Thursday, December 30, 2010

Struggles, struggles...

Sigh. It's been a crazy week. Zoe has a bad cold/cough, so sleep has been really hard to come by for the past handful of nights. I'm tired, for sure, but I'm watching the end of a CRAZY bowl game (UNC/Tennessee), and I had coffee this afternoon, so I doubt I'd sleep anyway were I to try to go to bed. So I thought, while I sit and watch this craziness on TV, I'd share a couple of things with which I've been struggling lately.

And by struggling, I do mean spending altogether too much time wasting thoughts about these two completely random topics.

1. So. Michael Vick, eh? Really? Really? I don't know. I don't like to hold grudges, and I think I'm all about second chances, but something about Michael Vick in the NFL this year has made me a little sick. Charles tells me he's done his time and taken his lumps, but in any other sector of the world economy, a felon who is responsible for the deaths of countless animals would not be making millions of dollars, getting to star in the one-man-show that's been Philadelphia football this year, and being given the opportunity to be a role model for countless boys and girls around the world. But then...which system is wrong? The regular system in which a felon is essentially going to struggle for the rest of his life? Or this system in which someone is really, truly given a second chance?

I don't know what's right, but I do know that, as amazing as Vick has played this year, I still don't like watching him, and I'm conflicted about how the NFL is treating him. Any time I see him play, I want to go pet my dogs and tell them I'm sorry.

2. And...I can't zip up my wedding dress, and we're about a month shy of my fifth anniversary. It's just a few inches from the top that won't zip (stupid boobs!), and I could try to convince myself that my back has broadened a bit from five more years of yoga and push-ups, but really, it's tight everywhere. And as much as I know I had a baby two (almost three) years ago, and as much as I always knew that would change how I still pisses me off. I want to still be young and skinny.

I know the things I need to do to get skinny again, but here's the problem. I love food. I love red wine. I love coffee. I love cheese. And chocolate...oh, chocolate, how you torture me with your very existence. In fact, I feel sometimes like I love all the things that I should not consume in order to get back down to a size 4.

And so, should I give up the things I love (which I really don't consume in any great excess...except maybe chocolate)? In the past few years, I've already completely given up on fast food, most meats that I cannot trace back to a humane farm, and I've taken up eating many, many more fruits and vegetables. I run a lot (when stupid toe injuries haven't sidelined me for a WHOLE WEEK), I do yoga, I stretch and lift weights. It's really more about what I consume, not what I do.

Or should I just accept my new shape, learn to love it, give up any and all hopes of ever looking anywhere near as good as Natalie Portman (hey - a girl has to dream, right??)?

Or is there some compromise I don't know yet? I'll keep exploring.

Because for now, I can't do either.

I'm so conflicted tonight. Maybe I should go to bed. Oh - and by the way, UNC won! Go 'Heels!!!

Monday, December 27, 2010

My non-award winning essay

This is the essay which I submitted to my first-ever writing contest earlier in 2010. While it won ABSOLUTELY no awards, I still stand-by it as a pretty decent piece. I'd be curious to know what other people think


Broken Glass

Hey, I've got nothing to do today but smile.
Here I am
The only living boy in New York

Half of the time we're gone but we don't know where,
And we don't know where.
--Simon and Garfunkel

Simon and Garfunkel's "The Only Living Boy in New York" transports me, every time I hear it. I leave my adult life, my husband, my daughter, and fly away.

"I know that you've been eager to fly now."

I hear those words, and I am on a bus with my mother, her Simon and Garfunkel cassettes tucked in my backpack. My walkman headphones press on my ears and I listen to this song while reading The Diary of Anne Frank for the first time. I am awkward and quirky and fourteen years old.

We were on a trip to the Holocaust Museum in Washington DC. In its first year, the museum drew bus-groups from up and down the east coast, and Mom and I couldn't ignore the opportunity when our synagogue, Temple Ohav Shalom, sponsored a trip.

Much of the trip was a blur; the museum itself was overwhelming in its most innocuous moments. Stepping into a cattle car that was used to transport people across Europe was one of the most horrifying moments of my life, as was seeing piles of shoes and glasses that murdered Jews left behind at concentration camps.
But I can clearly remember my fourteen-year-old self as I sat on that bus, curled up in a seat. Paul and Art sang in my ears as I read Anne's words for the first time. While the singers sang of strength and silence, Anne opened birthday gifts. She fought with her mother, her sister, her father. She felt afraid but was comforted by the endurance of a chestnut tree outside her window. She fell in love; she had her first kiss. She was me and I was her and we were the same age, separated by 50 years and the walls of a hidden apartment.

This was the first time I was able to bypass the paralyzing fear of the Holocaust, and focus instead on the humanity of its victims.

It was the first time I let go of my own fear which began when, four years earlier, the Holocaust came to New Jersey.

I was one a few Jewish kids growing up in a mostly Catholic town. I was the only Jewish kid in my grade school class. There were other Jewish kids in other grades, but when I sat at the lunch table during Passover with peanut butter and jelly on matzohs, everyone else had bread. I knew I was a little different, and to this day, I hate matzoh.

That's not to say I wasn't fully integrated into my town - I was. My best friend was Catholic, as is my father. I spent as much time in church as I did in synagogue, but I identified myself as Jewish. I liked Stars of David instead of crosses, and loved dancing to the songs on Shabbat.

Growing up Jewish in late 20th century America, you knew about the Holocaust. You knew your ancestors were killed by the train-load. You comprehended the horror of Kristal Nacht. Broken glass on a street raised the hair on your neck.

So by ten, I had a wealth of knowledge about Nazis. I knew about gas chambers, and Swastikas reduced me to tears.

I also wanted little to do with Ohav Shalom, or, particularly, Hebrew School. I already knew that Abba was Daddy and Ima was Mommy, so what more did I have to learn? A fear of public speaking made me dread my looming Bat Mitzvah. Plus, none of my friends from regular school were Jewish, and while most of them went to CCD, they got to do that together. I had to spend my time with girls with whom I had nothing in common, and one particular boy who made my skin crawl.

Greg. His name was Greg and as I remember it, he was mean. Vicious. He was overweight, and I was under, so he outweighed me by fifty pounds. Light brown hair, light eyes, freckles, he looked more Irish than Jewish. But he was there at Hebrew School, every Tuesday and Thursday, same times as me. And he was mean.

The number of days my mother found me on the back steps of the synagogue, in tears and with new bruises on my arms, increased instead of decreased after she talked to our Rabbi's wife. No one could make him stop. I don't remember antagonzing him, but I remember him punching my arms and shoving me into walls.

And those walls were hard.

While the upstairs of our Synagogue was beautiful, with tall glass doors and windows, and yellow bricks that shone like gold in the sun, Hebrew School lived in the basement. Cinderblock walls, painted vomit-yellow, were only occasionally hidden by the artwork created by our small hands. Bulletin boards were covered with cheery Hebrew Alephs and Bets, but there were no windows letting in the late afternoon light. It was a dreary place, unimproved by my weekly beatings.

That said, it was our space, familiar as it was dreaded. It was a home to all us Jewish kids.

One day, when I was ten and my brother Daniel and I were home by ourselves, our mother called. Daniel answered. He was thirteen and in charge of me when no one else was home.

" What? Oh, ok...sure, I'll, Grandmom's around, she'll stay here."

When he hung up the phone, I knew that "she" meant me. I didn't want to be left behind with my grandmother, so I tackled my big brother.

"No, you can't go anywhere without me. I'm going. I'm gooooooooiiiinnnnggg."

I had no idea where I was going. I just knew Daniel couldn't go without me.

He fought valliantly, but no amount of arguing, persuading, bribing or hair-pulling could convince me to stay home. Mom's friend Sheila arrived to pick up Daniel, and I hopped in the back seat quite happily. Daniel sat up front like a grown-up, and he and Sheila spent the short drive to our synagogue chatting. I wasn't paying attention - I was too busy staring out the window at the stunning day.

I was unprepared for what I saw when the car parked and I opened the door.

The yellow bricks shone like gold in the sunshine, like always, but scattered across them like bloody wounds were red Swastikas.


The tall front doors were shattered. Glass shards covered the concrete steps. They glittered like diamonds and I thought, "Wow, the streets must have been beautiful after Kristal Nacht."

At ten, I got it. I knew what was going on.

The Holocaust had come to New Jersey.

I started trembling and reached for Daniel's hand, but he and Sheila were already walking towards the building. I didn't want to be left alone so I hurried after them.

We stepped on the glass. Crunch crunch crunch. We climbed through the doors we had no need to open. The red Swastikas were everwhere; the walls bled hatred. I couldn't breathe, and I couldn't stop walking.

The foyer glittered as we stepped in. The late afternoon sun lent an eerie glory to the wall of rememberances, where synagogue members were honored with engraved gold plaques that boasted the history of hundreds of families. In honor of the 50th anniversary of the Ruchelman parents; in memory of the Levines' great grandmother.

We walked through the heavy doors into the main congregation room. Chairs were scattered here and there, and red paint splattered the walls and floors.

And the Ark was destroyed, a Swastika burned across its wooden doors. The Torah scrolls, which had led us in countless songs, which only recently lay on the podium while Daniel sang his Bar Mitzvah verses, were ripped and crumpled on the floor.

I almost threw up.

I followed Daniel and Sheila through the congregation room and out the rear doors to the basement classroom stairway. I didn't want to go - I hated those stairs under the best circumstances, and now a trail of Swastikas and shattered fluorescent bulbs lead our way.

Downstairs, the cheery Hebrew letters, and pictures of smiling Jewish Avot and Imahot were slashed, torn, tattered. Their eyes and noses and ears littered the floor.

I shuddered, and Daniel noticed. His arm encircled me, and he led me out of the darkness.

I did not cry, though. Not then, even though I was convinced Nazis had invaded my hometown. Not even though I thought my mother, brothers and I would be taken to a concentration camp that night. Not even though the hatred in that temple weighed a million pounds on my ten-year-old shoulders.

I did not cry.

Outside in the waning sunshine, the press converged, newspaper reporters and photographers swarming around the parking lot. We came out through the kitchen door, and our Rabbi stood below the steps with a reporter. He gestured for us to join him.

Daniel, at thirteen, was mature, articulate, brilliant. A reporter's dream to interview - the candor of a child mixed with the intelligence of an adult.I was the younger one. Immature, with a tendency toward hyperbole. Plus I was shy. Overwhelmed. Terrified.

I was the one quoted in the next morning's newspaper.

That night, the tears came. I knew the soldiers were coming; I could hear their boots on the street. I knew we would die. Another Holocaust had started and I was its first victim.

I feared what life would be like in a concentration camp; I worried that death would hurt. I wondered if my mother would always be with me, and how my non-Jewish father would cope with the loss of his family. I was unsafe in my bed, even with Daniel sleeping in the bunk above me.

It turned out that the destruction was caused by acquaintances of Greg, my abuser. He had antagonized them and in their youth, ignorance and spite, they targeted a place that was important to him. I never imagined he cared, but then, I never saw him again. Perhaps his family moved, ashamed by the destruction their son had indirectly sparked.

But I also never went back to Hebrew School after that day. I lost my religion that sunny afternoon; I never again set a comfortable foot into the synagogue. No matter how many times the walls received fresh coats of paint, the blood-red Swastikas never faded.

That sunny spring day instilled in me a need to understand the mentality that allowed the Holocaust to occur, the hatred that caused people to kill. I've read books and watched documentaries that made me scream. I took that trip to the Holocaust Museum with my mother and watched her cry silently as we walked its silent halls. I've read and re-read Anne Frank's diary until I can recite full passages. I've seen footage of men reduced to bones, women forced to parade naked before Nazi doctors. I've tried to understand and I have not succeeded.

It's bizarre. I want my daughter to grow up aware of these things. I want her to love Anne Frank as much as I do, but I hope she doesn't mourn Anne's death with tears. I want her to know that she is Jewish, but I never want her to be afraid because of it. I want her to be aware of hatred so she is not ignorant, but I hope she is never the victim of it. I want her to learn, but be protected and safe and happy.

And I hope that one day, we can listen to Simon and Garfunkel before laying in her bed to read about Anne Frank together, and I hope she will sleep well knowing that she is safe.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Yay Hooray!!!

Tomorrow, President Obama will sign into law the repeal of the ridiculous Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy of the Pentagon. For the first time in a long time, the country is taking a major step in the direction of ensuring civil rights for all. Finally, people will be able to serve our country in active military duty regardless of whether they are gay or straight.

It's been a long time coming, and I'm glad it's here! I'm proud of our Congress today.

Up next (I hope): START and aid for 9/11 first responders. Lame ducks? Ha!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Let it be

I was sitting on the brick hearth in front of a roaring fire at my parents' house this evening while Zoe and my mother decorated a Christmas tree and my father and Charles watched the Jets/Steelers game on TV. The warmth of the fire had only just started to get uncomfortable, and I was lazily picturing my back turning red under my sweater.

A commercial for the Beatles' catalog on iTunes came on during a time-out, and suddenly there were black and white photos of John, Paul, George and Ringo flashing across the screen, while Paul's voice sang out to us.

"When I find myself in times of trouble...Mother Mary comes to me...speaking words of wisdom....let it be."

I started to turn to my mother to remind her about THAT time I'd been a complete blubbering idiot during this song, when I realized: I'd never told her this before.

In the summer of 2009, my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer, and life changed drastically for a while. Two women with whom I worked were going through the same experience as my mom at the time, and although I barely knew one of them, I found myself sitting at her desk one day, choking back tears as I told her about my mother.

"Well, how are you doing?" she asked me. "You know this is about you, too."

I shrugged her question off. I was fine, of course. Being strong for my parents. Trying to be that rock everyone needs in a time of crisis. It wasn't about me, it was about my mom.

That front worked anytime it mattered. I was always able to put on my game face when I needed to, saving any random breakdowns for private times with my husband. (I'm dramatic even on a good day, so you can only few breakdowns were, in fact, epic.)

And then, there was that one night, the night before my mother's double-mastectomy.

I 'd spent the weekend cooking, filling my freezer with soups and casseroles that could feed my parents while mom recovered, and I decided to deliver my wares that evening. It was also an opportunity to sit down with them the night before a major event, and have a little quiet time.

Game face: on.

I stocked their freezer and had a chat, all the while not really thinking about anything. I gossiped and told stories about Zoe, we laughed and we giggled, having such a nice time that before I knew it, it was time to head on home.

I pulled out of their driveway, suddenly very much aware of what the following day would bring. Mom waved from the porch, and I turned on the radio. I had a CD in, The Beatles Let it Be, and the title song came on immediately.

And suddenly, game face: OFF. 100%, completely off.

I actually remember saying, OUT LOUD, "Sing it, Paul," as he got going on the chorus, and then I was singing along with him, and if you've ever heard me sing, you know this is NOT a good thing. And then I was CRYING and singing as loud as I could, windows down, wind blowing the tears off my face.

It was absurd, really. That was how I spent the entire ride home that night, blubbery and silly and singing unabashedly. I arrived home completely spent, exhausted, but clear-headed enough that at least by the time I got to the hospital in the morning, my game face was back on.

And so now, a year later when the whole family is excited to have a fully-cancer-free Christmas ahead of us, I think we're all kind of not-so-secretly thinking about last year.

So tonight, I am thankful for great doctors, a healthy family, and, of course, The Beatles.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

A quick update

I've been blogging less and novel-ing more this week, as I finally feel like the end of that first-ever journey is in sight. I'm at around 45,000 words, which is by far more than I've ever written on ANYTHING. I'm so excited about it, I could scream.

So, since I have less words to devote to this blog right now (this should last about another week), I thought I'd at least share a great parenting read from my favorite parenting site. It's great advice, and from one parent to any other, do check it out. It's a nice breath of fresh air.

Hope your holidays are happy so far! Lots of love to everyone!

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Santa et. al.

It's been a bad week for politics, in my opinion, so rather than dwell on the negative, I thought I'd share some more happy holiday stories.

Every town or city probably has its own holiday wonderland spot, and Charleston's is pretty lovely. The Festival of Lights at James Island County Park is three miles of rather excitingly cool Christmas lights (My favorite is a rendition of the Old Cooper River Bridge that transforms into the new one. I remember driving over the rickety old bridge, and the reminder is nice and nostalgic, even for a transplant like me.), plus a Winter Wonderland area for kids (including the kid in Charles and me).

The park is about thirty minutes from our house, and we took the Jeep, hoping the novelty of our *other* car would keep Zoe happy even on a long-ish car ride. It didn't quite work, and by the time we got to the park, even the amazing, flashing, beautiful lights were not distraction enough for Zoe.

"I want to get OUT! NOW!" She demanded this repeatedly, only occasionally distracted by a super-cool light setup.

So we moved quickly to the play area, congratulating ourselves (rightfully so) on our good timing - we'd gone just at dusk, as the park opened, so that we didn't have to wait in any lines or deal with crazy parking issues.

Zoe was absolutely tickled by the marshmallow roasting pits - $1 per marshmallow stick wasn't a bad price, in my mind, for the happy, marshmallow-covered Zoe-smile that followed. After a quick wash-up in the bathroom, we went to visit Mrs. Claus, who was getting set up for a story-time session, but was talking to kids while she waited. Zoe was dubious at best, but stood near enough to get a candy cane.

It was when we moved to the additional play area that her night vastly improved. First, she rode on a beautiful old carousel, her first ever amusement park ride, and she thought it was the COOLEST THING EVER. She initially sat on a Dalmatian (Molly-dog), but then wanted to move to a horse. I moved her, since it was less than a step away, but when she saw the giraffe on the other side, I put my foot down. We stayed on the horse, and the ride started, and Zoe learned about the fun up-and-down-around-and-around of a good merry-go-round. And I only got a little dizzy.

Then, we saw the big man himself. Yep, Santa Claus. St. Nick. Father Christmas.

Now, I should say here that Zoe has never successfully seen Santa up close and personal. Her first year, we made a conscious decision that we didn't want one of those screaming-babies-on-Santa's-lap photos that grace web sites like Awkward Family Photos. Then last year, she was terrified of him.

This year, she was starstruck. She saw him and ran over to his stage, and waited less-than-patiently on line as other children had their turn with Santa.

When it was her turn, she ran up to him, probably her first-ever time running up to a stranger. She took his hands, and only got a little nervous when Santa set her on his lap. She chatted with him, and we actually have some photos of both Zoe and Santa looking at the camera and smiling. The one we chose to have printed shows them deep in conversation, Zoe's finger in her mouth, thoroughly engaged. It's my new favorite picture EVER.

Then, finally, we let our girl get on the carousel one more time, and she was so excited to sit on her giraffe that she was practically shaking as we waited for our turn. To the giraffe we flew, as soon as the gate was opened.

Zoe was in heaven, and we raced the other animals, patted the giraffe on the neck, and in general had a delightful ride that was over just a minute too soon.

As we left, Zoe cried, afraid other children were now riding *her* giraffe. I tried explaining that it wasn't exactly hers, but when that didn't work, Charles and I tacked right.

Me: "Yes, Zoe, that's your giraffe. I put a sticker on it with your name."

Charles: "So no other children will ride on the giraffe again."

It was a selfish way to end a really pretty night, but sometimes avoiding a two-year-old tantrum is worth a little white lie.

Anyway, I think we've started a new family tradition, and I'm glad of it. I had an amazing time with my family and I think Zoe and Charles did, too.

Thanks for a great night, guys! Love you!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

We should always remember

I guess every generation really does have that one catastrophic event for which every person remembers exactly where they were when it occurred.

For my generation, it is and always will be the destruction of the World Trade Centers in lower Manhattan on September 11, 2001 (I was at a bakery in Upper Montclair, New Jersey, and I saw the smoke from the towers as I drove home that morning, in case you wondered). I don't think I've ever fully processed that day, and I try not to write much about it because I'm afraid that, even all these years later, I'll sound like a complete sap.

Other events, like the assassinations of John F. Kennedy or Martin Luther King, Jr., have stuck with my parents' generation, and always will.

For my grandparents' generation, it was the Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. Sixty-nine years ago today. Hard to believe it was so long ago, and that a whole generation of people who remember that day ("which will live in infamy forever") is rapidly dying. Soon, within the next decade or two, I imagine, very few people will be left.

Hard to imagine.

Especially when photographs like this still exist, and if a picture can a thousand words, I'd estimate these say millions. They are equal parts disturbing and impressive, upsetting and awe-inspiring. Take a look - especially check out the one which shows reporters running to phone their editors, every one of them thrilled to have such a scoop. It's a pretty interesting juxtaposition, no?

Anyway, that's what's been on my mind today. Pearl Harbor Day.

Monday, December 6, 2010

And we have a winner!

I am one of those people that love sweepstakes, lottery tickets, and raffles, but in all my thirty years, I have never won anything. My husband and I often joke that we must be lucky in some department because we sure aren't lucky in the contest/sweepstakes department. Well, that is except for right now.

Do you remember that scene from A Christmas Story when the father wins a sweepstakes and his package is delivered in a box with "Fragile" stamped on the side? We are about to recreate that scene in our house this week.

I have won a fleece pork chop. That's right, a fleece pork chop. Nope, you can't eat it because it's a toy, or according to the website, it could also serve as a pillow.

I'm almost certain this pork chop, which I have already named Porky, will become Max's favorite stuffed toy. My guess is that he will carry it around with him everywhere he goes and I'll have to explain to bystanders that no, it's not a dog's toy (although it could be, I suppose), it's just my son's favorite piece of toy meat.

Perhaps I'll frame and hang it next to the front door to remind us that we should never give up hope that we will (and can) win something.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Here come the holidays!!

In my house, we have always celebrated Hanukkah and Christmas, thanks to my Jewish mother and Catholic father. I've never seen any reason to abandon the tradition, so we're doing the same with Zoe.

Some years, like last year, the two holidays overlap, and they sort of merge together to form a big, overwhelming gift-fest, which is less than ideal.

But this year, Hanukkah is now-ish (it started Wednesday), with Christmas almost a full month away. So while there's still some overlap (i.e. we are already singing Christmas carols, and we put up our Christmas tree today), we're able to take our time and enjoy two almost-entirely-separate holidays.

Here are some share-able items from the first five nights of Hanukkah:
  • When Zoe asked me if Santa Clause was bringing her Hanukkah presents, I decided it was time to introduce the concept of the Hanukkah Fairy, a longstanding Soltis tradition. When we were small, the Hanukkah Fairy would sneak into our house and hide our presents, and I always loved the search-and-find missions that entailed. So far, our Hanukkah Fairy has hidden presents under the couch and entertainment cabinet, in a bookshelf, and behind some pillows. Zoe has started looking for presents AT ALL TIMES, assuming that if she's a good girl, the Hanukkah Fairy may come multiple times per day.
  • On the first night, the Hanukkah Fairy brought Zoe a super-cool gift, hand-picked by none other than my dear husband. It was (wait for it!!)...a Lego Star Wars R2D2 watch!!! (You know you want one.) Charles picked this out because a) Zoe loves R2D2 and b) Zoe loves to swipe Charles' watches and wear them. She opened the watch, looked at it for a moment, and then said, "But I just don't understand why the Hanukkah Fairy didn't bring me shoes!"
  • On the second night, the Hanukkah Fairy brought Zoe a pair of shoes! To be fair, she'd picked them out at Target recently, and had seen them purchased, but it had been a while ago, and she hadn't seen them since. I thought she'd be thrilled. Yeah, not so much. "But I don't like those shoes, Mommy!" It was not so worthwhile to explain that she'd picked them out, but Night 2 was another Epic Gift Fail.
  • On Night 3, I was determined to be more successful. I had a pink winter hat with pig ears and a pig nose and it was the CUTEST THING EVER and I was sure she'd love it. And she did...for three minutes. It was a step in the right direction.
  • On the fourth night, we went to a Hanukkah Party at my mother's house and we had such a great time! Mom made fried foods (latkes and fried flounder - well, Dad made that part), and Zoe ate...mac & cheese. Sigh.
So, these are just some funny gift-based memories. We are actually working very hard to instill traditions in Zoe, more than just gifts. We've been lighting the candles every night, and talking about the miracle of Hanukkah, and spinning the dreidel. We've also been making sure to talk about the importance of giving, particularly in this holiday season.

But that doesn't stop her from being SO EXCITED every night that the Hanukkah Fairy may just come back a second time and hide yet another gift at which she can turn up her nose.

She's just lucky it's a cute little nose...

Thursday, December 2, 2010

My thoughts on the past week

It’s been an interesting week in the news, hasn’t it?

First North Korea bombed South Korea and South Korea responded in kind, indicating an escalation of tensions that seemed to foreshadow another major conflict.

And then it sort of...fizzled. Nothing much has been done or said in the past couple days.

And then WikiLeaks dumped onto its web site tons of classified communication between American diplomats all over the world, airing so-called dirty laundry that threatened to break apart years of careful diplomacy. Think about it...would you want your coworker to know all the terrible things you’ve said about her to your cube-mate when her back is turned?

I like to think I’m a nice person who doesn’t do that kind of stuff, but let’s face it. We all do it. And I, for one, would rather maintain that semi-professional, good-natured relationship with ALL my coworkers, regardless of my opinions on their clothes or work ethics.

In this country, many leaders of the Republican persuasion were up in arms as soon as news of the leak came out, blasting the Democrats for letting this happen, claiming treason, etc. It almost felt like they were expecting this to turn into a big Freedom of Speech/Civil Rights debate, during which the Democrats (those devils!!) would stand up for WikiLeaks and all the damage that site has done on the basis of Bill of Rights principles.

And then that...didn’t happen. Turns out, the Democrats are just as upset by WikiLeaks as the Republicans, and with good reason. And here’s why.

In the first place, we need to be clear on one thing. The acts by WikiLeaks (as lead by Julian Assange) are no more treason than was the bombing of South Korea by North Korea because Assange is not a United States citizen, and the site itself is hosted all over the world (mainly in Iceland). Treason is defined as an act committed against one’s own state or country, so treason rules do not apply here.

That said, the airing of all these diplomatic secrets was a heinous act of espionage committed by a self-proclaimed anarchist who has gone on the record stating that he wants to “bring down many administrations that rely on concealing reality - including the US administration.” (New Yorker's Profile of Julian Assange) The man is out to do some damage.

And it seems that, since everyone agrees that this was a terrible thing to do, they seem to be, if not turning a blind eye, at least taking everything they read with a giant grain of salt. After reading descriptions of the French President, Nicolas Sarcozy, that paint him as hyperactive and surrounding himself with yes-men, the French Foreign Minister simply called the posting of the documents “totally irresponsible.”

My guess regarding this downplayed international response is that it's everyone in the highest offices of government knows that, if their countries’ most secret communications were laid out for public consumption, it would come to light that THEY ALL SAY THE SAME THINGS.

Come ON, do you think other country’s top diplomats weren’t mocking GW, and don’t currently have choice comments about President Obama? You know it happens.

Still, this whole debacle has the feel of a spy novel to me. Tuesday, it was announced that Interpol has placed Assange on its Most Wanted list due to...wait for crimes! What? You can’t convince me that this isn’t trumped up just to get this dude into custody and get him off our streets and computers.

And while I agree with that sentiment wholeheartedly, I just hope it’s done legally and reasonably so he doesn’t wind up back out on the streets after a slap on the wrists. I think some major espionage crimes have been committed here...they should not go unpunished.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Two-year-old Phraseology

This past weekend, Charles, Zoe and I celebrated Thanksgiving with Charles' sister and her family in semi-rural North Carolina. It was great to get up into some hilly country (Charleston is very, very flat) and to spend time with a much-loved chunk of our family.

That said, any time you travel with a two-year-old, you can be fairly certain funny things will happen, and since Zoe is my child, most of the funnies occur when Zoe opens her mouth.

In the first place, on the evening of Thanksgiving as we all sat and (tried to) eat a peaceful dinner, Zoe was over-tired and rather wired. She decided that the appropriate thing to do would be to count the diners. So for the next twenty minutes, we each got jabbed in the head by a small but surprisingly pointy finger as she counted (always starting with herself)...One...Two...Fwee...Foa...Five...Six...Seven...And then our brother-in-law started messing with her.

"But I'm twelve."

"No, you're Six."

"No, I'm twelve."

"No! Six!"

This went on for quite some time, during which we all CONTINUED to get poked and prodded by a counting Zoe.

The next day, my sister-in-law somehow convinced me that shopping at Target on Black Friday would clearly be fun, so we took Zoe (who loves Target) along for the ride. Zoe knows that we're in the market (or maybe Santa is...) for a bicycle helmet as she has recently shown a big interest in Charles' old skateboard, so she helped me look for the "helmet aisle."

As we rounded the corner into the aforementioned aisle, Zoe literally gasped.

"Oh my God, there's the helmet aisle!!!"

Now, I am a Jersey girl who is somehow also part Valley girl in my speech patterns, and I have certainly been known to pepper all my conversations with the occasional (frequent) "Oh my God." I've never really given it too much thought, actually.

But that particular phrase, coming out of Zoe's mouth, makes my husband CRAZY, so I know I'm supposed to correct it. So, choking back laughter, I said, "I'm sorry, what did you say?"

She looked at me, a picture of innocence, and said, "I said, there's the helmet aisle!"

Finally, we took Zoe to her first ever college football game (UNC/Duke - Go 'Heels!!) on the amazing Duke University campus. The stadium is pretty tight quarters, and over the years, my outspoken sister-in-law has gotten to know her neighbors on one side, who happen to have two grown daughters.

One of the men absolutely ate Zoe up (have I mentioned how darn cute she is?), and at one point asked her what her name was.

Zoe answered, "I'm Zoe, and this is Aunt Mary, and that's Uncle Keith (Keef), and that's Morgan and Kayla and Mommy and Daddy."

Then she stopped, looked around her, and gestured to the crowd.

"But I don't know who all those people are."

So it was a great weekend, we laughed a lot, and I forgot to take even a single picture.

So it goes. We've still got the memories.


And, coming soon to a blog near you...I need to do a lot of reading first, but I want to work through my thoughts on the launch of WikiLeaks...because I'm afraid that for the first time I might be close to sharing an opinion with Sarah I need to work on that opinion to make sure it's right....wish me luck!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

An evening of thanks

Life is about to get really hectic for a few days as Charles, Zoe and I head up to my sister-in-law's house in North Carolina. It should be a great trip, and it includes a trip to Durham to watch the UNC/Duke rivalry football game (go 'Heels!!), so I'm really excited.

But I don't know how much time it will leave for writing.

So I thought I'd do my Thanksgiving post tonight, while Charles is already upstairs sleeping and I have a few quiet minutes before I follow him to bed.

Rather than just listing those things for which I am thankful (of which there are probably thousands, I kid you not...from the amazingly good health of my daughter to the deliciousness of pizza), I thought I'd thank a few key people in my life for all the things they've done over the years.

First off, to my parents, Sassy and Pops or Mom and Dad or Wendy and Andy, thanks first for life. I don't know that I've ever said that.

Dad, thanks for instilling in me a love of both horror movies and musicals, two things that have shaped my imagination over the years. Thanks for teaching me that family is always more important than career, a lesson I have employed in my own life. And thanks for always being willing to come pick me up when I need a rescue (i.e. lost my car key in my own house!!).

Mom, thanks for every time you've ever babysat - it's appreciated. Thanks for my personality - I know much of it is yours as well. Thanks for brisket and matzoh ball soup and brownies and that potato soup this past weekend. YUM. And thanks for sharing your love of writing with me, because without that I'd be a little lost I think.

And my brothers...Daniel and Jonathan. I honestly think a girl could not possibly have two better brothers, so to each of you, thanks for that.

Daniel, thank you for being smart and creative and funny and for always showing me how cool it is to be all of those things. Thanks for being excited about the fact that I want to come to London to visit you in February. It still amazes me that you like to hang out with your annoying little sister.

Jon, thanks for always being willing to listen to me vent. Thanks for reminding me this summer that it's ok to step out of my comfort zone every now and again, and thanks for throwing a KICK ASS wedding party. We had a great time. And thanks for sharing running with me now - I really love that.

To your spouses, Zeke and Michelle - thanks for being excellent in-laws. I'm happy to consider you a brother and sister, and I'm SO happy you make my brothers so happy.

To my *other* in-law, my sister-in-law Mary, thanks for being one of my best friends, in addition to being such a great sister to Charles. I am so excited that we'll be sharing this holiday this year. Thanks for loving red wine and for your understanding of all things girl-related - you are my girl-touchstone. And thanks for having a fun husband, too, because we LOVE spending time with both of you.

To my mother-in-law, Harriet, thanks for always having a recipe handy when I need it (I made the mac&cheese this week and apparently I finally did it right!!). Thanks for everything you do for us and for Zoe and for loving all three of us. Thank you for all that you do for your extended family, too - you are a great example to follow.

To Zoe, even though you can't read, thanks for being such a super cool kid, and for doing random things like kissing my friends goodnight when they're visiting, and for being an awesome travel-companion this year. Thanks for singing "Hey Jude" and the ABCs when I ask, and thanks for trying to remember to say "Please" and "Thank you" without needing to be prompted. Thanks for loving fruit as much as I do and for giving me an excuse to always keep it in the house. Thanks for being so darn lovable. Like, every single day. Even on the rough days.

And finally, to my husband, thank you, thank you, thank you for being an amazing husband and a fantastic dad, and thank you for all that you do for me EVERY STINKIN' DAY. Sometimes I can't believe all you do around the house and how you mostly always stay cheerful about life. Thank you for your silly songs and your Curious George stories and your tendency to send me instant message pictures of sheep. Thank you for every hug and kiss you've given me.

To all of you, I love you and I'm thankful for you each and every day.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Thanksgiving Tips

In the spirit of the holidays upon us, I thought I'd share some fun stuff with you.

First off, check out this amazing blog I discovered a few weeks ago. Discovered is the wrong word because she has thousands and thousands of followers and it's certainly not like I discovered her, but you know what I mean. She is giving away some really cool stuff for the next twelve days. Stark Raving Mad Mommy. Plus, I just really love the name of her blog. If you are a mom, then many days you will feel like you are stark raving mad. Or at least I do.

Second, if you need a really fast, easy and delicious side for Thanksgiving then I want to share with you a recipe that I stole from my bestie Nicole about five years ago (Thank You, Nicole!) This recipe doesn't have a name but trust me, they are yummy. Get a pack of crescent role dough, a package of sweet potatoes (they already cooked and mashed kind), a bag of pecans, and a little cinnamon. Lay out the crescent role triangles, put a dollop of sweet potato in the middle, lay a few pecans on top of the sweet potatoes, then roll the crescent roll up around the filling. Sprinkle cinnamon on top. Bake. Delicious.

Third, if you haven't tried a peppermint mocha latte from Starbucks or peppermint chocolate chip milkshake from Chic-fil-A, then you MUST go out and do so. They are WONDERFUL. Let me repeat, WONDERFUL. Not that anything really compares but I found a way to half recreate the peppermint mocha latte at home in a really cheap and easy way. Dunkin' Donuts has a mocha mint coffee that you can buy from the grocery store. Get some. Then add the peppermint mocha creamer from Nestle (also in the grocery store). It's pretty darn tasty.

Ok, that's it. Happy Thanksgiving!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

On half-birthdays, babies and Maria Mushroom...

I was waiting to get some soup in the cafeteria at work the other day when I noticed Charles' boss standing in front of me.

We said hi, and then she gave me a funny look.

"How was Zoe's half-birthday?" she said.

And then, "By the way, what is a half-birthday and how do I get one?"

I cracked up.


Last Friday was Zoe's half-birthday (exactly six months after her normal birthday). We started celebrating her half-birthdays when she turned six months old, and we felt like celebrating the fact that we'd kept this tiny human being alive for a FULL SIX MONTHS. Also because I wanted some cake.

So we invited Charles' mom and my parents over for a little fiesta and we celebrated our little girl.

Since Zoe is (and probably always will be, barring adoption) an only child, and since real birthdays are few and far between, we've kept up the tradition, embracing any chance to once again celebrate our little girl.

On real birthdays, we do big parties, with big cakes, and we always measure Zoe on the height-wall. On half-birthdays, we do little family parties, cupcakes, and another measurement. Our wall is starting to look like yard-stick.

Since her half-birthday fell on a Friday this year, and since I don't work on Fridays, I decided that she and I would have a lunchtime picnic at a local park as a jumping-off point for the celebration. I was thrilled when Charles decided to take a half-vacation day from work to join in the fun. We built it up for Zoe all week and by Friday, she was Ready For Her Half-Birthday (Dammit!!).

Here are two highlights from our picnic at the park and some of the events that followed:

Zoe was having a great time at the park, but was struggling to make friends with another little girl who was maybe a little older than she. (This was because the little girl seemed to speak only Russian, and because she was eating lunch while Zoe was trying to play.) Undeterred, Zoe got louder and more rambunctious in her solo-play, and she started shouting something over and over. "Maria...Mushroom...Maria...Mushroom..."

Um...what? No matter how many times we asked her to repeat herself, all we heard was "Maria...Mushroom...Maria...Mushroom...".

Yeah, we had no idea what a Maria Mushroom is...

So we started speculating. Was Ms. Mushroom a character in a book they read at school? In a song? I was almost tempted to email Zoe's teachers to find out what was up.

And still, she continued, long after we'd come home, and even while we were out to dinner later that night.


Finally, the following day, as Zoe was watching her current Favorite Episode Ever of Dora the Explorer (Rojo the Firetruck from Season 2, in case you wondered), we figured it out.

Several times through the episode, Dora asks her viewers to choose between two items. One is always yellow, the other is always blue.

And Dora is speaking in Spanish when naming the colors, of course.



Mystery solved.

But there's one mystery that is still ongoing, leftover from Zoe's half-birthday. I like to call this one, "And WHY can't your new baby have a name, Zoe?"

You see, Zoe has very recently started showing interest in all things doll-like. We'd been sticking to stuffed animals (I can't help it...dolls creep me out!!), but when Zoe's teacher sent me a picture of her playing with a baby doll, I got it in my head that she needed one of her own at home.

We decided that a half-birthday was a perfect reason to buy Zoe her first official baby doll (for the record, she did already have a Cabbage Patch Kid, but they don't creep me out, so I don't count them in the baby doll category).

After dinner that evening, we ran into Target, where Zoe, Charles and I hemmed and hawed while trying to find the perfect baby doll. Zoe liked the ones that moved and talked and did other terrifying things, while I liked the simple bald-headed infant ones. Charles finally found the winner - a little girl baby with blonde hair and hippie-ish clothes.

Zoe has since taken this baby EVERYWHERE with her, in various stages of undress, of course (today, for example, she spent the day in Zoe's cubby at school wearing nothing but one shoe). She has gone to my parents house, to the grocery store. She sits in the car (in her stroller, no less) every day going to and from school.

But no matter how much Zoe appears to love this baby, she REFUSES to give her a name. We've tried suggesting all kinds of names, with no success. Emmy, Jessie, Madeline, Amy, Gabby, Wendy, Annie...should I go on? Charles likes weirder names, but Zoe vetoes every single one.

Want to know why? All you have to do is ask her.

"Zoe, what's your baby's name?

"She doesn't have a name."

"But why doesn't she have one?"

"Because she doesn't."

"Zoe, will she ever get a name?"

"Not until October comes."

Yep. Not until October comes. So we will have this nameless, vaguely creepy doll for ELEVEN MONTHS before she will at least gain an identity and therefore cease to be namelessly-creepy.


Not until October comes.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

For your entertainment...

I ventured into my parents' attic today to look for an old Playbill (I am convinced I saw Lea Michelle in Les Mis years ago, and I wanted to find the proof). I didn't find what I was looking for, but I found some things that are even better, including senior prom pics in which I was pretending to be a rock star.

But my favorite find of the night, full text posted here for your reading pleasure (!!) was the first book I ever created. I wrote and illustrated it while in the second grade and part of Eisenhower Elementary School's Talented and Gifted program. While I think you'll agree it shows neither talent nor gift, it's pretty funny.

I believe the assignment was to create a new animal that was a composite of two or more other animals...I merged a Brontosaurus, my favorite dinosaur (yes, I had a favorite dinosaur), with a dog, my favorite animal. My illustrations of this creature are a passable dinosaur, but are colored brown, I guess to incorporate the dog?

Anyway, here's the complete, unedited text of my first ever (un)published book.


written and Illustrated by Leah Soltis


Once there was a Newnimal named Dinodog. A Newnimal is two or three animals mixed together. Dinodog is a boy and he is seven years old. He is also five feet tall.

One day Dinodog was walking in the field when a bad Newnimal leaped at him!

"I'm not scared of you," said Dinodog.

"Sure," said the bad Newnimal.

"Oh, why are you so mean?" asked Dinodog.

"Because my dad was mean," said the bad Newnimal.

"Well, it's never too late to change. Give it a try and be nice," said Dinodog.

"O.K. I'll be nice," said the bad Newnimal.

They both walked off as friends!

******************** are my thoughts.

1. It's dialog heavy. The story on which I am currently working is totally dialog heavy. Some things don't change (but maybe should?).

2. I find it funny that I didn't give the bad Newnimal a name...I've always struggled with naming characters. I struggled with naming Zoe. More things don't change.

3. I love that my dedication is in ALL CAPS. I have no idea why I did that.

4. The bad Newnimal is black and sort of one drawing he seems to have a curly ear. Maybe an early idea for a shape-shifter creature? To be explored in future stories perhaps?

5. He's bad because his dad was bad? I am very rarely (if ever) angry with my father, so I wonder what the heck he had done to offend me that I made the bad guy blame his be explored in future therapy sessions perhaps...
Hope you enjoyed!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The things I can count on

There are a few things I can count on in life, and I thought it would be nice to share them:

1. By 8:00 or 8:15 every night, I am sitting on the right side of my couch with a cup of water next to me, watching TV and working on my computer.

2. By 8:03 every night, my dog Quentin is sitting outside my kitchen window, whining and crying like the world is ending, since he wants to go into the garage and go to bed. He's so pitiful.

3. No matter what network Conan O'Brien is on, he will get great guests (Tom Hanks? Come ON, that's great!) and he will be funny.

4. On the mornings when I have the most to do to get ready for work, Zoe will wake up at least thirty minutes early.

5. On the evenings when I am most tired/frustrated/grumpy, Zoe will be at her silliest and/or sweetest.

6. Any bottle of wine opened by my husband tastes better than one opened by me.

7. The sun will always rise tomorrow. seems auspicious, doesn't it?

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Read this

A mom defends both her young son's choice of Halloween costumes (and her decision to allow him to cross-dress) after she receives an earful from some bigots at a pre-school costume parade.

Sad that it happened, to be sure, but it's always encouraging to hear from another mom out there who will love her child NO MATTER WHAT and who will allow him to express himself in whatever way he chooses.

So I think she (and her little Daphne) kick ASS.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Writing, Mom-ing, etc.

This has been one of the crazier weeks of my life (not counting the first few weeks of Zoe's life, which were supremely crazy on this whole OTHER level). I've been busy, so busy with work and family; Zoe has started tantrum-ing, also on this whole other level that I never dreamed possible; and I've been writing like a madwoman...or at least, a madwoman who is busy with oh so many things other than writing.

See, I've been paying attention over these last few months, and I've been pleasantly surprised to find that, at almost any given time, there are numerous story, essay and blog post ideas floating around this head of mine. I tend to cultivate them during quiet, me-time, like during a long weekend run or at night when the TV becomes background noise and I stare vaguely in it's direction while playing with these ideas, going 'round and 'round until I don't know where I started and where I'll end.

It's been fun. It's been cathartic. And then, I took the plunge.

NaNoWriMo. Have you heard of it? I hadn't, until about a week ago. It's National Novel Writing Month, and it's a challenge. Can you write 50,000 words during the month of November? I never dreamed I could even come close, particularly since it has to be in novel form, and the longest piece I've written thus far has been about 5,000 words.

But I decided to try it.

Since you have to work on something new, I had to put aside the story/novel idea I've been fussing with for about three years now...I only recently had a breakthrough with it and vomited about 4,000 words onto the screen...4,000 words that don't even begin to do the story justice, but at least provide a reasonable outline for future work. That story is serious,'s Holocaust based, which should surprise no one who knows me, since I've been studying the Holocaust since I was 14 years old.

So for NaNoWriMo, I am trying something new, something that I am having so much fun writing, I never knew it was possible. I am writing about...zombies. Yep, a plague of zombies and a teenager coming of age in hard times. Neither are original plot lines, but I am currently into my main character, and I'm having fun writing her in and out of trouble. And, I guess, what I'm finding is that it's ok (in fact, it's probably ideal) to actually enjoy what you're writing. To not agonize over each word to the point that you bag the three pages you just wrote and start all over again...every day.

It's keeping me entertained and out of trouble for now.

And with so much else going on with work and life and Zoe's two-year-old-ness, it's nice to have such a fun outlet. I mean, aside from Zoe's kiss attacks, which keep us both in hysterics for hours at a time...

P.S. If you're looking for some fun music, check out this past week's Austin City Limits, featuring Steve Martin (yes, THAT Steve Martin) and the Steep Canyon Rangers, as well as a singer/songwriter named Sarah Jarosz who has, in the past 25 minutes, totally rocked my world. Enjoy!

Thursday, November 4, 2010

A tribute

Six (or seven? I'm losing track of time.) years ago, Charles and I started dating, and it was great. One day, while a little tipsy, I looked at him with roses in my eyes, and asked, "Will we always be this happy?" It was my way of telling him how much I loved him and how thrilled I was we were together.

The only thing that could have stood in our way was the absolute divergence of our backgrounds. I come from Yankee stock, Jewish roots and a family that has scattered to the four corners of the world. Charles's family has spent generations in Charleston, is an established family in the area, and most of them belong to the same church.

I couldn't imagine this proper, quintessential Southern family ever accepting this liberal Northern girl.

That shows you just how much I DIDN'T know.

I remember the first time we headed to a big family affair. It was being held at a house that has been in the family for many generations; Charles's grandfather grew up in this house with his brothers, all of whom served in World War II. The house sits on the shore of the Charleston Harbor in perhaps my favorite neighborhood ever.

I was so nervous that day. It meant so much to me, for them to like me, because Charles meant so much to me.

Everyone was absolutely lovely and I felt so accepted and welcomed right from the get-go. And one person in particular made me feel so at home, I've never forgotten it.

His name was Uncle Wing, and he was Charles's grandfather's brother. Charles's grandfather passed away before I had the opportunity to meet him, and Uncle Wing seemed to step in to fill that role. Handsome in his bow-tie, he sat down next to me on the back porch of the house his parents had built, and patted my hand as he launched into the story of his life as a boy, when the marsh that now butted against the property was a white sand beach, when he and his brothers lived in a different world. He made a huge effort to get to know me, and to let me get to know a piece of the history of a really remarkable family.

I've held a special place for Uncle Wing in my heart ever since, and have enjoyed every opportunity that I've had to see him.

He passed away early this morning, and the family has lost a patriarch, and I have lost a friend and a role model of true Southern hospitality.

He will be missed. For sure.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Election Night

It's another election night, and as always, that means I am sitting in front of the TV with Charles as we watch the returns come in. (In the interest of full disclosure, he is technically dozing off next to me, but until that happened, he was watching...)

Typically I'd be glued to CNN, like I was two years ago as I crossed my fingers and kissed my elbow in the hopes that Barack Obama would win the White House. But tonight I care more about the local results, so I'm actually watching NCIS (I think...I know it features Chris O'Donnell, on whom I used to have a MAJOR CRUSH back in middle school) while the returns scroll across the bottom of the screen.

So Jim DeMint, the bigoted, judgmental homophobe, has won back his Senate seat. There's no shock there - everyone knew he would. Alvin Greene winning the Democratic nomination pretty much sealed that deal, so I've been prepared for that one.

And Jim Clyburn has won - hooray!

But the race of interest, the race that is keeping me glued to the TV and obsessively refreshing the South Carolina results on, is the Governor's race. Currently, Vincent Sheheen is beating Nikki Haley by about six points.

What what what?

I doubt it'll hold, but maybe, just maybe? Maybe Sarah Palin's well-funded endorsement of Haley wasn't enough to make her the automatic governor in this very red state. Maybe Sheheen has a chance? Maybe his only-slightly-left-of-center position on most issues has made him appealing to Republican voters? Maybe enough Democrats and Independents like myself, mistrustful of the scandalous stories following Haley around, actually went out and voted in this mid-term election?

Is it possible?

I don't know, and I doubt I'll be awake too much longer (5 a.m. comes early every day). So probably tomorrow, when all the results are in, I'll be eating these words and hoping that Haley will do a good job as our new Governor.

But then again, maybe...just maybe...not?

11/3, 8:06 Update...

Yep, Nikki Haley won in the end. I am eating my words, my foot, whatever. And they do not taste good. Let's just hope we can get through the next four years with no disappearing acts on the part of our new Governor.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Maybe just a little more sane...

Back in 2005, when George W. Bush was in office, with all of his "heck of a job, Brownies" and his "Mission Accomplished" signs, I was disgruntled by our government. Overwhelmingly, paralizingly disgruntled. I wasn't sure what our future as a country held.

Back then, before Barack Obama showed up in the spotlight, I turned to two TV personalities on whom to pin my hope. The sticker on my car literally read, "Stewart/Colbert '08."

Life has changed a lot in the last five years...or has it?

President Obama is as disliked by some as GW was by me. The ugly ads leading up to Tuesday's elections are as ridiculous and hate-mongering as ever. Congress is gridlocked, with very little legislation getting passed without angry rhetoric and even filibuster.

And so to whom am I turning? Again?

Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, of course.

Yesterday, they hosted the amazingly well-attended (estimates run as high as 200,000) Rally to Restore Sanity/Fear on the historic Washington Mall. They hosted a slew of fabulous musicians (if you caught the Mavis Staples/Jeff Tweedy duet, you know what I'm saying) and they emceed a massive comedy show.

And while much of it felt thrown-together, with Colbert frequently heard calling instructions into his microphone to let harried stage-hands know which way to go, and with Stewart's distressingly, endearingly tone-deafness showcased at one point, it really was a rally.

Stewart took the stage at the end to deliver what I'd love to call one of the most important speeches of our time. Sure, he's *just* a comedian, right? But he's also super-sharp, and super-well-respected in many circles.

He said:

"This was not a rally to ridicule people of faith, or people of activism, or look down our noses at the heartland, or passionate argument, or to suggest that times are not difficult and that we have nothing to fear--they are, and we do.

But we live now in hard times, not end times. And we can have animus, and not be enemies."


"...the image of Americans that is reflected back to us by our political and media process is false. It is us, through a funhouse mirror--and not the good kind that makes you look slim in the waist, and maybe taller, but the kind where you have a giant forehead, and an ass shaped like a month-old pumpkin, and one eyeball."

His arguments (read a transcript and see a video here) are so poignant, so verdant, that I want to shout from rooftops, "Guess what! It's going to be ok!"

So thank you to Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert for all you did yesterday to restore my sanity even one little iota. Your work is appreciated.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Bye Bye Baby

I took Max to a Gymboree Play and Learn class this morning. We had attended a class a few months back but Max wasn't crawling yet, so he spent most of the time sitting in one spot watching the crawlers do circles around him. But now, Max is a walker, and he's getting his hands into everything. I thought it would be good for him to attend a regular class to play with other kids his age. Most of my friends have children who are two years old and up, and they are all girls. Max needs some boys to play with. He needs to make some friends his own age. And so, we joined Gymboree.

There were balls, lots of balls, for Max to throw and carry around as he walked every square inch of the place. There were tunnels, ramps, building blocks, slides, and logs to push. Max touched everything in sight and climbed on everything he could get his arms and legs around. He squealed at the other kids, chased bubbles, and tried to pull a bow out of a girl's hair. Typical boy, I suppose.

I watched his reaction, more specifically, the range of emotions he displayed across his little face with each new thing he discovered. I saw his face light up when the teacher came around and sang to him. I watched his face scrunch up in confusion as an inner tube was placed in front of him. When he wandered across the room and turned to see I wasn't right behind him, I watched as his eyes widened in a panic until he spotted me. But he was okay and turned to continue what he was doing. I think I even saw a look of embarrassment on his face when he climbed on the back of a lady squatted down only to realize the lady he was grabbing was not his mommy.

Max has become a little person, no longer a baby that clings to me or needs me to hold him. My little boy is growing up. I think I need a tissue.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Just one year

It's incredible, the difference a year makes.

When you first have a baby, you expect big changes fast, and you get it. The difference between a newborn and a three-month-old is vast, and then a six-month-old is even more incredible. Then, by the time a baby is one, they are walking and almost talking, and it's hard to imagine that this whole little person once lived inside you.

But I kind of expected the changes to slow down by now. Zoe's almost two-and-a-half. She's walking, talking and potty trained. She was already a person so long ago, it doesn't seem like she's going to change too much more.

And then, a day like today happens, when you get a direct comparison between today and a year prior, and you're so blown away by the changes that it's hard to recognize the child in front of you.

A year ago, we took Zoe to a pumpkin patch here in Charleston. She was almost one-and-a-half, and she was still pretty wobbly on her feet. She toddled among the pumpkins, drummed on them with some sticks she found, and studiously ignored all the other children. There was a gigantic "jump-pillow" that dwarfed Zoe when she stood next to it. She tried so hard to get up on that jump-pillow, but couldn't even begin to climb up its steep edges. We resorted to having Charles toss her as far up as he could, and she'd slide helplessly down, laughing hysterically as she tumbled.

Today, we went back to the same pumpkin patch.

Today, we were with her pre-school friends on a field trip. Today, Zoe ran among the pumpkins and interacted with other children. Without hesitation and on her own, she slid down a slide that was at least two stories high. And when she got up to that gigantic jump-pillow today, she climbed right up to the top and bounced with the kids who were at least twice her size.

Today I realized she's not a baby, by any stretch of the imagination. One year has taken my baby away, but has left me with a pretty awesome little kid.

Of course, then the over-exhausted meltdowns on the car ride home began and ripped me out of my reverie...

Monday, October 25, 2010

'twas a dark and stormy night

I've started about three posts tonight, and none of them felt right. The tone wasn't right, or it wasn't important enough, or whatever. You know I like to be political, and when I'm angst-ridden, I think I write better.

But sometimes I'm just apolitical and content, which is alright too.

So I thought I'd share some stories from the past few days, just to write some more about my family and me. In case you wanted to know us better.

In the first place, an update: we started potty training Zoe in early September. She's done fabulously overall, but the past few days, she's started having accidents...daily...which is just so odd. I'm wondering if it's just a phase or something like that, but I guess a phase should be longer than three days. Tomorrow I'll try the bribery technique for the first time in weeks - if she goes all day sans accident, she can have a treat when she gets home. It's amazing what that kid will do for some candy corn!

Here's an update on some of my writing projects. I have three short story rough drafts that are so rough they hurt to read. The same can be said for an essay I'd like to submit for publication to an online parenting mag. But my plan is to print them all out and start red-penning...which, to me, is the fun part of writing. I'm going to take what David Sedaris taught me and pay attention to word selection and placement, and they're all going to wind up awesome. Clearly.

Also, today felt like a good mom-day for me. Zoe did not nap at school, and I've been up since she woke me up to pee at 3:30 this morning, which is typically a recipe for disaster. But she was actually (mostly) sweet all evening, and I found a second (or third) wind. We ate tacos for dinner, a favorite for all three of us. Zoe and I sang silly songs during her bath, and we laughed a lot. It was a good night.

And finally, an update on our poor's still broken. So sad. Charles and our friend Antonio tried to fix it Friday night, and it was sort of crazy seeing the TV all spread out across our living room. They think they narrowed down the issue to the power board (I learned about capacitors that night...but not flux capacitors because they don't exist), so Charles is going to order a new one and see what happens. We've mostly adapted to life without TV - our shows and Zoe's can all be watched online. But sports are kind of a killer. Right now, my Giants are playing their arch nemesis, the Dallas Cowboys, and I am NOT WATCHING IT! AT ALL!! It's sort of painful.

But the other night, Charles and I played Trivial Pursuit instead of watching a show, and it was really fun.

So there's the silver lining. Tonight, on this dark and stormy night, I'm all about silver linings.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Friday Politics

It's been a busy day for me today, and my computer battery is about to die since I let Zoe watch two shows on my laptop this morning. Our TV is broken, but she needed her morning fix of Dora and Diego.

Have I mentioned that I'm having a MUCH harder time having a broken TV than I am a broken dishwasher? Have I ever even mentioned the broken dishwasher before? No, because I really don't mind washing dishes. But take away my Project Runway and you see a whole new side of me emerge.

Anyway, I have two links/thoughts I wanted to share with you, so enjoy.

  • First, I have to say bravo to Maureen Dowd. Her op-ed piece in the New York Times this week was brilliant, and was a scathing reminder that maybe, just maybe, it's NOT cool to be ignorant, and maybe our politicians SHOULD be held to a higher intellectual standard than the average Joe. I like my President with a side of smarts, thank you very much.
  • Which leads me to...President Obama has come out with his own PSA in support of the It Gets Better campaign to combat bullying. Watching it made me tear up a bit, I'll admit - he's candid and friendly, someone with whom I can see myself enjoying a conversation. But his support of the issue at hand is touching, and it's great to see such support coming from the leader of this country. Thank you, Mr. President.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

On David Sedaris, dirty jokes and the craft of writing

Last night was a good night.

Charles and I had tickets to a David Sedaris reading (if you don't know him, he's a humorist/satirist who writes essays for his own books, The New Yorker and NPR). We were excited - our seats were in the front-front row (AA). We'd be so close, we could see up his nose!

One of Zoe's ex-teachers came over to babysit since my mom is out of town and it went...surprisingly well! I expected tears, I got kisses. I expected drama, I got a rousing game of Ring Around the Rosie. It was fabulous.

So Charles and I managed to sneak away early - we arrived at the Performing Arts Center at 6:30 for a 7:30 show. We sat, drank wine, ate popcorn and people-watched, and had a nice, quiet 45 minutes.

When we stood up to head into the auditorium, we saw Sedaris himself walk by, which was so exciting. I love getting to see people I admire, up close and personal. We decided to hover around the book-signing table, in case he did a pre-reading signing, and HE DID! And we were first in line! HOORAY!

He was absolutely lovely, and laughed when we told him we wanted him to sign the book to Zoe, our two-year-old. "One day she'll love you as much as we do," I promised, sounding absolutely like a fan-girl.

Sedaris predicted a second child for us (a girl in 2012 - I politely laughed and shook my head) and then signed the book: To Zoe, You're such a baby. David Sedaris.

Dude's even funny off-the-cuff - totally impressive.

The reading began, and he was excellent, as always. I love how he reads his essays - something about the tone and cadence of his voice feels very soothing to me. He took a break from essays to delve into dirty jokes, to much applause and laughter. It always sounds so funny to hear his sweet little voice being so raunchy.

He talked about a book he's recommending while on tour - Wells Tower's Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned. Charles bought it when it first came out but I haven't read it...yet.

But it was when he talked about WHY he was recommending it that I really got interested. He read a few passages, calling out why he liked bits and pieces, why he found it so surprising and engaging. One was as simple as having the words "mouse" and "coupon" in the same sentence - a surprising and apparently pleasing combination to his ears. To think that people pay so much attention to your choice and placement of words - it was something to think about.

He also referenced, with regards to his own writing, reading pieces out loud during the editing process, and it was like a light bulb flashed on over my head.

DUH. I know this. I used to do it all the time, but I've gotten away from it in recent years, due either to laziness or self-consciousness. But really, how else can you find the perfect words that flow into your sentences, than to read it out loud? It kills me now, that I sent an essay off to a writing contest without ever. Once. Reading it out loud.


But still, I was so appreciative of seeing Sedaris (and no, we could not actually see up his nose). I love his attitude and his politics (his two references to Prop 8 almost had me on my feet, laughing and clapping enthusiastically), and mostly, I love his writing. His craft.

He's brilliant.