Monday, February 28, 2011

Old and in the Way

I really wasn’t paying much attention to her.  She stood in front of us as we waited in line to sign the clipboard for my daughter’s appointment.  Her face wasn’t distinctive.  I couldn’t really describe her except to say that she was old, gray and wrinkled.  But what I still picture vividly in my mind is her feet.  Her feet told her story.  The skin was cracked and brittle, her toes were crooked and her heels worn and bleeding.  She was wearing an old beat-up pair of sandals.  I imagined she wore the sandals for comfort or perhaps she couldn’t afford a new pair.  She shuffled up to the counter and smiled sweetly at the woman behind the desk.  Quietly she asked the receptionist, “Honey is today the correct day for my appointment?”  The receptionist said she couldn’t find the old woman’s name on the appointment sheet but, if she’d have a seat, she would check to see when her appointment was scheduled.  The old woman’s expression didn’t change.  She thanked the receptionist and slowly, painfully shuffled to take a seat in the waiting room.  As she walked, I took a better look at her in her paisley dress and her pretty costume jewelry.  She reminded me of my grandmother who always looked presentable whether she was visiting the doctor or staying at home.  Grandma used to say, “You never know when someone might just pop in.”  I often wondered how many people just “popped in” on my grandmother when she spent her last days in the nursing home.  Somehow I don’t imagine there were that many visitors, myself included.  I was 1600 miles away from her home but I could have done more for her in her final days.  I bet she made sure that her makeup and jewelry was always perfect just in case someone popped in, even in the nursing home.
My daughter, Jennifer, and her friend had decided to sit next to the woman and they had struck up a conversation with her by the time I joined them.  The kindly woman talked to the girls about how she didn’t believe for one moment that teenagers today were bad.  “Why just look at the two of you!” she commented.  “You two are fine young ladies.”  We learned that she has six children.  They all live in neighboring states.  She talked fondly of her husband of 56 years who went to be with the Lord last year.  She told the girls about the days when ice blocks did the job of refrigerators and the radio was the best entertainment going.  We listened to her stories and we shared some of our own but I never asked her name.  I did ask her how she got to the doctor’s office and she told me she took the bus.  She said she had to walk quite some distance to the bus stop from her home and was sorry that she came on the wrong day.  “My memory just isn’t what it used to be” she was saying as I heard the nurse calling for Jennifer.  I quickly said we’d drive her home as I walked toward the examining room.  She said she didn’t want to trouble me.  “No trouble,” I yelled as we disappeared around the corner.
When we reappeared, the lady was nowhere to be seen.  I asked the receptionist where the woman went.  The receptionist admitted that she had forgotten all about the poor woman and said that she didn’t see her leave.  “Well, do you know where the bus stop is?” I asked the receptionist.  “No, I’m sorry.”  She replied.  “Can you tell me the woman’s name?”  I asked.  “I’d like to contact her if possible.”  “I’m sorry.”  She said, “I cannot give out that information.”  I went outside and unfortunately found an empty bench at the bus stop (which, incidentally, was right outside the front door).  My heart sunk as I realized that the poor woman would soon be walking a long distance home on her brittle feet.  She had left the office without finding out her appointment date because she was forgotten by the receptionist.  She didn’t want to “trouble me” with giving her a ride home so she went alone.
What a sad commentary on our fast-paced culture where getting ahead and looking to the future dominate our society.  We do not take the time to check if an elderly neighbor needs a ride to the doctor’s office.  We do not take the time or have the patience to sit and listen to our elders talk about the “good old days.”  It is a bother to waste precious time on such frivolous conversation that has no bearing on our lives of fast food, fast cars, high speed internet access, cell phones and microwaves.  I mean, what does it really matter that grandma knows how to knit?  Knitting is a thing of the past.  It went the way of home baked bread and slow paced games of chess.  Time is of the essence.  We need time to run the kids to soccer.   We need time to clean the house before our morning work-outs and trips to the grocery store.  We need to rush to get home in time for our favorite new sitcom.  Our time is taken up with work so we can make more money to buy more things that will ultimately take up more of our time.
The lawn mower we bought is a rider because it is quicker and easier than a push mower.  Since we have a rider mower, we needed more property to mow.  With more property to mow, we have just added more time to mowing.  Aren’t we smart!  Every Saturday my husband and son spend at least two hours mowing our large property.  Meanwhile, I spend time cleaning our large house while my other kids spend time sitting in front of our high speed computer chatting instantly with friends that literally live just down the road.  And all this time is being spent on “things” rather than on relationships.
If we were spending time with grandma, we would be learning how to knit, bake bread, can vegetables or play cards.  The television would NOT be on!  If we were sitting with old Joe, our neighbor, on the front porch drinking ice cold lemonade we would be hearing stories about how he mowed his small lawn in less than a half hour with his trusty old (not gas operated) push-mower.
Here I sit on my computer typing words that instantly appear on a page that will instantly print out my thoughts with a touch of a button.  I have grown accustomed to printing out my thoughts with a touch of a button.  I have grown accustomed to my fast-paced world where fingertips are more important than legs.  Legs require you to walk over to old Joe’s house rather than the more convenient fingertip touch-tone dialing of the phone for a quick, “How you doing, Joe?”  Joe lives right across the street but I have to feed the animals, make beds, do wash, finish writing this story, scrub the floors, mail packages, make phone calls…..I have to, I have to, I have to.  When does it stop?  When do we realize that all the “have tos” are wreaking havoc on our lives and our loved ones?  Will it be when we look at the old lady in the paisley dress and realize that somewhere in between soccer games, loads of wash and hours in front of the television we’ve become the old lady with only time on our hands and no one but the television to spend it with?
Are we better off today?  I think not.  I think we live in a world of bankrupt relationships where we don’t heed the guidance and wisdom of our elders.  Our children learn that it is ok – even expected – to live in a throw-away society.  If something is no longer viewed as useful – throw it away and move on.  If someone is no longer useful, throw them away too.  We throw away our lives on frivolous things and then we throw away our elderly folks by placing them in nursing homes where someone else will take the time to care for their basic needs – but that is all.  A nursing home provides food, shelter and basic care but who sits and plays checkers with those folks?  Who listens to their stories and gleans their wisdom?  Who takes or makes the time anymore?  I wonder.  I wonder about the lady with her cracked feet that tell so many stories.  What about her stories?  Will they go to the grave never being shared with young people like my daughter?  I wonder how often the old lady is forgotten and alone (although she told me she has six children).  How often does she sit by herself in restaurants or in her own home wearing her fine costume jewelry and her paisley dress?  Finally, I have to wonder how long she will wait before someone “just pops in.”  In the great song by Jerry Garcia are we all destined to just becoming “Old and in the Way”?  

Saturday, February 26, 2011

A Word About Coaching

To say I was na├»ve is an understatement.  I walked out on the mini-field feeling confident about the practice I was about to coach.  After all, I have coached lots of children in many different sports over the years.  I stood poised in the middle of the field, blew my whistle and waited for my team to assemble.  Nothing happened.  They were still scrambling hither and tither without a care as to who I was or why I was standing in the middle of the field blowing a whistle.  I blew again thinking that they would stop kicking their soccer balls, pick them up and come join me in the middle of the field.  Again, nothing happened.  I resorted to yelling for all of them to stop and come to the middle of the field.  Two of the six timidly edged toward me, one ran to his mother crying, one sat down by the goal refusing to move, another hung on the top of the goal post like a monkey and one ran off the field yelling, “I have to go potty!”  
Approximately fifteen minutes passed before they all stood facing me holding onto their soccer balls for dear life.  I stand five feet tall and I towered over my munchkin charges.  None of them had knees – or at least you couldn’t see their knees because their soccer socks and their shorts met somewhere in the mid-calf area.  All eyes were staring up at me and I was suddenly filled with uncertainty and dread.   
 First, I kneeled down to their level and then I said, “We’re just here to have fun and learn some skills.”  They continued their blank stares until one finally spoke; “Can we keep our soccer balls?”  “Sure,” I said, “You can use your own soccer ball in practice, but when we play a game, we’ll only use one soccer ball.”  The child who asked the question slumped his shoulders and, through choking tears, cried, “I just want to play with my own ball.”  “Why can’t I just play with my own ball!”  Soon the rest of the team joined in the chant working themselves into a frenzy.  Needless to say, this practice wasn’t going as I had planned.  I quickly crumbled up the paper I was holding with all my drills written on it and kicked it into the goal.  Time for a new strategy – problem was, I didn’t have a clue as to what to do.  In fact, I am not sure how I got through that first practice.
The practice was an hour long.  Four-year-olds should never have soccer practice for an hour.  In fact, I’ve become a firm believer that most four-year-olds should not have soccer practice at all.  Soccer to a four-year-old is completely different than what we think of when we here the word soccer.  Here are the rules, in order of importance, for anyone even considering coaching four-year-old soccer:
  • During practice every ball must be given equal treatment i.e.: a coach must never use one child’s ball exclusively
  • Whenever possible, every child gets to keep his/her own ball
  • Picking flowers (weeds) on the field is extremely important because the flower (weed) is for the coach
  • When the snack bar announces that the pizza has arrived, practice is officially over
  • Who cares which way the team is supposed to run or which goal the ball is supposed to go into?
  • A goal is a goal is a goal – every goal counts for both teams
  • When playing a game, each child’s ball should be rotated into the game
  • Every child will have to go potty at least three time during practice and/or a game
  • A whistle blown means absolutely nothing
  • If the ball goes off the field, follow it
  • Four-year-olds really mean it when they say, “I just want to play with my own ball!”
My team and I have grown since that first fateful practice.  I’ve learned that laughing and playing are so much more important than rules and skills.  I’ve learned that they learn in spite of the “coaching” we give them.  They learn it’s ok to share their ball because they will get it back.  They learn that a team means you give everyone a high five for everything.  They learn that it’s ok to sometimes feel like not playing.  They learn that coaches like weeds.  They learn to respect each other and to love their coach.  They learn that it is ok to cry if you feel like crying.  They learn that is ok for the coach to cry if she feels like crying.  
I learned that I don’t need to know anything about soccer and they’ll love me just the same.  I learned that success is not measured in the number of goals scored or skills learned but in the number of kids that still want to play at the end of the season.  I learned that some four-year-olds are not ready for soccer, but their parents think they are.  I learned that some four-year-olds are ready for soccer, but their parents never will be.  I learned to kneel down more and look down less.  I learned that a weed in the hand is so much better than a crying child on the field.  I learned to laugh and to love and, most importantly, I learned that sometimes a good coach doesn’t do any coaching at all.

Friday, February 25, 2011

The Farm

My family moved to the farm five years ago even though we were not farmers.  Somewhere in my fertile mind I believed with all my heart that I would learn how to be a farmer and our little five acres of paradise would become a thriving goat farm.  That was my first mistake; goats.  A wise veterinarian once said to me, “sooner or later livestock becomes dead stock”.  I had no idea how true that statement was until I started raising goats - but that is another story.
Our first arrival, Sugar, came by herself.  She was a cute little pygmy goat with a playful personality and a penchant for sugar – hence the name.  Her main goal in life was to make herself a house-goat.  Our three-year-old daughter, Lulu, was more than happy to accommodate Sugar. I frequently found myself following a trail of goat droppings to Lulu’s room.  There I’d usually find Lulu happily dressing Sugar in a made-for-goat outfit while Sugar munched on paper or crayons or whatever else happened to be lying on the bedroom floor.
Sugar was soon joined by a new crop of pygmies and, as luck would have it, she fell in love with a studly gray male.  Thankfully, her new love interest ended her regular pilgrimages to Lulu’s bedroom.  Now, she spent her days with the new beau – I don’t remember his name.  (I have since learned that it is not a good idea to name the farm animals, but I’m getting ahead of myself.)    It wasn’t long before our goat farm had grown to fifteen head.  I was so proud.  Sugar was heavy with child (or should I say goat). 
Over the next few months we watched Sugar grow to the point where she was as wide as she was long.  In fact, I’d say she was square.  Her belly almost touched the ground and she looked like she might pop.  Then, one day, Lulu came running into the house and breathlessly announced, “Mommy, Sugar is dying!”  As I dried Lulu’s tears, I heard a distant sound coming from the goat pen.  It was a god-awful moaning that any mother, human or beast, would recognize as the sound of labor.  
This was my first goat birthing experience and I had no idea what to expect.  I reassured Lulu that Sugar was not dying as our family made its way out the door.  Sugar was lying in the goat pen far away from the others who had not escaped yet.  I knew I should get her to a stall of her own with hay and water but I was terrified to move her.  Then, Lulu said, “Look, mommy, there’s a balloon coming out of Sugar’s butt!”  Sugar let out a deafening bleat and the sack (balloon) burst open spilling a mixture of blood and water on the ground; next, came the head and two spindly legs.  We watched in amazement as a miniature Sugar was born; identical to her mother in coloring – right down to the white spot on her face.   It wasn’t long before she was joined by her brother – a gray male that looked just like daddy. Twins!  How exciting!  
Sugar began her motherly duties by immediately consuming the afterbirth.  “I’m going to puke!” yelled my daughter, Katie, as she sprinted to the house.  Lulu began asking all kinds of questions like; “Why is Sugar eating the gross balloon?”  “How did the babies get into Sugar’s stomach?”  “Why did they come out her butt?”  I looked at Bill for support.  “You’re the one who wanted to live on a farm.”  He callously remarked as he retreated to the house.  Great, now what do I do?  
“I can’t wait to see the new arrivals!”  I heard my neighbor’s voice coming from the distance.  Wow, news travels fast around here!  Soon, Maryanne arrived at my side.  “There’s nothing like the sound of a goat in labor.” Maryanne observed.  “Anna and I heard her a mile away!”  “Lulu, why don’t you bring Maryanne over to see the babies.”  I said trying a diversionary tactic I was praying would work.  “Ok, mommy.”  She grabbed Maryanne's hand and off they went.  I was safe for the moment.  Maryanne’s distraction came just in the nick of time.  
“Oh, how adorable!”  Maryanne cooed.  “I hear we have babies!”  Anna called from behind Maryanne.  She was joined by the rest of the neighbors; Joe, Benny and Sonny.  Soon, the entire neighborhood encircled Sugar and the twins.  “My brother and I used to have a goat...,” Joe began.  “Joe, we’ve heard this story a thousand times!”  Benny interrupted.  I quickly changed the subject and asked everyone what we should name them.  “Shouldn’t name farm animals.” Came Bobby’s voice as he meandered across the pasture from the farm next door.  “They’s gonna be dinner for someone.”  “Can’t eat a pet.”  “No sir, can’t eat a goat with a name.”  
Bobby appeared at the gate rolling a cigarette between leather fingertips.  He was wearing his faded threadbare overalls that had to be as ancient as he.  The overalls appeared to be suspended on gaunt hangers that were slowly succumbing to an inconceivable weight.  Bobby’s left shoe was cut off at the top revealing a void that was once occupied by two toes.  He swears that the newfangled design helps him balance better.  I don’t know how it is, but if Bobby says something works, no one questions him.
Looking at Bobby, one got the impression that he might fold in on himself at any moment and flutter away in the breeze.  But his fragile demeanor belies the toughness and tenacity of the man beneath.  As the caretaker of the farm next door, every day Bobby mounts his trusty steel steed and plows hundred acre fields from dawn to dusk.  At night, he and Joe drink beer and trade stories of bygone days.  He hunts, fishes and grows his own food.  Bobby is a simple man who lives a simple life with a simple dream of one day owning his own chicken farm.  Everyone knows that Bobby is the resident expert on all things farming.
Bobby’s coal-black face, weathered with creases of age-old wisdom, pondered the cigarette in his hands as he prepared to speak.  The group stood in silence waiting for bobby to impart his wisdom.   “Don’t name them goats.”  is all he said.  “Ok, that’s settled” I announced.  “Who wants a beer?”
Benny was the first to arrive at the refrigerator followed by Joe who was holding out his arm to me so I could twist it…causing him to have to take a beer against his will.  Sonny, Maryanne, Anna and Bobby soon followed.  As crimson splashed the sky, the group gathered on the porch beneath the hulky oaks drinking our beers and toasting our newest arrivals.  “Me and my brother had the damnedest goat…”  Joe began. 

Monday, February 21, 2011

Chicken Giblets

Why is chicken packaged with the giblets stuffed inside the cavity? Is it some cruel Colonel Sander’s joke or a great marketing strategy for KFC?  Inevitably, I bring home the chicken from the grocery store and proceed to place it in the freezer without having first removed the innards.  When it comes time to cook the chicken, I remove it from the freezer and place it in the microwave for defrosting.  This is followed by a discovery of the still frozen giblets stubbornly lodged inside the bird – a phenomenon that is most assuredly faced by homemakers on a daily basis.  
What do cooks do when faced with the task of dislodging the giblets?  The possibilities are endless.  Some of us run the bird under water indefinitely – hoping beyond hope that the gizzards will eventually float out.  Unfortunately, running water only seems to add to the problem by causing the paper covering the giblets to disintegrate.  Now, when one pulls on the paper, it just pulls apart leaving the giblets firmly ensconced in the bird.  Perhaps it is the disintegrating paper that pushes us over the edge; one can only guess at the true reason that causes seemingly rational people to resort to desperate measures.  Whatever the reason, knives, forks, spoons, and claw hammers are often weapons of choice for dislodging the frozen giblets.  It becomes a battle of wills:  will the chicken win or will the cook win.  I have wondered, from time to time, if this is the chicken’s way of having the last laugh.  Anyway, I have been known to bend at least three forks and several knives during the battle of the giblets – usually to no avail.   
The scenario goes something like this:  
  1. After running the chicken under water for at least 5 minutes, I pull on the paper wrapper housing the giblets.
  2. I rip the paper wrapping from the giblets.
  3. I grab the nearest utensil i.e.: carving knife, fork, wooden spoon, et al and insert the utensil into the cavity of the chicken.
  4. I grasp the chicken firmly and pull on the inserted utensil using a downward thrust.
  5. I retrieve the chicken from the floor.
  6. I wash the chicken.
  7. I straighten out the utensil; if this is not possible, I grab another utensil and/or tool such as claw hammer or screw driver.
  8. I repeat steps three through seven until either the giblets are released or the chicken falls apart.
  9. I usually have a child on hand to call 911 if I have inadvertently stabbed myself during steps one through seven.  If I do not require immediate medical attention I skip step 10.
  10. Before leaving for the emergency room, I instruct said child to call dad and tell him to pick up some KFC.
  11. If no emergency room treatment is necessary, I choose one of the following three options:
    1. Put remaining chicken parts in the oven and proceed to making giblet gravy - which is mandatory for all family members to use since you slaved over making it! (Ignore protests from children about the “stuff” floating in the gravy.)
    2. If chicken is not salvageable, go to KFC and/or the nearest grocery store that sells fried chicken, place the chicken on a pan, put it in the oven and pretend you cooked it.  
    3. Call Dominos.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

A Most Excellent Adventure

The hundred acre orange grove has always been a place of wonderment and fun for me and my eight-year-old daughter, Paola – something akin to Winnie the Pooh’s Hundred Acre Wood.  Our hundred acre wood is a place of magical adventure where cow pies lead us down enchanted trails replete with mystical fairies and an occasional alien.   I, the “all knowing” Captain Mommy, would set the theme for each adventure and Paola would dress for the occasion.  If we were hunting butterfly fairies, she would don her butterfly wings and antenna headband.   On days that we were playing sleuth, she wore her modified Sherlock Holmes hat (Mickey Mouse Ears with spirals of tin foil attached to the ears for secret radio transmissions) and her shin guards on her arms (don’t know why).  Sleuthing required extra equipment; compass, binoculars, magnifying glass, walkie-talkies and water bottles – all of which I eventually ended up carrying.  After all, I am the Captain which makes me the one in charge of equipment.  I wonder how that was decided.
On this day our adventure was a real-life fishing trip to the stream that runs through the orange grove.  To Paola’s delight we had a new tackle box abounding with all kinds of shiny thingamajigs that promised scores of fish (if you actually knew how to use them).  I didn’t tell Paola that Captain Mommy was clueless about fishing.  It would not have inspired confidence in her captain if Paola learned that, prior to doing an equipment inventory; I thought a “bobber” was something that belonged in a Margarita.  Now, at least I know it has something to do with fishing.  
The equipment inventory also consisted of a fishing pole, bucket, a bag of bread, my cell phone and a box of live worms from Paola’s “Hallelujah Wigglers” worm farm.  We also threw in the two dogs for good measure.  And, of course, Captain Mommy carried her trusty 38 revolver on her hip (just in case we encountered a wayward rattler or wild hog).
So, off we went on our fishing expedition to catch dinner.  
I was carrying the pole, bucket, bread, worms, cell phone and revolver.  Toby, dog number one, rambled in front of me on his leash while I struggled to contain him and juggle my equipment.  Paola carried the all important brand spanking new tackle box with the shiny thingamajigs.  Dog number two’s leash occupied Paola’s other hand.  Lilo quickly bounded after Toby with Paola in tow and we made our way down the dirt path toward the creek.
All was going smoothly as we meandered our way around cow dung mines and confidently tramped over brier bushes and other woodland obstacles.  We talked about the fish that awaited our first cast of shiny thingamajigs and Hallelujah Wigglers.  Paola wondered what she’d catch.  I worried how I’d conceal my complete lack of fishing knowledge when it came time to bait the hook.   Little did I know that I would not have to bait a hook on this fateful day.  
Our fishing adventure was about to change into an escapade of a whole different nature.  
As we rounded the bend in the dirt road I noticed the cows and bulls were grazing off to our right.  This sight did not cause me to feel any sense of alarm as we regularly encountered the herd.  Although, that was before all the orange trees were cut down.  Now, there were no orange trees providing cover for us.

I soon noticed a rather large bull that appeared to be locked in a staring contest with me.  I wanted to avert my gaze and try to appear disinterested in him, but I knew I had to keep at least one eye on his whereabouts.  How do you watch a bull without watching a bull? I pondered this dilemma as we advanced toward the stream.   I soon realized that the bull presented a quagmire that required Captain Mommy to think fast and, quite possibly, act faster.  While I was contemplating our options, the bull abruptly decided to make my mind up for me.  He charged.  His herd followed.  I screamed.  
I think everyone wonders from time to time what they would do when faced with a crisis situation.  Truth be told, we all picture ourselves reacting like Rambo or Indiana Jones.  These action heroes always know what to.  In fact, the immortal words of Indiana Jones ran through the back of my mind as the herd charged: “Don't be a child - find something to fight with!”   
I had something to fight with; a gun.  I didn’t even consider the 38 on my hip.  Maybe it was because I would have been trampled before I could unholster the weapon.  I also had the fishing pole, cell phone, bucket, bread, worms and a rather large Border Collie that just happened to be in the herding dog family.  I didn’t think the fishing pole would wield much of a blow.  If I called someone on the cell phone to rescue us all they’d find would be our guts squished amongst the undergrowth.  The bucket was useless (and red to boot)!  I didn’t think the stampeding herd would pause to eat the bread and the worms weren’t much of a weapon either.  Their flimsy cardboard box would just blow away in the wind and I know the worms would not hold their ground and stand up to the herd.  They’d do what any self respecting worm would do - burrow into the ground.  My trusty dog, Toby the Border Collie, was more interested in getting to the water than herding cattle.  
So, that’s what we did.  Paola, Lilo and I followed the rapidly fleeing Toby into the mucky gross water.  “Be brave Paola”, is all I could think to yell to my eight-year-old as she ran behind me. Now, as I look back on that moment I have to ask myself; “What kind of mother leaves her child in the dust to fend off a raging herd when all she has is a shiny brand spanking new tackle box and a mangy mutt for protection?”  I reasoned that she was a faster runner than me and I needed a head start.
Okay, I know plunging headlong into the alligator, snake infested murky water probably was not the brightest thing to do but my adrenalin was in the fight or flight mode and, with only twelve rounds in my gun and at least fifty cattle charging us, I didn’t think Paola and I would come out on the winning end if we chose “fight”.  I think Toby figured that out as well.  
Toby swam to a small island in the middle of the creek and we, with all our gear still in tow, dutifully followed our leader.  I arrived first and pulled Paola and Lilo onto the tiny island made up of six foot tall weeds in which Lilo immediately proceeded to hopelessly entangle herself.   Breathless, I peered out of the weeds praying I wouldn’t be staring into the eyes of a raging bull.  Nothing.  I didn’t see or hear anything.  The cattle must have lost interest in trampling us and continued on to the other side of the orange grove.  Now what?  Paola was trying desperately to free Lilo from her entanglement, Toby was attempting to swim across the water to the other bank and I, panting like I had just run a marathon, contemplated our fate.  Does Toby have the right idea?  Do we go to the other side?  Do we go back the way we came?  Where are the cows?  Are they just out of sight awaiting our demise as we emerge from the bank?  Surely, I had to do something.  We couldn’t stay on this island where we’d encounter even more villainous creatures in the form of alligators and water moccasins.   
I decided to follow Toby.  After all, he already saved our lives once.  I instructed Paola to stay on the island while I checked out the other side.  She was still occupied with untangling Lilo which was keeping her mind off our precarious predicament.  I, still holding all the gear, stepped off the island and immediately found my leg buried up to my hip in what appeared to be quicksand.  Luckily, I still had one leg on the island.  Now what?  “Paola, come over here and help mommy.” I yelled in the calmest voice I could muster.  “I’m untangling Lilo, Mommy!”  She yelled back.  “She’s choking!”  “Lilo will be ok for a minute, honey.”  I replied as I felt my leg submerge another few inches.  Paola appeared in front of me just as I let go of the sandal on my foot and pulled with all my might.  My leg popped free and I toppled into my daughter.  Paola, me and my gear tumbled through the weeds over to poor Lilo who was looking a little pop-eyed by now.  Toby, feeling the pull on his leash made his way back to the island.  
Back to square one.  
There was only one thing to do.  We had to go back the way we came.  I left Paola on the island still freeing Lilo.  I took Toby and, gun in hand, made my way back to the bank where the bull and his minions could be waiting in ambush.   As soon as my sandalless foot stepped on the shore I knew I was in trouble.  Prickers!  Hundreds of them lined the shore.  It seemed they were attracted to my bare foot like bees to honey.  I screamed in agony as I hobbled up the bank on one foot with the big toe of my other foot gingerly touching down only when necessary for balance.  I glanced over the top of the bank with my gun cocked and ready for battle.  No cattle.  No snakes.  Just an endless sea of prickers awaited us.  
I started back for Paola.  
First, I tied Toby to a tree and rested the pole, bait and bucket on the ground.  I checked the cell phone to make sure it was still dry and holstered the gun.  Then, I found a spot where I could sit without impaling my butt on more briers and removed as many spines from my foot as I could before attempting to use both my feet to cross the water.  I heard Paola yelling something about Lilo.  It was the alarm in her voice that made me forget the hellish prickers for the moment.  I sprang into action and swam to Lilo’s rescue.  I unclipped her collar from the leash and prepared to do mouth to mouth but she regained her color and her eyes returned to normal within a few seconds.  Paola and I detangled the leash and, with Lilo reattached, we trekked across the water to the shore.  
On the sand I had Paola use her young eyes to inspect the bottom of my foot.  “Wow mom,” She proclaimed, “There’s a ton of prickers in your foot!”  “I know honey, can you pull them out?”  I pleaded.  “Nope, I don’t have any tweezers or a needle and you always say to use tweezers or a needle so you don’t get a fection.”  “I’m not worried about an infection, sweetheart.  I just want to be able to walk home and I don’t have a shoe for this foot.”  I said through my tears.  After much coaxing, Paola removed most of the prickers.  
We started home. 
It was a long arduous effort.  Every brier patch presented a new challenge.  I made a futile attempt to attach the bucket to my foot and, at one point, I emptied the bread bag and tied it to my foot.  I have no idea what I expected to accomplish with such stupid maneuvers but I was desperate and delusional from the pain.  It took us an hour to make it to our backyard fence.  My foot was numb and my pride was ruined – what kind of captain was I?  I almost certainly traumatized my child for life.  God knows, she’ll never pick up a fishing pole again.  And our adventures in the orange grove undoubtedly have come to an abrupt halt since the orange grove was no longer a grove but a flattened barren briar patch filled with murderous cattle.  Paola hadn’t shed a tear yet, but I knew she was just “appearing” unfazed.  It was all a ruse – her tough exterior would disintegrate at any moment and she would probably have nightmares for weeks.  
I struggled to appear brave and courageous as I unsteadily scaled the fence but the prickers had gotten the best of me.  As soon as I descended the other side I crumbled to the ground and cradled my foot in my arms.  I couldn’t take another step.  I sat rocking my foot like a baby as I inspected my damaged sole.  Paola came to my side and sat with me.  We sat in silence for a few minutes.  Finally, Paola spoke.  
“Mommy,” she said, “Thank you so much for a most excellent adventure!”   

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Let's Do Lunch

“It has been so long since we’ve seen each other!  I miss you!  The kids are all fine.  So, how are you?  I haven’t heard from you in such a long time.  Just wondering what’s new in your life.  Let’s do lunch!”
“Let’s do lunch”; three simple words that denote so much about relationships between women.  Men don’t “do lunch”.  They’re more apt to do wings and beer at the sports bar when the game is on.  However, girlfriends have “doing lunch” down to a science.  They “do lunch” for any reason.  If they’re having marital problems, stressed out at work, planning a wedding, have sick kids, a bad hair day, or a dying dog – it is time to “do lunch”.  “Doing lunch” is a right of passage in the female world.  I started training my daughter, Jennifer, early.  Ever since she was five we did lunch at fancy restaurants periodically to prepare her for the day when she would “do lunch” with me and my girlfriends.  Our lunch together was always a special lunch because she’d order a Shirley Temple with a cherry just like I did when I was a little girl.  
The day finally came when she and her best friend went out to lunch with me and my best friend.  We ordered drinks and, when the Shirley Temples arrived, we pulled the ends off the paper straw covers and blew through the other end of the straws shooting paper at each other.   My friend got up and stood three feet away from the table holding the menu so that I could read it since I lost my reading glasses.  We ordered too much food and sinful deserts and ate every bit of it.  When we all went to the ladies room together I knew that I had trained Jennifer well on the art of “doing lunch.” 
One time, I did lunch with my friends when my dog was dying.  My three friends and I sat at the table all puffy-eyed as I relayed the latest tragic episode in the heroic efforts the vet was taking to keep my dog alive.  We sobbed over our peach cobblers about all our pets who’ve blessed our lives.  The older couple next to us glanced our way.  It was clear the husband was visibly concerned about the three runny-nosed, blubbering women at the next table.  His wife reached across the table and patted him on the arm.  “They’re ok, honey.”  She said, “They’re just doing lunch.”  
When you “do lunch” there are really no rules.  It can take thirty minutes or three hours.  The important thing about “doing lunch” is that you get to talk about anything and everything and you can talk for as long as you need.  It is therapy at its best.   Who needs to pay a shrink $100.00 an hour when all you have to do is call a few friends and pick a good restaurant that serves wine and has great deserts.   
Great deserts are a must because when you “do lunch” all diets are off.  Doing desert depends on the number of women “doing lunch”.  If it is just two of you, you order one desert and two forks.  However, if there are more than two, everyone orders a different desert.  When the deserts arrive, they all get piled into the center of the table where they are in reach of everyone’s fork. 
The red hat society does lunch with a flare.  The ladies all dress up in purple PJ’s and wear big red fancy hats and invade local eating establishments.  Once there, they tell jokes and relish in the fact that they are over 50 and can look however they please and act as silly as they want.  They spend they’re pension on brandy, summer gloves, satin sandals and, of course, lunch.

Dinner is not an option.  Breakfast is too early – and you can’t drink.  Lunch, however, is and always will be the favorite meal of girlfriends.  

Monday, February 14, 2011

Squirrels in the Attic

Last night the squirrels in my attic rattled around until daybreak.  They ran to and fro, chewing and gnawing on any number of things.  Having squirrels in my attic is not a new phenomenon for me.  I’ve had them there for a long time – but lately they have been keeping me up all night.  So, this morning I vowed to get rid of the rodents once and for all.  My opportunity came after my three-year-old went in for her nap.  I read her a story about a mouse and some cookies, tucked her in bed, kissed her and quickly headed for the closet where my son kept his BB gun.  I felt a little bit like Rambo as I crept silently into the attic with the BB gun and flashlight in hand.   I quickly spotted one of the pesky critters chewing on my High Anxiety Workbook.  How dare that little varmint chew on my book!  “Get your own Anxiety book to chew on!” I yelled as I threw my flashlight at him.  He didn’t even miss a beat as the flashlight flew by him.  His incessant chewing continued uninterrupted.  I knew this because I could still hear the clatter of his teeth as I crawled around following the beam of my flashlight.  
I reached my destination and assessed the situation.  I inspected my battered flashlight and placed the BB gun at my side.  I was sitting approximately ten feet away from my prey.  I was armed – he wasn’t.  I was sweating profusely – he wasn’t.  In fact he was already on the social phobia chapter of my book and he wasn’t even showing signs of slowing.  As I took in my surroundings, I could see the outline of the attic stairs in the background.  The stairs were only a few feet away from me.  I could shoot the squirrel, make a run for the stairs and be in the kitchen baking brownies in less than five minutes.  I fixed the flashlight beam on his little beady eyes and positioned myself for the kill.   Then, I heard it - a faint sound coming from the bottom of the stairs.  I listened intently.  The sound grew louder.  “Mommy, are you up there?”  It was my three-year-old.  She woke up early from her nap.  Darn!  “Yes, honey, I’m up here looking for squirrels.”  I replied as I positioned the BB gun and wiped the sweat from my eyes.  I aimed at the pesky critter.  He paused momentarily from his gnawing and looked curiously in my direction.  “Did you find any squirrels, mommy?”  “Yes, pumpkin, I found a squirrel.” I cocked the gun.  “Is he cute, mommy?”  I fixed the sight on him.  “Can we keep him, mommy?”  The sweat was pouring off me as I prepared to fire.  “Mommy, does he have a family like us?”  I put the gun down.
“Yes, sweetheart, he is cute and no, we cannot keep him because he’s a wild animal.”  I replied as I climbed down from the attic.  “I am sure he has lots of family in our attic.  Would you like to see him?” I took her hand and led her up the stairs.  “There he is.” I said, “Do you see him over there chewing on mommy’s anxiety book?”  “Oh yes, mommy, I do see him.  He’s so cute!  What’s a ‘xiety’ book?”  “Oh, well that is a book for all the mommies like me that have squirrels in their attics.”  

Monday, February 7, 2011

Hammered Sugar

I have never been much of a morning person.  When I was younger, my family used to draw straws to see who would get the nerve-wracking task of waking me up.  Reportedly, I have been known to knock coffee out of my mother’s hand and connect my foot with my sister’s midsection.  Of course I don’t believe a word of it.  
Now that I am older, and presumably wiser, I have discovered the miracle of morning coffee.  Every morning, I make my groggy unsteady trek from my bedroom to the coffee pot.  My family knows to give me a wide berth until the first cup is poured and I have consumed half of it.  
This particular morning, my husband entered the kitchen and observed me holding a bag of sugar in one hand and a hammer in the other.  His curious look prompted me to offer an explanation.  “In case you’re wondering, I’m hammering the sugar.”  I anticipated a response; however he ambled silently to his place at the breakfast table and soon became engrossed in the morning paper.    I went outside to the porch where I proceeded to hammer the sugar.  I wonder if the expression “pound salt” came from some kind of similar ritual. 
While I was pounding the sugar, my five-year-old daughter, Paola had perched herself at the breakfast table and was happily munching on her Captain Crunch cereal.  I came back into the kitchen with my sugar and hammer in hand and made a bee-line to my coffee cup.  I poured the coffee, pulled two lumps of sugar out of the bag, plopped them in the cup and added milk.  Finally, I was able to take my first sip of morning coffee.  As I lifted the cup to my lips, I began to feel almost human.  I smiled to myself as I thought about pounding sugar and other things we Floridians take in stride.  
Living in Florida, our sugar resides in our refrigerator because the entire package would be consumed by ants otherwise.  Refrigerated sugar becomes a “block” of sugar within a short period of time.  Hammered sugar is right up there with the “fire ant” dance, “cotton candy” drivers, the “sting-ray” shuffle, “waterfront” property and the “gator” run.  
The fire ant dance is a very quick spirited dance characterized by an individual stomping both feet simultaneously while disrobing and slapping clothing on the ground.  This dance is usually followed by a mad dash to the nearest source of water.  Often, the dance culminates with the individual plunging headfirst into the water.  
Cotton candy drivers are drivers whose heads have a cotton candy appearance because a white/blue puff of hair is all that can been seen over the driver’s seat.  These drivers are often characterized by slow movement in the left lane and quick erratic changes in direction without warning.  
The sting-ray shuffle, like the fire ant dance, has been handed down through generations of Floridians.  It is a shuffling walk that is required whenever one enters a body of water at the beach.  The sting-ray shuffle is not required, however, when one enters thigh-high water in the front yard.  Waterfront property is something all Floridians own during the rainy season.  Stingrays only exist in the gulf or the ocean.  Alligators, on the other hand, are not as selective.  There is no alligator shuffle – gators require the zig-zag run.  
As visions of my fellow Floridians danced through my head I thought, “Oh the things we put up with to live in paradise!”  I meandered over to the table and gave Paola a quick kiss on her cheek.  “Mommy” she asked as I sat down at the table, “can I have some hammered sugar on my cereal?’  


We walked in late. It was our first of many mistakes.  The room fell eerily silent as we hesitantly approached the front desk and naively asked, “How much is it to play?”  We were met with a blank stare and a finger pointing upward directing us to an overhead board.  My friend, Darcy, and I were amazed and perplexed by the choices on the menu.  The board postings read like a marquee at Aqueduct: double daily, triple trifecta, and quadruple bypass (or some such thing).  “We just want one card each.”  I said this as if I knew what I was talking about.  “Is that for each round?”  The person behind the desk patiently inquired.  I glanced at Darcy for some advice but she was of no help whatsoever.  She was busy surveying the crowd as they prepared for the next “round”.  Almost everyone in the room had at least five cards in front of them and a peculiar Lazy-Susan like contraption that held different colored markers readied at their fingertips.  “Yes, we want one card for each round.”  “How much is that?”  I asked.   “Do you want to enter in the drawing?”  “What drawing?”  I asked as the keeper of the cards rolled her eyes at me.  “The drawing for the automated machine.”  She replied with an edge to her voice.  “Sure.  Whatever.”  After paying forty-something dollars, I was handed four tickets, ten bingo cards for each of us and two markers.  I didn’t know what the “extra” ticket was for but I wasn’t about to ask.  I guessed the Lazy-Susans were reserved for serious bingo players only.
Darcy and I made our way through the smog to the non-smoking section of the bingo hall behind a glass partition.  We sat at the same table with the three non-smokers already seated.  Someone from the smoke filled room yelled, “Bingo” and a collective moan ensued.  I observed everyone scrambling to get their next card ready, so I scrambled too.  I positioned my card in front of me and held my marker poised for the first number.  Then, the caller announced this was the “third T” game.  Darcy looked my way and I shrugged my shoulders in an “I don’t have a clue and neither do you” gesture.  I guessed that we should mark our cards like a “T”.   I was partially correct.  The only way one could win this game however was if they had previously won the two other “T” games.  That explains why, while we were busy marking our cards, most everyone in our non-smoking section sat motionless.  Suddenly, I couldn’t believe my eyes!  I had a “T” staring back at me from my card.  I shook Darcy’s arm and whispered, “Should I yell bingo?”  “I guess.” She whispered back.  “I’m scared.”  I said.  I raised my hand instead.  A “hall monitor” appeared at my side.  “Do I have bingo?”  I asked plaintively.  “No.”  Came the reply.  “You have to have won two other “T’s” to play.” He said.  “You mean I wasted a card?”  I cried.  “Yes.”  The hall monitor replied callously.      
If that wasn’t bad enough, what happened next was horrific!  The caller announced the winner of the automated machine.  Darcy and I stared at our gray tickets as the numbers were read off.  We didn’t win.  The weird thing was; no one else won either.  The hall monitor appeared at my side again.  “You are supposed to read the ‘red’ ticket for this drawing,” he droned.  Darcy and I picked up our red tickets.  I felt a certain dread come over me as I checked my ticket to the numbers flashing on the screen.  Needless to say, I was stunned to learn that I held the winning ticket!  The hall monitor who, by the way, bore a striking resemblance to Lurch from The Adam’s Family brought me the automated machine.  Everyone in both rooms groaned as I took the prize from Lurch.  Darcy started laughing.  It was the equivalent of laughing in the middle of the priest’s sermon.  You know how it goes, you start laughing but you try to hold it in.  The more you try to hold it in, the more you laugh.  The more you laugh, the more you snort.  The more you snort, the more you laugh.  It’s a vicious circle!  Unfortunately, I had joined Darcy and the two of us were snorting so loud, it was impossible to hear the caller.  
Between snorts, I heard the woman to my left make a comment that went something like this, “She doesn’t even know how to use the machine.  Look at her!  She hasn’t punched in one number!”  She called Lurch over and asked him to inquire if I would give my automated machine to her.  I refused and asked Lurch to please tell me what I was supposed to do.  He showed my how to “punch in the numbers” on the machine while, at the same time, mark my card.  It was harrowing, but I got through it.  I didn’t win anything with the machine or the cards.  Darcy and I laughed and snorted our way through X marks the spot and diamond frenzy.  We have no idea if we had any winning cards!  However, we did leave that bingo hall with a new found respect for the people who can actually play this game – with five cards no less!   I heard that the bingo hall had a fire last week during one of the games.  Apparently, the players refused to leave their cards and had to be carried out by the fire-fighters.  I think I’ll stick to checkers.