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Saturday, December 30, 2006

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Why do we have to have all these damn kids?

This was the picture and caption that graced the invitation to our first-ever annual New Year's Eve Open House, borne of not having booked a babysitter six months in advance. We opened the doors early in the evening, so people similarily stuck at home with their offspring could have somewhere to go, while the people who got dibs on all the sitters could stop in for a cocktail and lord it over us on their way somewhere grown up and exciting.

Tomorrow evening we will host this event for the third time, and while the above-quoted sentiment (our favorite line from It's A Wonderful Life, and the part where Patrick always breaks down and cries) still holds true, we now fling open the doors by choice, not circumstance. Our party is the most fun we have ever had on New Year's Eve, hands down. And it's all over by ten, which is as late as some of us can stay up anyhow.

This is an eclectic gathering. In addition to the usual suspects, I have invited people from the neighborhood, from church, and from the supermarket. We take 'em old and young, married and single, imbibing and sober (but ix-nay on the ong-bay, y' know who you are). If you know me well enough* to feel slighted that you haven't been invited this year, please be assured it was an oversight, and come. I would be so thrilled to have someone there who actually reads my blog. Like Big Bird, when the other people on Sesame Street could finally see Snuffalufagus.

God knows how many people I have invited, and what percentage of them will show. I think the core group is around 20-30 adults, but then we have over three hundred children between us. Plus the people from the supermarket, church and anybody I met at any gathering where alcohol was served over the holidays.

The house already looks trashed. I have a Sam's Club run to make, to get shrimp for etouffee and assorted low-prep munchies. There is absolutely no way I am going to get this place presentable between now and six p.m. tomorrow. I was thinking I would just spray the mounds of dirty laundry with fake snow and drape them in tinsel and mini-lights. I was also wondering if I could get some kind of annulment for all the cheese and chocolate I've eaten over the past ten days, so that if I could find something clean to wear, I would fit into it.

I better get busy. Happy New Year, everyone!

*I mean actually know me. Not feel like you know me. We do have a vicious Rottschund on the premises to ward off the crazies, you know.

Oh! Itunes is giving away a free download of Auld Lang Syne by one of my favorites, Jack Ingram. It's on the itunes home page. Add it to your party playlist.


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Friday, December 29, 2006

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Shuffle: decoding my musical genome

My new ipod Shuffle may be my very favorite possession next to my ibook. Thanks, Mom! It goes a long way toward making up for the Christmas I didn't get a Ken doll!

Look at it. Isn't it adorable? Smaller than a book of matches and holds 240 songs. And when I get tired of those 240 songs? Why, I just plug it into my ibook and fill it with 240 more! Remember when the Sony Walkman first came out? Remember how we thought that was THE SHIT? (If you don't, what the hell are you doing here? Go back to and blog with your own kind.) Remember how it played music recorded on actual tape? And took alkaline batteries? And how the headphones went over your head? It seems a lifetime ago. Several times a day, I glide a finger over the controls of my shuffle and murmur, "To think that I should live to see such wonders..."

It validates my faith in humanity. If we can put 240 songs and 12 hours of battery power in a matchbook, my brothers and sisters, we can save the polar bear.

I am enjoying the shuffle play feature. I've had itunes on both the ibook and the kids desktop PC for some time now, but I have preferred to stay on top, so to speak. I say what to play and in what order. But since my new toy has no display feature, I am effectively blindfolded. Surprise me, I say, as I slide the power switch on.

The result is that I am listening to tracks I haven't heard in a while, and hearing familiar songs in a new context. It has me thinking about how passionately I love music, how my tastes have evolved over the years and how the soundtrack for my life gets synced and updated through my relationships, the deepest of which always center on music.

Some key influences:

My parents. Mom and Dad had a massive LP collection. This is where the parameters got established, in terms of how eclectic you could be. It was heavily weighted toward folk and singer-songwriters. Lots of Leonard Cohen. The Chieftains. Gordon Lightfoot. Ryan's Fancy, with whom my Dad did some work. Woody Guthrie. Bob Dylan. But there was also Beethoven and Rod Stewart and Waylon Jennings. Probably my most beloved record of theirs was Jesus Christ Superstar, which was a bigger (and healthier) influence on my theology than 12 years of Catholic schooling. Album art was also hugely influential. I partially credit my sexual awakening to a cover photo of a stripper in a g-string and pasties on a Tom Waites album. Looking beyond recorded music, it should be noted that I grew up in a home and a culture where it was not unusual to have live music sessions in the kitchen. It was also the era of the folk festival and I was a veteran of them by the time I was thirteen.

Bob. I doubt Bob reads this blog. But if he did, and I left his name off the list, he would be sure to call me on it. Bob and I knew each other in diapers, and in the summer of 1981, he introduced me to the Beatles. Just in the nick of time, since I had just that week bought my very first record with my very own money and it came from K-tel. Someone saved my life that night. I became a total Beatlemaniac twenty years after the fact, and was largely insulated from the new wave.

Mtv. (Or the Canadian version thereof: MuchMusic/MusiquePlus.) I was fifteen years old the summer of Live Aid. No further explanation should be necessary.

Kirk. I know Kirk doesn't read this blog. As much as I plead with him to get with the industrial revolution every year during our annual Christmas Eve phone call. It is a travesty that a master of the mixtape does not imix. Kirk and I dated off and on for several years, and he would send me mix tapes from college that would make me cry and think very hard for a whole day or two about breaking up with whatever full-time drug-dealing, part-time ski-instructing boyfriend I was living with that year. Kirk was discerning about music, if not girls. Introduced me to Frank Zappa. Turned me onto Fleetwood Mac and Tom Petty. Made me listen to Ween. When I called him up and told him I was running off with a guy I'd met on the Liz Phair BBS, he thought about it carefully, and then said, "Well, at least it wasn't PJ Harvey. You'll probably be okay." I took it as his blessing.

Erika, my favorite cousin. Erika has a blog. Irrationally, she doesn't want to expose her personal life to total strangers en masse. But if you ask her nicely and give her a copy of your drivers' license, she will let you read it. Erika is inadvertently responsible for the lives of my three children because she is the one who handed me a tape of Exile in Guyville one day in her car and said, "Here, try this." Twelve months later I was separated from my very nice life and living in a one room flat in the middle of Mexico with this guy. Remember when Paul Simon sang, "Someone could walk into this room and say your life was on fire"? Liz Phair did that for me. Thanks, Liz. I would think you would at least drop by and babysit once in a while.

Patrick. Well, obviously, a marriage founded on Liz Phair is going to be interesting, musically and otherwise. Our entire courtship is preserved in email and mixed tapes. Patrick introduced me to the Carter family and John Prine and the Rolling Stones. We discovered alt-country together, and for years, it was all SonVolt, all the time. Then I decided Jeff Tweedy was cuter and peppier than Jeff Farrar and there was a bit of a schism. But we can always agree on Steve Earle and Lucinda Williams.

Me. Recently, I've been making a dedicated effort to tune into contemporary music. I programmed the DVR to record the top 20 video hits. I use the browse feature on itunes. I am trying to keep my tastes from atrophying. I don't think top-forty pop music is any worse/better than it was when I was in the target market. The Blackeyed Peas amuse me. (Blackeyed Peas in the studio: "I know! Let's write a song about your ASS!" Blackeyed Peas back in the studio next year: "I know! Let's write ANOTHER song about your ass!") The first time I saw Modest Mouse on Saturday Night Live, I looked at Patrick and said, what kind of funky art-school shit was THAT?? and ran to itunes to download more. I have been known to shake my thang to Kellis. I think Keane's "Is it any Wonder" is the most uplifting, sweeping, infectious pop song I have heard in years. I believe U2 is the world's second greatest band (after the Beatles) and Bono and the Edge's recent interview with Dave Stewart's Off the Record is an amazing window into the minds of two artists at the top of their game as well as a testament to the power of a creative enterprise to draw others into its service.

Somebody's always saying how rock is dead. It may be, or near to it. But good music isn't, not as long as your mind is open.

So what's on your playlist?

C'm'on, surprise me.

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Thursday, December 28, 2006

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What? And cast aside all this?

Patrick is convinced that the previous post is proof positive I am trolling for a new internet husband. (With rolling eyes, I mentioned this to my cousin on chat this morning, who said, "That is so 1996.")

I think he is suspicious about my open blogcrush on this guy, but if I were going to run off with someone, it would probably be Holly, who seems to have an infinite list of free accomodations in exotic locations. Luckily, no one I have encountered in the blogging world seems even close to financially solvent, so I tell him he has nothing to worry about.

He isn't buying a word of it. As further evidence, he offered the fact that I have yet to link to his blog. This is for several reasons, none of which are the internet equivalent of removing my wedding band:

    He rarely posts, and we don't want to encourage him, since somebody around here has to maintain the lifestyle to which I have lowered my expectations.

    He might post something boneheaded about--oh, I don't know--abortion, and you might think I endorse it.

    You might decide you like him better than me.

However, he has written this wonderful post on his obsession with Avatar: The Last Airbender. Which I am happy to go on the record as endorsing.

Go read it. Then come back.

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Wednesday, December 27, 2006

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She came in through the bathroom window.

Maybe it's because NTS turned a year old on Christmas Eve and I've been thinking a lot about which, if any, direction to drive the blog in Year Two. Or maybe it's because webblogs are to personal boundaries what caustic lye is to hair clogs. Or because my site meter plummeted so low over the holidays that my ibook hurled itself off the piano in despair and I will do anything to bring you back.

Whatever the underlying cause, I have decided it's time to unveil.

Still thinking about it...

Let's just get it over with, shall we? I thought I'd start out naked (or as Patrick says, nekkid). From the neck up, anyhow. Because part of my rationale behind remaining faceless is not wanting to feel like I have an image to maintain. So let's just dispense with the image right off the bat. Here I am, freshly showered & barefaced, the unretouched truth:

...'tis done.

Can I just interject how weird and sort of dirty it feels to be photographing yourself? Lock-yourself-in-the-bathroom weird and dirty. What-is-she-doing-in-there weird and dirty.

Anyway, that is me in the morning. Mornings that my hair gets washed, anyway. That is as up close and personal as it gets, folks. This is what the rest of the world sees:

Well, that's what they see when my hair is clean and brushed. Which is less often than I care to confess. Let me maintain a little bit of an image. We can also pretend my legs are shaved.


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Saturday, December 23, 2006

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Mary's Boy Child

The light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness has not overcome it.

Peace and joy.

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Tuesday, December 19, 2006

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The Head of the House

When I stood at the foot of the museum staircase and knew that Patrick was standing behind me, and turned around to see him for the first time, I was conscious of two, overlapping thoughts:

My life is over. My life can begin.

Once my heart resumed beating, other, more sensory observations began to register. His face was deeply lined and weathered, and would have seemed ancient, except for the shining yellow hair that fell to his shoulders and the little boy grin. He was impossibly thin back then. Wiry. He had large hands with elegant fingers. He was wearing blue jeans and a white t-shirt and white sneakers.

Nowhere among those first impressions did I notice that he has an enormous cranium.

And nor would you, for it is handsome and well-proportioned, and rests unobtrusively on its owner's shoulders. But upon having it pointed it out to you, if you were to stand up and walk all the way around it, you would realize, Sweet Mother of GOD, that's an enormous cranium. Patrick claims it is a sign of his advanced evolution. Maybe. Maybe not. I claim that my long second toe is a sign of superior intelligence, but my mother-in-law said it just means I'm bossy.

Two of our three sons have inheirited the Enormous Cranium. This wasn't such a big deal when I gave birth to the first, who was four weeks early and a mere six pounds. The second, nine pounds and four ounces at full term, had to be delivered by emergency C-section. Both their heads were consistently in the 90th percentile for circumference. I called them my Bobblehead Babies. They were both late to learn to walk; fourteen and fifteen months. We worried that they might be delayed, until we realized they had to get strong enough to balance their heads on their little shoulders.

They are handsome boys. They don't look like Bobbleheads. But as toddlers, they had to wear Youth size bike helmets. My husband also has a difficult time with headgear. Baseball caps need to be worn on the outer notch. Non-stretchy, non-adjustable styles that fit are rare. So when he asked me to knit him a winter cap a few weeks ago, I thought I better adjust the pattern size.

I may have overcompensated.


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Sunday, December 17, 2006

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Why I May be Sleeping on the Couch

Him: You're watching Lord of the Rings on tv?

Me: Yeah!

Him: Well, why don't we just put in the dvd? You've never seen the extended cut.

Me: Actually, I'm morally opposed to extended cuts.

Him: (dead silence)

Him: You're what?

Me: I think it's cheating. You don't get to go back and re-write your book. You don't get to go back and re-paint your painting. You shouldn't get to go back and re-cut your movie.

Him: Sputter! Sputter! Gack! (leaves, comes back with the liner notes from the dvd, reads me the notes on the extended cut)

Me: See, that's just wrong. You work within the constraints of the medium. The time limitations, the asshole studio execs, the distribution bullshit, those are all constraints of the medium, for better or for worse. You make your statement within that framework, and you let it stand. Look, even given those constraints, Jackson made a masterpiece. When it came out on the big screen, it was no longer his to tinker with. It belongs to the world.

Him: Go away and never speak to me again.

Me: But we're having this exciting argument about Art. Doesn't that turn you on?

Him: Not when you are so wrong.

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Wednesday, December 13, 2006

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Santa, You Bastard

The year I was nine, I wrote to Santa Claus asking if he would bring me a Ken doll for Christmas. Sun Lovin' Malibu Ken, Hawaiian Ken, Superstar Ken--I didn't care. Just a Ken, to go with my Barbie dolls. All two of them.

As you might deduce by the photograph above, my parents did not swim in the cultural mainstream. I had Free to Be You and Me. I had Shel Silverstein. I had a crocheted poncho and a fringed suede vest. I had some Star Wars action figures. And I had two Barbies. Three, if you counted the Bionic Woman, a big-boned and flat-footed gal who towered awkwardly over Ballerina and Superstar by a full inch. They shunned her, and she lived out her days as a recluse under the bed.

The girls had nothing to wear but the clothes they had on their backs the day they arrived, probably as birthday presents from party guests. They had no Corvette, no Camper, no Horse, no exciting jobs like Stewardess to suit up for each day. I thought a man around the place would brighten things up. They could at least go dancing and have threesomes.

I suspect that the reason that little girls today are awash in a tide of pink feathered boas and rhinestones tiaras has to do largely with female marketing executives who grew up in homes like mine. When my friends with daughters wring their hands about Barbie, I tell them to give in to it. It's an archetypal attraction and it will only bite them in the ass later if not given an outlet. Barbie is the modern-day Venus of Willendorf: stylized, exaggerated, and unable to stand. She must be held, literally and symbolically. You think paleolithic moms worried that their little girls would grow up feeling something was wrong with them because they had facial features? You bet they did. But Santa came through anyway.

Which is more than I could say he did for me on December 25th, 1978.

Behold my valiant attempt to disguise my disappointment and rage, as my father holds up "Chuck" and his 4 Outfits. That's not red eye; those are actual flames in my eyes. Chuck was a squat and swarthy fellow with an olive complexion. He was made of thin hollow plastic, not the beefy solid vinyl of a real Mattel man. His outfits, as I recall, were the uniforms of manual labor. I seem to remember a lumberjack's red flannel jacket. That's an actual blue collar shirt visible through the cellophane (Chuck didn't even have the class to come in a proper box). He did not have an Olympic medal, or a bitchin' sailboard, or even a pair of sunglasses and swim trunks. Chuck's the kind of guy who'd wear cutoffs to the pool, you know? I'm suprised he didn't come with a six-pack.

I loved my girls too much to let Chuck anywhere near them. I don't know what happened to him. Probably he went under the bed to live in a tarpaper shack with the Bionic Woman. In their isolation and deprivation, Superstar and Ballerina gradually became more eccentric and unstable, rather like the Edies of Grey Gardens. They lay around disheveled and half-naked most of day, emotionally crippled by the broken promise of their own youthful beauty. Their prince had never come.

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Monday, December 11, 2006

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Not Fade Away

Two of my daily blog reads have retired. Although it feels sudden, both departures were deliberate and considered. Both were obedient to urges that said it was time. Deep down, I always knew they were too good for this world.

I am not ashamed to tell you I am mourning. My google reader list is short and selective, not because I can't find good blogs to read, but because I only have so much emotional energy to invest. I'm not a terribly casual person. I don't blog around much. Once I am engaged, just try and get rid of me.

There will be a little hole in my days now. I expect it will be like it was when I quit smoking. I would stand up purposefully every half hour and then, remembering, would stick my hands in my pockets and sit back down.

On the surface, these blogs would appear to be worlds apart, in tone, content, and community. (Did you see my Christmas imix? I have ecclectic tastes.) What they shared was soul. Their words and images were like jolts of caffeine for my spirit. Sometimes smooth and mellow, sometimes robust and acidic. They helped keep me awake.

Will everyone please stand?

Brandon. Karen. Here's to you.

My thanks to you both. It was good to the last drop.

All the best,


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Sunday, December 10, 2006

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The Nativity meets Creationism

The baby engaged in a little dramatic play with the creche this morning.

"And what rough beast, its hour come 'round at last
Slouches toward Bethlehem to be born?"

-W.B. Yeats, The Second Coming

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Wednesday, December 06, 2006

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The Saint Nicholas Tree

After ten years in America, I still can't go along with bringing a Christmas tree into the house before the middle of December. As you are taking your chances to score a real tree after mid-month, my cultural non-compliance introduces a note of suspense to what would otherwise be a predictable and secure holiday season for the children. In recent years, we have staked our claim by driving to a local tree farm around Thanksgiving, tagging and paying for our tree, and going back nearer to Christmas for harvesting and hauling it home.

This year that just sounds like a lot of driving.

A service station around the corner is selling cut trees. I was thinking we might get one, prop it up in the wooded park near our house and take the kids in there to "find" it. Making memories founded on cultural and parental deceptions. That's the Christmas spirit.

I confess I gain a little more appreciation each year for people whose pre-lit, artifical trees will never touch a roof rack. But anytime I reach out to finger the lifelike tip of one, I hear my father's voice in my head, pronouncing, "Fake tree, fake Christmas!" and I pull my hand back like a two-year-old touching fire. Besides, I would feel bad about depriving my children of the more colorful sounds of the season: their father swearing over missing rope, burned out lights, and teetering tree stands. Far be it from me to break the chain.

Still, the two older boys get anxious when all the halls and all the trees in the world seem decked and trimmed but ours. I remember this feeling. My childhood home had no fireplace. I was extremely concerned that this was not up to code. Even after my parents explained that Santa could just as easily use the front door, I wasn't entirely convinced there wouldn't be some sort of penalty imposed; items crossed from my list. I knew it was unorthodox to nail your stocking to the plywood stereo stand.

To tide them over, we have the St. Nicholas Tree, a tabletop artificial tree that lives in the attic and comes out on December 6th, the Feast Day of St. Nicholas. I brought it down to their bedroom after bathtime tonight. They were so excited, opening their boxes of ornaments, stringing the lights. This is their tree, and I keep my mitts off it, no matter how clumped together all the red balls are or how big the hole in the lights is. This is where they get to hang all the ornaments that come from the fast food places, the plastic tv characters that I prefer to leave off the big tree. It's where the chintzier items that have been handed down from Patrick's family find a home. A dollar-store set of china nativity figurines--with pasty white complexions and painted-on eyelashes that resemble Tammy Faye Baker's--takes shelter under its boughs.

They arrange it, and rearrange it, a hundred times between St. Nick's Day and Christmas, and I let them keep the multicolored lights on until after they are asleep each night. No tasteful monotone schemes here. When I go in later to pull the plug, their sleeping faces are still turned toward their rainbow constellation and I watch them a long minute, nestled all snug in their beds.

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Tuesday, December 05, 2006

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Win Some

Back from rambling around the backwoods of western North Carolina, but can't blog about it right this minute...I have cds to burn & mail. The winners of my Christmas imix by random drawing are Jen K-C, JuleAnn, and SkylarkD. Y'all get your snail mail addresses to me at kyranp(at)gmail(dot)com asap.

Congratulations to Lia, who won a cd for NaBloPoMo. I sincerely hope that is the last time for a long time that I have to type that acronym. I don't think I've been able to do it once without having to back up at least three characters. Thank god we didn't have to speak it out loud. Just try to say it without sounding like Jodie Foster, in Nell. Speaking of rambling around the backwoods of western North Carolina.

More soon.


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Friday, December 01, 2006

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Perfect Post

The Original Perfect Post Awards
This is very sloppily done, as I am on break in between conference sessions, but I am awarding a Perfect Post award to Jen Lemen for her beautiful and inspiring post No love left in the world.
(link fixed!!)

I love it for the generosity of spirit that comes across in the anecdote, yet just as you begin to feel like a spiritual midget by comparison, she turns the whole thing around on herself. Pitch perfect.

You can see other awardees at
Suburban Turmoil
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