Tuesday, October 27, 2009

October 28, 1989

20 years ago I met my husband the first time. I was studying for college mid-terms on a Saturday night before Halloween (yeah, I partied HARD back then). I needed a break, so I headed down to the Brat Stop on I-94 in Kenosha, WI for some ice cream.
The Brat Stop was a one-stop shop for cheese curds and beer and if you were in a dancing mood, you could enjoy live music in the bar.

I skimmed the shelves and to my surprise, no ice cream. How could a place that boasted of dairy products not have ice cream? Majorly bummed, I walked into the bar and ran into a friend who waitressed there. She told me to stay for the Halloween party. I wore no costume except for a cut off tie-dyed Jimi Hendrix T-shirt and those awful tapered pants that could make the skinnest girl look like she carried a hot air balloon for a butt.

The usual costumes walked by - a guy dressed as a devil, a woman dressed like a zebra, etc. Then I saw two men walk in. One guy was dressed normally except he held a small alien that smoked and held a beer. The other was a dude in Beetlejuice clothing with baby powder in his hair.

They stood next to me and I said hello. The guy dressed like the devil passed by. Beetlejuice said, "That guy can go to HELL." I laughed and he said, "Hey! Let's dance. Later." Then he walked away.
I didn't know if he meant that we should dance later or if that was his way of saying goodbye.

He came back and escorted me to the dance floor. The first song the band played was AC/DC's "You Shook Me All Night Long." I remember almost slipping on the baby powder falling from his hair. Instead of enjoying a nice quiet introduction, we yelled each other's names. It went like this:

The Band: "Yeah YOU! Shook me ALL NIGHT LONG."


Him: "TIM!"

Me: "JIM?" I panicked because I broke up with my ex-loser of a fiancee of the same name.


Me: "TERRI!"

Him: "CARRIE?"

Me: "NO! TERRI!"

The Band: "And that was 'You Shook Me ALL Night Long!' And now here's a little country song called 'Rocky Top Tennessee'".

Him: NO WAY!

And we exited the floor and the rest is Great Pumpkin history.

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Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Field Trips Galore!

That's April getting attacked by alien killer pumpkins at Bates Nut Farm in Valley Center, CA. Holly composes a sonata with Beethoven at the Temecula Children's Museum.

Never Too Early for Christmas

Bear in the Big Blue HouseImage via Wikipedia

As I shopped this weekend for Halloween goodies, I noticed the Christmas decorations right next to the costumes at Target.

Although most everyone says it's way too early to think about Christmas in October, I was thankful because it reminded me of one of the best Christmases our family had in the year 2000.

In the ICU Children's Hospital of Los Angeles on an early December morning, Dr. Winfield Wells strolled into my daughter Holly's room.

His street clothes looked like Pat Boone circa 1962: polo shirt, plaid golf pants and white shoes. Holly's cardiologist said he was the best pediatric cardiac surgeon on the planet and I think he knew it.

His team of doctors clamored around him like an entourage with their clipboards and white coats. He said, "It looks like we don't need to put in a pacemaker after all!" A few days earlier he easily patched up Holly's 15-month-old heart with Dacron like a piece of fabric on a rag doll.

She was born with a large ventricular septal defect. After the surgery, it was doubtful Holly's heart would ever beat on its own hence the need for a pacemaker. I talked to God the night before and said if she needs a pacemaker then she needs one.

My husband Tim and I will deal with it. When Holly was born there was never any doubt that Holly wouldn't survive, she just needed extra care. My parents helped us out with that for the first 10 months of her life.

My mom said she would never leave me to take care of Holly by myself. And I think I knew why. My grandmother died from something similar - a leaky heart valve at age 39.

When I told Mom the news about Holly, she immediately put her hands over her face and wailed, no doubt remembering how she watched her young mother pass away.

It took Holly 15 months to gain enough weight for the operation. When she was ready, Dr. Wells said he could wait until after the holidays but we said no, we wanted it done right away.

If she was in the hospital on Christmas day then so be it. There will be more Christmases to celebrate the regular way if there is a such a thing. Most people find the antiseptic smell of hospital rooms annoying but to me it's comforting.

That smell reminds me that we are in the hands of God and that He sends us angels in the bodies of doctors and nurses clad in white to fix whatever needs fixing. The morning Holly went in, a tall nurse with perfect makeup and a bright smile with a Christmas bow on her surgical cap told us,

"Now is the time for hugs and kisses," right before they took her into OR. She gave Holly a teddy bear with a tiny green surgical mask.

When Holly came to, she was attached to tubes and wires when she opened her mouth to cry but no sound came out. My husband left the room but I stayed for her to hear my voice and feel my hand on hers. She had such a small soft hand which gripped my fingers, scarred from surgical tape and IV tubes. Holly was too little to understand the concept of Santa Claus.

I was glad I didn't have to explain that Santa also delivers gifts to hospitals on Christmas Eve. But I wrote her a letter on memo pad paper answering any questions if she was old enough to ask them.

She might ask, "If I'm not allowed to have a Christmas tree in ICU, where does Santa put the presents?" I'd say, "He delivers them to the doctors and nurses and mommies and daddies to bring them to you."

Or she might ask, "Hospitals don't have chimneys, how does he get in?" I'd say, "The nice workers let him in through the front doors."

But there was no need for explanation. The night before her scheduled second surgery to insert a pacemaker, her little heart started beating on her own.

The nurses checked and rechecked the long strips of paper that printed out the rhythm of her heart beats. Doctors upon doctors came into her room looking at the monitors, then at her, then at us. They all said the same thing: "We didn't expect this."

Within a day, Holly began sitting up, dancing in her seat to Disney cartoons. We left the hospital on Christmas Eve. I got to hold her while a nurse wheeled us out which I was robbed of after she was born since Holly had to stay in neonatal ICU.

When Holly saw the sunlight as the doors opened, she smiled, giggled and clapped at it like she just found her favorite toy. On the way home we stopped at McDonald's and tasted those salty and crispy French fries while she chomped away. No more baby hospital food!

There were dark circles under her eyes as we unwrapped presents by the tree that night. But her hazel eyes lit up as she saw the orange teddy bear named Ojo from the TV show Bear in the Big Blue House.

Today, as a ten-year-old, she wants nothing to do with that bear but I keep it up on my dresser, ready with a patch and thread if it ever needs them.
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Sunday, October 11, 2009

Class of '86

*Hair courtesy of Dee Snider of Twisted Sister fame.

*Collar courtesy of one of Elvis's jumpsuits.

*Makeup courtesy of whatever was on sale at Walgreens.

My mission back then was to be deliriously happy because that's what Bruce Willis wrote in his high school yearbook. Who says dreams aren't achieved?

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Saturday, October 10, 2009

Resistance is Futile

My parents celebrated their fifty-third anniversary last summer. They married after knowing each other only 10 days in Tupelo, Mississippi.

Mom was a waitress in Murray, Kentucky when she waited on my dad in 1956. Ten days later, my mother wore a blue print dress much like the one Sissy Spacek wore in her wedding scene in the movie Coal Miner's Daughter.

Reflecting on how long my parents stuck together, I discover how much I'm like them. After all, resistance is futile as the Borg says. Here are signs I've morphed a little into my mom:

*I limp softly and carry a big purse. My mom had knee surgeries, I had back surgeries, so we limp and lean on shopping carts. I also donated all my little purses to my daughters' dress-up trunk in favor of a huge purse so I can carry - get this - yarn and crochet hooks.

*I sneeze loudly. I jumped out of my pants each time my mom sneezed when I was little. Now when I sneeze, my girls yell, "BLESS YOU!"

*When I need a stress release, I indulge in retail therapy at Wal-Mart. Maybe it's the bright lights and brand new yellow asterisks. Plus I never have to dress up to go there. When I look around, everyone else has a "come as you are" look about them too. There are more pajamas on Wal-Mart shoppers than a pre-teen slumber party.

*I confuse my family members' names. I call my husband Honey, which sometimes comes out Holly. When I call Holly, I say April, and poor April gets the dog Fluffy.

And here are signs I've morphed a little into my dad:

*I look forward to a nap every day. You'd think my favorite time of the day would be reading, journaling, drawing or yarn work, but nope, it's that little bit of snooze time.

*While relaxing, I refuse to sit in nothing but my favorite easy chair, even though it's old and torn (like Frasier's dad's chair).

*I listen to blue grass music. I may not have been born a hick, but it's in my blood.

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Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Take Your Lower Lip and Pull it Over Your Head

Carol BurnettCarol Burnett via last.fm

As a mother, I no longer dread mammograms, pap smears or spinal fusion. I look forward to them like spa treatments.

Major back surgery was painful, of course, but I got oodles of time to myself with a side of morphine. Carol Burnett once said that in order for men to understand childbirth, take your lower lip and pull it over your head.
Well, to understand spinal fusion, take your lower lip, pull it over your head, then pull it back to your neck.

Then stretch it back to your spine down to your toes and put it under your heels. Strap on your best stillettos and dig your heels onto your lower lip. You might understand spinal fusion at least during the hospital stay. Recovery time? That's a different story.

Remove your lower lip from under your stillettos and pull it up to your belt buckle, tuck it into your pants, then snap it back into its original place. And then you get back to your job of mothering.

In my house, you must abide by three simple rules:

1. You must have fun making dinner with me. We made Boboli pizza the other night. The girls fought over who sprinkles the cheese on the sauce. April won because Holly did the sauce. But Holly didn't want too much cheese so she tells April how to do it. April growls.

April's latest thing is to act like an animal. If she ever takes acting lessons and does that embarassing exercise where she walks around a strip mall acting like an iguana or parrot, she's got it down.

Yelling ensues. I separate them into corners like Muhammad Ali and Leon Spinx for time outs. Then I march them back into the kitchen and order them like Louis Gossett Jr., "You two HAVE FUN if it's the LAST THING YOU DO!"

They crack up. I half expect April to do her best Richard Gere impression, "I got nowhere else to go!" Then bark like a dog.

2. If you are a children's author or illustrator, please have a name I can pronounce. When I read to my kids, I always read the author and illustrator's names out loud. Not only is it important to know who created this work, we find more books by these authors at the library.

But it's hard when you can't pronounce their names. I say, "Today we will read 'Jane Goes for a Walk" by Ziadna'en Aidezkyyoiuuon. Illustrated by Andiao;en;knaci Alidja;kanekngalkidu." I do my best but they laugh at me. So I advise if you go into this wonderful line of work, get a pen name.

3. Finally, no fighting until Mommy is at least in her underwear. Many times we get ready in a rush to go somewhere. I'm in a state of undress and I have to break up a screaming and growling fight. I rush out of my room, praying the blinds are closed, to find out what happened. But I can't discipline if I don't have my underwear on. How do you lay down the law when you're buck naked?

So, if these three simple rules cannot be obeyed, I will need a relaxing day to myself until they are. Which reminds me, I'm due for a root canal.

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Monday, October 5, 2009

My Favorite Dads

Waylon JenningsWaylon Jennings via last.fm

God loves fathers. He is one. ~Dr. James I. Lamb

*George Harrison - father of his look-alike son Dhani

*Waylon Jennings - father of Shooter who was the reason he quit cocaine. He also has a son named Buddy after Buddy Holly (And what a trip, my daughter's name is Holly).

*Hunter S. Thompson - father of Juan, who was at his house when Hunter shot himself.

*Orson Welles - father of Christopher, Rebecca, and Beatrice.

*Ray Bradbury - father of Susan, Ramona, Bettina, and Alexandra. Mr. Bradbury writes back to those who send him things via snail mail. He knew he had to pursue the creative life when he met Mr. Electrico.

And to my own celebrity dad, Bob Fortney who said this as we watched Donna Summer perform on TV one night: "Donna Summer? Isn't she on Three Different Strokes?"

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October? Love it. February? Not so much.

I don't know any other way to put it but October is awesome. The weather cools off for the first time here, the wind picks up and we get ready for the merry season of Halloween. But there's one month I prefer to wipe off the calendar: February.

Damn it, I hate February. In Wisconsin, it was the worst month EVER. That fat groundhog always pops up, sees his shadow and pisses on the snow.

The holidays are over. The snow and mud mix to an unpleasant sludge. And nobody bothers to scrape their car windows of snow. So they drive relying on their instruments only.

In February, football season is over. Those were the last words Hunter Thompson wrote before he killed himself - in February. So writes Douglas Brinkley for Rolling Stone:

February was always the cruelest month for Hunter S. Thompson. An avid NFL fan,
Hunter traditionally embraced the Super Bowl in January as the high-water mark
of his year. February, by contrast, was doldrums time. Nothing but monstrous
blizzards, bad colds and the lackluster Denver Nuggets.

Then there's Valentine's Day. Talk about pressure for the gentlemen. Guys buy last minute gifts enduring dirty looks from mall employees. If they buy chocolate, ladies cry because their New Year's resolution to lose weight is shot. Flowers are nice but they may cause allergic reactions. They die anyway. Usually in February.

So expensive gifts like jewelry and iPods are pushed by the free market but I wonder: when did Valentine's Day become Christmas? Is this what St. Valentine had in mind when he wed couples on the sly? Did he say, "You may now kiss the bride and for Valentine's Day you better spend no less than a thousand dollars or you get no nooky that night?"

Seriously, the main reason I hate February is because my brother suffered a brain aneurysm last year. My favorite memory of him was a simple ordinary night. We went to Wal-Mart. My youngest daughter, instead of holding my hand in the parking lot, ran and grabbed his hand instead of mine. Then he picked her up and pushed her around in the shopping cart.

Before we left the store, I spotted a sticker in a vending machine that read TATER TOTS RULE. My nickname as a baby was Tater. When I told my brother I was pregnant with my first child, he said, "You're gonna have a tater tot!" I put a quarter in the machine and by chance, luck, or fate, out popped the sticker.

I still have that sticker in my kitchen along with his memorial candle. As I write this, the weather cools off and I'm about to grab my jacket to take my girls and dog to the park to enjoy this awesome day in this wonderful month.

But if there's a new law to erase February from the calendar, I'm all for it.

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Friday, October 2, 2009

Stay-At-Home Mom Schoolin'

I've been a mom for almost 11 years. I count pregnancy because the moment I found out, I thought of nothing else.

If you Google the word "saint" my mom's picture pops up. My only regret: waiting until becoming a mother before I appreciated mine. This is what I learned since having kids. I call it my Stay-At-Home Mom Schoolin':

*You woe the day your daughter finds something wrong with her looks. Just when you, as a woman, stop obsessing about your appearance, she starts. Holly wishes to be as cute as her little sister. I said if she was any more cute she'd combust from spontaneous cuteness.

*The less words you use, the more they listen.

*They stop whatever they are doing, no matter what, to watch the Simpsons with you even if they don't understand all the jokes. Then you have to turn it off when Bart says, "Go to hell!" or "You suck!" Because they sure as hell don't hear that language from me. That would seriously suck.

*If your child is born with birth defects you never stop blaming yourself even if they're not your fault.

*Because of these defects, if they have a crappy first year of life, you spend a lifetime making it up.

*Never speak figuratively to a child. Like if you say, "I'm in so much pain I'm gonna die," they think you will.

*Any joke, bad or good, about any bodily function is HILARIOUS. And they laugh for hours.

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Thursday, October 1, 2009


Today we got a card from Mom. She kinda sorta forgot my daughter's tenth birthday. She more than made up for it by sending a check for Holly to buy a Webkinz.

I can totally understand the forgetting part. Just the other day a friend e-mailed me the story of Lucy from the song "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" passing away. I e-mailed her back and said, "I remember reading about her a while ago. Did you send me the article?" She wrote back, "Oh dear, you've forgotten already. YOU sent me the article." To which I replied, "Epic Alzheimers FAIL."

Mom keeps her sense of humor about memory as she writes in her best note ever:

Sorry I forgot :( to put this check in Holly's card. I'm so
forgetful. At least I haven't stuffed your dad in the clothes dryer

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