Re-launched, but still slightly under construction. :-)

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Lunch time

Thursday, September 30, 2010 By

A.R. and I meet at the microwave. She pulls out her leftovers as I'm putting my lunch in to warm.

"Whatcha eating?" she asks.

"Potato."

She looks down and wrinkles her nose: "What's wrong with it?"

"It's a potato from Wendy's. It's inherently wrong."


Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Thoughts of a Medium Depth

Wednesday, September 29, 2010 By

I feel guilty buying antique books. Let's face it: There are preservation issues that I can't even begin to address. But I love them. The feel of old vellum. The smell of dust and time. The knowledge that someone's hands held the book in the same way mine do, and that the owner of those hands may have been equally affected by the words within.

My daughter is washing the front bay windows, unasked, and totally naked. I just thought you - and the neighbors driving by - might like to know what's up with the ragamuffin in our living room.

I ordered two books as gifts for our sixth wedding anniversary. I ordered Scott a copy of the Jewish scriptures carried by the soldiers in World War II. There's a forward by President Roosevelt, and an inscription. He collects WWII militaria, and while there are more valuable pieces to be found, I like to buy him unique items. I ordered myself an antique copy of "The Prophet," by Kahlil Gibran. Gibran is considered to be the third mostly widely read poet, behind Shakespeare and Lao-Tzu. I even knew a guy in college whose parents had named him Gibran.

Gibran - the poet, not the college student - was a sort of Renaissance man, studying art with August Rodin, studying the politics of the Middle East (he was Lebanese, after all) and working on his writing, always. But he has surprising ties to Georgia: His good friend and benefactress, Mary Haskell, donated her personal collection of nearly 100 original works of his art to the Telfair Museum of Art in Savannah. I'll see it the next time I'm able to visit the town.

The book I ordered turned out to be not the edition that was advertised - the book was first published in 1923, and the copy being sold was purported to be a 1926 edition. I'm irritated, yet it is still a nicely weathered 60-year-old tome.

But even as I read it, I remember a quote from the writer after whom we named our daughter. Ralph Waldo Emerson (and I fully recognize the irony of quoting this particular statement from "Self-Reliance"): "A man should learn to detect and watch that gleam of light which flashes across his mind from within, more than the lustre of the firmament of bards and sages. Yet he dismisses without notice his thought, because it is his. In every work of genius we recognize our own rejected thoughts: they come back to us with a certain alienated majesty."

While my daughter dances, naked, to the Bollywood song she's trying to sing while cleaning the windows, I turn to the chapter on children. You'll recognize your own thoughts and convictions in this, I'm sure. But it's nice to have some sympathy from Recognized Deep Thinkers.

On Children
by Kahlil Gibran

Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them,
but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.

You are the bows from which your children
as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,
and He bends you with His might
that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer's hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies,
so He loves also the bow that is stable.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

I just... and... help

Tuesday, September 28, 2010 By

I walked through the darkened house with a cup of lemonade. Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed an eerie green glow.

Paging Agent Mulder. Is the truth in my living room?

"Hey, Scott, what's this green thing?" I call, doing the wife thing where, even as I ask, I'm already investigating.

A white plastic rectangle is plugged into a wall outlet. Scott shuffles in as I pull it out, examine it, and break into giggles.

"That's an air freshener," he says.

I wave it as I laugh: "No-ho, it's not!"

"What is it?"

"It's a power adapter for a USB outlet," I laugh.

"But... It glows," he says, helplessly.

I just laugh harder.


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Neglect has a lasting impact - pay attention to your children

Tuesday, September 28, 2010 By

We've had a few disturbing incidents over the last week at our house; nothing to get excited about, but they highlighted a few of the reasons that we've been paying so much attention to the two children we previously discussed.

As is often the case with neglected children, 12 and 6 (which is how I will refer to the two children, since I don't want to use their names) have some mild but noticeable attachment issues.

A range of emotional problems present in children who come from homes where their needs are ignored or inadequately filled. Depression, anxiety, indiscriminate attachment, and over-reaction to perceived rejection are all very common. Also, because neglected children are not included in social interactions, they often display behaviors generally perceived as inappropriate or rude.

12 reacts to the younger children with anger when they do something annoying. He will sometimes yell at them for petty reasons, such as stepping in front of our television when he's trying to watch. Granted, they do this a lot. And it is annoying. But yelling does not work. But that's the kind of thing older kids do with younger kids. However, 12 hurt my feelings this weekend when he rejected my vegetables. Petty, right? But there it was. My feelings, over his manners.

We picked up a boat-load of Wild Wings Cafe on Friday, with a gift certificate Scott had earned from work he did for The Metro Spirit: wings, nuggets, barbecue. I made corn and beans and toast at home to accompany it. When 12 finished his protein and carbs, he asked for more. Like any mom, I told him that if he was still hungry, there were perfectly good vegetables on his plate that needed to be eaten.

He took a bite of the corn. "NO FLAVOR!" he yelled. "NO FLAVOR!" and dumped the plate into trash can.

Obviously, I was ill. I hadn't even had a chance to eat. It was 8 p.m., and I was still feeding children and husbands and cleaning and I did not need to hear about my corn not having any flavor from someone who is a guest in my home. Angrily, I took a bite of the corn. Crap. He was right. I don't know how I managed to mess up frozen corn, but I did.

I took a deep breath. 12 and 6 haven't received the kind of social training that Emerson has. They don't know what's appropriate and what is not. Worse still, since their parents live on welfare, they really don't know how to appreciate what is worked for, instead of just getting what is presented to them by the government.

"Let it go," I told myself. "Find a way to get the message across later."

Then, on Saturday, I piled Emmie and the boys into the car to go to bargain hunt, and then go to the library. We made it to a yard sale, where we scored some $5 Game Boys, and then to the house of a woman who was selling a treasure trove of new-with-tags clothing. No kids are perfect every day, and  they were atrocious. They couldn't get along, and the attitude was off the charts. I was taking some new medicine for the ear/sinus infection, and it was beating the crap out of me. So we turned around and went home. It didn't get better at home, and Scott sent the boys home to take a break.

A few hours and a nap later, Emmie and I got back in the car to get the books to the library before closing. 6 appeared out of nowhere and knocked on the passenger's side window.

"Where you going?" he asked.

"We're going to return these books to the library," I said.

"Can I come?"

"Not today, sweetheart. You and Em weren't getting along, and I think you guys need a little break from each other. We'll do something together later."

He burst into tears. Neglected children often over-react to perceived rejection, so I got out of the car and hugged him. I explained that it was just for a little while, and that it didn't mean that we didn't like him or care about him. He was inconsolable, repeatedly smashing his backpack into the ground.

"6, stop that, and look at me. We will be back shortly, and you can come over and play for a little while then. But this behavior is not acceptable. Take a deep breath, sweetheart, and try to calm down," I said. But he pulled away and threw his backpack again.

I asked Emerson to walk 6 to his back door and give him a hug, to make him feel better. She tried, but he wouldn't go. He stood at the fence and cried harder.

I called Scott to tell him that 6 was outside, losing his mind. He said he'd be out in a second. So I got Emmie back in the car and told 6 we'd be back in a little while. I started to pull the car out of the driveway. But after I'd taken my foot off the brake - yet before I could touch the accelerator, thank god - he launched himself down the hill in front of my car.

I can't tell you how close I came to running over him. I don't even want to think about it. Because at the moment he did that, my eyes were trained on the rear view mirror at Emerson putting on her seat belt in the back seat.

I screamed, slammed on the brakes, threw the car into park and launched myself over the hood. He lay on the ground, still crying, not even a half-inch away from my tires. I ascertained that he was not injured, and then gave him a very stern lecture. But I couldn't let him think those kinds of actions would get him what he wanted. So I picked up 6 and his backpack, and moved him to the grass.

I pulled out of the driveway as he cried. Scott was with him momentarily.

"I'm sorry about that, Emerson," I said, shakily. "I was very scared. 6 made a terrible choice because he was very upset."

She looked at me with a seriousness beyond anything a 5-year-old should know. Her eyebrows scrunched, her mouth turned down, and she said softly, "I fink he wan-ned to die."

"I think he wanted attention, sweetie. And I think he didn't know how else to get it," I said. "It was a very dangerous choice that he made."

Was it the right way to handle it? Hell, I don't know. At that moment, all I could think of was that Emerson didn't need to see that behavior - although she obviously knew it was wrong - and that giving in would just make it worse. Scott was right behind me to get him under control. I think when in conflict, first remove conflicting objects; then deal with remaining drama through reason and restraint.

These two children need some serious help. And I don't know that I'm qualified to give it to them.

It's difficult to hear 12 talk about the move, because he won't be going with them to Apple Valley. He'll be moving in with his uncle. He's happy, he told me, because "my uncle will let me play his Playstation, and he'll let me eat whenever I get hungry."

He may still be sleeping on someone's couch, as he is now, but he'll at least have food. Will he have supervision? Medical care? Dental care? Homework assistance? I don't know. But he doesn't get them now, either.

And it's difficult to hear 6 talk about the move, because I don't know if there will be a neighbor around to watch him when his mother doesn't get home until 7:30 p.m. on a school day. Those days here, he comes over to our house. He doesn't have a house key. And his mother never tells him - or us - that she'll be late. One day, it was 95 degrees outside. After four hours in that kind of heat with no fluids, a 5-year-old (as he was, then) could have died from heat exhaustion. But Scott - who works from home - was always there to let him in and to make sure he had supervision.

Oh, god, what will happen to him over there? Will there be a kindly grandmother at home who can watch over him when she sees him wandering around the yard unattended? Will this new roommate of his mother's assist in caring for him and the newborn? Will the increased government benefits be enough to cover all three of them? Will his mother have any time for him once the newborn comes along? Where are these children's fathers, anyway? And what the hell is wrong with people?

Please, someone give me some advice. Because I just don't know what to do.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Exceptions to every rule

Monday, September 27, 2010 By

"Boomboomboom!" Emerson and 6 shout. "Boomboomboom!"

They are running through the house with clothes hangers for guns.

"Whoa, whoa," I say. "Why are we shooting? We don't play shooting games."

"No, no, we bamming da zombies," Emmie explains.

"Yeah, they gonna take over but we got them!" 6 says.

"Oh, you're shooting zombies?" I ask.

They nod.

"Carry on, then."


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Next on 'Preventable Heart Attacks...'

Monday, September 27, 2010 By

I was pet-sitting for some friends, and took the opportunity to watch "True Blood" on their giant flat screen. Midway through a very tense scene, I heard someone pounding on the outside of their house.

"What the - !" I jumped up from the couch. The noise was right behind me. Not at the door, or the window. But pounding on the side of the house, near where I was sitting.

I grabbed my phone and started to dial 911... but no one was out there. Maybe kids playing a stupid prank?

As I was about to leave the window and run outside - because I'm so smart - they did it again, in the same place, almost right beside my head! My heart almost stopped. I crept forward, kneeling on the couch, peering out the window into the darkness. There was no one there.

And then I saw the small speaker mounted to the wall...

... and realized the banging was the sound of a TV vampire knocking on a TV door.

Did I mention how smart I am?

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Overheard while shopping

Sunday, September 26, 2010 By

Emmie and I are in a store looking for clothes when I overhear a mother and her tween-age son.

"Will you stop it?" she hisses. "Jesus."

He is dancing around like tweens do, mimicking something he saw on youtube or something, and humming a club tune. I grin. I remember the times I spent with one eye always looking out for a way to embarrass or annoy my mother... oh, fine, I still do it.

Tween grins and continues, then pulls his mom into a dance. She stands there awkwardly, mouth pursed, while he does a couple of moves. He is obviously getting on her last nerve.

"Cut. it. out," she commands.

He spreads his arms wide and continues dancing. And then he makes his mistake: he reveals the song in his head.

"I can't be taaaammed! I can't be taaamed!" he sings.

Mom has had it. She grabs him by the ear in a move I haven't seen since I watched "A Christmas Story" a year ago. All dancing ceases.

"You can't be tamed? We'll just see about that," she mutters, and drags him away.

Hee. Go, mom!

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Fried Dough and Beef on a Stick? Yes, Please

Saturday, September 25, 2010 By

"I mean, does that make me un-American?" I ask.

"No... Actually, I was called un-American recently, by P.R.," said N.M.

"Oh, well, that's P., right?"

"Yeah, but it was over corn dogs."

"You don't like corn dogs? That's..." (I begin to sputter)

"That's what he said: 'What's not to like? It's the best of both worlds!'"

"Both worlds? Corn and dog?"

"I think white and trash."

Oh, she made me LMAO zedong. But I still think she needs to learn to embrace the corn dog.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Charity begins at my home - but ends sooner than I thought

Friday, September 24, 2010 By

I don't give money to homeless people. I think they should get jobs.

I think this, despite the knowledge that 20 to 25 percent of the homeless population in the U.S. suffers from severe mental illness, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. That's almost quadruple the national average. That doesn't count those who suffer from alcoholism and other forms of addiction, which a portion of the scientific community (although not all) categorizes as a disease.

I used to make it a point to give to the homeless. And, yeah, I'm the person who once wrote a homeless man a check - back when I used checks. But, these days, if you hold out your hand, you will draw back a (verbal) nub.

I do make it a point to give to charity - right out of my paycheck - every month. I just like there to be administrative oversight. I want to make sure the money isn't going into the black market economy - whatever segment of it that may be. Instead, I give to education and health science non-profits, because I think education and health care are the great equalizers in society.

In addition, if there's a raffle going on to raise money, you can bet I'll buy a ticket. Barbecue or pancake meal for a local organization? I'll be there.

But, more importantly, we've been helping a couple of kids who live nearby. Nothing earth-shattering or the kind of thing that would cause an epiphany. Just including them. Making sure they're eating three meals a day. Making sure they get to school every morning. Trying to be a good example.

The younger of them, our neighbor's son, spent almost every day here during the summer, from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. On the rare occasion that he and Emmie would have trouble getting along, Scott would send him home to give them a break from one another.

He wouldn't go. He would hang around at the edge of the yard, playing in the grass and dirt, watching the house. On one day, Scott stuck his head out the kitchen window: "You okay?" The 5-year-old shook his head. He was locked out. His uncle, who stayed to "watch" him when his mother was at work, wouldn't let him back in the house.

It happened a lot. His uncle would tell him to get out and play, and not come back inside until later. And then he would refuse to let him back in. Sometimes, the child would come over, and he'd run home for something later - only to find that his mother had gone off somewhere without telling anyone. She never asked us to watch him. She never thanked us for doing so. We never addressed it with her, figuring better that she depend on us than leave him unattended.

See, his mother is pregnant, again, and doesn't seem to be endowed with the most amazing parenting skills to begin with. She yells a lot. Doesn't do laundry very often. I'm pretty sure she's a fan of the wake-and-bake. And this evening, I found out that she's been failing to cook dinner for her son and her nephew (the 12-year-old) because she's tired and has some discomfort from the pregnancy.

I wondered why they were always so hungry. "Growing boys," I said to myself. Not so.

As it turns out, she doesn't cook breakfast. They eat free every morning at school. She doesn't pack lunches. They eat free lunch at school. And now she's not cooking dinners. She's obviously eating. I'm not missing any meals, either, but I would if the choice was between feeding me and feeding my family.

I'm happy to feed them. It's a small thing to ask. Does it mess with our grocery costs? Sure. Is it a lot? Meh... depends. And are these children getting some things they need that they aren't getting at home? Yes. Discipline, for one. Food, for another. Outside educational influences. And, sometimes, baths.

I take the three of them - Emmie and the two boys - to the public library every week or so. We like totake a picnic with us to the Columbia County Library and spend hours playing, reading books and eating nutritious foods. Not the gas station bullcrap she feeds them.

They need it. They ask for very little, and give Emmie so much.

The oldest is 12. He could pass for 15. He's a straight-A student, and will start middle school next year. He wants to be a chef. He lets the chickens out for me every morning. He "herds" the two younger kids down the sidewalk into school in the mornings, makes sure they go into the cafeteria and behave themselves. He's offered to wash my car. When Em or the younger boy break a toy, they run to him to get it fixed.

The youngest just turned 6. He gets green smiley faces every day at school. Although he doesn't have the luxury of ballet lessons like Emerson, he can kick her dancing ass. He does an arabesque like someone who's been taking dance lessons for years. He can walk on his hands. He has the most amazing smile.

His mother didn't have a birthday party for him - ANY kind of party, not even a family party. We bought him a gift, took him to Adventure Crossing and to dinner. He missed his mother the whole time.

I hope that we're having a lasting, positive impact just by feeding them, talking to them and providing an example that is somewhat better than the one they get at home.

But today, we were informed that they're moving... to Apple Valley. This is not a neighborhood in which I would willingly choose to live if I were single - much less with a child. And if she can hardly take care of herself and her oldest son with us to offset the costs of groceries and bus fare and babysitting, what will she do that much further away from the city's center - and with a newborn?

I want to cry. I've grown to care about these boys very much, and Emmie will be devastated to lose her best friend.

"It's not our problem," Scott told me. "And we can't change it."

Can we?



Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Because I am So Mature

Wednesday, September 22, 2010 By

Emmie's singing to herself: "One, two, buckle my shoe..."

I'm reflecting on how Freddie Krueger ruined this particular nursery rhyme for me, when she reaches the end: "Nine, ten, a big fat hand!"

"Hee... I think it's 'a big fat hen,' sweetie," I say, chuckling.

"No," she shakes her head decisively, not even looking up from her book. "I'ss 'hand.'"

I laugh again. "I know it's 'hen,' Emmie. 'Ten' and 'hen' rhyme. 'Ten' and 'hand' don't."

She shrugs. "Wull, I fink it's 'hand.' I'ss a big, fat hand made out of sticks."

"Okay, let's look it up."

"Okay," she agrees, setting her book aside. "We see who's right."

"Yes," I say. "AND THEN I WILL CRUSH YOU."

She grins. "Oh, pleath. Bring it on."

24-Hour News Cycle

Wednesday, September 22, 2010 By

Scott's cell phone rang at what is an ungodly hour for him, and after a brief conversation, he walked back in the kitchen and sighed.


Scott: "I never can understand why co-workers, who know that I'm at work at 5 a.m., call me late at night to ask me why I-20 is backed up."

Me: "Ugh! You don't work traffic 24 hours a day!"

Scott: (sheepishly) "You know what the worst part is?"

Me: "What?"


Scott: "I know why I-20 is backed up. A truck turned over, caught fire, and it caught the woods on fire."

Me: "Oh, that's a cool story."

Scott: "I know, right? I almost cut a report."


Tuesday, September 21, 2010

A Nice Surprise

Tuesday, September 21, 2010 By

The Admin brings a delivery for me. It's a monitor shelf, so I can view my MacBook screen higher and stop straining my neck.

"This is awesome!" I am easily pleased.

"Let me know if you need anything else. I have a budget for you."

"Yeah, but..." I'm really frugal. So far, I think I've spent $50 in four months.

She names an amount easily four times higher than I expected. I can only blink at her.

"So, whatever you need..." she says, palms up and out.

I hold out the shelf: "Here. Take this back and gold plate it."


Sunday, September 19, 2010

Her First Heartbreak

Sunday, September 19, 2010 By

"Mama? Can I go to da friends' house?" Emmie asked me.

"Which friends, Doodle?"

"Zequan's friends."

"Honey, I don't know these friends, or their parents," I told Emmie. Zequan hangs his head. He knows I'm saying no. He knows it is an answer I will not change.

"But - Zequan, can you please tell mommy de friends' parents' names?"

"Sweetheart, it's not their names. It's who they are. What kind of people. I don't know if they're going to take care of you."

"But, I'll be safety!" she cries, tears welling in her eyes, face crumpling.

"Honey, the answer is no."

"Waaaaaaaaah!" she cries, running out of the room. Zequan makes his goodbyes, and goes to play with the boys.

She storms back into the room.

"Mama! I'm angry wif you!"

"I can see that," I reply, mildly.

"Ebbry time I want ta go to a new place you always say no! You nebber let me do anyfing!"

I have premonitions of high school flitting before my eyes. (Sigh)

"Emerson, I understand that you're angry. And I'm sorry. I want you to know that it's okay to be angry with mommy."

"An' I AM angry!"

"I'm sorry that you feel angry. But mommy makes these choices because I want to take care of you and keep you safe."

She folds her arms and turns her back on me.

"I am goeend be angry wif you for a LONG TIME!"

"I feel sad about that. But mommy is happy to make good decisions for you. I hope that they are the right ones."

"Dey're NOT!"

"Maybe not. But they're the best choices I can make."

She's full-on sobbing now. "Can I PLEASE go? I'm missing Zequan already!"

Ah. Now I get it. Zequan is moving. It's a stupid decision on his mother's part, to move further away from his school and her constant source of transportation and child care (us). But I can't control it.

Emmie is devastated, and so are we. She's five, but she knows what it means. She may never see him again. His mother never answers her phone. She doesn't really like Zequan being friends with a white child. But she also is happy to have someone nearby who will watch him when she's too lazy - and she likes having a ride to work, instead of shelling out for the bus.

So Emmie is suffering already. She's sad he's leaving, and wants to spend as much time as possible with him before they move.

But she still can't go to a stranger's house.

I take her hand, and she collapses against me, sobbing.

My heart breaks for her.

Friday, September 17, 2010

What I Left for Scott This Morning

Friday, September 17, 2010 By

I got up so early that I decided to prep dinner for later. We'll just reheat and eat, right? Yeah, not so much...


Boo. FAIL.

UPDATE: I don't know if y'all noticed the charred tops of what once were biscuits in this dish, but Scott didn't. He put it in the fridge for us to eat that night. I almost wet myself laughing.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Enemy of the Sleep

Wednesday, September 15, 2010 By

Emerson and I have had a relaxing, laughter-filled weekend at my parents' house. We didn't do anything super special, except hang out with my nephews, go to the bookstore, and play with a kit called Disgusting Science. FYI, that ain't false advertising.

But she can't calm down. She's on her top bunk, and I'm on her bottom. And there is apparently no end to the hilarity spilling from the menagerie of stuffed animals tucked in with her.

I blame the llama. They're just funny animals.

"Em, stop talking and singing, baby," I say. "I want still and quiet, please."

"Okay, mama," she says.

It's quiet for about 7 seconds. Then I hear her whispering.

Y'all, Scott and I talk a lot, but even we shut up when we sleep. Well, okay, I shut up when I sleep. I give her a few minutes to dial it back, but nothing changes.

"Em, stop playing with your animals, or I will take them away."

"Aw, mannn..."

There is silence. And then, psspsspsspsspsspsspss... (giggle) psspsspsspsspss (teehee)

"Young lady, I am trying to sleep. Hand them down to me."

She hands me the llama (knew it!), a pink skirted ballerina bear, a Cabbage Patch preemie. But I know it's Cinderella causing all the ruckus. She may be tidy and good with rodents, but she's a mouthy little servant.

"And...?"

Down comes a stuffed Pinky, along with The Brain. Another Cabbage Patch doll. A Beanie Baby.

"Em, come on! I'm tired."

"OKAY!"

She hands me Cinderella, that chatty little heifer.

"Thank you. Now shut it, sweetie. It's very late. No more talking up there."

"Okay..."

I snuggle back into the blankets, and hear nothing more from her. If she can keep it up for 5 minutes, I think I can fall asleep. One minute passes. It's a good measure of whether or not she'll settle down for the night. Two minutes pass. I relax, and let myself really enjoy the sensation of relaxing in soft blankets. Three minutes pass, and I feel my mind begin to allow thoughts to fade unanswered. Four minutes.

Something brushes my face!
I start, with a shriek, and am met with an answering frightened cry.
I flick on the light.

"Hi, Mama," she says, her nose a centimeter from mine. "You skeered me!"

"Emmie, what are you doing? ... And how did you get down without me hearing you?"

"I sneaked! I'm a good sneaker."

"What. Are. You. DOING?"

"I jus' wan-ned to tell you sumpeend," she says, solomnly.

"What."

"I jus' wanna tell you dat you da bes' mom in da world."

"Thank you, sweetie. But couldn't you have told me from your bed?"

"You tole me not to talk up der."

I review the conversation in my mind. Stop talking and singing. I'm trying to sleep. Give me your toys, and no talking 'up there.' At no point did I specify that she had to go to sleep.

This child is definitely going to law school.

"Okay, smarty, I want you to get up in your bunk bed, lie down, close your eyes, be still, don't talk, don't sing, don't play, and... stay in your bed!" I tell her. "It is time for both of us to go to sleep!"

She stares at my face, mouth open, mind churning. She can see no way out of it.

"Aw, mannn!" she manages to climb her ladder and stomp at the same time. She flops down on her mattress and sighs dramatically.

"And I love you, Doodle."

Her face pokes over the side, and she gives me a wry grin.

"I lub you, too, mama - an' mama?"
"Yeah?"
"You berry smart."
"So are you, Em."
"I know. Goonight, mama."
"Good night, Doodle."

Monday, September 13, 2010

The Perils of Hide-and-Seek

Monday, September 13, 2010 By

Emmie and my sister - her beloved aunt 'Smelly' - were playing hide-and-seek at my parents' home. Kelli ran to the back bedroom and hid in the shower.

"I was waiting in there forever," she laughed.

A few minutes later, Dad woke up and headed to the bathroom.

"WAIT!!" Kelli yelled, at the last possible second of decency.

Dad almost had a heart attack. "What are you DOING?!"

"Uh... playing hide-and-seek?" my thirty-something sister answered.

"Get out!"

Friday, September 10, 2010

Eat, Pray, Love in Augusta - Part III: Bali (Love)

This is the (slightly bare) third part of a three part series. Read parts one and two.


Bali – Love
So, we get to Bali. And, in Augusta, that’s the tough part of the journey. Because there’s not a whole lot of Indonesian culture readily available in Augusta. You'll have to do a lot of this exploration on your own, but many Augusta activities  can be substituted for exotic excursions to create a memorable experience.

Bali is an island in the country of Indonesia, and is also one of the country's 33 provinces. Indonesian culture is a mixture of Muslim, Hindu and tribal religions, with cultural and culinary influences that range from the Colonialism of the 17th-19th centuries, to maritime commerce and piracy, to modern, industrial China. But Bali, in specific, is primarily a Hindu culture. However, it's not the same form of Hinduism associated with India. Technically, it's called Agama Hindu Dharma. The differences are complex. But they don't matter, because you won't be there.

And it's not so bad to miss out on the experience of visiting Bali. Despite being a beautiful and overwhelmingly polite country (like Canada with sarongs), it's also a huge tourist operation, named the best experience in the world by Travel + Leisure magazine. So, even if you were able to visit, you'd be surrounded by faked antiques, Westernized notions of Balinese culture and overpriced mass-produced textiles passed off as hand-made. And, also, no Javier Bardem. So poo on Bali (Dear Bali, not really - it's just an expression).

Bali has this great art form called gamelon music, wherein the belief is (if I'm getting this right) that the spirits of the instruments are what make the music. As grads of Augusta State University will remember from the dreaded humanities classes (which I quite enjoyed), Claude Debussey incorporated it into some of his compositions. A group out of Athens called Macha incorporated gamelon instruments in some very accessible Westernized music. Click on the links to get an introduction.

But Debussey and Macha won't be playing around here any time soon. Debussey is dead, and Macha disbanded. So start your exploration off with a community drumming session at idrum2u, every Thursday night. Drum circles exist for the purpose of including everyone, no matter their experience. And studies have shown a correlation between music-making and improvements in anxiety, loneliness and depression. And owner Not Gaddy is a nationally - if not internationally - respected musician and teacher.

Bali is also a tropical paradise, with amazing snorkeling, scuba diving and other aquatic activities. Obviously, you won’t find a coral reef in Augusta - maybe we can get Mayor Deke on that. But you can enjoy a serene, early-morning paddle down the Savannah River or across Clarks Hill Lake. The mist rising off the water, combined with the fluidity of movement and sightings of native fauna will bring you a similar sense of wonder. You can rent kayaks and canoes at any number of local providers. At the lake, try Little River Marina or Hayes Marine. For the canal or the river, try American Wilderness Outfitters, Broadway Tackle & Canoe Rentals or RiverCat Kayaks.

You can also combine these two activities - primal music-making and aquatic activities - with the Sept. 17 Moonlight Music Cruise at the Augusta Canal. Not Gaddy will be leading boaters in a drum circle as they navigate the water in the historic Petersburg boats.

Now for the food. Can you name a traditional Balinese dish? I can't without Google's help. But you'll recognize a lot of the ingredients as having the Southeastern Asian flavors that Americans have grown to love over the past couple of decades: coriander, peppers, cloves, nutmeg, sesame, turmeric, ginger, lemongrass, tamarind, lime, soy, garlic, onions and lots of seafood. There's not a lot of pastureland in island cultures, so beef and lamb don't often make appearances in traditional cuisine.

The closest you'll get in Augusta is Thai and Vietnemese food. I recommend trying anything with shrimp, fish or pork at Thai Kitchen in Evans. Try the Mee Krob, the Kaeng Khua Saparot, or anything else that strikes your fancy. The service is slow, as they work with fresh ingredients and everything is made to order. The decor is spare. But the flavors are phenomenal. If you can get them to serve your food in a traditional Balinese banana leaf, you've probably captured the essential experience of dining in Bali.

If you've eaten there, and are looking for something new, head down Washington Road to a former fast food spot turned Asian catch-all restaurant. Wasabi Express has its many fans of its "Japanese" drive-through selection; but the inside menu has grown by word of mouth and through those "in the know." Their Pho is said to be as authentic as one can ask for in this area. Their spring/summer rolls (depending on who you ask) are so fresh and vibrant, you'll think they caught the shrimp out behind Second & Charles. Again, you're looking for a flavor profile that is as close as one can get. So look at the list of ingredients above, and find them on the menu at Wasabi Express. Like Thai Kitchen, the service can be slow. Very slow. And the local barbecue joints are fancier. But it's more than worth it.

Finding Love

Aside from calling an escort service, there’s not much that you can do to ensure that you’ll find love. But if you’ve gone into the experience – or experiences like this - with an open heart and a clear head, enjoyed the culture, art and cuisine along the way, and worshipped and nurtured your spirituality in your own way, you might discover that love finds you.

Because when you reduce the needs of mankind, it’s all about love: Love for a husband or child, love from family or friends, love of a God. So I hope you find love. Whether it’s through this journey, or one of your own.


Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Eat, Pray, Love in Augusta, Part II: India - Pray

Wednesday, September 08, 2010 By No comments

This is part two of a three-part series. See part one here.

India - Pray

Gilbert’s next stop was India – and as we all have heard, the culture influenced Georgia girl Julia Roberts to become a practicing Hindu. How chic. Perhaps she ran into The Beatles while she was there.

Anyway, Gilbert chose the county for its meditative ashrams – and also because she was already a yoga devotee. Those same experiences can be had in Augusta at The Hindu Temple Society’s place of worship, and at a number of wellness centers around town.

The Hindu Temple Society is a warm, welcoming place. Boiling an entire religion down to some very simplified ideas, Hinduism believes that all religions are different paths to the same god. So if you desire a change in your religious practices, breathing in the meditative chants with Hindu practitioners might be a beautiful way to explore your own spirituality. No need to convert, and no one will ask you to.

Some of the symbolism may be unfamiliar (why all the gods, and what happened to their arms and heads) the message will resound: Live free of sin, and you will be rewarded with the spiritual knowledge of God.

Yoga classes can be found everywhere from the Augusta Jewish Community Center to Omni Health and Fitness. But not all yoga classes are the same. Look around and check out where you might feel the most comfortable. I recommend Deanne's classes at the MCG Wellness Center. But that’s just me.

And while we’re talking about India, why not take in some of the amazing cuisine available in town? There are a number of restaurants serving Indian cuisine, and its many regional variations. Be aware that a dish at one restaurant in the area may taste differently in another. Some suggestions: try the Lamb Korma at Bombay Central and the Prawn Balchao at Taj of India. When you’re ready to take on some spice, do it at India Café. The flavor is worth the fire – and they play Bollywood movies while you eat. Bonus!

As for language, English is the official language of government in India, so it's very easy to get around in the country. We can thank British Imperialism for that. But if you're interested in learning some of the more dominant of India's dozens of languages, look for classes or social groups for Hindi (considered the national language) or Gujarati (about 70 percent of the population speak it). I don't know of any formal language training for those languages in the area, but there are four Hindi classes offered by the University of Georgia. If you're the kind of person who took Latin instead of living languages, they also offer Sanskrit, the 6,000-year-old mostly-dead language of Hinduism's holy texts.

UPDATE: I forgot to mention that a visit to Asian Choice on Agerton Lane (near Very Vera/India Cafe) is never a bad idea. They have anything you'd like to try, as far as Indian cuisine is concerned, and they also rent Bollywood videos. It's a fun style of movie reminiscent of the American musicals of the 50s and 60s. Ask for subtitled movies, not those dubbed in English (Don't just say "dubbed," because just about everything is dubbed in India). For newbies, I have an easy curry recipe here, and you can pick up a bag of frozen pakoras or samosas to go with it. A hint: anything too spicy can be calmed down by a dollop of sour cream or plain. unflavored yogurt.

Eat, Pray, Love in Augusta, Part III: Bali (Love) publishes soon.


Monday, September 06, 2010

Eat, Pray, Love in Augusta, Part I: Italy

This is part one of a three part series.

Not everyone can travel the world to clear one’s head after a painful divorce, as did the Elizabeth Gilbert, the author of “Eat, Pray, Love.” But it’s such an attractive idea that there are actual ‘Eat, Pray, Love' vacation tours.

In fact, if I remember correctly, Gilbert had a book contract before she even left on her trip. The rest of us are chained to the routines that pay our bills, but getting a little creative can give us a much-needed break.

Gilbert chose to explore Italy for its language and cuisine; India, for its meditative ashrams; and Bali, to come full circle in a year that began with an earlier trip to Bali. That inspired a series of poor choices that ended in adultery and divorce.

I choose Augusta, for its affordability, convenience and surprisingly diverse cultural opportunities. And by doing it our way, no one gets divorced.

Italy (Eat)

The author begins her quest in Italy. While the first meal she eats in the novel is spaghetti carbonara, that’s a rustic peasant’s dish of pasta, eggs and prosciutto or bacon, which you can make at home in 10 minutes. (See the easy recipe at the end of this column) But she moves on to a plate of tender, flavorful veal. So start your journey with the menu at Aiken’s Oliv’a (an acronym for Our Little Italian Villa), which is run by Chef Bradley Czjaka.

Czjaka was formerly at the Partridge Inn and the Four Seasons in Hawaii. And he makes a veal scallopine with baby arugula, truffle oil and shaved parmesan that will have you saying, “Hooray for tasty, tasty baby cows.”

If beef isn’t your thing, move on to the Berkshire Prosciutto and Gorgonzola Stuffed Pork. Or go San Remo with the Laughing Bird Shrimp with Spaghetti and Bottarga Cream. There are even vegetarian options like Black Truffle and Cauliflower Agnolotti with Pine Nuts that’ll make you wanna slap Deepak Chopra.

Drink plenty of wine with that meal – I like the way the black pepper notes of their Valpolicella accent the savory veal. But don’t torture yourself - drink what you like. Don’t worry about the calories. This meal should be about transcending the culinary norm. Choose the freshest, most layered flavors and textures you can find.

If you have your meal on Sept. 17, you can leave Oliv’as and enjoy an Italian tradition: Opera. The beautiful Denyce Graves will perform at the Augusta Opera’s presentation for the Westobou Festival. She’ll be singing a selection from several of her signature roles including Carmen and Delilah - as well as spirituals and beloved folk songs. Okay, so Carmen and Delilah are both sung in French, so…

If you have your meal on Sept. 18, you can enjoy Augusta State University’s A Night at the Opera. Professor Patti Myers whips talented youngsters into professional singers every year. As part of the Westobou Festival, they’ll sing arias and scenes from the great operas of Mozart and other composers. Some of them might be in Italian. But opera, itself, is the experience you’re looking for. Don’t worry about translations, about getting each individual word or about understanding every nuance. Just let yourself be swept away by the lush and powerful music. And marvel at the talent in this town.

Next, try a language course at Augusta State University's Office of Continuing Education. Their Italian 101 class begins Oct. 5. If Italian’s not your thing, feel free to choose another language. Whatever feels good, natural or exiting. This is about cultural immersion and increased understanding about the world we live in.

If you swore off the language lab after high school, all you really need to know to get safely around Italy – or the Jersey Shore - are the following phrases: “Non parlo Italiano,” “Dove è la stanza da bagno,” “Sì, amerei alcuno vino ,” and “Per favore non colpirmi, Signor situazione.” They translate to: “I do not speak Italian,” “Where is the bathroom,” “Yes, I would love some wine,” and “Please don’t hit me, Mr. Situation.” Feel free to find your own translations for other languages.

Eat, Pray, Love in Augusta, Part II: India (Pray) publishes in two days


Simple Spaghetti Carbonara

The eggs in this recipe cook when they come in contact with the hot pasta. You can use other meats like pancetta, prosciutto or ham instead of the bacon.

* 1 lb. spaghetti pasta
* 8 slices bacon, cut in half crosswise
* 4 egg yolks
* 1/2 cup heavy cream
* 2 cloves garlic, minced
* 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese, divided
* 1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
* 1/8 teaspoon white pepper

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook bacon in a heavy skillet until crisp. Remove bacon from pan and drain on paper towels. Set bacon aside. Set skillet aside; do not rinse or wash.

Cook the pasta as directed on package. Meanwhile, combine the egg yolks, cream, garlic, half the Parmesan cheese, nutmeg, and pepper in a medium bowl and beat until well blended.

When the pasta is cooked, drain, reserving about 1/3 cup cooking water, and immediately add to the skillet with the bacon drippings. Place over low heat and toss for 1 minute, scraping the pan with tongs to loosen pan drippings.

Stir in the egg mixture and toss thoroughly until combined. Add pasta cooking water as needed until a creamy sauce forms. Add the bacon and remaining cheese and toss again to coat. Serve immediately.

Sunday, September 05, 2010

I Love Big-Kid Pull-ups

Sunday, September 05, 2010 By

"Mama? Can I hab my treat 'cause I was dry all night?" Em asks me.

"Oh, were you dry all night?"

"Yep!"

"I dunno..." I tease. "I fink I smell some pee-pee smell."

"Wull, dat's jus' your smell imagination."


Saturday, September 04, 2010

More Worldly Genius From My Child

Saturday, September 04, 2010 By



Emmie and I were looking at a series of cartoon drawings today (Level 2: Forced Proximity), and she decided to narrate.

"Der are two people. De go to da store. But dey was lonely, so dey buy fings dey didn't need. De end."

Stick that in your social media and smoke it.

Thursday, September 02, 2010

There is no spoon

Thursday, September 02, 2010 By

Scott and I have been having a lazy Sunday evening, watching television in separate rooms. He trudges in to go to sleep. I flick off the T.V., in the middle of my movie, as he crawls under the covers. I'm ready for sleep, too.

"Did you learn anything from your history show?" I ask him.

"Yeah, about Columbus."

"Oh, good... I learned that Neo is not the one, and Morpheus is going to die."

"Oh, no."

"The Oracle told us."

"That's making me change my whole thinking about life."

"Mmmm.... The Matrix does not like change."