Monday, January 28, 2008

Hey, look it's 4 AM.

Falling asleep is somewhat of an accomplishment for me. The moment I lay down in bed, my brain throws a party. I remember things that I thought were long gone. I think of 30 new ideas. I look at the clock and smack myself in the face. I figure out what I should wear for the next 90 days. I stand on my head. I realize that there may be a ghost or an intruder in the house. I lay still and hope they don't bother me. I look at the clock and poke myself in the eye. Finally when I have planned out the next 27 years, made staggering psychological breakthroughs and discovered the meaning of life, I begin drifting off to sleep. Then as I am hanging there in between asleep and awake... peaceful... happy... almost looking like I am dead, my big fat cat comes flying across the room, scrambling all over with his claws until he lands on my chest and stares at me. Then I have a heart attack and the cycle repeats itself.

By the time I wake up in the morning I have forgotten every epiphany I had the night before including my own name and where I am and why my bed looks like I've lived in it for a week and rode it across the Amazon. I emerge like a dazed car crash survivor with hair that has been meticulously shaped into a swan. After I've recovered from seeing myself in the mirror, I spend the day as a normal person. Then night rolls around again and I lay down to realize that I am indeed a lunatic.

Friday, January 25, 2008

My pants are on fire. Give me some unsweetened tea.

I have a habit of copying the accent of whoever I am talking to and it is one of those things that I just can't help doing. It's like a reflex. You say ya'll, I say ain't. You say where he at? I say he be at wal-mart. I'm sure people find this a very endearing quality as I appear to openly mock them by fumbling along in their particular dialect with my Minnesotan pronunciations. Once you've lived here for at least 6 months, your mouth forms an O and stays there. You start speaking like you are some kind of Swedish/German/Canadian hybrid. OH ya, I bet she didn't like that, eh? The oh ya must be said with a sing song, like you are yodeling across the valley to a neighbor, hoping they will join you later for lutefisk and/or clogging.

In the south everything happens in s - l - o - w - m - o - t - i - o - n. Even the words come out slowly, like people just can't muster up the effort to get them out any faster. I attribute it to the heat. When it's that hot and humid out, what's the hurry? Let's all just relax, take it down a notch and watch some Nascar.

I never picked up any kind of accent in the south (except when I was unsuccessfully mimicking someone), but I did learn a few very important lessons. Lesson number one: When someone gives you a date and time that they will arrive to fix something or hook something up at your house, they ACTUALLY mean they will be there three days later. Obviously you are some kind of uptight, crazy workaholic if you think that someone should be there on time...IN THIS HEAT and with all these bugs to swat at.

Lesson number two: Iced tea is not iced tea. It is sweet tea. Here is the recipe: Make iced tea. Very refreshing. Now add two tablespoons of sugar. Pretty good. Add thirty more. Done! At a restaurant, you must specify if you want unsweetened tea, but when you do they will almost always bring you sweet tea anyway, because they're sure that's what you meant. For the kids, if you order milk, you will have to repeat it 3 times if you are not imitating the accent properly. They will still not understand what that word is that's coming out of your mouth and will finally conclude that you are saying Coke.

Lesson number three: The people are friendly! Be prepared for people on the street to talk to you like you have known each other your whole lives. I liked that, but it always caught me off guard. My natural reaction tends to be "alright, what are you selling?" when approached by strangers. I am very approachable.

Up north of course, we don't have the heat to slow us down. We have the opposite problem. People run around this time of year like their pants are on fire. They are actually trying to prevent their nose hairs from shattering. Living up north, lesson number one: Move with a purpose or parts of your body will turn blue and die. And no one around here will have any sympathy for you. You might score a free ride on the back of a Ski-Doo, but that's about it.

Lesson number two: Don't approach strangers unless you need a shovel or their money. They will assume you want their shovel or their money and will react accordingly. If you don't want either of these things, they will be insulted. There's no time for chit chat when it's -50 and your eyelids just froze shut.

And lesson number three: The most important member of society in our city is a meteorologist. He knows whether today will be unsafe for exposing bare flesh or unnaturally warm or raining brimstone from the sky. Everyone in the city will pop their umbrellas open, smile, shrug and say, "George said it would be like this!"

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Home is wherever we are

I know I’ve been writing a lot about moving, but it’s on my mind these days because I’m in the process of packing boxes and giving them intriguing labels like “BOOKS/CHRISTMAS TREE STAR/LEGO GUY HEADS”. We have about 3 ½ years of this left before Donn is done with the military. Sometimes we like to talk about how our lives will be different then. We imagine settling down somewhere, buying a house, getting a dog, being able to remember our current address without stopping to think of where we live at the moment, but it was the specific where that we were always hung up on.

Some people seem to instinctively know that a certain place feels like home and there is nowhere else they would rather be. Most of the time it seems to be where they grew up, but sometimes it’s a place they only visited and realized that was the place they wanted to hang their hat. We figured maybe we just hadn’t had that moment yet.
We wanted to choose carefully, because it would be the backdrop of our life as a family. The kids would hold memories of it forever, hopefully as a place where discoveries unfolded and where each house and each street remained preserved in a story of their own, as seen through their eyes. I wanted it to be a beautiful place with weather that wasn't too hot or cold in a city that was neither too big or too small. A place they would come back to and admire, thinking this is where I grew up.
Now that the second deployment is almost over, I think we are letting go of the where. It's clear now that we could make a home anywhere and the boys will find it magical as long as we are all under the same roof. And we're not very picky about what piece of land that happens to be on.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

I didn't color on their heads with a sharpie. Not today anyway.

It was haircut time and the boys both wanted to have this look:

Bald, with a blue arrow colored on their scalps.

Although it would have been interesting to see the reactions on strangers when they realized that my children were indeed the new Avatars, or that we were members of a cult where it is important that all attention be directed between the eyes, we opted for almost bald. Meet my fuzzy-headed boys.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Call at your own risk

I have a problem with phone calls. I like them, but now they are a problem. I've enjoyed phone calls since 5th grade when I would talk to my friends (who lived about 10 minutes away) for hours at a time about important topics like Trapper Keepers and unicorns and the delightful activities of our cats. Now I have friends who live all over and we don't talk very often, so phone calls are a chance to catch up. But they are a problem.

Caller: Yeah, so blah, blah and I was like what's the deal with this guy and I don't even know what to say to him because he's like making all these faces...

Me: (screaming, crying, incoherent cries of outrage) Yeah...

Caller: So blah, blah and the puppy fell on the floor and blah blah we ate a pie blah blah david hasselhoff.

Me: (thumping sounds resembling a crowbar-wielding madman destroying the house amidst shrieks of laughter as a cat meows inconsolably in the background)

Caller: What on earth is going on over there?!


Caller: Is everything alright??!!!

Me: (AHHH! MOM, HE'S KILLING ME!!!!!!) Oh, the kids are playing.

Monday, January 14, 2008

How dreadful to make my aquaintance

Hello. My name is Crabby McCrabbypants. I am crabby.

I am crabby at least part of every day. I wake up crabby. I have coffee and become JUBILANT! Then it is a slow deterioration throughout the day, because I can only tolerate so much contact with people and can only do so many errands and can only keep my eyes open for so long before I become Crabby McCrabbypants.

The only thing that makes me feel better is something funny, so I depend on my husband to grab me by the shoulders and say, “Laugh woman!” And then we laugh and laugh and laugh. But he’s not here, so…

Hello. My name is Crabby McCrabbypants. I am crabby.

I have to write this fast, before my clothes go out of style

I'm losing track of what's in style. I think I am still supposed to know, because I'm not out of my twenties yet. First it's hip to wear skinny jeans, then flared jeans, then loose-fitting jeans, then curvy and low-rise and ultra-low rise and butt-crack revealing, then it starts all over again. And matching, matching is good until suddenly it's bad and you should mix patterns unless you want to look like a toad. Colors, jewel tones are good now, brown is the new black, gray is the new brown, and gold is the new silver. Pastels are barf. Unless you are in Vogue magazine and then you can wear anything, even a burlap sack and burlap will be the new tweed.

A few years ago I started trying to buy clothes that were more classic than trendy, which means that some days I am dressed like a 48 year-old on the verge of another hot flash. I figure it's a sign I'm getting older when the high school kids' clothes and hairstyles look a little wacky to me. I mean they look cute, but what's up with the hair in the face now? It's always falling down over one eye like, "Don't look at me. I am emotional."

I guess it's the natural progression. After graduation, people run out of the time and energy needed to stand in front of a mirror debating what precise combination of clothing and accessories will properly project their mood for the day. It's not that I don't care anymore, it's just not that important that my outfit says, "I am a relatively nice person who has a problem with authority."

It will be funny when our generation gets old and the nursing homes are teeming with old folks in hoodies, demanding to watch the Real World. You kids don't know how good you've got it! Back in the day we didn't have iPods! We had boomboxes that took 6 batteries and we carried them on our shoulders!! We didn't have eBay, we had garage sales and that meant shuffling through some stranger's junk in a dank garage, hoping to find some zubaz in your size!

Friday, January 11, 2008

Don't kill the pig boys, go ice skating!

At the beginning of winter, staying indoors with the kids is fine. Then suddenly, the big climax of Christmas is over and things get ugly. It's like Lord of the Flies. The kids are bored and violent. It's only a matter of time before poor Piggy will get it.

The boys have been hoping to try skating and I decided now would be the time to get going with that. When we bought the skates, the boys convinced me they needed black ski masks too, so we could swing by the bank and conduct a quick hold-up on our way to the rink. This would be Jack's dream come true because he has often confessed to me that he wants to have a career as a bankrobber one day. After he has retired from being a pirate.

That first day, Jack waddled around stiff-legged, not daring to move too fast. He kept smiling and saying, "I can't believe how good I'm getting!" Dylann cruised around, falling constantly, but getting back up without a word and moving right along. He watched the older boys intently, seeing how they turned their feet so the blades hit the ice just right to bring themselves to a stop. After an hour of skating, he taught himself how to do that too.

Jack climbed the mountains of snow surrounding the rink and announced that this was the north pole. A couple times he fell over and couldn't get up, just like the kid on A Christmas Story. Dylann helped him back up. Even though brothers routinely smack each other as hard as they can for no reason, they help each other up when times are tough.

As it got later, the lights on the ice made it seem even more cold. You could see where countless kids, and a few grown ups, had cut their own marks into the ice. Older boys stumbled out of the ice shack in t-shirts and jeans and random pieces of outerwear, gloves, hats, scarves, taking a few laps around the ice before ducking back into the shack where it was warm.

Watching the boys skate in the dark, standing on the cold ice in nothing more than running shoes with warm socks, I realized something. My mind wasn't creating lists of things to buy at the grocery store and I wasn't taking inventory of all the junk I have to pack and give away. I wasn't even pondering how much it would cost to have an entire room of the house padded with foam and soundproofed, you know, as a playroom.

At least for a while, I knew that I was exactly where I wanted to be.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

One Giant Leap

Well, it's official. We'll be uprooting, shaking the dust off (as if we have had time to gather dust) and be transplanted into the muddy soil of jolly old England for three years! That is, after we move to Georgia and spend a few months there first.

My best friend and her husband just happen to live in the same area we'll be living in (her husband works on a base there, but we never thought we would wind up at the same one, or even in the same country for that matter) so we will be able to trade in the 60 minute phone calls for actual face-to-face conversations (and with food! she cooks really good food!). And the boys will get to experience things like beans for breakfast and public drunkenness!

The next 6 months are going to be crazy! And good!

Monday, January 7, 2008

Won't you be my neighbor?

We've had quite an assortment of characters for neighbors over the past six years, because we've moved so many times. In our very first place in Seoul, we never got to know most of our neighbors, but we had a roommate. His name was John and he would eat a whole frozen pepperoni pizza for dinner with big glasses of chocolate milk almost every single night. He liked to blast music that sounded like a big room full of people being killed.

Then we moved to Colorado and lived in military housing, where you are in very close proximity to your neighbors. The family in the unit attached to ours was very nice, had loads of animals - cats, dogs, reptiles, fish, and we watched each others kids sometimes. There was also a lady who lived in the unit behind ours and she would stop by with her little boy, who was 3 and liked to break things. At the time Dylann was only about 18 months old and I would wonder why her kid didn't know how to be gentle with things and why he thought it was thrilling to pee outside. Obviously, I didn't know much about little boys.

After our first year in Colorado, we rented a house off base and said goodbye to our old neighbors. Our new neighborhood was very typically suburban with houses that all looked so similar you could get lost just walking around the block. We never officially met our neighbors on either side of us, but we met the lady across the street IMMEDIATELY. She filled me in on all the other neighbors and the previous owners of the house we were living in (red flag!). You could tell she was the type who would know at any given moment if an unfamiliar vehicle drove by..."Hmm, that sounds like a '98 Chevy Suburban with tinted windows and the child safety locks disabled. Who on earth could that be?" Her family had the biggest house on the block and it watched over the neighborhood with its giant reflective windows. I had never seen windows like that on a house before, only on office buildings. I spent the next year feeling like I lived across from one of those giant interrogation room mirrors, imagining Patrice standing on the other side with binoculars. In all the times I talked to her, I never received evidence to the contrary. She always knew every mundane thing that was going on in minute detail.

At that time we also had a neighbor across the street who had 3 kids, but you never saw the youngest. The oldest two were always outside, left to their own devices. This gave Patrice something to watch, with her binoculars. Sometimes they even had very vocal fights over the fence where the lady would shout, "My husband makes $60,000 a year!!" And Patrice would shout, "Ha! Ha! That is how much I paid for these binoculars! Do you know that your son broke a worm into 5 pieces the other day and fed it to the ants that live in the sidwalk?!"

In Georgia we had the German neighbors with 8 kids and the guy next door who tended rosebushes from sunrise to sunset, every day. The first time we met the Germans they were talking about how American neighbors are so private and that they didn't know many people on the block. They wanted neighbors where the kids all go to each others' houses and the doors are always open and all that. We thought, yes, that's very sad, now excuse us while we go disappear in our house and never speak to you again.

The Germans turned out to be good neighbors and our kids played together all the time. They took care of our cat when we were out of town. The rosebush guy always chatted with the kids and kept an eye out for troublemakers, but not like Patrice behind the interrogation mirror, he was right out in the front lawn. They were good neighbors.

In Minnesota we have had great neighbors. The lady next door trudged over after we had gotten over a foot of snow to bring a bucket of homebaked goodies. The neighbors on the other side of us plowed us out twice after a big snow. There are lots of kids and they all play together.

After we move we'll get to start all over again with new neighbors. Maybe they will be friendly and helpful, maybe they will have reflective windows and binoculars, maybe they will never introduce themselves and we'll never know who they are. As long as they don't have a problem with little boys who break things and think it's thrilling to pee outside, I guess we'll be alright.

Still haven't heard anything about the move!

Friday, January 4, 2008

Minnesota Friday

In less than two months we will be moving back down to southern Georgia. It will be quite the change of scenery, but it will be great not to have to wear 5 layers of clothing or risk losing our extremities. I like having sensation in my fingers and toes. I don't like it when the temperature outside is colder than in the refrigerator.

After we get down there, we'll be staying put for 4 months and then moving again in July, but we don't know where yet. The army will let us know today when it wanders leisurely over to the computer and finishes its coffee (black, of course). It could be Korea, could be England, could be Hawaii, could be Arizona...could be Germany, could be Colorado, could be Alaska....all we have to do is wait. I don't mind. Wait, wait, wait. Hmm. I think I'll flip through this magazine... AHH! MY EYE IS TWITCHING UNCONTROLLABLY!!! FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THAT'S HOLY, COME ON!!!

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Wait, don't run away! I'M YOUR BIGGEST FAN!!

When I was about 7 years old my best friend and I watched the movie Big Business, with Bette Midler and Lily Tomlin (I'll save my love fest for Lily Tomlin for another time - I know you are disappointed). When I mention this movie to people, they almost always have no idea what I'm talking about. I'm fairly certain we were the only two 7 year olds who were more obsessed with a cheesy Bette Midler movie than The Little Mermaid. For some reason, that particular movie really made an impression on us. Perhaps it was the yodeling or Bette Midler's giant hat. From that point on there was a period of at least 2 years when we were pretending to be Bette Midler. We watched the movie over and over and over until we could re-enact almost the entire script without the TV on. This probably explains a lot.

Shortly afterwards Beaches came out and her popularity soared. I figured everyone else was finally realizing what we already knew. Bette Midler was the coolest thing since side-ponytails and garbage pail kids. I started asking for Bette Midler movies for my birthday and Christmas and I did 2 reports on her in school (that was when she filed the restraining order - totally unnecessary).

Once I found what I believed to be her address in one of those teen magazines, but because this was no frivolous affair, I put off writing to her until I was older and wiser. I hoped to be able to say what I wanted without sounding like every other fan. So I never wrote the letter. Because when it came down to it, I was just another fan.

But come on, who doesn't like a little Bette Midler now and then? Especially in her early years when she was wild and outspoken with live shows that were totally unpredictable, like this one described in an article for Circus:

"Since California state statutes were being changed at midnight to reduce the penalty for possession of small amounts of marijuana to misdemeanor, Bette wanted to tape a joint to the bottom of every seat of the theater as a New Year's surprise. Her staff had purportedly rolled 1800 joints before word leaked out and the project was halted by the district attorney's office. Still determined to give her audience that little something extra, at the stroke of midnight, goes the story, Bette dropped the top of her dress and manager Aaron Russo dropped the curtain."

I think the main thing that made Bette Midler stand out to me was her honesty. She didn't tiptoe around something, she just said it. She knew she was good at what she did and wasn't afraid to show it. She didn't care what the critics said, because she was doing what she loved to do and she wasn't even apologetic for being tacky, she reveled in it.

"I married a German. Every night I dress up as Poland and he invades me."

"I never know how much of what I say is true."

"Group conformity scares the pants off me because it's so often a prelude to cruelty towards anyone who doesn't want to - or can't - join the Big Parade."

-Bette Midler