Sunday, November 27, 2005

Post-Thanksgiving Short Takes

Hope everyone had a good Thanksgiving. We did.

When it comes to traditions like the last posting talked about, I do have a couple of personal ones for the holidays, which I hope to add to in the years to come. The week before Halloween, I like to read Roger Zelazny's A Night in the Lonesome October. Then, sometime in December I like to pop in my tape of Patrick Stewart's brilliant one-man performance of A Christmas Carol.

The dishwasher finally got fixed last Wednesday. I won't bore you with the details, but it was quite an adventure. Two different guys said it was a bad pump, but the third guy said it was the electronic controller. Fortunately he had one in his truck. Whee! A dishwasher! I almost ran it every time I dirtied a glass, I was so thrilled. I'm not joking.

It's damn hard to leave Lowe's without dropping well over $100. Especially when getting a new house ready.

I had an interesting idea for a long post, but wasn't anywhere I could make a note of it. Now, of course, I have forgotten. I hate that…

Monday, November 21, 2005


As we approach the time known as the holiday season, I, as most years, think back to a simpler time -- 1975, or thereabouts. What, you don’t recall the '75 as being particularly pleasant or simple? Okay, it wasn't, really, but I was only about 8 years old and it seemed tranquil compared to, say, my years in high school.

As an aside, I think that is why many people seem to think "life was simpler then" -- they were kids and life was simpler -- for them.

Anyhow, in those golden days of Watergate, gas lines and the fall of Saigon, and on through the pleasant era of inflation, hostage crises and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, my family had an established and welcome pattern to its holidays.

July 4 was for a time spent at my Aunt Audrey and Uncle Bill's house. Bill ran a trucking company which shipped cattle all over the country. They therefore had a huge caliche rock drive and parking area, perfect for fireworks. My parent's home town was so small that not only was there no ordinance banning fireworks in the city limits, the fireworks stand itself was across the street from the county court house and next to the waterworks.

Thanksgiving was spent at our (my grandfather's old) house there. Mom got the dressing (stuffing) started early and one or two older cousins of mine would come over to taste test it before she put it in the oven. Mom's dressing was justifiably famous in the family. Later more and more people would show up and eventually we would stuff ourselves silly, scattered all over the kitchen, living room, and back porch while the Dallas Cowboys played some sacrificial lamb on TV.

Christmas was spent at Aunt Hasey and Uncle John's place, which was just across the road from Audrey and Bill's. We would gather there Christmas Eve. Mom was invariably the last to arrive. Finally (after what seemed hours to us kids) Hasey would plant herself under the tree and hand us presents, telling us little ones to whom they were to be delivered. These gifts were from family members to other family members. Eventually, all the gifts would be distributed and we could rush back to our own piles to rip the paper off and see what goodies we got. At some point, carolers would wander by. Then we went to bed at our various places to await Christmas Day and Santa's goodies. It was a good time to be a kid.

If we lack for anything these days, it is that sense of family ritual at the holiday season. I realize now that there were tensions and cross-currents I knew nothing about, and what I really want is something I can't have without being 8 again. Still and all, I wish we could do the Big Family Holiday Thing.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Historical Reality

When I was in college I developed a habit of doing all the dishes I used as soon as I was done with them. This was partially in self-defense. I knew that arguments over cleaning the kitchen would develop, and I wanted to stay out of them. This was mostly successful, though I think my roomies resented having to acknowledge the mess in the sink wasn't mine. Or maybe they resented my forcefullly observing the mess wasn't mine. Over and over. Nah.

When I got my own apartment, I continued the habit. I didn't enjoy doing dishes, but I also didn't have enough dishes to fill a dishwasher before running out of stuff to eat on and with. A little silly, I suppose; who cares of the washer is truly full before running it? But it seemed wasteful. So I did 'em myself after every meal. It wasn't until I got married that the generation of soiled dishes outstripped my ability to keep up and I had enough to fill the thing before needing to use large banana leaves to put my cereal on. If memory serves, Trish had a hand in convincing me the dishwasher was an actual labor-saving device, and used less water to boot.

Anyway, last week the dishwasher had a problem. The water wouldn't drain out, so I've been thrown back to hand-washing for the better part of a week. Washing all dishes by hand for one person for 1.5 meals a day is a minor pain. Doing so for three while also cooking etc. is a royal pain. I can’t even just stuff things into the washer for later cleaning. They sit on the counter or in the sink taking up space I need for other things.

Okay, so its not hauling all the water needed for drinking, cooking and cleaning two miles from the community well. Sue me, I find it a serious hassle. And it certainly serves as a forceful reminder about all those history lessons that mentioned the introduction of labor-saving devices for the home back when. For the (mostly) women of those eras, it must have been like…having a stay-at-home-parent. Or something like that.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Baby on Board

A while back Slate ran an article about choosing a baby stroller. Strollers aren't really something we need much of these days, but I've often considered a series of posts for new parents or parents to be on what our experiences were with various baby gizmos.

Most people who write about this grumble (with justification) at the below the belt nature of much of the marketing for baby stuff. For most people, the struggle is not to get too much stuff, including fripperies like the baby wipe warmer. In our case, for quite some time it was almost the opposite.

As I recall, despite the morning sickness and the fact that her stomach was out to here, Trish and I were in a vague sort of denial about Jacob's impending birth. With only a week or two left before the big day, we only had the stuff we had received as part of the baby shower. I felt a vague sort of unease about this, but nothing strong enough to make me say "You're getting in the car and we're going to Babies 'R Us. Now."

It took a friend of ours to give us a good kick in the rear and get moving. She had actually come up to visit and help us move the last of Trish's stuff from her old apartment in Columbia (three hours away) over to our house. That is a story in itself, but she was scandalized at our lack of baby prep.

"I can't believe you guys!" she said. "Come with me, we're going shopping." And so we did.

Fortunately our friend was something of a country girl, so we were not steered towards things like Tommy Hilfinger diapers or what-have-you. We did get a bunch of things that we were later to make much use of, and certainly saved us from many, many trips to get some thing we needed direly post birth. If memory serves, we got such basic items as a crib, a diaper pail, a changing table, wipes, more diapers, a monitor, some functional baby clothes, blankets, bottles, and an extraordinarily useful "baby bag" (where you stuff all the spare diapers, medicines, wipes, chewie things, etc whenever you leave the house, hopefully not forgetting the baby in all the packing). I'm sure there were some failures in that pile of things as well, like the baby backpack thing that Jacob never seemed to fit in right, a musical mobile, and others.

But, thanks to her, we were as prepared with stuff as we reasonably could be.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Sick and Tired

I was sick this past weekend. Nothing bad, just a low fever and a general feeling of tiredness. It was the sort of illness you could almost forget about as long as you kept still. Anyway, I think it gave me an insight.

When I was a kid there a sense that moms didn't get sick. Granted, in the cultural milieu where I grew up, moms tended to stay home as well, so who knows to what degree this was universal, but at any rate, moms did not get sick. Kids got sick all the time. Dads got sick, too. Rarely, but it happened. Mothers, however, seemed invulnerable.

This, of course, was bunk. Moms got sick just like everyone else; they just didn't acknowledge it. There was too much to do. Intellectually, I knew that. But this weekend, as I was able to pretty much take it easy while getting better, I think I came to understand how they kept going.

Guilt. Yes, guilt (and me not even Catholic!). I think it was the first time I ever felt truly guilty over an illness. No doubt the mildness of the episode played a part. But still, there it was, and it hit me then that my mom, and surely other people's parents as well, had felt as down as I did plenty of times, and yet went on. Playing with pain, they call it in the sports world. You're not 100%, but the team needs you, and so you go in anyway. You could refuse; you could say no, but you feel you would be letting people down.

Yeah, it's an imperfect metaphor. They all are, sue me. And no doubt many people ignored illness because they had to work and needed the money. But I'm thinking more about stay-at-home parents, here, and I think there's something to it.