Driving ourselves to debt (pt 1)

I drove to the mall in order to save $5. Yes, I used $2 in gas so I could save $5 on a sweater. Can you say idiot?

But that's our problem, isn't it? We, in this country, drive, drive, drive and shop, shop, shop.

I'm not going to say anything about the failing banks and the Wall Street bailout that was voted down yesterday because I know so little about such things. What I know is what I see on My Street.

I know people who drive 30, 40, 50 or more miles to work, putting hours of their life and huge chunks of their paycheck into their cars. Living in a rural state with very little public transportation often makes this necessary and common place. But I also know we are our own worse enemy. There are buses but we refuse to ride them. There are car pools but we don't like the inconvenience of them. No riders, no funding. No funding, no buses to ride even if we wanted to. And so we keep complaining about the gas prices while chugging down another gallon.

My husband walks to work everyday and I do when I can. When we moved back to Vermont we made a conscious decision to move into town. To say we did this to save money and the environment would be overly self-righteous. In reality I just wanted to be able to throw my kids in the stroller and walk to the coffee shop. If we saved anything in the process, that was a bonus. I know not everyone can live in within city limits. Americans like their privacy and their land. What I don't understand is those who live in one city and work in another. Or live in the suburbs and sacrifice hours and hours of time sitting on a highway. Obviously everyone has their personal reasons and situations, but I have to wonder if many aren't sacrificing unnecessarily - or putting the wrong priorities in the driver's seat.

My family has sacrificed privacy for community, a large lawn for street festivals, and a second car for a father who comes home in time to eat dinner and read a bed time story to his children. My daughter rides the school bus for 5 minutes rather than an hour (and will walk to school once she starts 3rd grade) and I get to breathe in the crispness of a fall morning on my walk to daycare and my office.

I hear on the news that more and more people are moving into the cities for the convenience and financial logistics of it. I am thrilled to know that walkable communities are slowly edging their way onto the landscape. But I also know that Sprawl still stalks this land; gated communities yank woodlands out by their roots, box stores are plopped down in cow pastures, and sidewalks are never drawn into new city plans. Americans are forced to drive, our addiction to oil is fed by poor planning, greedy investors, and our own need for property and insulation.

And then there is our addiction to shopping...

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I am not an island

I have a confession to make.

I'm lonely.

Last night I was checking the traffic to my blog and followed one visitor's referral link back to a blog I didn't recognize. At first I was confused why a link to my blog would be here. Then I began to put it together and realized it was the website of a couple with whom we were friends in Mississippi. I finally found the link to my blog along with this introduction: "A friend that used to live in MS has a blog about her new life in Vermont, a move back home for her. They are cool people and we miss them a lot but I guess they've moved on to better things." (Thanks, Tim... you're cool people yourself!) He goes on to say that although he does miss his home state, as long as he has friends, "you've got the most perfect place on earth."

That's hard to hear.

I haven't acknowlegded (in this forum) something very important about our 3 years in Mississippi: Friends.

For the first time in my life when I planned a party I had a list of guests, guests who showed up, who stayed late and with whom we had laughs, tears (not at the party, thankfully), and meaningful conversations. With these same friends we had lunch and drinks out on the town, shared Thanksgiving dinner, and threw baby showers and children's birthday parties.

Friends became the norm. Now we don't have them. And I thought I was OK.

But I'm not.

My days are running into each other with no anticipation of fun. The little screen on my phone never lights up with just a first name. I have no other woman to gripe to, no other mom to sympathize with. No one to meet at the coffee shop.

I keep in touch with close friends in various parts of the country, and even in England where I grew up, but I never knew just how vital it is to have friends right on your door step until they weren't there anymore.

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Squeezing me in between

The honeymoon's over.

Me and this blog, we don't talk so much anymore.

My life has radically changed from when I was a stay-at-home, wannabe writer. Even though the last of those days are barely a month gone, I have already made them into golden nuggets. I catch myself thinking, remember when I could put Tater down for a nap while Little Lady was at summer camp, and I could sit and think and write? Of course, my memory has blotted out the crazed insanity of the hour prior to getting her out the door.

The first morning I put Little Lady on the school bus was the also the first day I put on some make up and clocked into my new 22-hour a week life. Four hours a day... oh, poor me, right? But listen, here's the reality of how four hours of work morphs into a whole day:

7AM - 8:30AM: Kids up, breakfasted, dressed; make lunches; squeeze in a couple of chores

8:30: Walk to bus stop; wave off Little Lady

8:40: Walk or drive to work; grab a coffee if time

9:00: Kiss Tater Tot goodbye downstairs in toddler room; walk upstairs to office or return home to do laundry, dishes or bills, or run into town to grocery shop

11:00: Return to work

3:30: Leave work

3:45: Meet bus

4:00-4:15: Disperse snacks, check backpack, go through mail

4:15-5:00: Workout while watching Oprah (who am I kidding? I'm mostly just standing in front of the TV, doing the occasional leg lift to justify watching TV for a few moments.)

5:00-6:00: Prepare and eat dinner

6:00-7:00: Clean up dinner and kids

7:00 - 7:30: Put kids in bed, read story, sing song, say good night, go downstairs, come back upstairs, put Tater back in bed, kiss goodnight, go downstairs, come back upstairs, put Tater back in bed, kiss goodnight, walk downstairs... (this can go on for 5 minutes or, like last night, 1/2 hour).

7:30 - : At this point I collapse on the couch and try to push my brain into writing mode, usually unsuccessfully, until I can keep my eyes open no longer.

Needless to say, I left out of the schedule the 6 circles I make around the house looking for the left shoe, or the 7 minutes I spend debating with Little Lady whether she should eat the soggy cereal of which she gave herself too big a helping, or the 11 minutes I am chasing a giggling Tater trying to grab his soupy diaper.

And there you have it - Monday to Friday, 7AM-10:30PM, poof!

I ask you, where's the me in there? Where are the great tomes I'm meant to bring forth?

I know this is a time of transition and I will eventually settle into my new life. I plan to take three mornings for myself - schedule in my writing. No housework. No errands. No excuses.

NO excuses.

Think I can do it?

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Tick Tock, The Clock Won't Stop

This is just uncalled for.

On the eve of my 36th birthday I found, not one, not two, but three gray hairs peeking out from under my otherwise auburn mass (not Auburn, Massachusetts... hehe, I'm so funny). How does that happen? One day you have none and the next you have three pigmentally-challenged hairs. Do they suddenly grow or do regular hairs turn gray? I suppose I could look this up on wikipedia but I can't be bothered with that right now. I'm more concerned with why this would happen on this day of all days.

Tonight at midnight I begin the downward slide to 40. I am beginning my 37th year with three holes in my head from whence I yanked the offending follicles. Am I supposed to read something into this? That the time has come for me to face that I am no longer a young woman?

You see, I have this thing about age. I always assume (completely illogically) that if someone is in a high position of power or reached a stage in their career that puts Director or President or CEO by their name, that they must be old(er). I even think anyone who has children - of any age - must be beyond me in years. I can never quite wrap my head around age.

At my new job I am reorganizing the personnel files. It was with shock that I discovered on a list only two or three 1970's birthdates. Other than the really old 'uns - born in the 50's and 60's -the majority of my co-workers were wailing in their cribs when I was Karma Chameleon-ing to Boy George.

Who do they see when they say hello to me from the hallway? Someone who stays home every night -even Fridays and holidays - who is dosing off at 8PM and gets buzzed on one glass of wine? Someone who will never again zip a pair of jeans without first folding in the baby belly, and who didn't like the 80's styles the first time around. I AM one of the older ones to them.

But aren't the 30's are supposed to be the best years of a women's life? (No? It's the 40's? According to Oprah, it's the 50's... ???)

Yes, tonight for the first time in my life I believe I am having trouble with a birthday. Planning our 20th high school reunion and realizing this year's seniors were born the year I graduated certainly doesn't help.

So, Happy B00-Hoo To Me.

(I still want cake.)

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The Sound of Silence

It's 6AM and I've been awake since 4. Ike (Tropical Storm Ike, that is) has been blustering around the house all night, licking us with hot, sticky tropical winds. It's 6AM and almost 80 degrees outside... in Vermont... in September! It'll probably snow next week.

Once in a while I don't mind not being able to sleep - getting up in the dark and having complete silence and motionless-ness for a few hours is intoxicating. I think that's the most difficult part of motherhood for me - the constant motion, constant noise. I'm an introvert, I don't particularly like to talk (unless I'm in a comfortable social situation or feeling overly emotional, then I don't shut up).

When Little Lady was a baby, and my mother or sister was visiting or babysitting, I was struck by how they would talk and interact with the baby continually. When I was home with her there was almost complete silence. Of course, I talked to her but wouldn't offer a running commentary. I'd get so tired if I had to engage my brain and move my mouth that much.

I used to worry that I was doing our child a disservice by not reciting the alphabet or giving her a blow-by-blow of what mummy was doing every second. When we began to socialize at a mommy-n-me group, I'd feel ashamed when the toddler on the next mat could count to ten in English and German when my little one could barely count to three in any language. But she was dancing with abandon at music time or sitting quietly at still time. And, I think, more importantly, she knew (and knows) how to entertain herself.

Today, I look back on those quiet hours with my baby with longing. From the moment the kids lift their sleepy heads to when they finally give in to the drug of sweet slumber, there is a racket - either from their games, their music (which is still danced to with abandon by both), or from PBS or Disney. Now, I am forced to use my voice interminably: Stop that, food's ready, don't fold your brother in two... or just to answer the never-ending flow of demands for "Mama, Mama, MAMA!"

I'm tired. Very, very tired. Listening takes almost as much energy as talking. I crave silence more than a manicure, more even than Ben and Jerry's Coffee, Coffee, Buzz, Buzz, Buzz (and that's saying something).

It's my birthday on Friday and all I want is a big box of silence, wrapped up in a bow.

So, thank you, Ike. Although you did some harm down in Texas, and I admonish you for that, I do appreciate the gift you gave me this morning: Two hours of... nothing.

Unfortunately, it's a gift I will have to pay for with lots of coffee (or maybe some coffee ice cream?).

Start your engines... hear the roar... the madness of a school morning is about to begin.

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A cat, dental hygiene, and $123

If I seem a little absent lately, it's because my writing brain has gone missing. I think it's out looking for a more attentive host.

I've been a little distracted by, well, life. For example, this is how yesterday went.

I awoke with the sudden realization that the cat hadn't eaten or had water for many hours. Due to a feral cat who sunk its fevered fangs into our sweet kitty's foot, said appendage was two times its normal size and can bear no weight. He couldn't get downstairs to eat all night. I had neglected our feline family member because a certain human member had a tantrum - I had the audacity to ask her to wash her hands. (In all fairness to her, this is only her second week of all-day kindergarten and she comes home exhausted; although that rationalization did little to ease my anger at the time.)

I spent the time I should have been getting dressed looking under beds and in closets for - the thought crossed my mind - a dead cat. (He wasn't.) That put the whole morning off schedule. Add an intense storm and missing rain coats and I end up dragging the kids through puddles to where the bus is already waiting at the stop.

From there I go to my first "full day" of work. Despite the short day, the transition from house-work to office-work is surprisingly tiring. Instead of catching up on chores and bills, or just relishing the first hot cup of coffee while Tater Tot is napping, I'm arranging my desk and reading up on grantwriting how-to. Rather than grocery shopping or mediating between my two small anger-management candidates, I'm plugging in network cables and attending my first staff meeting.

I should note here that my children are actually incredibly well-behaved, sweet and loving... when they're apart. When together I spend my every breath and ounce of energy playing referee. Tater is two-years old in two weeks and acting his age with a vengeance. His poor sister suffers his frustrations and constant search for independence at the end of his pinching fingers. Meanwhile she sees the attention he receives (negative as it is) and acts out to even the score.

And, as tired as I am, this is what I come home to (aswell as the bills, the dishes, and the messes). But I digress...

So, I return from work just in time to collect H off the bus. As usual she is staaaarving, mom! As I throw a pizza in the oven - the kind we never eat but very thankful to have on such occasions - invalid kitty limps into the kitchen with a paw four times its normal size, and shaking. He attempts a jump onto the table, scrabbles at the table cloth and thumps inelegantly to the floor. I swear I see his little cheeks flush in shame. Time to make a call to the vet.

45 minutes, a slice of pizza, and a frantic search for the cat carrier later, we are in the car, mewling cat and pizza-sauce covered children along with (who are also mewling along with).

Another 30 minutes later I am writing a check for $123.


FOR 8lbs OF CAT!!

I haven't had my teeth cleaned in three years because it costs $100 each time, but I just paid a vet (who has lovely teeth) more than I earned in my whole first two weeks of work. Because some neighbor couldn't be bothered to neuter their damn cat, one of its hoodlum offspring just cost me another six months of grungy teeth.

And that's why I haven't written...

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It's like, gag me

It's the smell of skunk spray immediately after ejection - sickly sweet.

What is that word?

Smarmy. "Revealing or marked by a smug, ingratiating, or false earnestness...."

Yay, that's it.

The videos at the Democratic and Republican National Conventions are just plain smarmy. Obama's was OK, but Clinton's? Lord. I didn't see Palin's, but McCain's was out of control. That irritating movie-announcer-guy narrator. I can't take it seriously. And the background music! Bleck.

It's all so... so... American. A pep rally. A tribe of too-earnest cheerleaders yanking on your heart strings. An after-school special (remember those?) - all cheery, cheesy, sappy, and oh-so-serious. Just like that skunk spray; so sweet it's nauseating.

I don't know why they bother me so much. The word that springs to mind is propaganda: "Ideas, facts, or allegations spread deliberately to further one's cause." Put some patriotic music behind some touching pictures, tell the story as if it's a 1940's news film and it all becomes more important, more emotional, more convincing.

Call me a cynic, but I'm sorry, it doesn't work for me. Bring on the hype and I run the other way.

Just the facts, ma'am, just the facts...

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Remembering Katrina (part 2)

Sitting in the hallway on a mattress. The wind is howling. The roar is constant, like sitting in the middle of a major highway at rush hour - only louder. When it gusts, it shakes the house and you can't hear the person talking right next to you.

We monitor the speed of the wind by how close to horizontal the small sapling is outside the bedroom window. Trees are toppling, peeling up the lawn into a game board of four-foot craters. The tornadoes springing out of the hurricane are snapping other trees like pretzels in a child's fingers. The house across the street has two corners sheared off. One of the largest, vine-choked pines sways, leans, and then in a sudden blast from the south, slams into our neighbors living room.

Garbage cans, branches, and other debris is cartwheeling down the street, including part of our roof. One huge gust, a splintering crack, and a tree comes smashing through the roof. I watch it fall and scream at the impact. I am at my breaking point. The racket - for six solid hours - is more than I can take. My little girl puts her hand on my leg and says, "It's OK, mama."

Then it all but stops. The eye. Although the relative silence is a relief, my nerves are still firing missiles in anticipation of the other side of the storm.

But it never comes.

Two hours later, intermittent gusts and complete devastation are all that remain of Katrina.

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Stop the hatred... PLEASE!

Warning: This post contains sarcasm, cynicism and downright anger.

"The answer is: 'If [she] were a __________, she would have aborted the baby.'"

"What is a dying 12-year old who was raped by her father?"


"What is a Democrat?"

"That is correct."

According to a lovely lady called Phyllis Schlafly, if Sara Palin, the Republican V.P. nominee, was a Democrat she would have aborted her Down Syndrome baby boy.

WHAT?! That has to be one of the most hateful, offensive, and ludicrous things I have ever heard. I have been fuming ever since I heard this comment yesterday on NPR's "On Point" with Tom Ashbrook. His website is flooded with comments all expressing a similar rage. Some have criticized Mr. Ashbrook for not immediately challenging this horrendous generalization. My guess is that he was actually unable to due to blacking out momentarily when he fell off his chair in disbelief.

Because Democrats are pro-choice, apparently (according to the religious right) they are pro-abortion, just killing their unborn babies willy-nilly. I heard an interview recently where a man was asked why he was voting for McCain: Because I'm pro-family, he said. Yes, obviously Democrats hate family, which is why they would rather abort than have brats running around who might constitute a family.

This ignorance and pigeon-holing just floors me.

And would someone, please, explain to me how some pro-lifers justify being pro-war? Death is death, is it not? Someone's baby is being killed, just 18, 19, 45 years after leaving the womb.

Let me just say for the record, I'm not a Democrat (or a Republican) because I'm not a citizen of the U.S. But I am a family-loving, compassionate, intelligent human who believes people who judge others and spread hatred in the name of God (hmm, isn't that what the terrorists do?) are only damaging their cause and hurting those to whom Jesus (the one I learned about, anyway) would have shown love.

I will say no more...

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Remembering Katrina (part 1)

Three years ago on this date I was sitting by a hotel pool in northern Louisiana. My two-year old daughter was swimming with my husband and a friend while I sat in a lounge chair talking with the wife of our good friends. The weather was glorious but the atmosphere far from it. Everyone around us was tense, sad, and in shock. On the flat screen TV in the hotel lobby were scenes from a horror movie that we couldn't begin to fathom as reality. South of us in New Orleans people were dead and dying, the city drowning, and the Mississippi coast had been sucked out to sea.

We were the lucky ones. We had escaped. Our home in Hattiesburg, MS had a tree limb jammed through the bedroom ceiling and food was rotting in the refrigerator, but we were safe.

And I felt awful about it.

What right did I have to be safe and far away from the devastation, sleeping in an air-conditioned room, eating freshly prepared pancakes, and drinking hot coffee, while people even as far north from the coast as my hometown were lining up for bottled water and a rationed trip into Walmart for essentials? And while in the city of jazz babies were dying of dehydration, and corpses - human and animal - were floating down flooded streets. While in Gulfport a man was living with the all too recent and vivid memory of watching his family float out to sea. What right?

But at the same time I was so grateful to be alive. My family and friends were safe, even those unable to escape the tree strewn city, who sat in their sweltering homes waiting for electricity and relief. Using his mouth (and swallowing some in the process), my husband had siphoned gas from the truck into the car. Leaving everything behind, we and another couple piled into our car and headed north; we didn't care where, we just needed to leave the war zone that was our town.

I'm having a hard time writing this. My thoughts (and words) are jumbled. It's been three years, I don't even live down south anymore, but Gustav has brought it all back. My dormant fears, feelings and pain are bubbling over. I feel it physically in my chest. My husband's family amd some dear friends are still in MS bracing for the impact. We can do nothing but sit here and watch the weather, wait for the phone to ring, and hope for the best.

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