard her speak in person. Once, back in the poor days, she wanted to apply for a line of store credit without our adorable salesman (who called her "My Dear" the whole time) knowing if she was denied. So we left the store and she called back to handle it all. Our little salesman answered the phone, and when she spoke her first word, he had the only appropriate reaction to hearing her voice: "Dee!" So much for being sneaky.

So there you have it. Five of a million things I cherish about our time together. I've said this same thing a thousand times over, but it still holds true. Anyone who knew her was fortunate; the only people who should mourn are the ones that never knew her.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Here's a story

Have you ever thought of something from your childhood and, for the first time, realized you've never properly reasoned out the events with an adult's mind? Not like you just forgot about it or something and then one day it popped into your head. I'm thinking more of something that came to mind occasionally throughout the years and you just never challenged your then-assumptions. Ever do that? Well, it happened to me once at least. I was embarrassingly old, maybe around 23, when it happened.

One year I was She-Ra for Halloween. This was in the early 1980s, so the costume was more or less a trash bag or, more accurately, a plastic pillow case with arm holes and a picture of She-Ra's body stamped on it. It was certainly nothing sophisticated. And it came with a mask, too. It was the kind of mask where there's a picture of She-Ra's face and then three ovals cut out so I could see and breathe. It was awesome. I wore it to the Temple, my Jewish preschool where nobody was Jewish except for one of the teachers, Mrs. Goldman. But we did sing a happy birthday song to the tune of the dreidel song any time anyone got older.

This particular year, I was going to fool everybody. I was going to leave my mask on the entire day and nobody would know it was me. And I really had them going, too. The highlight of my prank came while we were out on the playground. I very casually planted myself near a group of chatting teachers and listened in on their conversation. I heard my name, followed by inquiries as to my whereabouts. They said I would sure be sad to have missed such a fun class Halloween party, and that they wished I had come to school that day. Success! I was so proud of myself. I went home and told my mom.

Fast forward several years. I was telling this story to some friends one day in a discussion about Halloween costumes of our youth when it dawned on me that the teachers had put on that whole show about me missing school because they knew all along that it was me in the trash bag costume! You see why 23ish can be considered old in this case! It is not as though I was surprised to find that my teachers outwitted me at that age. In fact, it would have been surprising if they had not. But for some reason, I had never reworked my 6-year-old perspective. And how disappointing for me, now. I may never have a costume that convincing again.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Kids' Shows and Art Shows

I know I said I wouldn't post about parenting, and I'll have you know this post doesn't count because I've been watching Yo Gabba Gabba since before I was even pregnant. It's cool. It's got a regular segment featuring Biz Markie beat boxing. Mos Def was a guest star. Bands like The Roots and The Shins play on it. That counts as cool.

A while back, I watched an episode where the gang put on an art show. At the end, they all went around unveiling art as they sang about each other's pieces with lyrics something like, "Ooh! Ahh! Muno, that's awesome! You made such a great sculpture! Way to go, good job!" But then, at the end, they unveil poor Tutti's art, and it is a disaster. It actually begins to collapse under its own weight, and nobody can even tell what it is. If this were the real art world, it would be dubbed ephemeral and abstract and, subsequently, sold for a few million dollars. Unfortunately, the Gabba crew have a really pedestrian take on art and don't appreciate it for what it is. But, ever positive, they continue to sing. "Ooh! Ahh! Tutti, that's fantastical. You tried really hard! Way to go, good job!" And everybody's happy because, even though Tutti's art was horrendous, she did her best and that's what matters.

Quite unfortunately for a beginning artist like me, that's not how it really works. When you are starting out, people look at your crappy paintings and use appropriate words to describe them. Then, as you get better, so do the reviews. And the critiques match your rising skill level up to a point, and then you start doing weird stuff like performance art and people still speak well of you somehow. But I'm at the first stage, so that's where we'll focus.

People don't like ugly paintings. And because of that, I am a bit shy about trying to sell my work. In fact, I'm a little shy talking about art and, more specifically, myself as an artist. It just sounds weird and pretentious, since I'm still a student and all. I usually go with, "I'm taking some art classes." I have a few really nice friends and some generous relatives who have helped me stay in canvas and brushes by taking a painting off my hands, but I've only ever made one sale to a stranger, and that one doesn't even count because it was The Ugliest Painting You've Ever Seen. I'm convinced it only sold because I priced it for what it was worth.

Today was the second student art show/sale in which I've entered some work, and I sold a whole four paintings! And, as far as I know, I don't know the folks that bought them! I can say I moved up in the art world, if only by a few tiny baby steps. I wouldn't say I'm a "working artist" just yet, but this definitely beats taking online surveys.


Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Things I Like About Lindy Hop

I mentioned swing dancing as one of the five things I like in my first post, alongside carbs and Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy. But this post isn't about eating pastries with Colin Firth; it's about Lindy Hop.

If you know me, you've heard me talk about taking lessons at Boulder Swing Dance. There are several reasons I keep going back for more, outside of the fact that it's my one guaranteed responsibility-free window every week. For one, I love my instructors. They have the class organized well, keep the mood light, and are able to distill the dance enough that a person like me can do it. That's another thing I like: I can do it. Despite being overweight, out of shape, and without rhythm (think Navin Johnson), I can do it. It's not full of stunts that involve me tossing myself up in the air or, even worse, my partner catching me. I like that it's old timey. I like the music we dance to. I like the clothes, the shoes, the hair and makeup. I like it's roots, it's spunk and it's spirit. I like that the point of it is to dance with as many people as you can instead of trying to find someone to take home. I like just about everything about the Lindy Hop, right down to it's name, which brings me to my current favorite part: the names of the moves.

I'm not certain any justice would be done to these great names if I bury them in paragraphs, so here's a plain ol' list of my favorites:

Shim Sham
Tranky Doo
Shorty George
Boogie Back
Sugar Push
Texas Tommy
Tacky Annie

How anybody could not get excited about a move called Tacky Annie is beyond me, even if transitioning out of it in the Shim Sham is the hardest thing I've ever done, save Long Legged Charleston, which got embarrassingly close to killing me. But that's another story for another day.*


*Actually, the story is pretty short. Once upon a time, I tried Long Legged Charleston and was really, really bad at it. The end.

Monday, November 22, 2010


One of my favorite things is a good mashup.  For instance:

But I also have a sweet spot for stuff like this: 

Sunday, November 21, 2010


This is my first Thanksgiving without my mom, which is the stupidest thing I can think of right now.  Why on Earth would Thanksgiving happen without her?  Growing up, the holiday was really no big deal.  We visited my grandparents and cooked up a storm and it was lovely, but it didn't take on any significance for me until much later.

My grandparents died right around the beginning of high school, so they no longer hosted the gathering.  It was just me, my mom and my sister at that point.  We had a discussion about it one day and decided that, rather than spend the morning cooking an elaborate meal and the afternoon cleaning up after ourselves, we should do something simple and enjoy our day off.  So we grabbed some hot dogs and headed to the park.  I brought my little tent, a gift I wanted so badly and never actually used for camping (though it was nearly constantly pitched in our otherwise-unused second living room) and we all sat in it and ate hot dogs and potato salad off of paper plates and chatted.  It was delightful.  As the afternoon wore on, I thought of the one improvement that could have been made.  I called up my best friend, Katie, and she was done with her meal, so her dad drove her over to meet us.  We ran around the Shakespeare in the Park set, which was abandoned at this time of year.  We repeated that tradition for years.  Park, tent, hot dogs, Katie.

When my sister and I had both married and had other obligations for the holiday, the tradition changed.  My mom started having Thanksgiving with my cousin here in Colorado.  Kristen is friends with a great group of people, many of whom don't always feel like traveling or have anywhere in particular to go for the holiday.  Together, all these strays and stragglers make a crowd large enough to warrant the cooking.  The first Thanksgiving for Strays I recall involved my cousin ordering a whole billion pints and quarts of side dishes from Whole Foods and warming them over for whoever came.  My mom, always the hostess, saw to it that a proper feast was presented the next year.  The year after that, and every year after, it was held at her house.  It became Dee's holiday.  People would come over and eat and cook and chat for hours after the meal was complete.

Last year was her last Thanksgiving, and we spent it in her tiny little apartment in Oklahoma.  She was staying there while receiving chemotherapy.  She was sick and fragile, but happy as always to entertain a crowd.  This year, the torch has been passed and I will host the Thanksgiving for Strays.  I'll try my hand at her dishes, bake my first turkey and be thankful that, even though they never really got to know one another, my daughter will grow up experiencing this piece of my mom.


Thursday, November 18, 2010

Oh man, those are some ugly pants

Let's talk about clothes for a minute.  Specifically, clothes for fat people, since that's what I wear.  It's hard enough for people my size to fit into our own jeans, which were bought specifically for fitting into, without having to worry about fitting in with trendy people.

Like any other fat (or curvy, real, or pleasantly plump, etc.) girl, I shop at Lane Bryant.  For the most part, I respect their take on how fatties can still be cute.  But every now and then, they come up with something like this.  If you follow that link, you will see plus-size cargo leggings.  Yes, cargo leggings.  Let's ignore for the moment that plus-sized people rarely have any business in leggings.  I own a pair or two myself under the strict assumption that they are at least 2/3 covered (tall boots and long shirt) any time they leave the house.  But why, why, would you want a cargo pocket on your leggings?  Maybe it's because they don't have real pockets?  Yes, that's right; they stitched on "faux pockets" at the top because, as everyone knows, pockets have no business on leggings.  They make you look bumpy and weird.  So they decided against putting a pocket at the top of the leggings which, no matter what size you are, should always be covered by a long shirt anyway, and moved it to the only part of the legging that has any business being seen.  And not only that, but if you look at the detail, they added some weird lines that go around the circumference of the leg just above and below the knee to really draw your attention to how icky that area looks with a pocket attached.  They don't even look good on the model, and that's the place you know they will look at least ten times better than they do on you!

Way to do it wrong, Lane Bryant.  Or should I say Lame Bryant?  (Zing!)

I should give them credit, though.  At least they try to give us nice garments, unlike so many other stores that sell things like this and this once you move out of the smaller sizes.  And they put forth the effort to show their leggings, even the hideous ones, on nice-looking models with fancy shoes, as opposed to their sister store, Fashion Bug.  But even so, it's going to take a while before I can forgive them for cargo leggings.  At least until the next sweater sale.


Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Snowmobile

My family is overrun with good storytellers.  I found this out in 1995 when we had our first family reunion.  We all sat under a big, white tent in my aunt's driveway in Virginia while my mom and her siblings told all the family's stories.  Some were old standbys, like the time Jimmy and Art opened all the Christmas presents.  Others shed light on decades-old mysteries.  We found out, after multiple years and theories, who actually put the beer under the wash house.  It was Jack, who also confessed to accidentally shooting the neighbor's mule with a gun he had purchased on the sly.  The highlight, for me at least, was my uncle Dan's infamous Snowmobile Story.  You can hear it for yourself.  That dork in the overalls is me.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

An introduction

I've had this blog for a week now and haven't written anything yet.  I have started thinking in narrations.  "My least favorite part of going to the store has always been...  No, that will be boring.  My MOST favorite part of going to the store..."  and so on.  Today, I pull the trigger.  Here is my first post.

A friend asked me what this blog is to be about.  At least I already knew that bit.  It's about me.  Duh.  But it's certainly not about me as a parent.  In fact, my intention is to include (and hopefully discover) as much about myself as I can without discussing parenting.  And in categorically eliminating that topic, it becomes the basis for this entire project.  After all, I wouldn't need to be reminded of myself if I hadn't, like so many other mothers I've encountered, forgotten about whatever it was that excited me a few years ago.

So, as a jumping off point, here is a list of five things I like (in no particular order) other than my immediate family.  It's a game I play from time to time to cheer myself up.  I'd love to hear your list, too.

1.  Swing dancing, even if I'm not that good.
2.  Painting, even if I'm not that good.
3.  Baking, at which I am excellent.  Seriously, you've never lived until you've had my Kentucky pound cake.
4.  Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy as portrayed by Colin Firth.
5.  Carbs.

And there you have it.  Welcome to my blog.