Friday, November 30, 2012

Virtual Reality

We were at piano lessons on Wednesday. My kids take them back-to-back from Teacher Brittany, who is twenty-something and darling, with tattoos of piano notes on her arm and a working knowledge of everything sung by Adele.

While Child #1 was learning Somewhere Over the Rainbow, Child #2 and I sat doing homework on the futon couch. "Mom," he said leaning over. "I really have to use the bathroom."

I escorted him upstairs, returned to the futon and then waited. For a really long time. Finally I went back upstairs to check on him. The door was open and, as I watched, he picked up Teacher Brittany's bathroom items, a hairbrush, contact lens solution, a pair of earrings and added them to the assortment he'd already assembled in front of a small 8 x 10 mirror.

"Child #2!" I said. "What are you doing?!?"

He motioned me into the bathroom and pointed at the mirror which, for him, was eye-level. "Look mom," he said.

I looked at the mirror and saw it was stenciled with a familiar saying with a twist. "Objects in mirror are BETTER than they appear."

He smiled and pointed at the row of objects he'd put together. "I'm waiting for all these things to get better!"

So, of course, I laughed at his little boy literallness. But later that night I started thinking about it again and it made me wonder about the ways the rest of us are literalists.

The holiday season is upon us with stores blasting Christmas carols that tell us to be of good cheer. But are we? Is the expectation we will be endlessly joyful during the month of December any less literal than lining things up in front of a mirror and waiting for them to get better?

What about women's magazines?

They give us airbrushed images of the female form alongside workout regimes and recipes for cookies. The message; we can look that way, if we work out hard, but it's still fine to eat cookies.

Are we dejected when we follow their glossy advice and don't end up looking like a cover model? When things, in the mirror of our self-esteem, are actually worse than they appear?

Maybe the trick is to recognize our literal tendencies and use them sparingly, like accessories. A shiny patent leather belief that volunteering has the power to change the world; make objects in the mirror better than they appear. And the ability to know when to leave that zebra-striped backpack of commercially packaged literal thinking at home.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Up All Night

We are many things at Chez Garth, but the one thing three of us are not, is early risers. 

That's a reasonable wake-up time.
Now that it is dark and cold and, did I mention dark, our non-early-riserness takes on epic proportions. There are days when the telphone rings at 7:30 AM and I stumble to answer it only to be confronted with a chipper little child voice asking if Child #1 can please come to the phone. I'm not at my best during these conversations, in particular because Child #1 is NEVER out of bed at that hour.

This summer my daughter told me "I come alive when it gets dark outside," and I could relate. We're like a family of vampires, except not so angsty and minus the bloodlust.

The foregoing is crucial information because now you know the thoughts that ran through my head when my daughter, the unstoppable force that is Child #1, came home with "Good News, Mom!"

"What is it?" I asked, visions of field trips or slumber parties dancing in my head.

"My name got picked for crossing guard. Say I can do it. Please, please, please."

"Morning crossing guard?"

"Uh-huh," smile, smile, pant, pant.

 "Doesn't that mean you have to get to school early?"

"Yes, but I promise I won't complain. I'll set my alarm clock every day. Pleasssse."

Of course I said yes because a) I'm a pushover, b) it's probably one of those experiences kids should have and c) November is a short month.

The first week was "so totally awesome, Mom! I got to hold the walkie-talkie." The second week was, "it's a little chilly out there." Now we are in the homestretch and it's, "I'm happy it's almost over"

Even though we started out strong, everyone up at the crack of 7:10, we've regressed.
Over Thanksgiving break Child #1's alarm mysteriously stopped working. I freely admit there's a possibility it's just been turned off. We've resumed our old habit of me staggering into her room and whispering hoarsely, "I think you should get up" and then taking a moment to lean against her wall with my eyes closed like morning is a very strong cocktail and I'm recovering from one glass too many.

As I write this post we are three days from being finished which makes me up-all-night happy.

At least it did, until Child #2 mentioned he'd like to start Lego Robotics in January. Guess what time it starts?


Monday, November 26, 2012

Three's Company

There are some things about Thanksgiving that I could do without. I'm not a fan of Black Friday madness that has people out shopping at midnight. Many people LOVE leftover turkey. They can have mine. And having the kids out of school for an entire week...well all I can say is thank goodness for Winter Break camps that involve two hours of swimming per day.

The one thing about the Thansgiving holidays I couldn't do without is the moment my husband's eldest brother makes his appearance at the airport. As far as my kids are concerned, their Uncle Adam is better than meeting Taylor Swift followed by a three day trip to Disneyland.

They mob him as though he's literally Taylor Swift and for four or five days the number of children in my house goes from two to three. There are constant wrestling matches and I have to resign myself to inconvenient pieces of furniture like coffee tables or couches being shoved to one side.

One episode of The Munsters while I'm at the grocery store morphs into a Munster marathon complete with three sets of belly laughs echoing up from the basement (four, if my husband is home). Heads are pressed tightly together and I try to pretend lice is not epidemic in my children's school.

Halloween bags of candy are inspected and appreciated with much more gusto than I can ever muster. Schemes involving an autumn olympics tournament complete with events like riding bikes around a track and tennis volleying are dreamed up and then executed.
I find myself having to say things like, "I'm sure your uncle doesn't want the hamster on top of his head," or "Please don't bang on the door to your uncle's bathroom and ask him what he's doing in there."

Their uncle's faint British accent is dissected, imitated and then he is forced to read Harry Potter with all the accents and lots of interruptions for discussion. Bedtimes are, well, I take the attitude they can sleep when their uncle returns to New York.

I'm sure their teachers won't like my sleep-deprived children in their classes today, but I suppose we can always catch up on our sleep during the two and a half weeks we have off for Christmas Break.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Twinkie Americana

The other morning I was listening to NPR and noticed they devoted about three minutes of airtime to the passing of the Twinkie; an American icon. The news item was on the front page of the Wall Street Journal business section, in the Chicago Tribune and reported by every major news station.

Honestly, I'm meh on Twinkies.

They were verboten in childhood. I spent tens of years as a Twinkie virgin and when I finally had one it was an underwhelming experience, much less satisfying then learning how to roller skate backwards or the proper application of blue eyeshadow.

But there I was, stuck in traffic, thinking about my lack of Twinkie love when it hit me. I'm part of the problem. Not that I'm solely responsible for closing the Twinkie doors, but the blame rests with people like me who have, by design or lack of desire, boycotted these golden cream-filled cakes of chemical purity.

If Twinkies are American then I might just be what's wrong with America.

I like apple pie, but find it impossible to pay attention to baseball games, even when I know one of the players (especially when I know one of the players). The last time I ate at McDonald's was, well, I don't remember.

There is good news, however. Diet Coke and Starbucks are my close friends. And because I live in Portland I recycle. I'd do that anyway, but maybe with not as much compost, glass, clean cardboard vigilance.

I don't own a cowboy hat, but maybe that's only necessary if you live in Texas. I do make Sunday night dinners, which seems sort of June Cleaverish, but serving a side of kale chips probably wouldn't pass muster with the rest of the Cleavers, whose names I don't know because I've *gasp* never actually watched an episode of Leave It To Beaver.

Of course, this is all silly. There is no definitive list of characteristics about what makes the perfect American, but still, on the eve of our lovely national tradition of giving thanks, I'm wondering about the rest of you. Are you old school, Twinkies, baseball games and cowboy hats or is the apple in your Americana an icon on a computer?

Whichever end of the spectrum you fall....Happy Thanksgiving and see you on Monday.

Monday, November 19, 2012


One of my favorite things to do on Twitter, besides waste copious amounts of time, is to talk about #myfavoritethings.

For those of you who don't speak Twitterese, the number sign is a hashtag which makes whatever follows it searchable on the otherwise messy playground that is Twitter.

Yes, I know its a little self-referential to tweet about #myfavoritethings, but it's better than tweeting about #mylunch or #myboss or #myshoes. That particular hashtag has the added benefit of inspiring me to sing, on a semi-regular basis...

Raindrops on roses, whisker on kittens, bright copper kettles and warm winter mittens.
Actually, maybe that's not such a benefit. But it is fun to discover other people love doors painted bright red (I know that sounds like it should be in the song, but it's not) lattes on a rainy day, and the musical stylings of Cake.

Inspired by the upcoming #Thanksgivingholiday, I decided to post a few of #myfavorite(Thanksgiving)things right here.

My hope is some of my favorite things will turn out to be your favorite things too which would be, yet another, #favoritething.

Cranberry-Glazed Sweet Potatoes I make this yummy dish every year for Thanksgiving and each year people keep coming back for more. It's sweet, slightly spicy and perfect for a #myfavoritething Thanksgiving. One note, I'm one of those cooks who makes little changes to  recipes. For this one, I substitute bourbon with some kind of orange-flavored liquor I found in our liquor cabinet and I think that's what makes this dish especially divine.

Oreo Turkeys I think those two words probably say it all, but in case you need more, here is one of our Oreo Turkeys past.

Alanis Morissette's Thank You song. I know this isn't about Thanksgiving and that it's actually quite sad, but if you don't listen too closely to the lyrics it makes a happy Thank You Thanksgiving vibe and sets the mood for turkey basting, gluing Reese's Peanut Butter cups to Oreos and catching up with relatives while having a glass of wine in the kitchen.

Thanksgiving Art. Sorry, no link here.

You'll have to make your kids sweat shop out there own version of autumn art over Thanksgiving break.

Each year when I pull out Child #1's third grade card where she wrote she is "Thankful for her house that never burnt down" or look at Child #2's Thanksgiving tree hand, it's a #myfavoritething moment all over again.

So, tell me #yourfavoritethings, and if you aren't already following me on Twitter come find me and say hello @JohannaGarth.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Kinda, sorta, a little bit black.

This has been a crazy month or two for me. You know, what with discovering my father has brain cancer, getting the kids back to school and trying to get the second book in the Persephone Campbell series out (I swear, it's coming, it's coming).

But on top of all that my mom recently called me on the phone. Here's my recorded (via memory) transcript of that conversation.

Her: Honey, do you have a few minutes to chat?

Me: (My brain on the all-cancer all the time channel) Of course. What is it.

Her: Well, it turns out we're black.

Me: What?

Her: Your great-aunt passed away and your cousin discovered some photos of your great-great grandfather and he was black.

Me: What?

Her: And your cousins have some genetic skin disease that's only found in people of African heritage.

Me: What?

Her: Honey, is there something wrong with your phone? I feel like you can't hear me.

Me: Umm, how is it you're just discovering this?

Her: *Giggling* I know. I guess it's something your grandfather just never mentioned.

He was my great-great grandfather so I guess that makes me kinda, sorta, a little bit black.

We all know I'm a writer, not a mathemetician so I'm not even going to attempt to figure out what percentage of me is actually black.

What this unexpected nugget of information has done has left me struggling with silly PC terminology.

First of all, I'm pretty sure having a black great-great grandfather doesn't mean I get to say I'm black. Or does it?

I'm leaning towards no.

Secondly, if the answer is yes to the above question I don't think I get to refer to myself as African-American because he was from the Belgian Congo...or do I because I'm American. See the ridiculous flights of logic-fancy I've been taking.

What I know for certain is I'm the great-great grandaughter of a French woman and African man who raised a family in Belgium. The writer in me doesn't care so much about the labels and is fascinated by the story. With a little digging, I feel like I could have the makings of an amazing historical novel about forbidden love.

The absurdist in me can't stop giggling. I've been trying to come up with a label for my kids. Are they Jewish-African-DAR? (On my father's side there's a whole slew of women clutching their pearls as they read this post). Maybe they're Cau-Congo with half Jewish heritage?

Or maybe, like post-feminism, we've finally reached a point in society where we're post-label.

That gets my vote!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Strippers, Catwomen of the Night and Cozy Cup Bras

It came to my attention this weekend that Child #1 was talking a lot about strippers. Remembering my own fifth grade obsession with prostitutes, I decided it was necessary to make sure she had her facts straight.

My prostitution obsession was based on several key half-truths. I believed prostitutes were glamorous women who got to stay up late and wear beautiful clothes.

Someone, somewhere along the line, aided this misconception by referring to them as "ladies of the night" which made me readjust my definition. Suddenly I saw prositutes as slinky, glamorous ladies who got to stay up ALL NIGHT LONG. Staying up all night long is a big deal when you're ten. In my mind prostitutes became something like Catwomen of the night; cool clothes, cooler attitude, all night parties, fighting against evil and swishing their tails. At ten, I was certain I wanted to be a Catwoman of the night.

So yeah, I'm digressing, but my point is I want my daughter to have all the facts. I do not want her to announce to her fifth grade teacher that her future goal includes being a Cat-woman of the Night...erm...stripper.

I cornered her when her brother and dad where out of the house. "I hear you've been talking about strippers a lot." She had the good sense not to admit or deny, gave me the preteen version of taking the 5th so I continued. "Do you know what they are?"

"Umm yeah, they're these women who take off all their clothes on stage so men can see their boobs."

"What do you think about that?"

"I think its really weird."

Then I got lucky, not stripper or Catwoman of the Night lucky, just plain old mom lucky because she opened up. "So some of the girls at my Girl Scout meeting were acting really weird and saying they want a Cozy Cup Bra and talking about how animals have sex, but I don't want to do any of that."

"A Cozy Cup Bra?" I asked, ignoring the animal sex issue.

"Yeah." She made a face, sort of like pretend vomiting.

"That's the worst bra name ever," I told her. "It's like you're supposed to wear it and sit around drinking hot chocolate."

She giggled, no eye-roll.

"They might as well call it the 'My Parent's Don't Want Me to Have Boobs Bra' or the 'Breast Bud Bra' or the 'First Hint of Puberty Bra'.

More giggling, we were on a roll, so I decided to ask the question I was tiptoeing around. "Are you in the market for a Cozy Cup of your own?"

She ignored the question, did a cartwheel and on her way out of the kitchen said, "I'll think about it and get back to you."

I think we made progress. It's a step in the right direction. Now all I have to do is find some time to dig deeper into the animal sex thing.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

You say potato, I say....

The tying cleats dance.
I'm a writer, yes. And also a kept women a.k.a mother to two. Although I've been known to go shopping, meet friends for lunch and eat bon bons, my after 3:00 job description is usually much less Gsa Gsa and much more soccer mom.

If you've had children, been a child or know someone with a child, you're probably familiar with the shuffle two-step dance involving multiple kids, multitasking homework helping, snack fixing and sport-of-the-season attending.

It brings great joy to my heart to announce soccer season is finally over.

But without soccer season, I wouldn't have my new favorite term. We carpooled to soccer practices. Child #2, was picked up by a good friend. She would pull up in front of my house with her minivan full of boys and off they would go, Child #2 talk, talk, talking even as we slid shut the door and waved good bye.

On one of those last carpool trips my friend got a special treat. As they pulled away from my house Child #2 announced to the eager ears of a van full of boys, "I know what a girl's penis is called." He paused, because he's got an ear for delivery before adding, "It's a vagina."

"No, no," my friend's son corrected. "It's not a VAgina, it's a BAgina."

This correction resulted in several minutes of hot debate until it was decided that a girl's penis is indeed called a Bagina. Jokes ensued, none of them pleasant for the driver. "Hey boys," she called, "Let's find something more appropriate to talk about."

If you've ever driven a carpool you know this suggestion was ignored. Except, luckily for my friend, Child #2 was in the car. He came to her rescue, shouting down his friends. "Guys, guys. Listen up. There's only one Bagina in the car and she wants us to talk about something else."

It really is the little moments, the ones where you discover your son has referred to a grown woman as a Bagina, that make you smile, turn bright red or some combination of both.

But readers, readers, I think you should know....there's only one Bagina writing this blog and she wants to say thanks for putting up with her kid story.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Hurricane Cancer

I've been thinking long and hard about a November theme. It should've been easy. Monsters for October and thankful for Thanksgiving. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized I just couldn't bear that theme.

The prospect of writing posts about ways to be thankful, or any public counting of blessings struck me as entirely insincere. There are numerous reasons and arguments for why I should be both thankful and grateful, but this year, I'm not.

About six weeks ago I wrote a post about optimism and talked about my worries about my father's health. Since that time he's received a diagnosis. He has a glioblastoma, a stage four, inoperable, brain tumor located in the middle of his language center. He's 68, and it's unlikely he'll see 69.

Over the last six weeks this brain tumor has been his own localized hurricane. It's sweeping through his brain, uprooting everything in its path, setting fire to his synapses and collapsing his ability to speak, read or write.

There are spots of good news. The physical pain is minimal. He can still get around, go out to eat, understand funny stories about his grandchildren. Those are the things I think about when the hurricane wall of sadness threatens to suck me under its oversized tide.

Joy of whitewater rafting with my dad.
Which is why I decided to make this month's focus on joyful things.

Hurricane devastation, whether its personal or on a grand scale, is obvious. It's demands are clear and unrelenting. But even the worst hurricanes leave behind survivors and you either sink under the grief or swim through it searching for little bits of joy that will buoy you up until the lifeboat comes and returns you to a place that bears some resemblance to a place you once knew.

I know you'll want to tell me you're sorry about this sad news, but please don't.

Instead focus on joy. Tell me the things that make you smile. It's only fair because that's what I'm going to talk to you about for the next month, or maybe more. Sometimes it might be little things (believe me, I can do an entire post about the joys of lipgloss or Luluemon running tights) and sometimes it might be big things.

Whatever it is, you'll know that it's my daily splinter of joy and my hope is that it might inspire joy in others who are adrift on a similar windswept and rainy ocean.