Monday, November 28, 2005

The Importance of Proper Penmanship

I walk into my family room the other day and notice a piece of paper with these words in huge two-inch high letters, written in bright green marker:

"Quick F*ck" (Um, the asterisk is my addition. There was a certain vowel in its place.)

Upon closer inspection, I realized that the paper in question was my six-year-old's Christmas list.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but I'm pretty sure that including the F-word in correspondence to Santa puts one on his naughty list.

Now, my daughter is advanced for a first grader, but not that advanced, so I set off with my straightest of faces to investigate.

Turns out that she had asked her father to write down the names of certain toys for her Christmas list. Including "Quick Flick House of Style." And to her still-learning-to-spell eye, the "LI" in "FLICK" looked just like a "U."

I calmly point out the misspelling to her (well, as calmly as you can while suppressing laughter) and quickly write over the "U" with the proper letters lest the offending word burn itself into her sponge-like memory. I used the only writing implement handy, which was a ballpoint pen.

My correction didn't really cover up the "u"...but this was just her "sloppy copy" (all 5 pages of it, due to the extremely large writing and extremely frequent toy commercial viewing) and she would be rewriting it soon. Santa would be none the wiser.

Case closed. Or so I thought.

A few days later, my parents are visiting. My mother stops mid-conversation as her attention is drawn to our coffee table. "What...does...that...say?" she sputters out.

Seems that when I asked my daughter to pile up all her papers earlier that day, the one she had chosen to place on top was, of course, the one that still seemed to scream "F*ck" from halfway across the room.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Adventures in Photographic Hell

Because my head is about to explode even as the holiday season is just beginning, here is a piece I wrote about a year ago that appeared in the Philadelphia Inquirer -- the topic was supposed to be "Family Traditions" but I tried to twist "tradition" into something at least a little bit humorous.

Oh yeah, HAPPY THANKSGIVING. And let the frenzied shopping begin!

True family traditions are not planned. They evolve naturally, as time lends significance to seemingly insignificant rituals. The passing years soften any hard edges and we're left with the glow of a happy childhood memory.

At least I hope that's the case with our family tradition, one that began with the simple act of purchasing a miniature Santa suit.

Flashback to Fall 1996...We are the proud parents of an infant daughter, V. In what must be the same form of temporary insanity that leads some folks to put clothing on their dogs, I buy her a tiny velour Santa outfit, complete with beret.

Take one adorable baby & add Santa suit -- what more do you need for the perfect Christmas card photo?

Most (sane) parents would simply journey to a local department store and have their child posed in front of various fake-looking festive backgrounds. But we must take the photo ourselves. With the pseudo-paparazzo she knew as mommy, V. was already the most photographed non-celebrity child in the northern hemisphere.

That first Christmas photo was hugely popular. (Well, at least one recipient probably used the word "adorable" and that was all the encouragement needed.)

Thus, a tradition is born.

But, as with every family tradition worth its salt, there's more to this one than meets the eye. If this were an episode of E! True Hollywood Story it might be entitled: "Blood, Sweat, Tears, & Garland." OK, we generally stop short of bloodshed, but just barely.

The first step every year is to find the sole Barbie/Fisher-Price free corner in the house for our staging area. (All parents reading this know I have just lied. There is no part of the house that has escaped toy infestation. The real story -- we look through the viewfinder & kick visible playthings just out of frame.)

In addition to the ongoing clutter issues, each year has presented additional challenges:

1996: The aforementioned Santa outfit... Being a new parent, I was unaware that no self-respecting non-French infant wants to be seen in a beret. Even at the tender age of 4 1/2 months, V. must have realized that the beret is a silly and useless piece of headgear (unless you are halloweening as a beatnik.) She knew that no matter the consequences, she must remove the beret (repeatedly) or risk the ridicule of her fellow infants. Joyeux Noel!

1997: Does my camera have a setting for "whirling dervish"? Hi-jinx ensue as parents search frantically for props keep the darling toddler relatively still.

1998: Two years old & twice as energetic. Need faster film.

1999: Two-month-old S. enters the picture, and we discover a heretofore unknown law of mathematics: add one child and the odds against getting a decent photo are increased exponentially. To make matters worse, I decide to put my children in vintage 1960s dresses. This means ironing is involved, which is never good. I write a mental love letter to DuPont (for inventing Lycra) and vow to go the artificial fiber route in future years.

2000: The least number of photos taken any year (8). Everything S. does (her mere existence?) upsets V. We sent out the last shot taken -- a darling photo of the girls seated at the piano. An untrained eye would attribute V's flushed cheeks & shining eyes to holiday anticipation. In reality, her eyes are glistening with remnants of the tears shed during a bitter dispute over piano bench position (after all, everyone knows the high keys are the best).

2001: Evidently, S. has a revelation. As the second child, it is her sworn duty to antagonize her elder sibling whenever possible. No opportunity must be missed, even if your image is being recorded for posterity. Who's crying now? Mommy.

2002: A new little bundle of joy joins our family -- a digital camera. I continue to pledge allegiance to 35mm while my husband shoots jpgs. Unfortunately, this means there are no free hands to child-wrangle. The girls sense our lessoned control & take advantage of the situation by doing their best Jerry Lee Lewis impersonations at the piano. It takes us 55 digital photos to get something usable. I give up on film.

2003: The girls are not bickering! Instead, they are united by a common goal -- a contest to see who can make the goofiest face. Extra added benefit -- this really annoys their parents. But the glee is short-lived and by the last picture V. is in tears & I am seriously contemplating putting an end to this tradition for good.

2004: I need a game plan. Perhaps the simple combination of crinoline & tights promotes an anarchy that the girls are helpless to resist? So, this year -- no tights. In their place: positive reinforcement (AKA bribery). If the girls behave, they will get to bake chocolate cookies when we're through. Brilliant!

I'd like to say it went off without a hitch. In reality, it went...OK. The tears were brief, and we learned that hanging upside down from a piano bench does a wonderful job of making hair look fluffier. Add a couple of chocolate chips, and all is right with the world.

If a professional photographer were taking the photos, the girls would probably be so angelic they'd sprout halos. But where's the challenge? The drama? The muttering of expletives below one's breath? And that's what I call a family tradition.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Because I Like the Word "Hirsute"

The internet can be an enlightening place -- how else could I have learned so much about the World Beard and Moustache Championships?

Willi Chevalier
Singmaringen, Germany
Swabian Beard Club
Category: Partial beard, freestyle
Current world champion!

An article entitled "The World's Weirdest Beards" appeared in the Life "magazine" in our newspaper today. It was basically a collection of photos, but it inspired an google search and led me to

Elmar Weisser--pride of the Swabian Beard Club--shows off his tribute to the City of Berlin at the WBMC 2005.

I don't know exactly why, but I found these illustrations from the website strangely fascinating. (And I can now consider myself an expert on facial hair, one of my lifelong goals.)

Earlier today, I had been considering blogging about my personal struggles with the conformity that suburbia encourages, but had dismissed the idea as being, well, too boring.

But the WBMC makes my point, in a much more entertaining other words:

Over-analyzing = Yawn
Wacky beards = Fun!

So, while acknowleging that I would probably grab my children by their arms and run the other way if I saw a dude with "freestyle" facial hair at the mall, I applaud the spunk and the confidence demonstrated by these men.

Men who have the courage to be unique! The courage to listen to that little voice inside their head that tells them to grow and groom and overstyle their facial hair, all in the name'm not sure why they do it...

But, they DO do it! And by god, I have to salute them for that.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Sexiest Men Alive

It's official -- People Magazine has named Matthew McConaughey as this year's "Sexiest Man Alive."

I must admit that Mr. McConaughey's appeal has escaped me. With the disclaimer that I really don't know all that much about the man, he has always seemed a little too much of a good ole boy, too much swagger for me.

Sexiest mug shot?

It shouldn't surprise me that People picked someone that I just don't get...maybe it's just me -- I've never seen whatever it is that others see in Brad Pitt...

Ben Affleck is one handsome dude, but over time, he's seemed to become more and more of, well, an idiot.

and I've previously explored my feelings about Johnny Depp.

Most Beautiful Man Alive -- even with facial hair.
But there's that ambiguity...

What celebrity would I make People's cover boy? Tough one. Maybe because the "sexy" in a man is often subtle... and the entire exercise is kind of silly anyway.

But, in the interest of equal time and all, I present (in the detached style of a happily-married woman) a couple of dudes that have something that makes them more appealing than the average male:

Adam Brody -- "Seth Cohen" of O.C. fame

Yeah, I'm almost old enough to be his mom -- but he is adorable in that nerdy way I adore.

Richard Gere

To attone for my Seth Cohen thing, here is my Sexiest Older Man. I believe he's already been an official "Sexiest Man Alive;" even so, Mr. Gere has actually gotten more attractive as he has aged.

Sexiest Singer/Songwriter -- Michael Penn

Because talent is very sexy. Dimples don't hurt either. (His latest CD, Mr. Hollywood Jr., 1947, is terrific...)

George Clooney -- I'm sure he's been on People's list as well, but with his recent work he's impressed me as being more than just a pretty face

George Clooney as Fred Friendly in Good Night, And Good Luck.

Of course, my husband tops my permanent "sexiest" list -- with his winning combination of intelligence and wit (and his dimples don't hurt either!)

As I sign off, folks, a little reminder to be selective in what you put on the internet, lest someone find your stuff and put it in their blog...

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Evasive Maneuvers

I am in the shower, when the sweet little voice of my six-year-old breaks through...

"Mom, what does this spell? T...A...M...P...A...X"

"Aaaargh!" think I, even as I say calmly, "Tampax," hoping that one word will end the conversation, but knowing that it will not.

"What's Tampax?"

Now, I always tell my children the truth -- but that also means I am free to attempt to use the truth to confuse them -- and so I reply, "It's a feminine hygiene product."

If this were my other daughter (the Short-Attention-Span 9-year-old) that answer would have been enough. Either S.A.S. would have pondered my definition quietly, or moved on to playing with day-office-evening settings of the makeup mirror.

However, the Curious Younger One continues her interrogation with "Do you eat it?"

Ignoring the fact that my daughter would think I would store food on the floor next to the toilet (and how that reflects on my housekeeping skills) I say, "'s something grown-up women use..." And at that exact moment, the truth begins to fail me...

"What do you do with it?" asks my relentlessly inquisitive one.

I throw in the figurative towel and run for my only figurative escape -- that old standby, "I'll tell you more about it when you're older."

"Like, how old?"
"When you're a teenager."
"You'll probably know all about it by then."
"Only if you tell me!"

BTW, I hope to be heavily tranquilized throughout the duration of her teenage years.

This episode did trigger a (fond?) memory of my own youth: when my brother found a box marked "Sanitary Napkins" -- I don't know his age, expect that he was old enough to read the word "napkin" -- and he proceeded to set the dinner table with them.

A little bulky, but very absorbent.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Is This Normal?

The scene: A family gathering at my parents' house to celebrate my father's birthday.

My 67-year-old mother sits at her grand piano in her opulently decorated living room. She begins to play a tune, somewhat haltingly, and it is:

Bohemian Rhapsody.

Soon afterwards, as in living rooms all over this great land of ours, my sister and I are belting out, "I see a little sil-hou-etto of a man...Scaramouche! Scaramouche!..."

Will you do the Fandango?

Friday, November 11, 2005

He's Everywhere, He's Everywhere!

I cannot escape this damn flatulent canine!

Appearing as "Today's Special" at Casual Living :

The Title Says It All!
Walter Farting Dog + Book $26.95
Walter the Farting Dog is a surprisingly endearing story that’ll delight kids age 4 and up. Hardcover storybook has full color illustrations. Re-enact favorite parts with a hilarious plush Walter, complete with sound effects when you squeeze him. 8"L.

"Surprising endearing"? An interesting choice of words, as generally I don't find passing wind endearing. But perhaps Walter does it in such a adorable way...

Yeah, I pretty much covered this topic in my earlier post, but geez, I am still incredulous that this book exists, much less appears in any number of mass-market catalogs.

And please, don't anyone who knows me in real life purchase this for me as a gag gift. Any profit made on this product would only encourage more bodily-function

Stanley the Spraying Cat
What's a little urine between friends?
Fill Stanley with water, squeeze his tummy, and watch him mark his territory!

Tony the Tourette's Syndrome Parrot
Polly wants a @*#! cracker. Now, you mother-f#&*@!

Irving the Irritable-Bowel-Syndrome Rabbit
Your child will learn all about the lower intestine and the need for a high fiber diet.

Gary the Barfing Gerbil
Uh Oh! Gary's been doing body shots again!

Richard the Sex Addict Rabbit
He's just a very, very friendly bunny...

Thursday, November 10, 2005

This Just In -- The World Does Not Revolve Around Me

Contrary to popular opinion, it turns out that I am not the center of the universe. Who knew?

You did? I just wish you had told me earlier.

Before I spent an embarrassing number of hours trying to find the "perfect" outfit for yesterday's A.I.R. Awards luncheon (described by Michael Klein in today's Philadelphia Inquirer as "sort of the local Emmys for radio.")

Forgetting two major factors:

1) It's radio folk, and generally being stylish in radio means you wear the shirt without the holes and cheese doodle stains.

2) Nobody really gives a rat's derriere what I wear.

But none of that reality stuff intruded into my thought process during the past few days -- and I probably expended more brain power on this garb issue than has been applied to solving global warming.

Blame it on some form of obsessive-compulsive tunnelvision...only the tunnel is lined with various camisoles, jackets and necklaces.

It was like I was possessed by the spirit of Steven Cojocaru or something.

I was just way too fixated on looking hip and, most importantly, 10 pounds thinner than I actually am.

For those of you who haven't memorized every word of my blog, I had been planning on wearing a long velvet coat/jacket. However, two days before the event, I realized that no matter how cool I thought the style was, the jacket itself was really, really hot.

The slight chance that I might win the award I was nominated for (which would require something vaguely resembling an acceptance speech in front of hundreds of people) was enough to send me spiralling into a very dark and obsessive place.

Never fear, I won't go through the entire psychotic process (except to mention hours were spent hand-altering a Target camisole - thereby turning a $9.99 purchase into couture. Which I didn't wear.)

In the end, a last minute Old Navy purchase brought me peace of mind:

I was looking good...

But (and here's the amazing part) NOBODY* CARED.

That's not hard to understand now -- after it's all over.

For, believe it or not, there wasn't a spotlight following me when I entered the ballroom.

In fact, in a room packed with egos of varying sizes, nobody* was the least bit aware of my fashion statement (although I'm still somewhat convinced that they would have noticed if my blubbery areas hadn't been so well hidden...)

Though my outfit obsession might seem to indicate otherwise, I didn't expect to win...and (I do so love it when I'm right) it turns out that I did not win.

Genuine relief ensued.

Only then could I relax (and actually eat the dessert that I had been afraid would mess up my lipstick.)

Hopefully I learned a valuable life lession. Next time, I'm wearing jeans and my American Apology tee-shirt.

*Full disclosure: My husband did care. He's a caring kind of guy.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Forgot this photo...

Imagine, if you will, this photo in the previous post.

Zeke loved to sit on my sister's shoulder and be carried about,
as if some sort of kitty royalty.

Now That My Head's on Straight...

...well, as straight as it gets's always slightly off-kilter...

When I wrote my last post I was simultaneously going through at least two of the five (?) stages of grief over the death of my cat, Zeke. And generally, that is not the optimal time to be blogging.

So, sorry for the somewhat over-dramatic tone of the last post. But, heck, I'm half-Italian and drama is what we do best.

It made me realize that if this little computer thing had been around when I was a single lass, I would have gotten myself into a whole lotta trouble.

In the old days, I could write any manner of nasty "I hate your f*cking guts, you mother-f*cking piece of pond scum" letter and then just sleep on it. (Writing with a pen and paper, imagine that kiddies!)

And in the light of day, it always became clear that the mother-f*cking-piece-of-pond-scum former paramour wasn't worth the 28 cents (or whatever postage was back then) it would take to mail my diatribe.

And ultimately, isn't it a little more dignified not to stoop to the level of calling someone a "mother-f*cking piece of pond scum"-- even if it's an extremely accurate description?

Zeke's Adoption Day - 1993
Anyway, after a 24-hour period of wallowing depression last week, reality reintroduced itself and reminded me that the vet had recommended euthanasia, and I had been at peace during the process, which was handled very respectfully by the staff.

To that end, I give props to Village Veterinary Hospital in Medford, NJ and in particular Dr. James Massaro, who gave it to me straight, and recommended the euthanasia in a gentle way.

(Yeah, I cried in front of strangers, but at least they were silent tears.)

Bring me the head of Barbie

I was allowed to be alone with Zeke while the sedative took effect and say my goodbyes in private. I stroked him and spoke softly to him while he stared at me with wide green eyes.

But he wasn't scared -- heck, the part of the process that upset him the most was riding in the car.

Perhaps not Zeke's finest hour -- but in his defense, the
bathroom was poorly insulated and the water in the toilet froze that winter!

I had been expecting him to fall asleep, but when the nurse returned to take him to the Dr. for the euthanasia, she told me that their eyes do not close.

So, I handed him over, and he lay in the nurse's arms looking completely relaxed, with his arm draped over the nurse's...and I whispered, "He had a good life."

Wednesday, November 02, 2005


Domestic Shorthair Feline -- that's how Zeke's final vet bill describes him. But to me, he was so much more.

From the time he was 6 weeks old until this afternoon, he was my pet, my little buddy. Twelve years.

In many ways, he was just a cat. He was hugely motivated by food and a moving piece of string.

In other ways, unique -- he liked his underarms scratched and to hitch a ride on my sister's shoulders.

But he's been there with me since before kids, before husband, before life as I know it now...

And I was the one who had to decide to end his life today. What gave me that right to rob him of another hour, or twelve hours, or twenty-four hours of just being?

The vet painted a picture of inevitability, but I could have taken him home...brought him back was my choice.

I just hope I didn't betray Zeke's trust.

Bye buddy.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Talk to the Crotch

The winner of yesterday's Today show costume contest was UpsideDown Guy...

I have placed a little hand to point out one of the eyeholes in the costume...the design of which presented a priceless moment in morning television.

Katie Couric had to repeatedly tilt her handheld mic to the crouch of the pants to interview the person inside.

Hilarity ensued.

But, sans visual, you'll just have to take my word for it.

Halloween post mortem

Maybe I'm high on fun-size Butterfingers, but overall it seems our Halloween went pretty well...

I do enjoy taking the kids trick-or-treating because it enables me to peek into the homes of people who would never willingly invite me into their abodes.

And I must say that I am extremely concerned about the rampant proliferation of Precious Moments and Hummel figurines. Someone needs to do an intervention with these folks right now and introduce them to good taste.

I mean, it's bad enough to own those things, but do you really want to showcase them in a glass cabinet by your front door?

Maybe I am cranky after all...the Butterfingers are wearing off...

The biggest Halloween surprise was that not only did my kids remember Freaky Druid Couple from last year, they actually wanted to go back to the house and perform again.

We were somewhat disappointed to approach the driveway and see only half the couple was there -- just Freaky Druid Guy, no Freaky Druid Gal in sight.

His spiel went something like this: "At our house, you have to earn your can sing, dance or tell a joke."

My 6-year-old sang a rather lengthy ditty about spiders or something (which probably made him regret his request) and the 9-year-old gave him a joke ripped straight from the pages of Highlights magazine.

Anyway, he didn't seem nearly as creepy this year... so I proclaim his name from this moment forth to be simply "Druid Guy."

As we were leaving, his wife came out (in civilian garb) and we overheard him asking her why she wasn't dressed yet.

But even though we missed out on the full druid experience, it was all good.

My girls wore store-bought costumes, like 90% of all the kids we saw yesterday. This does not fly well with the older generation -- as my mother reminded me that she always made my costumes.

Then I have to remind my mom that all the old costumes that she put together are politically incorrect by today's standards.

Gypsy? Caricature of an ethnic group that deserves respect. Hobo? Can’t make fun of the homeless! In fifth grade I was Marie Antoinette…Let them eat cake? No way -- too many carbs.

Then again, we could all be more sensitive about some of the still-current favorites...

Vampire: eating disorders are not funny.
Devil: Satanists are people too.
Scream mask: could offend the serial killers in the neighborhood by making them feel trivialized.

As always, there were a couple of teenage Unabombers making the rounds -- kids that are too cool to have an actual costume, but they pull on a hooded sweatshirt and collect massive amounts of candy in a pillowcase.

Listen, as long as you're polite (which everyone was) creativity is not a requirement at our place. We're way too tired for that ourselves.

Gotta go -- there's a Snickers bar calling my name...