Yell Practice, Child Care and Fava Beans

Note: A name has been changed to protect the innocent. Well, at the time, the NOT so innocent.

My niece, Abby, is a student at Texas A&M University. Most Texans, and anyone familiar with college football, are aware of the many, um, unique traditions the Aggies hold dear. For example, as a junior, Abby is now allowed to say “Whoop!” Had she been caught saying, “Whoop!” as a freshman or sophomore, she would have been commanded to “push.” Push, meaning she would have to complete 213 push-ups. (213, since her graduation year is 2013.)

Yell Practice is another Aggie tradition. Abby lead yell practice during Fish Camp this summer. That is when I realized—by being non-Aggies—Joe and had violated a secret Aggie-cult-members-only-covenant.

Nightly Yell Practice
Before starting kindergarten, my daughters attended an on-site childcare center. Literally, my babies were a flight of stairs away from me. I would visit Olivia on my morning break, Hannah on my afternoon break and take turns eating lunch with them. The center was, and continues to be, top-notch. However we did have some of the typical problems. Most toddlers are either biters or a bitees. Olivia was a bitee, and the unfortunate victim of the world’s most notorious 16-month-old vampire (This was before vampires were cool and sparkly.). No matter how vigil the instructors were, Jackson found away to sink his teeth into chubby thighs, arms, and cheeks. Jackson was a pint-sized Hannibal Lecter. 

Joe and I trusted the teachers and parents of this cannibal were doing all they could to remedy the situation, but their tactics were not working.
So we designed our own method.
We called it Yell Practice.

Each evening, we would sit down on the floor and have Olivia stand in front of us. We would instruct her to repeat after us, “NO, JACKSON!” She was extremely hesitant at first—knowing it was against the rules to use your “outside voice” while indoors. Since Joe and I did not want our baby loosing a finger—to be eaten later with fava beans—we assured her it was acceptable.

After several evenings of Yell Practice, she had it down to perfection.
It came from the diaphragm, deep, strong, loud and clear, “NO, JACK-SUUUN!”
I proudly sent her to school the following day.

 Vocal Adrenaline
Jackson’s goal that morning was to recreate a scene from Jaws—with Olivia cast as the innocent beach-goer. My future actress cut the scene by shouting, “NO, JAAAACK-SUUUN!” Not just once, but several times. Not only had Olivia captured the attention of everyone in her classroom, but the attention of everyone in the classroom next door as well. Legend has it that she woke a few infants three doors down. 

Then I got the phone call.
The teacher was not pleased.
She did not want Olivia disrupting the class by yelling.
I did not want Jackson snacking on my daughter.
She did not want Olivia setting a bad example for the other students.
I did not want Jackson, aka Mike Tyson, biting off Olivia’s ear.
She pleaded with me to ask Olivia to stop yelling—
then sighed knowing I would not—until the biting stopped.
Eventually it did—oddly enough—not long after Yell Practice was established. 

So, there the story ends.
Unlike Aggies, our Yell Practice did not involve hand signals, so maybe Abby will give us some sort of push exemption.
And it was a success.
WHOOOOP that!

For more on bazaar Aggie traditions:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aggie_traditions

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Speaking with The Lion King

Eighteen years ago, Joe and I purchased a home in a quaint little suburb that has been great for raising kids. Good schools, great neighbors and a short drive from all that makes life easier—Target, HEB, Office Depot, a 24-Hour Walmart—and the most relied upon for science projects and history dioramas, Hobby Lobby. (With two hormonal teenagers in the house, having a restaurant 2 miles away that serves the strongest margaritas in town is a bonus.)

Across the street is an adorable family with four children all under the age of six. The family next door are dear friends. We consider their 4-year-old one of the family. She thinks our house is an extension of her own. Three houses down the street live a friendly couple with a 3-year-old daughter and twins that are not yet a year old. Hannah is fortunate to be in hot demand for babysitting.

Olivia has several friends within walking distance, including three classmates determined to form a band. A few doors down lives a talented young singer who competed in this years school talent show with Olivia.
(They kicked it. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nFyeuRNXALU )

We do not have a neighborhood newsletter, but we have an e-mail group that shares all critical information. Anything from the latest criminal activity to who’s kid is selling girl scout cookies. Recently we had a feral hog issue that lead to a series of e-mails that were quite entertaining.

Wild hogs began roaming through the neighborhood rooting up sprinkler systems searching for water. They were causing quite a mess and a bit of a scare. Being a diverse community, you can image the variety of options offered up to get rid of these intruders. That is when the e-mails got heated.
Capture and release?
Shoot to kill?
Live and let live?
Kill and butcher?
If anyone had hosted a barbecue a la My Big Fat Greek Wedding, I would have been there, fork in hand.

Disagreements and all, we are a close group that look out for each other.
Which is why I chose one evening to e-mail the FBI.

There was an issue with a house in our neighborhood. It was an issue that was beyond something the local police department would investigate. So I got online, found an e-mail address for the FBI and sent a message with my concerns. (Hand to heaven, I had NOT been drinking.)

Five minutes later, our phone rang. Joe handed the receiver to me. A James Earl Jones double on the other end stated, “This is Agent So-and-So with the FBI. We just received your e-mail.”
I cracked up.

Joe is not the type to play practical jokes and he had pulled a good one. Laughing into the phone I replied, “Yeah, right!” and continued to guffaw.
Then I looked at Joe’s face.
Paused.
Looked at his face again.
He was giving me The Ojo.
It was not a joke.
It was seriously the freaking FBI.
I stopped laughing and had a brief no-nonsense conversation with an agent whose tone emulated that of Mufasa. Well, he did most of the talking.
He never laughed.
I am confident my name is on A List.

Say what you will about our government—our FBI has game. If you doubt me, send them and e-mail.
http://www.fbi.gov/

And if you are interested in moving into my quaint, friendly little suburb—the house that I e-mailed the FBI about—it is currently for sale.

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Contempt, Cottage, Confession and Keys

Joe and I have been married for nineteen years. I see at least another nineteen in front of us. He is a quiet, patient man and I am a loud, impatient woman, so it works out rather well. When I ask for something to been done around the house, he quietly gets it done and I loudly express my gratitude. This is why we have a lovely portico in the backyard, why my bathroom is painted a deep red, why have plenty of shelves for my books and why the back fence is lined with wax-leaf ligustrum.
It is also why Joe does not have a shed.

Several years ago I asked for an art room to be built in the back yard. Joe did not respond to this request in his usual fashion. As a matter fact, he did not respond at all. I sat cramped on the bathroom floor, canvass leaning against the tub, juggling paint, brushes, turpentine and linseed oil. Joe walked around me, retrieved what he needed from the closet, then walked round me again to get to the bedroom. Surely something was being conceived in that brain of his. Maybe during this period of silence he was making arrangements to fly in a group of Amish—and my art room would be raised in a day! Or maybe Mennonites… whichever are not opposed to air travel.

But nothing happened.
Nada.
I continued painting in the bathroom. Then one evening I lost it. What had I ever asked of him? I don’t wear diamonds. I don’t want a big house. My favorite type of car is one that is paid for. Didn’t I raise his kids while he was working nights and weekends? Didn’t he care at all about my interests? Did he not think I was talented?! (I could blame my outburst on the turpentine fumes, but I was using unscented paint thinner.)

My art room was erected soon after.
It is lovely.
Really.
Lovely.
It looks more like a small cottage than a workroom. Think mini Thomas Kinkaid. It is a 10 x 10 structure with a pitched roof. Natural light flows through each of the four windows—one on each side of the building and the other two on either side of French-styled front door. The exterior of the retreat matches the house. The walls are painted off white, the windows and front door are trimmed in dark gray and the roof is covered with deep red shingles.

A top-notch electrician came over to do the wiring—he got a carried away.
Not one, but two light fixtures were installed on the ceiling—good lighting is essential for an artist’s getaway. There are outlets on each interior wall of the building and two on the exterior walls (something about Christmas lights in the back yard).

Superelectician then added a sensor light to the side of the studio—I suppose to scare off anyone who might want to heist my priceless creations. Then he put the cherry on the sundae—a porch light next to the front door. Joe placed white landscaping blocks tidily around the base as a finishing touch.
Preciousness.

The interior paneling is a sloppily done, but that happens when you save money by hiring someone with limited English speaking ability and questionable nationality.
A window unit was installed to keep me cool and innovative.
A small refrigerator was placed in the corner to keep my diet Cokes chilled.
Joe spent a day placing peel-and-stick tile on the flooring.
It was perfect.

Three works of art were created in that sanctuary, then I abandoned it.
It is so lonely out there.
Olivia would visit me regularly to construct her own masterpieces. Occasionally Hannah would come to tell me I had a phone call, or Joe would pop in while taking a break from yard work. The dogs slept peacefully on the cool floor while I tediously focused on mixing just the right shade of blue.
But I craved the noise of the house. I kept wondering what I was missing.

In addition, I just did not feel it anymore. The desire to paint—I blame it on someone who stated, “if you paint from a photograph, you are not a real artist.”
I am using that as my excuse anyway. On to other creative endeavors.

So, in addition to dust, the art studio now holds blank canvasses, sketch pads, an empty refrigerator, a forgotten drawing table and—Joe’s bright yellow landscaping wagon—which brings me to my conclusion.

This is my public confession, thank you and apology to my incredible husband, Joe.
Babe, we should have built a shed rather than an art studio. I am handing you the keys to the cottage and christening it your man-cave. But I should warn you— the ‘fridge does not hold much beer. Give me a call on your cell and I will bring you a cold one. 😉

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C.S. Lewis and God’s Nightgown

This blog was created to meet a job target. Target met. However, I have become attached to my little piece of the internet. I plan on keeping this blog—but the title has to go. It was chosen in haste and I find it does not suit my blog/blogging/bloggage tone. (In addition in sounds pretentious.)

The phrase silence of silence references a quote from The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath.
“The silence depressed me. It wasn’t the silence of silence. It was my own silence.”
I selected that quote because 1) I think Sylvia Plath was amazing and 2) someone already had my first choice: hot bath. It also references a quote from The Bell Jar.
“There must be quite a few things a hot bath won’t cure, but I don’t know many of them.” hotbath.wordpress.com has one post and appears abandoned.
What a shame.
Hot bath deserves better.

I continued to study Sylvia in looking for a sobriquet (hee.hee. I love thesaurus.com!). I remember while reading The Bell Jar, Joe told me to hurry and finish it—it was making me depressed. He was right. I don’t think I have ever read a book that has effected my mood the way that one did. While reading through some of her other works, I discovered how beautifully sad most of Plath’s writing is. Although I love and relate to Ms. Plath (more on that if I ever write something serious), she may not be able to help me find a suitable moniker.

However, I refuse to leave the discussion of Sylvia Plath without including the following masterpieces:

This is not sad. Read it twice. Slowly.
“Death must be so beautiful. To lie in the soft brown earth, with the grasses waving above one’s head, and listen to silence. To have no yesterday, and no tomorrow. To forget time, to forgive life, to be at peace.”

This one makes Sylvia sound like she spent some time in a sorority house.
“There is nothing like puking with somebody to make you into old friends.”
(I wonder if Puking with Friends is available?)

And how about this for romance?
“What did my arms do before they held you?”
I hope she did not write this about Ted Hughes (speaking of puking).

Moving on with my quest, I concluded something with a hint of spirituality would be nice. Not hit-you-over-the-head-with-a-Bible spiritual, but a name—that when investigated—would reveal my beliefs. (Even if my posts may be considered off-color to some, I do love me some Jesus.) Anyhow, I turned to the obvious choice for a plethora of advice.
C.S. Lewis.
I found the most moving passage I have ever read. Here it is.
You probably should read this one twice also.

“Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make any sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of-throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were being made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself.”

This quote is from Mere Christianity. Breathtaking. What an amazing explanation of earthly suffering. So my next blog choice was lifeasahouse.wordpress.com.
Taken.
At least this blog is active. It is written by the proud mom of Audrey and Ben. Cute kids. Lots of photos. Ben apparently loves Elmo. Disappointingly, no connection to to C.S. Lewis.

I considered using livinghouse but it sounded too pensive. Out of curiosity I looked it up. Taken… and with a mystery. Why name your blog livinghouse.wordpress.com when you are blogging in spanish? Todo lo sea.

Tired of the dead ends, I took a few days break—and came up with hands down the most perfect name.
God’s nightgown.
Hannah read Gone With the Wind last year—I had never read it—and picked it up as soon as she set it down. It is way better than the movie. I realize it is sacrilege to speak critically of the theatrical masterpiece Gone With the Wind, but read the book and you will understand how tempted I am to do just that. There is a phrase Scarlett uses (in the novel) on a regular basis—”God’s nightgown!” She uses it comparatively to “Good grief!” or “For heaven’s sake!” Every time I read it, I crack up. I suppose that was borderline cursing in the 1840’s.
I love to think of God in a nightgown. I image him in a white nightdress like the one worn by Scrooge in A Christmas Carol—but without the gloomy nightcap.

Godsnightgown.wordpress.com was seized March 4th of 2009. The blogger made the verbose post of “Hello world!” then went MIA. God’s nightgown! What a waste! (I am planning on bringing this expression back in to common use.)

Until I can come up with something more suitable, you and I are stuck with Silence of Silence. But my search for a new title continues—After all, tomorrow is another day!

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Life Expectancy of a Domestic Rat

During the fall of Hannah’s third-grade year, she decided to participate in the school’s science fair. Since this was not a requirement, I was pleased with her enthusiasm. She and her partner chose a project that monitored the effects different genres of music had on rats. The understanding was that her teacher wanted to keep the rats in the classroom when the experiment was over.

Once the project was complete, Joe and Hannah broke the news to me. The teacher in fact did not want the rats. This is how we came to own Oreo and Sugar, two domestic rats.

Both rats were female. Oreo was white with large black spots. Sugar was a muted yellow.  They had long black tails and yellow teeth. Their cage took up the entire expanse of Hannah’s desk and shavings from the bedding were constantly scattered on the floor. I tried to like them. Really I did. But it was not long before I was googling “life expectancy of domestic rats.”

Fast forward two years and the rodents were still alive and well. Except for one thing. Sugar had developed a growth in her groin area. I did some research and found out a couple of things. 1) The lump was a fatal tumor and 2) there are countless web sites devoted to the love and care of domestic rats.
I was pleased this was the beginning of the end.

However, Sugar did not immediately fall into a peaceful slumber—and the tumor continued to grow. Soon Oreo developed a tumor and it began to grow. The rats continued to live happily. And live. And live. The tumors grew larger. And larger. Eventually the growths were so immense, the two fat rats could barely haul their massive butts around the cage.

It was time to do something. It was time to euthanize. Surprisingly, there was a rat-loving web site that gave step-by-step instructions for the peaceful way to Kevorkian (may he rest in peace) your rodent. It involved caressing, chloroform, and talking your rat through their journey into rat eternity. That was not going to work for me. However, for Hannah’s sake, I needed to make it look like the rats had fallen into a heavenly coma. That threw out any options offered up by my redneck ancestors. (Besides we did not own a pitchfork.)

Rat poison was an obvious option. However, the grandfatherly associate at Home Depot, after patiently listening to my dilemma, could not assure me that the poison would not cause the rats to cough, sputter, gag or bleed out of random orifices. The last thing I wanted was a loud, gasping, painful death, which would cause my daughter lifelong trauma.

So I was on my own. First I tried Benadryl. I thought if a teaspoon could knock a toddler out for an evening, a healthy capful would send a small critter to their demise. It did not. From then on, each evening after Hannah was asleep, I would visit the medicine cabinet. I tried various mixtures of over-the-counter drugs. Nothing. I tried mixing cocktails of prescription medications. Nothing.

My last resort was to sacrifice several of my treasured (prescription) Xanax. I carefully ground the delicate pills and placed the powder in a bowl with a small amount of rat food. I expectantly placed the bowl into the cage and went to bed. The next morning the bowl was empty—and Oreo and Sugar were still dragging their tumors happily across the cage. I gave up.

A few weeks later, they died. Sugar first, then Oreo. They are buried in the back yard (with a landscaping rock placed on top of the graves so the dogs would not dig them up). As a grave marker, Joe made a cross out of scrap plywood. He painted it black.

I periodically look at the shrine and remember Oreo and Sugar. I could claim that the monument stands as a reminder of the hidden fondness I had for the creatures, or the longing I have for the time when Hannah loved all things great and small. But it doesn’t. It represents my failed attempts at extermination. An exterminator… that is who I should have called.

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Sounds Kinda Fishy to Me

My husband loves to fish. On average, Joe takes a trip to the coast twice a year. Apparently he has a good time. Since I have no desire to sleep on sand, I stay home.
(The wise man built his tent upon the rock.)

One would think a man-trip to the beach would require minimum preparation. Grab the tackle box, rod & reel and a cooler for beverages. Done. Ready to go. However, Joe does not pack for a fishing trip. He packs for a fishing expedition.

The stress begins a week before leaving port. Slowly items start descending from the attic. The tent, sleeping bags, the Spiderwire tackle box and the awesomely named Ugly Stick. Add to that a canopy and lawn chairs. Gradually more items appear on the scene. One item being the largest cooler known to mankind. Joe purchased it at a church garage sale. Because the money was going toward an ill member of the congregation, he paid about 10 times what the leaking piece of crap was worth. Ironically, this ice chest holds the beer.

Then there is the wagon. No, not the Red Ryder of the Sea World Incident. I am referring to the Cadillac of wagons—the manly term would be steel yard cart. It is bright yellow and designed for landscaping. It is also great for hauling items to and from the beach. Joe has rigged the wagon with dissected PVC pipes. These pipes are secured to the back of the wagon. Their purpose is to hold fishing rods. (Joe calls this ‘Mexican ingenuity’ I call it ‘kinda trashy.’) The wagon also holds lanterns, flashlights, a small grill, grilling accouterments, paper towels, bug spray, citronella candles, coozies, sunscreen and—toilet paper.

Joe was never a boy scout, but he knows how to prepare. The day before the journey, Joe makes a trek to our local HEB, just in case they are unable to catch any fish. A moderately sized cooler contains Johnsonville Bratwurst, tortillas, bologna, cheese, and mustard. A paper sack contains bread, chips, a monstrous sized bag of sunflower seeds and the most disgusting of all snacks—pork rinds. Joe only buys these for fishing trips. Sometimes I think he goes fishing just to drink beer and eat pork rinds.

With the truck bed loaded, the guys are ready to head out. They leave before dawn, get to the beach around 11 a.m., set up camp and begin to fish.

Each evening, this is the phone conversation with my beloved:
Me: Did you catch any fish?
Joe: No.
Me: Okay, miss you.
Joe: Miss you too.

Joe and his buddies have not brought home an aquatic animal of any kind in their last 9 fishing trips. If it were not for the photos Joe sends (because he is proud of the studley campsite they constructed), I would be suspicious that all that preparation was just cover for a trip to Vegas. My angler arrives home sun burnt, tired and smelly—and I am always glad to see him—even without a single speckled trout. I have learned not to bother preparing any room in the freezer for Joe’s big catch or anticipate a meaty bite of grilled red fish.

I wonder if I should preach to Joe that he cast his Ugly Stick on the other side of the island. Well, there is always hope for the next trip. If anything is certain, it is that there will be a next trip. As a matter of fact, why is there a package of pork rinds next to my Kashi bars?

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The Sea World Incident

Note from the writer: This is a bit of a confession. I am not Catholic, but sometimes wish I were. It would be great to walk into a box, confess my sins, and be guilt free by saying three Hail Marys and one Our Father.

During the summer of 1999, Joe and I packed the girls into the minivan and headed out for a trip to Sea World. This was not our first adventure to the land of sea lions and Shamu, so we knew our red wagon was essential for the day’s trip.

The wagon was a radio flyer of contemporary design, similar to the current Pathfinder model. Ours did not have the handy cup holders (genius) or seat belts (super genius), but it held two small kids comfortably. It had a nifty compartment at the base —we used it that day to pack towels and sunscreen.

Anchors Away
Our morning began with a visit to Sea Lion Stadium. For some reason Hannah was terrified. (She was annoying like that. Never knew what was going on in that head of hers. Still don’t.) Joe carried her up the stairs, while Olivia and I continued to watch the hijinks of Clyde and Seamore.

From there we trekked to Beluga Stadium. Hannah did not freak at this event, so we were all able to watch in the dolphins and belugas compete in a variety of challenges. Did you know a dolphin jumps higher than a beluga whale? Shocking, I know.

We worked up a sweat cheering on the belugas, then we headed to the waterpark. The girls hopped in the wagon and we hauled them over to the Lost Lagoon. This is where things went sour.

Pirates of the Kiddie Pool
We rented a locker for our clothes, but there was no way to secure the wagon. We parked it by a curb and were confident it would be there when we returned.
It wasn’t.

The rest of the day was spent without our radio flyer. Joe and I alternated carrying Olivia. At the end of the day, we were exhausted. BUT WAIT! We had not seen Shamu! We made it to the theatre just as the last show was starting.

The stadium was packed, but we managed to find seats midway down the steps. Shamu did his thing and the show ended to a round of applause. As the crowd began to move up the stairs toward the exit, I saw it.
Our wagon.
Unmistakably.
Our.
Wagon.

Walking the Plank
A righteous anger overcame me. I shouted over the massive crowd, “HEY, THAT IS OUR WAGON!” A superpower surged through me and I was able to leap over eight bleachers, 12 adults, and 9 toddlers to confront the thief.

I debated the cowardly heister over the ownership of the wagon as his wife and children scattered. A security guard approached with caution. Joe and the girls eventually caught up with me. Joe knew I was unstoppable.
My young girls were horrified (of me, not the thief).
The security guard looked afraid (of me, not the thief).
Families walked around the six of us for fear of becoming a part of the fray.

The thief had no case.
I had no case.
But I won—because that was our wagon.
And because I have a strong sense of justice… and a temper.

I opened the compartment of the wagon’s base and threw the criminal’s wet towels on the ground while simultaneously giving him and the onlookers an ethical sermon on what a horrific parental example he was.
Yeah, I know—I am one to talk. I get it. That is the confession part.

In the future, when you read a post that has the word “incident” in the headline, prepare yourself for a tale of my passion getting the best of me. In the meantime—since I cannot go to confession—I hope to ameliorate through my chats with God as well maintain my Xanax drip.

(I hope I used ameliorate correctly! I was just dying to use that word.)

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