Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Birthday Attitude, Spoiled and Sweet Romance


This month I turned 35, and I decided at last to become a diva. It's a late start, I know. It's also a little challenging, because I have never dyed my hair, use a blow dryer and curling iron only on Sundays, am too cowardly to use liquid eyeliner, don't buy designer clothes (not even at reduced prices), and have never in my whole life - brace for this! - gotten a manicure or pedicure.

But true divas know that you can keep your naturally flat, boring hair, eclectic style, smeary eyes, and uncured nails and still knock the town sideways with your attitude. And I've got that in spades - especially at certain times of the month. Ask my husband.

So I prepared for my diva birthday by throwing out my previous down-to-earth plans for hiking and picnicking with my family and instead demanding that Matthew take me out to an ultra fancy restaurant, one like we have never known in all our married life. Though previously my frugal tendencies might have gotten in the way, I was about to turn 35, an age known for reckless enjoyment of surf and turf dinners.

I threatened to get my hair professionally done for the occasion. Matthew didn't flinch. He said I could get a mani/pedi, too - maybe even take a friend for moral support if I had a fear of uppity strangers filing my nails and exfoliating my feet with sharp utensils. So, as any true diva would, I demanded, "Why? Do you want me to get a manicure? Do you think I need one?"

"No, I don't think you need anything. I just thought it would be nice."

"Well, I hate fake nails!"

"You don't have to get fake nails. They can do stuff with the nails you have, you know."

"Like what?" I asked suspiciously.

"Paint them."

"Oh...well, I can do that myself."

I skipped the forbidding mani/pedi and began devious diva plans by dragging my clan to the mall a week before my birthday, so that my entourage could help me pick out a new, enticing perfume for the date night (having just discovered that my man was so-so about the one I had been wearing). Inexperienced as I am in this, I caved in to sentimentality when I spied Elizabeth Arden Sunflowers in a perfume boutique. I jumped, clapped my hands like a simple girl, and exclaimed, "Ooh, you have Sunflowers?!" It wasn't even expensive, yet I had to have it. My brother Nate and sister Annie had bought it for my birthday when I was a teenager, and one spritz of that bright perfume took me straight back to Tennessee. Named as it is after big, yellow, happy flowers, its whole essence warmed me.

I knew a different, more expensive perfume was Matthew's favorite, so I asked with puppy-dog eyes and clasped hands, "Do you mind, Honey?"

He didn't. He understands I'm a sucker for nostalgia. I almost suggested we get both, but I wouldn't be greedy. So I dropped a hint about Christmas.

Afterward, I forced my peeps to shop for a pair of curvy jeans (because real divas have curves), and we spent in excess of $40 on the dark-washed, long-legged pair which made me feel quite naughty.

To top off a truly lovely, successful shopping trip, Matthew bought me a box of chocolates, all dark, and I stuffed some in my mouth before we even got home, as any self-respecting diva would.

***********************************


There was something about this birthday. I don't fully understand myself what slapped me silly over this number. 30 barely got a nod from me, but 35 felt important. I would like to say my desire for a special evening was because I wanted to celebrate years of continuous blessings, because my life has been just that, but it wasn't that pure. Insecurity pinched my brain, too.

With a recent promotion at work, Matthew has been traveling more and has attended some very nice work dinners with his fellow professionals in town and out of it. Those fancy dinners made me jealous, I'm sorry to admit. Were all of Matthew's decadent meals to be eaten with coworkers? Was I destined to become the boring, homebody wife, not quite a bona-fide writer, with whom he ate take-out pizza on the occasional Friday night?

That was why I requested the fancy restaurant, and I wanted him to choose it for me. I wanted pampering; I wanted romance; and I wanted to make memories together over our own delicious entrees. Plus, I had a little black dress, purchased on a whim months before, that I had yet to wear. It would be perfect.

My 35th was on a Saturday, and we were going out on Sunday night. Though there was a small misunderstanding about who was supposed to find the restaurant, by Friday afternoon Matthew had it all planned.

My husband snuck out of our bedroom Saturday morning and kept shushing the kids, but I had trouble sleeping in; I was too excited. Some minutes after I heard my family leave for the store, I went out to see the birthday sign my children had made for me. I picked out each contribution to the banner easily; they all have their own distinct artistic styles and color preferences. The sign was so beautiful that I sent my husband a praising text.

I was cleaning our house for the new babysitter when Matthew and the children walked in with flowers, balloons, and a very tall salted-caramel mocha, my favorite. As I sipped my skinny, decaf mocha with whipped cream, slowly getting the jitters, Matthew told one of the kids to retrieve a small bag for him from their toy cupboard. Inside was a bottle of J'adore, that other expensive, sensual perfume.

"You shouldn't have," I told him bashfully. "We're going out for that fancy dinner."

That afternoon he made my cake while I watched an old movie with the kids, and later I painted my nails a deep coral color and became so mesmerized by them that I held my hands out in front of me like a sleepwalker, admiring them wherever I went. Having been years since I last painted them, I forgot how pretty they could look.

That day I was joyful, and there could not have been a better finale to it than to eat the pumpkin-chocolate cake that is my forever birthday cake. It has veggies, chocolate and spices without yucky frosting to mess the glorious combination up. The recipe is HERE.

***************************

Matthew advised me to bring a shawl on our date. That was confusing. October in Phoenix is like June in other places. But I grabbed a fiery orange-red pashmina.

I had curled my hair, and for once it really turned out. It must have had something to do with that Freeze Hold hairspray I borrowed from my son. My new black dress, turquoise jewelry and older but sexy black heels complimented each other nicely. I did a smoky eye that didn't look like it'd been applied with a crayon and wore red lipstick.

We drove to Scottsdale and pulled up in front of Ruth's Chris Steakhouse. That was completely unexpected. Birthday confetti was thrown on our table. We had a veal ravioli appetizer that elicited sighs of satisfaction. We drank wine, and after one glass I was ready to sleep in that circular booth for a couple hours (it was already 8:30pm, after all), but then I ordered onion rings with my crab cakes - yes, onion rings - and they were the most delicious breaded onion slices I have ever had. Matthew and I both devoured them, and their wonderful seasoning perked me right up. The steamed mushrooms also were heaven, but the desert they brought with my name written beautifully in chocolate - in chocolate! - was truly divine.

Matthew took me on a short drive after the restaurant, and my anticipation and confusion grew as we slowly made our way up a manicured road to a golf club. It was deserted. As Matthew bent over his phone anxiously, I realized we weren't quite where we were supposed to be for the second act of our evening.

He soon found the place off a winding side street. It was a Hyatt Regency resort, hidden by gigantic palm trees, like sentinels in the darkness. Holding Matthew's hand as we threaded our way through the immaculate grounds and pristine lobby, I wondered why we were there. Were we going to see a jazz concert? Go dancing? Have another decadent chocolate desert? Were we getting a room?

Matthew asked the ladies at the concierge desk, "Where are the gondola rides?"

"You're taking me on a gondola ride?"

I felt a little weak in the knees.

The rides were in the small man-made lake behind the ridiculously ornate adult pool. Matthew had to jimmy the pool gate to gain access. Here more gorgeous, skyscraper palms marched beside the sparkling water. We turned a corner and spied the gondolier in his tell-tale striped shirt, black pants and mustache. Two couples were there before us, so we sat on the broad lip of a fire pit that sparked our clothes and smoked our hair, but its warmth was welcoming and romantic. I was grateful for it and the shawl and Matthew's encircling arm, despite the fact that he kept pinching my bum.

The enchantment increased when we heard the gondolier's powerful voice singing Italian somewhere over the water.

I was excited when out turn came, giggling over my difficulty in stepping down into the gondola with those shoes and that dress. We faced away from the gondolier who said after a minute, "So, obviously we're dating..."

I laughed. "We're married."

He asked if it was our anniversary. My birthday, I told him.

"I knew it must be special occasion. Both dressed to the nines."

He sang Happy Birthday to me, but I didn't recognize it - despite the fact that my name was mentioned - because it was sung slowly in Italian. We then told him we had been married 13 years, had two girls and two boys, and he told us of his own five boys and one daughter, the one his wife had been waiting for.

"Now, Hillary, where are you from?" he asked. He said I had an accent. Matthew and I laughed. I have been accused of having an accent all my life, but people are at a loss to place it. Am I French? Irish? Spanish? English? I've heard them all. I usually tell them Tennessee, and they respond skeptically, "Well, maybe that's it..."

Next he serenaded us with a charming Neapolitan song about kissing, explaining that in it a man was describing his girl's sweet little mouth with its cute pucker and how he couldn't resist it. It was performed so well in his clear tenor as we slid through that dark water beneath a crescent moon and stars, I was inspired and would have passionately kissed Matthew, but the gondolier was watching and seemed a little nervous we might get amorous.

As we stepped out at the end, he told us we didn't look old enough to be married 13 years with four kids, and I thanked him profusely, assuring him that we don't hear that often. Then Matthew and I strolled past the magnificent pool once more and through the rest of that grand resort, holding hands, headed home.

It was such a wonderful, unexpected gift from Matthew, the memory of how he surprised me with an idyllic gondola ride on my birthday. My 35th was really special, more so than this diva could have dreamed, thanks to my romantic man.


Thursday, October 9, 2014

The Sexualization of Our Girls Must Stop

Recently I read an interview in USA Weekend with the actors of "Men, Women and Children", a new film soon in theaters that I hope never to see, because it sounds completely cynical of human relationships, depressing, alien to my own view on life and filthy. The conversation centered around the effects of technology on modern existence, and though I am not hyper-connected through social media, I thought much of what was expressed was thought-provoking and a little terrifying. For instance, one of the teenaged actresses said she knew of many girls her age who regularly post revealing pictures of themselves on twitter or Instagram and that they are the ones who by far have the most likes and followers.

Now think about that. Teenage girls are dealing regularly in sexual commerce to gain validation. They are wielding their bodies as currency for acquiring recognition, power, and "followers". And their male counterparts are feeding on all these thin, heartless images. Sexting also continues to be a common practice. These girls will no doubt heartily regret these wholesale choices later when they grow wiser, smarter, and learn to value themselves as more than objects of sexual gratification.

The reality of this makes me furious, but if we think that our young women will be the only ones to suffer from this shallow pandering to the lowest common denominator of human interaction, we are blind. The young men are exposing themselves to a cancer of character that I believe will hamper successful, meaningful relationships with members of the opposite sex for their entire lives if they do not have positive role models.

The world is a crazy, lop-sided place, and it appears to be losing its depth with a lot of help from the media, social or otherwise. This has to stop, if not at large than at the home of concerned parents and guardians. To read more about the sexualization of girls, you can read this scary report by American Psychological Association.

What can we do? The article gives a few ideas, but there is also our own common sense and moral compass. Since, as the article points out, women are the ones far more likely to suffer from objectification and thus self-objectification, we can begin as moms by striving not to be vain and immodest ourselves and then by nulling the unhealthy emphasis on our daughters' appearance. I have seen little girls dressed up in crop shorts and halter tops, and it saddens me to think they may have lost a sense of their own childhood while being blasted with sexual messages from the mad world of computers, smartphones and television sets.

We also need to limit our daughters exposure to the sexualization of women and girls by turning off commercials that use women as erotic bait, by watching movies with our young kids and not allowing them to see ones with inappropriate sexual content, by speaking to our older children about media-literacy and by limiting their activity on social media and on smartphones until later teen years if at all possible, and by communicating with them often about this issue whenever an image, article or post brings it to the forefront.

But I also think it is absolutely vital that men, fathers especially, play a role in combating this. I think the most important thing a man can do for his children is to show love and respect for his wife, his mother, daughters and all women by his proper attitude toward them. In short he should revive the concept of honor and behave like a gentleman. A man's son and daughter should not hear him speak or see him ogle images of women that will lead them to believe that he values women based solely on their sexual desirability. That means not making a raunchy comment about the young woman in a low-cut blouse, jeggings or short skirt who passed you in the mall or sporting goods store.

It means we must all stop taking it for granted that women are being prostituted daily to the public eye, because it should not be that way. It is unfair; it is degrading; and it perpetuates the lie that we are valuable only if we meet demeaning standards of physical attractiveness and promiscuity, a lie that leads our young women to send a portfolio of suggestive pictures to boys who do not respect them and do not respect themselves. This is a vicious, poisonous cycle. Do we really want to live in that society? It has to stop. We need to teach our young men to reject the paper-thin world of erotica, to become gentlemen who know how to interact with real, whole women, to be respectful, self-controlled. And we need to teach our young women how to truly value their bodies, protect their dignity and be confident in their whole selves as talented, intelligent, compassionate people.

We must do this as parents. The media will not help us. Let's turn the tide for posterity.


Modesty, That Hard Battle

I'm just going to say it. I have struggled, and I still do struggle with modesty. I wore a tube top on my honeymoon, and unfortunately I have the pictures to prove it. (Stinkin pictures!) During the early years of marriage, I sometimes donned a tight, short jean dress that I can't believe I ever wore out in public. And even now I must confess that my favorite everyday look is a simple, brightly-hued tank top with a pair of  dark jeans.

Sigh.

What is so ironic about my past and present clothing choices is that there is nothing I hate so much in mainstream media as the constant glorification of immodesty. I absolutely despise ridiculous commercials with fully attired men gawking at women in string bikinis - worse yet if the women are giggling like idiots. I am furious that it is always women's bodies that are used as advertising bait for everything from alcohol to fast food to vehicles.

I do my best to turn these commercials as quickly as possible. My daughters should not be exposed to these cardboard cutouts of our sex or feel compelled to compete with flimsy portrayals of womanhood. I am upset that my 12-year-old son is bombarded with these cheap (because they are so very easy to come by) but alluring images as he watches anything from a football game to a sitcom. If I am not careful, all my sons and daughters will be slowly inculcated into a culture of progressive immodesty by a bombardment of redundant and insidious but attractive messages.

So I turn the channel as quick as I can, and likewise I turn the radio in the car when songs about hot girls in tight jeans or short dresses at a drunken party come on. (My kids all like country music, but the aforementioned lyrics are a common problem with the formulaic genre aptly dubbed "Bro Country" by a music critic.)

Women have always been judged more based on appearance than men. I know that. I also know it is the reason why so many of us struggle with modesty. An unhealthy competition among the female sex has been praised and an unhealthy appetite in males has been encouraged by all forms of media. And we pay for it in the ways we treat each other based on these appearances.

The last thing I want to do as a mother and wife is to speak one message while projecting another. I do not want to be a hypocrite. It's a hard battle. We none of us want to be frumpy or plain, but we also, I sincerely hope, do not want our cleavage or bum ogled by every weak male who passes by or to scandalize others with our "daring" wardrobe choices that rival the outfits of music video performers.

This has been brewing for awhile in my mind, and today I read some very interesting takes on modesty, and I thought they hot the nail straight on the head. They are from a Christian perspective, because I don't think modesty is valued very highly in the secular sphere, as is pretty obvious.

Modesty is an Opportunity to Love examines how modesty shows love and respect for ourselves and others, including the men in our community. Jennifer Fulwiler also wrote about how it improves female friendships in Modesty Helps Women Be Friends. That last one is spot on. Lies I Tell Myself About Modesty is perfect to share with daughters or young friends who are fighting to retain their dignity and freedom on this important issue.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

A Fall Tradition



I have not written lately, but I have excuses. This week I was making eucalyptus wreaths and baskets with my children. The wreaths are a yearly tradition. We usually make our first one in October.


The baskets I first dreamed of this year. Yes, neither wreath nor basket is perfect. They are not classically beautiful. They're, shall we say, interesting. Nevertheless, when I completed that first basket above, I giggled like a little girl as I bragged to my husband, "Can you believe I made a basket? A basket! And I almost gave up so many times!"

That is so very true. It cramped my fingers, stained their tips sage green, and strained my upper arm muscles as I attempted to jam supple, slender branches through the stacked wreaths to weave them. The lattice work on the bottom was pitiful, not properly patterned at all, but I believe it will hold.


And then we made another one today, my children and I. We sat on a picnic blanket between the two huge Eucalyptus trees in the front yard, and we trimmed young, green branches from the tree, stripped their leaves gently, and then rolled them into several small wreaths. After that concentrated effort of an hour or so, most of my children left the communal quilt to seek the relaxation of television indoors. Analisa and I stayed. She collected Bermuda hay for a witch's broom she had designed from a sturdy, gnarled branch. I broke the poor fingers of our generous Eucalyptus again and again as I weaved and fumed. Yet I prevailed. Our completed, collaborative basket is the one on the left. Not too bad, if I do say so myself.



Friday, September 26, 2014

Goodnight Sweetheart

I have always sung special songs to my children. Some I have made up. Some are songs written by my dad or by the Canadian folk singer Gordon Lightfoot. Goodnight, Sweetheart, Goodnight by the Spaniels was always a favorite for my Analisa. I changed the lyrics to these:

Goodnight Sweet Ana
It's time to sleep
Goodnight Sweet Ana
It's time to sleep
I hate to leave you
But I must say
Goodnight Sweet Ana, Goodnight

Goodnight Sweet Ana
I love you, I do
Goodnight Sweet Ana
Pleasant dreams for you...

Nearly every night of her babyhood and toddler years I sang it as I swayed about the room with her in my arms.

Another classic, Hush, Little Baby, is the song I have sung most often to my babies. But, no, it's not the version most know.

On my oldest son Berto's first Christmas, my sister Vinca sent him a new version written and illustrated by Sylvia Long. In the introduction to it, she wrote that the original version about a parent offering to buy her baby all sorts of things always bothered her. So she created one to "encourage children to find comfort in the natural things around them and in the warmth of a mother's love." She did a beautiful job writing about a hummingbird, the evening sky, an old teddy bear, lightning bugs, and a harvest moon. I learned her book by heart, and its words are those I sang to my Berto. I am still singing it every night to his four-year-old brother. Danny holds my hair in his hands as I sit on the floor by his bed, and if he thinks he may not get his song, he is distraught. So sometimes when Papa has tucked him into bed, has sung him The Gambler - yes, The Gambler - and told him it's time to sleep, I have snuck in to see my little guy for a quick Hush Little Baby to cure his tears.

For my Gabriella I broke the norm and created an all new song this past year in honor of her love of Batman:

Neener, neener, neener...Batgirl!
Neener, neener....Goodnight!
Neener, neener, neener...Batgirl!
Goodnight
Sleep Tight
Fight crime!
Bat...girl...aaaand...Oonie

(Oonie is her much-loved and now quite raggedy teddy bear.)

I bring all this up to say that in trying to lovingly sooth my babies to sleep for years, I created memories for all of us. Ana, 10-years-old, recently got misty-eyed as she said, "Mama, I love your songs. I like listening to them. I miss them." My daughter has a big heart that gives lots of love but also needs much to fill it, and she is not afraid to be a child and soak up all she can. I feel Ana does not quite get what she needs sometimes, because her little brother and sister are very assertive in making demands on Mama's time and attention. She craves those small, precious moments with me still. I started singing Goodnight Sweet Ana again.

Last night I settled my hips into the small recliner by Ana to read for her from the Little House book, On the Banks of Plum Creek. I had just finished patiently listening to Gabriella read from Amelia Bedelia and brushing her teeth. Ella decided to come listen, too, as I read. It was time for her to be in bed, but I thought, Oh, what the heck. Just a few more minutes. I'm sorry to say the chair got a little crowded, especially with my pushy hips.

"Here, girls, you can snuggle. It's too crowded. I'm going to this chair," I said.

Gabriella happily settled right in, and Ana put her arm around her. As I looked at Ana to gauge her reaction, she began to laugh and then to quake.

"Is that okay, Ana?" I asked.

But she just laughed strangely, covering her face with her hand. Her laugh was not happy; it was one of resignation to a probable outcome. I saw tears leaking from the side of her eyes, and I knew what I had to do.

"Alright, Gabriella. It's time for bed."

"No."

"Yes."

She tried to protest, but I held out my arms as I began her Batman song with gusto. After carrying her to her room, I kissed her and tucked her in with that old Oonie.

Then I came back and sat in the chair with Ana, and she snuggled up to me, drying her tears.

"Thank you, Mama," she said.

I knew. I knew. And you can bet I sang Goodnight Sweetheart Goodnight to my big-hearted girl who just wanted Mama all to herself again....for just a little while.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Little House Virtues, and On the Banks of Watson Lake

 
 
Every so often I am reminded of what I knew daily as a child, and I feel sorry for my kids, poor little city kids. I regret that they don't experience the freedom of growing up in the country. True, they don't know what they're missing, but I do: the alluring sights, smells and sounds of abundant nature just outside your door; the ever-changing adventure of creek, field and forest; and the whole brave world of trouble country kids can get into that seems far more wild and wholesome than what can be found in the city.
 
I miss the country badly at times...
 
Can you tell I'm reading the Little House series again to my daughter Ana? In its chapters she senses she's missing out on something grand, a strange freedom, and we mull this over together; my daughter is a natural-born country girl, like me.
 
Right now we are reading On the Banks of Plum Creek, and more than the crazy, beautiful tales of a truly rural life told in the simple but eerily elegant prose of Laura Ingalls Wilder, I am enjoying all the nuggets of wisdom woven yet again into her tales of prairie life. Here are a few excerpts I have admired this time:
 
"Well," he said at last. "I hardly know what to do, Laura. You see, I trusted you. It is hard to know what to do with a person you can't trust. But do you know what people have to do to anyone they can't trust?
 
"Wh-at?" Laura quavered.
 
"They have to watch him," said Pa.
 
And, as true for adults as it is for children, this from Ma Ingalls:
 
"Once you begin being naughty, it is easier to go on and on, and sooner or later something dreadful happens."
 
And this beautifully sums up the spirit of Christmas:
 
And then Ma told them something else about Santa Claus. He was everywhere, and besides that, he was all the time.
 
Whenever anyone was unselfish that was Santa Claus.
 
Every child should read these tales, I think, to discover a world so different but so vibrant without technological trappings.
 
 
*********************************
 
 

My man has been a city guy all his life, so what do I do to drag him into nature?

Every little bit I make a request to drive into the country on a long weekend or for a holiday...my birthday, say. I give him fair warning of my desire for fresh air, and, usually, he accommodates.

 

This last time we went to Watson Lake near Prescott, Arizona. It has strange granite dells crowded on it shores.

  
 
We stopped at a playground on the way that had a play fire truck with the names of the 19 firefighters who lost their lives in the Yarnell Hill fire on June 30th, 2013. I thought that was a beautiful idea for a memorial - many of those men were dads - though my little ones didn't understand what it meant or who it commemorated.
 
Then we parked above the lake and hiked down to take our lunch on a big rock in the blustery wind. We saw some people propelling down a precipice nearby, and I remarked, "I'm not the adventure sport sort, but that's one thing I would do gladly: rock climbing."
 
Shoot! I was bound to eat those words.
 
My kids were rock climbing, alright. They were descending to the water to stare in wonder at all the tadpoles, tiny fish and crawdads. It's times like these when they show their city greenness. Yet we all gawked at the beautiful and iridescent blue dragonflies of various sizes that whizzed through the air above our heads and danced over the water at our feet. My son Berto tried to catch a fish in his palms and would have done it, too, if he had gotten past the slippery skin against his fingers. My daughter Ana gently scooped up tadpoles, and then set them free. All my children leapt across boulders and crossed narrow log bridges on their exploration.
And I, that lady who claimed she would scale rocks for pleasure - big rocks, and uphill all the way! - paused in trepidation at a two-foot gap between some slanted granite behemoths. The water flowing between was three inches deep at least. My husband and long-legged oldest children, Berto and Ana, jumped across effortlessly, but every time I tensed for the leap, I lost my nerve. I could just see my knees and fingertips scraping down the scaly surface of the rock before I sprained my ankle in the perilous, crawdad-infested shallows at the bottom.
 
Berto said, "Look, Mom. It's easy. You just jump."
 
Just jump. Now!" said Matthew again and again, but he waited in vain, because I was a yellow-bellied chicken.
 
When I finally spread my legs and sprang, prepared to die in my dare-devil ways, you'd assume the fear was conquered, but I couldn't go back.
 
"It's easier back," said Matthew. "The rock slants down this way."
 
No difference. The mental hurdles stalled me. If I could ever control my unbridled imagination, I would be darn near a superhero.
 
Matthew gave up on me, and it took pressure off. A few minutes later, I jumped back.
 
But to save face, I've decided that every time I tell that story I'm going to increase the length between those boulders and the depth of the water by several feet. Pretty soon I will have jumped 20 feet between the cliffs of insanity over a churning abyss.
 
On our way back up to the parking lot, following white dots painted on rock to mark the way for wayward hikers, we saw a toad. I can't remember when I last saw an amphibian; I kid you not. He was a tiny little guy and the color of the dells, a perfect fit in his environment.

Later, we drove to a dock and took a walk up a path. Though we saw masses of wildflowers and crowds of butterflies, we lost the sense of being in the country as the parking lot filled with canoe-laden pickup trucks, and the meandering path wound below a highway. But we did get to see some geese. I thought the gaggle was going to gang up on us and steal our remaining food. They followed us so closely.


But they just tried to intimidate us with their glassy stares and noisy honks.

It was a simple, short afternoon in the country, not nearly as solitary or unpredictable as the Minnesota prairie, but it was memorable and fed our appetite for more wild adventures. Who knows? I might even...someday, if the kids are lucky...convince my man to take us camping.

Now, wouldn't that be a hoot.

Just don't ask me to jump any big rocks on the way to the campsite.


Monday, September 15, 2014

Etiquette Nazis

If you don't say "Bless you!" when someone sneezes in this house, you're likely to get cursed. Unless you're a guest, of course; then we'll generously make allowances for your pitiful rudeness while making faces behind your back.

The whole "Bless you!" thing isn't my pet peeve. It's Matthew's, my chivalrous husband's. For years of our marriage, I suffered under his cruel tutelage as he lambasted me each time I didn't say bless you when he manfully sneezed. Now I'm so scared not to bless people that I nervously cry, "Bless you!" when anyone passes gas, coughs or burps in this house.

For quite some time I thought it was Matthew's upbringing that dictated this strange adherence to a, pardon me, somewhat out-of-date practice. I mean, really! When people used to say bless you in the Middle Ages it was because they thought you were likely going to die, and they wanted you to know they wouldn't harbor any grudges when you're poor sneeze-racked body was lowered into the ground. But as for my man's family, I soon discovered it wasn't actually their thing, because you can sneeze until you're blue in the face or go into a seizure around those fine people, and they wouldn't bless your disease-ridden cat. It's not because they don't care, I believe, but because they are simply far too pragmatic to think you might die from that common cold, dust inhalation or allergic attack.

Regardless from where Matthew's obsession with sneezing sympathy stemmed, I have now been well-trained and am stuck for life compulsively blessing strangers at the movie theater, whispering bless you at church during the priest's homily, and on frequent occasions when my bum kids won't take notice of my own sniffles, pitifully consoling myself with a, "Bless me..."

But don't pity me too much, I beg of you, for I have my own etiquette insanity that I have forcibly hoisted on my man in return. It's a little thing, really, and it goes like this: when I speak - no matter what nonsense I say - I demand a response of some sort. It can be a rhetorical question, an observation, or a simple statement, but you'd better acknowledge me. I blame my need for validation on the fact that I was the youngest and most ignorant of four kids. (I still am.) Even when I dramatically uttered cuss words in order to be heard, I was merely laughed at.

So, you see, I can say, "Meatloaf - it's what's for dinner!" and I expect my man to politely respond with an, "Umm, umm, good!" even though the guy can't stand meatloaf - not even with quality ketchup on it.

If I pointlessly comment on the duration of the hot weather here in town, I will burn holes in his head until he answers it with, "107? Yep, toasty."

Because I spend all day with a preschooler and most of the afternoon with arguing, school-weary children, I crave back-and-forth conversation and the assurance that I still have interesting things to say to adults without imitating the whining or shrieking tactics of my little ones. Therefore, I often end long discourses on the state of world affairs or thorny personal conundrums with a You know what I mean? or  You hear what I'm saying? in order to elicit the response I crave. Even with the most inane utterances on the most mundane things, I must have a response. It may seem like I am talking to myself when I muse, "I wonder why these plates overheat in the microwave?", but if you don't answer me, Bucko, one of them is likely to crash on your head.

All this reflection makes me wonder, though: is it good manners to force anyone save your own children to observe their manners? Is it right, for instance, to do what my four-year-old does a millisecond after he sneezes and yell indignantly, "No one said bless you!" before anyone had a chance to say it, or sarcastically mutter as my man has been known to do, "Thank you for all the bless yous..." or glare at my husband as I demand, "Well?" to get that assurance that he really is following every word I utter? In short, are etiquette Nazis all that polite?

Nope, we sure ain't. But if you do indeed die from that common cold, you can rest assured that you will have a thousand of our "bless you!"s to send you on your merry, blessed way.