Grumpy about guns and courage

My heart clenched tight yesterday as I read the blurb off Yahoo’s home page about the nine-year-old girl who accidentally killed the shooting instructor who was showing her how to use an Uzi submachine gun. All just part of a Vegas bus tour. It’ll be the Story of the Day for 48 to 72 hours, with incessant commentating, opinionating, and diatribing, all of which I imagine is going to be polarizing, politicizing, and infuriating. Everyone in the gun debate will spin and distend this situation, until suddenly it’s forgotten. I intend to scrupulously avoid all of the follow-on news-cycle bibble babble. It adds no value to my life and my thinking. 

As the mother of my own lilliputian nine-year-old girl, I find myself fixating not on the dead instructor (who presumably knew the risks when he placed a powerful weapon into the hands of a little girl) or the parents (who I feel must be ignorant or fools or both) or the extreme gun rights lobby (which I consider to be insane). My thoughts run to the child, that poor little child, whose super fun adventure with an Uzi automatic went all wrong. I imagine her standing there next to the man she just shot, wondering what in the world just happened as blood pours out of his head. I don’t have to just imagine it. If I want to, I could watch the video. I don’t want to. I don’t want to watch a child kill a man, however accidentally. I imagine that child in the years to come, dealing with the simple fact that she killed a human being for no good reason at all. Will she be ruined? Will she forgive her parents?

It’s not her fault, of course. It’s the fault of her parents, of the instructor, of a culture that says it’s FUN for a small child to shoot off a lethal automatic Uzi that she isn’t strong enough to control. When I ponder what this country’s gun fetish is all about, I always land at the opinion that non-criminal people who love-love-love their guns think of guns as an expression of righteous courage and strength, in the manner of super-heroes like Batman or Rambo who use weapons to take out the bad guys. 

Those cartoon characters are, of course, fake.  Guns don’t speak true courage to me. Holding one wouldn’t make me feel more in command of my life or the world around me. Guns don’t make us mighty. They just make us lethal.

My mom taught me about courage and guns when I was 13, though it was many years before I understood the lesson fully. My parents had recently purchased a mom-and-pop liquor store. It was summer, and Mom and I were at the store together during the day. A man came in and walked to the counter. I greeted him and asked if I could help him. He pulled a large gun with a long barrel from under his jacket and pointed it at me. He told me to give him all the money.

I don’t have a clear linear memory of what happened next, but these are the things I remember. I was paralyzed. My mom walked deliberately over next to me behind the counter, but not too close. She stopped a few paces away and was still as a stone. She looked the man in the eye and spoke calmly. “Please don’t point the gun at her. You can put the gun away. We’ll give you the money. You don’t need the gun.”

The man turned the gun and his eye toward Mom as she spoke. Mom didn’t say anything to me, but I knew what to do. I opened the register and started pulling money out. I asked the man if he wanted it in a bag. He said yes, and as he spoke he turned the gun back toward me.

My mom interceded again. She was still calm, and she spoke quietly. “She’s my daughter. Please. She’s only 13. Don’t point the gun at her. Point the gun at me.” She tapped her chest with the fingers of her two open hands, like a gentle directive or an open-handed namaste. “Please.”

My memory’s eye tells me that something changed in the man’s face. Mom had reached him. He answered her gently. “Don’t worry. I won’t hurt her.”  He turned the gun away from me and it never returned. It stayed on Mom. I didn’t feel in danger anymore. I gave him the money. He left.

Mom must have called the police, because they came and all that. I don’t remember any tears or histrionics, except that once I cried a little when a police officer questioned me intensely about what sort of gun the man was carrying. I knew nothing about guns. “I don’t know!!” I wailed after the fourth or fifth question, breaking down into tears for a few seconds. I thought he had decided I was a liar because I didn’t know what to call the gun. The cop relented and patted my back. 

That’s really the only kindness I remember in the wake of the hold-up. I don’t remember Mom holding me after the thief left the store. I don’t remember special hugs or kisses from my parents or family. I don’t remember anyone really asking me how I was doing in the days that followed. Maybe it happened, but I don’t remember it. We just returned to life as normal.

I thought I was very brave through the ordeal. I was pretty calm and my hands didn’t shake much when I was giving the man the money. Other than that moment with the police, I never cried. Afterwards, I thought it was kind of cool that I survived a hold-up. I’d tell people about it and say how scared I had been at first, but then make a joke out of how I asked the guy if he wanted the checks and the change. What was I thinking, ha ha ha ha.

Mom, on the other hand, was a drama queen. She moped about the house for days, her face set in a grim, closed mask, her thoughts trapped tight inside her as she lay on the sofa staring at the ceiling or a wall. I got kind of irritated with her. I mean, I was just 13 and I was handling it so much better than her!

It wasn’t until many, many years later that the lens through which I saw her — and myself — turned into better focus. Mom saw a deadly weapon pointed at her daughter. In that moment, she must have drawn on every ounce of her courage to silence her fears and speak as my advocate. She placed herself in between me and death, not with a lunge toward a weapon but with a practical choice. If a bullet had to fly, she simply wanted it for herself, not me.  

Mom never held it over me or crowed about her behavior. She never again mentioned the fact that she was ready to die for me. I never felt bad about it. In fact, until quite recently I didn’t even appreciate it. To this day, I’ve never thanked her for that moment in our lives. She never asked me to. It pains me to wonder on this. 

I used to think I was just inherently brave and strong because of the way I handled the hold-up. That’s horse shit. The fearlessness I experienced was gifted to me from Mom when she spoke for me, stood in for me. That man didn’t take a thing that mattered when he walked out that storefront. He didn’t take anything from me emotionally. Mom’s courage built a wall around me that he and his gun couldn’t surmount.

Would I have felt safer if my mom had pulled a gun out from under the counter and tried to kill the man? Not hardly. If he had been hell-bent on killing us, would a gun behind the counter have saved us? Probably not. And if Mom had shot and killed that man, what lesson would I have learned? That holding on to a drawerful of cash is worth a person’s life? Neither of my parents believed that, and I don’t either.

I see photos of these idiots wandering around in shops with rifles slung over their shoulders, acting like they’re making some stand for safety and order. Do those fetishists really think any of us are safer because of their weapons? I’ll take my mom’s style of courage over one of those swinging dicks any day. She never reached for a gun when I was 13. She didn’t throw herself in front of me or make a scene. There were no heroics. Mom did something far more courageous, more powerful than any of that. She stood her ground, defenseless and in peace, simply asking a man to show a little compassion and, well, kill her instead of me if it came to that. What a thing.

I won’t be putting guns in the hands of my children. I won’t teach them that it’s fun to shoot guns or that guns are cool. I won’t teach them that it’s okay to kill someone over a fistful of dollars. I intend to teach them that they don’t need guns in an ordinary life to be brave and powerful protectors. They’ll do better with passionate, peaceful souls. And I’ll continue dreaming of a world in which little girls don’t ever get to play with Uzis.  

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Grumpy about my aching back

I’ve spent the summer of 2014 being extremely active. Having 47 years behind me is no barrier.

I’ve taken the kids to our little water park at every chance. I don’t sit on my ass. I play. I toss my 40-pound son into the air, wheeee wheeee. I throw my 50-pound daughter into airborne flips and cannonballs. They like to grab onto me and then I rise like a drunken behemoth, 90 pounds of human barnacle stuck to me as I heave myself around the shallow end. I play tag and chase rings with Jesse in the deep water. We like to do handstands in shallower spots.

We spent almost two weeks at the ocean this summer. I carried Nick into the surf and tossed him over breakers. I boogey-boarded with Jesse and by myself and swam around and had loads of fun. I chased the kids about the beach. We dug deep holes with our bare hands and made forts and trenches and moats. I couldn’t get enough.

We went camping for many many days, at numerous locations. This entails loading and unloading lots of heavy things and carrying them from here to there and back again. The cargo topper for the car makes it even more strenuous because one must hoist equipment high over one’s head, especially when one is only five-foot-one. I can duck-walk (because I’m too short to regular-walk it) a 30-pound propane tank around a campsite like there’s no tomorrow, and squat-dead-lift a fully-loaded 50-gallon cooler — that’s about 70 pounds as far as I can tell – into and out of the back of a car, my short arms extended to almost maximum wingspan. Them paleo-crossfit chicks ain’t got nothin’ on this cave woman.

We hiked miles and miles and miles in mountains and sand dunes. I frequently carried a 15- to 20-pound pack with our water and food and emergency gear. We had elevation changes and steep grades. I even occasionally gave the kids piggy-back rides when they were tired.

These activities tired me and occasionally left me with sore muscles, but I never broke or hurt anything. I’m proud to come from pretty hardy stock.

Yesterday we got back from our last camping trip of the year. After 3 nights in a tent and 4 days of sand and dirt, we could not have smelled worse. I jumped into the shower with pleasure, a perfect way to wind down and relax. I got to work scrubbing all that nasty grime off all my parts. I even remembered to do the bottoms of my feet. I lifted my right foot, turned it up in front of me with bent knee and scrubbed the sole. I lifted my left foot and turned it up and —

GAAAAAH – AAAAGGGH.

Something gave out in my left hip and low back, standing in the shower with a foot up.

You’ve got to be kidding. This morning I’m suffering, shuffling around bent over, my back covered in icy-hot. Looks like Advil is in my near future.

Not two crazy kids, not a summer full of fun, nor even excessive heavy lifting can take me down. But it looks like 47 years are taking their toll after all.

Grumpy about poetry

Jesse and Anthony love to read short form poetry. Anthony and I ponder sometimes whether this is partly a function of their dyslexia. As Anthony points out, he can actually enjoy poetry because he can finish it in a reasonable amount of time, unlike a long-winded novel. Too many words. I’m more of a novel-reader, but I learned from sharing poetry with Anthony that there’s a richness in few, carefully selected words, especially when read slowly and deliberately.

Many years ago, I passed through a museum shop and picked up a beautiful book of poetry and art containing a lot of short classics. We used to read from it to the kids when they were babies. Jesse especially took to it in her infancy. She would lie next to me on her back for a good half hour, quietly perusing small prints of famous art with her immense, unblinking eyes while I read to her – Neruda, Whitman, Frost, Shakespeare, Hughes, Yeats and so on. Nick would wiggle and get bored quickly, but I fancied he still got something out of the rhythm and lilt of the poems.

A few nights ago Anthony and I walked into the local Barnes and Noble. We were on a quest for a small anthology of imagist poetry for Jesse. She has a children’s book about William Carlos Williams that she really loves. Anthony’s a fan too. I think they love the imagist work because it doesn’t generally contrive some emotional discussion. Jesse and Anthony prefer to savor the sensory beauty of life, not talk about feelings.

We managed to find the three half-empty shelves labeled “poetry”, crumbling into oblivion between row upon row of sci-fi and manga paperbacks. We rummaged through the 14 books of poetry in stock. No news flash here: there was no imagist collection at Barnes and Noble. But we did find a collection of WC Williams.

Jesse literally jumped and laughed with pleasure when we gave the volume to her over breakfast. She looked over the cover photo of Williams. “He looks old.”

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He looks happy, I countered. Why don’t you read a poem to us?

She flipped through the first few pages and stopped. “This is not poetry,” she said dryly. She held the book up to show me. She was in the introduction.

Anthony stepped in. “Just go somewhere in the middle of the book and find a short poem.”

We waited as she thumbed around. What would she find to tickle our fancies? Wheelbarrows and chickens, plums and fire trucks, birds and water?

She chose a random page and read the title of the poem.

“DEATH. This poem is called death? It’s about death??”

Anthony and I exchanged a glance. Leave it to Jesse to flip through a WC Williams collection and happen on the poem called DEATH.

She started to read the poem in her clear, high, sweet little girl’s voice:

He’s dead
the dog won’t have to
sleep on his potatoes
any more to keep them
from freezing

he’s dead
the old bastard–
He’s a bastard because ——

Okay whoa whoa whoa. A mighty rustling started about the kitchen table as Anthony and I tried to change the subject and poem.

We continued downhill on this botched journey into imagist poetry. Jesse handed me the book and I found a more copacetic poem. But by now Nick was tired of it and wanted some attention. He hollered and groped me as first Jesse and then I tried to read aloud. 5 minutes in, we set the book aside and cleaned up breakfast dishes.

grumpy about rain, cars and slugs

It was raining when I took the kids to camp yesterday at the Audubon nature center. It’s a great summer camp program. The kids get outside a lot, and they learn about stuff related mostly to local geology and environment – rocks, water, prairies, crystals, birds. Students are encouraged to touch and explore, get dirty and wet. This isn’t usually a problem for Jesse or Nick, but it’s more complicated with Jesse. She’s fine with the filth and wet of nature, but only when she’s outside. In nature. If things get on her inside a building or at the wrong moment, she can fall off the rails.

I had an intuition the rain could be a problem, because Jesse might get wet on the way into camp. It’s okay to get wet AT camp when they go outside, but ARRIVING wet is different. It’s potentially very, very bad, depending on how aggressively Jesse’s OCD and anxiety are acting up. I thought this through as I packed rain boots and gear in the car. The class starts inside, and Jesse doesn’t like to wear her rain boots inside. It would be a pain to wear her boots for the commute and then change to her sneakers when she got to the classroom, because the boots were caked in mud from the prior camp day and would get wet and muddy, so there was a high probability she’d get mud on the wrong part of her body during the shoe exchange, and then all manner of whining and disintegration could ensue. I evaluated two alternative futures – wet sneakers vs. mud from boots – and concluded the lowest risk path was wet sneakers.

Sure enough, when it was time to leave, Jesse expressed concern about her sneakers getting wet. So we had to have a debate about it, which boiled down to this:

Jesse: Mommy! Go get my boots!!
Me: No.

The actual exchange was slightly longer and slightly more excruciating, but in the end Jesse put on the sneakers without any threats, which a few months ago would have been a minor miracle. She ran out to the car and got in as fast as she could. We drove to the Audubon. I parked about 200 yards from the entrance. As I pulled gear out of the trunk, Jesse barked a command to Nick. “Run to the door!” He shot off like a greyhound.

The Audubon parking lot is not a safe place. Crazed parents desperate to unload their miserable kids careen about madly in their SUVs and minivans, apparently oblivious to the idea that other crazed parents are also struggling to get their spawn to camp and might not want them to be run over. I’m filled with terror when we walk through that parking lot, especially when we come to the part where there’s a blind hairpin turn near the entry sidewalk, right where we have to cross the road. You never know what’s going to come ripping around that turn.

So I yelled at the kids as they rushed to their certain deaths. “Stop! Wait for me! Parking lot!! DANGER!!! CARS!!!”

Jesse yelled back, “But my shoes will get wet!”

Grrrr. Still, they slowed down enough for me to catch up. I nattered at both of them. “You know it’s not safe to run in a parking lot blah blah blah blah. Blah blah blah! Blah-blaaah blah-blaaah. Which is worse, being hit by a car or having wet shoes?”

Never ask rhetorical questions to a smart ass. Jesse’s answer was inevitable. “Wet shoes,” she replied, without hesitation and in a tone that said “DUH.” My eyes rolled a couple times around the track, but I held my tongue. I said my little mantra in my mind (“it’s why we’re in therapy, it’s why we’re in therapy”).

I made Nick and Jesse stop at the scary turn, and when I was sure it was safe I told them now they could run. Jesse was visibly annoyed with me as they raced across the road and up the sidewalk, because WET SHOES.

Then suddenly she stopped, a good 30 paces from the doorway to DryLand. Nick ran right on to the door, but Jesse bent way over and was staring at something. I gritted my teeth as I approached, preparing for the worst. Was she going to obsess on a wet spot on her shoe or sock? Maybe some mud or dirt splashed up on her leg? Whatever it was, it wouldn’t be pretty.

“What’s wrong, Jesse?” I asked tentatively, not sure which battle I’d be fighting in the next few minutes as I tried to drag her into her camp class.

“Look,” she chirped cheerfully. “Slugs!”

I stood in the rain, watching Jesse’s shoes get wet as she watched the slugs. I couldn’t hide my exasperation.

“Jesse. Get it up and go. Which is more important to you? Slugs or wet shoes?”

She answered without hesitation, a smile on her face. “Slugs.”

Duh. Who knew slugs were an antidote to OCD.

Grumpy about love for no reason

I now have more than a hundred posts after about 8 months of blogging. I can’t decide what to make of that. Autocorrect just insisted I’m bluffing, not blogging. Maybe autocorrect has it right.

Last week Jesse and I dropped in on Dr. Abrams for the first time in a month. She missed him during our long vacation, and this visit was a must. She needed a therapy session like a badly constipated baby needs an enema. I needed a healthy session for her like, like… Like a mother nearing insanity needs her vaguely troubled daughter to have some therapy.

Not that things are going badly for Jesse. Leaving aside the remaining (and the new) irritating behaviors and also the anxiety and OCD and tics and social cue stuff, Jesse left a lot behind when I think back to prior travel tortures. This year she didn’t try to destroy the tent, ever. She only got sent to the car in the middle of the night once. She didn’t kick dirt on us during meals. She didn’t scream as much. She didn’t hang over cliff edges while wondering aloud about what it would feel like to fall to her death. And so on. She just wasn’t as angry or tense; there was less self-loathing, and she seemed happier. Still a pretty strung-out kid, but better. I’m thrilled.

Whatever. She still needs a lot of therapy. So there I sat in the waiting lounge while Jesse did the talk-talk thing with Dr. Abrams, and what book should catch my eye in the little self-help bookcase but the very tome that inspired me to start this blog!

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Hi Marci. I stared at the cover again and wondered if therapeutic blogging has changed my view of Marci the chicken soupy soul lady, who wants to teach me how to create a life of unconditional love, and also if I read her Happy for No Reason book I will get everything I want and be wealthy too. Am I ready to let go of being grumpy for no reason, in pursuit of Marci’s love prescription?

Unfortunately, she still looks smarmy to me, made-up and air-brushed and botoxed, and this time as I stared at the cover I could swear I spotted an edge of steely meanness around her eyes. I bet she abuses her personal assistant and hair stylist, I thought to myself as my head shook from side to side and my eyes rolled into the back of my head and my tongue hung out my mouth.

And then I realized I was the one being mean. And unfair too, because I’ve never read her book; I only flipped through it for about 15 seconds, like I was fanning a deck of cards. Maybe there was something in there to help me. I started with the bio. It told me she’s a pretty spectacular person. She “is a celebrated transformational leader and an expert on unconditional love and happiness” (italics added by me). She is a “top-rated professional speaker” who has even given speeches to Fortune 500 companies. Aaaah. She is AN EXPERT on this shit! Even Fortune 500 companies have hired her! I guess they want Marci to tell their employees about how to find love for no reason and happiness. Because that’s the kind of thing large 21st century corporations care about. No wonder Marci’s proud. And rich.

Carla = sold. I had 15 minutes before Jesse came out of her meeting with Dr. Abrams, and Nick was happily involved in some game on his iPad, so I dove into Marci’s text. I did the speed-read thing, i.e., I read the captions throughout the book and looked at the pictures. There were lots of captions, so I promise I wasn’t being a slacker.

I will now share with you the beginnings of my path to LOVE enlightenment.

There are seven LOVE CHAKRAS I need to open up before I can love for no reason. That seems like a lot.

I can’t just say “love chakra” in a normal voice, by the way. For some reason it keeps coming out emphatically. The word “love” sounds more like LUUEEEV when it leaves my lips, and I find I want to swivel my hips about all groovy-like. Maybe I’m just developing a new tic.

Anyway, here’s the illustration Marci provided of the locations of the seven LOVE CHAKRAS.

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The Oneness doorway is in the brain; Vision is at the eyes; Communication at the throat; Openness at the heart. Totally makes sense. Then the chakra of Unconditional Self-love is at the stomach. I know a lot of peeps make themselves feel good by eating, so yeah, that makes sense too. Vitality in the gut, yup, I get it.

What’s up with the doorway of safety? Is my vag really where I’ll find my safety chakra? That’s way past my intuition.

I tried to read a bit more on the safety thing, because its location at the crotch caught me off guard. “Safety” apparently means something along the lines of being in the here and now. Aha. Now it makes sense. What’s more in the here and now than our sexual organs. Check.

Maybe I’ve got this all wrong. I assumed I was going to learn about spiritual love. But is it possible Marci is talking about something more corporeal?

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My Love-Body? At 47 I do feel a little more flaccid than I want. I could definitely use help developing my LOVE-BODY. Hugh Jackman has maintained his LOVE-BODY into his 40’s, so why not me? Grrrawwr.

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Marci didn’t explicitly mention equipment, but I think this must be part of the self-love aspect of her program. Hm.

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Love bosses and plugs? That might be a few too many shades of Grey for me. But I like that Marci’s getting a little kink-ay.

And what is this poor woman doing?

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She’s probably supposed to be demo’ing some exercise to release a chakra, but it sure looks uncomfortable. To me it looks like she’s scratching her itchy ass on the chair, and possibly the camera person just caught a well-timed photo of her right before she fell off the chair from all that squirming. My kids squirm all the time when I try to make them sit for meals, a lot like this lady is doing, and they spontaneously fall off their chairs regularly. I never realized they were in pursuit of a love chakra. Children are so intuitive.

(Post-script: Anthony says she looks like she’s “dropping a turd.” Yet another reason to love my man.)

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Yeah, duuude, trust your vibes. You’re a LOVE LUMINARY, duuude.

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Is “Connection” some new concoction that’s going to get me in touch with my love-body? Is Marci marketing it? Maybe an exclusive distribution deal with Walmart would be a good idea.

It looks like she might be working on another trademark too.

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Duude, the world looks so soft and blurry when my brain is on Oneness. Oneness is AWESOME STUFF.

No seriously, after skimming intensely through Marci’s book, I can feel my love chakras opening right now. RIGHT NOW. Unconditional love is trying to push its way out of me!! I gotta go find someone to love NOW!! I’ll be right back!!!

False alarm. I just had to pee. It was my pee chakra opening.

* * * *

In fairness, I do believe in the pursuit of unconditional love, though I prefer to think of it as altruism or acceptance, or something along those lines. I just don’t think I’m going to find it in a book. I mean seriously, does this jingo-istic pep-talk shit help anyone?

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I’m wiping my mouth with the back of my hand right now. I lost control of my gag reflex. And anyway, Marci’s not offering a path to unconditional love. She’s offering a path to some sort of personal success, which is just not the same thing. Check out this graphic:

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This is supposed to show the reader that the person on the left is loving for “good reason,” because of (or in order to get) the stuff attached to her heart by strings. Subtle. Heartstrings, get it? The person on the right is loving for NO reason, so that gray shadows are radiating from her heart to cloud over the stuff.

No no no. I’ve got that wrong somehow, don’t I.

Let me try again. So the person on the right is going to love without reference to the STUFF, but in doing so she gets to have the stuff anyway, only it’s because she loves for NO reason and not for a GOOD reason. So yay, everyone’s happy, and she gets the stuff too! Apparently children fall in the same category as nice cars and houses. Huh.

I think I’m still confused about Marci’s love program. I’m just not sure that my body has 7 love chakras. I mean, I wish it did. I wish love really was this easy. I wish unconditional love could come from a book and some stupid exercises, because then I could fill myself with it every EFF’ing day.

Marci sent me a message in her book.

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It’s okay. For what? You’re welcome. I’m not feeling it.

* * * * * *

No worries. I will stay the course and continue working on my GRUMPY CHAKRAS. I think they look like this:

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The Five Grumpy Chakras

Don’t be intimidated — it’s hard to compete with my graphic tools.  (Mechanical pencil. Kiddy art paper pad. Steady hand.) In case you’re thinking about lifting this amazing graphic, please know that it is seriously COPYRIGHTED. Unconditionally and for no reason.

The chakra on the head is pretty fundamental. The people I know who are very comfortable with all of these qualities are really content. They might come off as kind of grumpy, cynical, rude, and usually everything that’s the opposite of earnest. Their eye muscles are well-developed from all the rolling. They probably also know a bit about unconditional love, even if they don’t make a big stink about it. They would never tell me to jump on a love train (which I would interpret as a version of “get lost” anyway). They’d just complain and laugh with me. Maybe they’d even fart near me, and then that would make for some more good laughing, and also smelling their farts would decrease my risk of cancer, so it’s a win-win.

I think I’ll stick with grumpy. Sorry Marci.

Grumpy about chocolate vomit

Note to self: chocolate vomit is abhorrent and foul, brown like poop, dark and frightening. When issued by Nick onto tan shag, it looks like diarrhea swirl.

On the up side, it doesn’t smell that bad. After initial failures in cleaning efforts, the big boy Bissell did a full clean up number on the Vomit Zone. In fact, it’s probably the cleanest spot in the house right now.

grumpy about the toy vomit

Yesterday the kids decided to built a fort. I knew this would be so when Nick approached me in a bustling, fussy mood, one hand on his hip and the other raised in a didactic wave. “Mommy. We need sheets.”

Who am I to say no? I gave him sheets. He and Jesse built a fort that took over half the living room and used all our small furniture and chairs as vertical structural elements. They completed it while Anthony and I were out on a date night enjoying the totally mediocre movie, Lucy. They filled the space in the fort with books, supplies, and stuff; and apparently if there was anything that didn’t fit, they threw it on the floor in the other half of the living room.

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All that stuff on the floor, that’s toy vomit. Anthony and I cleaned up the visible vomit, of course. We left the fort because, you know, fort.

For most of today I didn’t take any notice of the living room.  I was busy with making breakfast, doing laundry, getting the ribs in the oven, going to the water park with the family and, while Anthony took the kids to a movie at the theater, shopping at REI and Whole Foods. Then I finished dinner — the ribs, fresh cole slaw, salad, and garlic bread. Not bad.

After cleaning up and all that, I wandered into the living room and saw…

Three cuties staring, unblinking, at three electronic devices. A common sight these days.

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The fort, or perhaps more accurately, a shroud masquerading as a fort.  Still there next to the catatonic cuties, but abandoned.

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A dead orange dragon, cause of death not obvious. Is the green flannel sheet wadded up near its butt supposed to be dragon poop?

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These little creatures, all alone next to the hearth. I don’t know what they are. Some sort of lizard?

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This motley (but carefully placed) array of figurines. I’m not sure why the dragons and sea monsters were hanging out with the rescue heroes. Only Nick knows the answer.

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Notably, the three larger human figurines on the sofa never moved while I shuffled about taking these photos, nor even looked up at me.

Toy vomit, all.

Grumpy about green beans for dinner

When we first joined a CSA (farm share organization) three years ago, there was a tremendous summer drought. Our CSA, Wellspring, didn’t have a lot of irrigation capacity then, so some boxes were sparse — still delicious and eye opening, but slim pickings. I contributed half of my labor hours that year on a green bean picking day. They were such sad plants, despite the passionate farmer’s best efforts. I hunted and picked for 3 hours up and down rows of bean plants, and I only harvested about a brown paper bag’s worth of beans, most no bigger than a mid-size earthworm. That week each member got about 20 tiny green beans, enough for me to hold in one fist. It was hardly worth the backache.

This year I have green beans coming out my ass from just 2 weeks of Wellspring boxes. I could fill 3 gallon-size ziplocks, right up to the zipper. I scratched my head this afternoon. What to do with all these green beans? I do try to use our farmshare boxes fully. It seems a shame to buy something I’d prefer from the grocery store, when I’ve already paid for the box. But this is a lot of green beans. It’s as bad as growing zucchini. What do people do with all this green bean action?

Then I had the “ding dong” epiphany: HENCE GREEN BEAN CASSEROLE. Until today, I’ve considered this to be one of the more revolting food concoctions, involving canned green beans and canned tomatoes, and maybe a can of cream-of-something soup. Why would anyone do that to a delicious vegetable that you can steam and color up nicely with just a bit of vinegar and sesame, or maybe lemon and pepper? It’s a perfect lickety-split vege.

But I saw the light. I needed to make a casserole to unload these beans; that would use up tons of them. Five minutes was my limit for recipe-surfing. I found nothing tempting, except the idea of doing something akin to a gratin. I ended up making a green bean casserole that was incredibly delicious, despite appearances. The bechemel was made with yogurt. How cool is that?

casserole

We supplemented it with some fixings — crumbled Italian sausage (sun-dried tomatoes and basil), avocado, and heirloom tomatoes. Better looking, and now a pretty complete meal that was second-helping-worthy (or in Anthony’s case, seconds-and-lick-the-plate-worthy):

dinner plateUnfortunately, I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to replicate this business. But for posterity, here’s my best guess recipe and how-to, in case you have an uncontrollable desire to make a green bean casserole and you’re out of ideas:

Chop an onion (farmshare!) and some uncured fresh garlic (farmshare!) and saute them in olive oil. Salt and pepper. After a little while, leave them be on low heat, and meanwhile clean up mounds and mounds of green beans. Cut them in half and dump them in a buttered casserole dish. Fill it up.

Tell your child for the 80th time today that you will not re-install the fighting game on his iPad. Take deep breaths and try not to burn or cut yourself on anything.

Dump the cooked onions into a bowl. Drop a couple tablespoons of butter into the same saucepan to melt on low heat and then add a couple tablespoons of flour. Make a rooo. Roux? I’m not sure how to spell it.

While this is going on, say “yes” when your husband suggests he go out and grab some fresh chives and oregano from the front yard. Bite your tongue when he comes back with what looks like the grass clippings for the entire front yard. Chop up a ton of chives and oregano and dump them in the bowl with the onions.

Tell your son that you still can’t play with him.

Grab the quart of plain yogurt, because you’re out of milk. Spoon a bunch of that into the roux. Whisk away and wonder if you’ve used enough, and then add some more. Maybe half the tub or thereabouts. Whisk and whisk. Watch it get thinner as it warms, and have mild feelings of anxiety about whether this is all a waste of time and will turn out to be totally disgusting.

Watch with satisfaction as the sauce thickens again after a few minutes. Wonder what to do for the next few minutes while it simmers and thickens some more. Aha. Dump the bowl of onions and chives and oregano over the green beans and moosh it all together. Suggest a potato to your husband. Accept the potato he selects and dice it into very small pieces. Throw that in with the green beans.

Work your way around your husband as he tries to put tacos together for the kids, who will hate the casserole even though the smell of its components is making them act like rabid, starving, evil Tolkien creatures.

Grate the large-ish piece of mild cheddar cheese you found in the fridge, but not all of it because we need some for the kids’ tacos. Check the sauce for thickness and decide it’s done. Throw in most of the grated cheese. Suddenly remember it needs to taste like something, so add a teaspoon or two of ground pepper, a good big pinch of salt, a small pinch of cinnamon, and many shakes of Cholula hot sauce. Oh, also a spoonful of brown mustard, the kind with little bits in it. Stir that all up and then pour it over the green bean/onion/potato pile and stir it all together, then sprinkle the last of the grated cheese over the top. Put it in the 350-degree oven for what ends up being an hour and a bit.

Clean up a little and then realize you have time for a quick run to Trader Joes for milk, so that Nick will be able to have his cereal in the morning. Start to scheme during the drive.

Arrive at Trader Joes and decide to jazz up dinner a bit. Grab a bag of avocados, some raw sausages, Parmesan, and a bag of fine bread crumbs. Rush back home and grate some Parmesan, mix it with a big handful of bread crumbs, and toss that on top of the casserole, which still has half an hour to go. Squeeze the sausage meat out of the casings and cook it with some Cholula, breaking it up into bits. Chop some tomatoes and avocados.

Dinner time!

For better or worse, this is how Anthony and I usually cook, which means sometimes the food is really spectacular, and sometimes it’s spectacularly bad, but at least it’s never the same twice.