Onboard I’m the captain

29 Apr

I’m going to sit at my dining room table, grading papers and singing along to “Come Sail Away” for the foreseeable future. Bring me some wine?

Living within my means

10 Feb

It occurred to me tonight, after I repeatedly misspelled occurred, and once misspelled misspelled, that I worry way too much about making spelling errors.

But also, as I was packing up Cal’s package (no, not that package — brownies for his birthday, you sick bastard) that this time last year I would have left Postal Pack and Ship crying, as I no more had $22 to ship a last-minute package than I had personal cabana boys to tuck me in every night for the past year.

That is to say, a year ago I was broke. Beyond broke. Desperately, heinously poor. A series of job changes, student debt, credit card debt, and moving left my little family crippled by what it owed and unable to scrape up much more than what we could eat. I don’t think I bought any new clothes for a year, and what I did get came at the kindness of my parents and friends. We spent the summer months at the lake on my father in law’s boat, filling it up with gas from his credit card, eating peanut butter sandwiches we packed and brought from home.

I am not exaggerating when I say that we lived hand to mouth for more than a year, and I would not change that experience for the world. Then suddenly, last summer, a chance to teach at the university came open, and we both got jobs and a huge pay bump. I’m proud that we used that extra income to pay down our debts, and are close to being free of all IOUs (except the house — is anyone ever free of that behemouth? Oh, wait, yes, every other Byrne ever).

So it’s not a crisis anymore to buy an occasional dinner out, or get a new pair or jeans, or make an offer on a healthy white child from the black market (I can only assume you get healthy black children off the white market?).

But again, I wouldn’t trade that time for the world. It made me so much more grateful for what I have now, and I realize that while a lot of people go through their broke phase in their younger years, I feel like mine came at a perfect time.

Because now I can feed my healthy white child, all the while keeping an eye out for a nice new black one.  So happy birthday, Cal, and happy brokiversary!

“How mush fer a rib?!”

9 Feb

The longer I teach storytelling in my classes, the more important I think it is that I only blog when I have an actual story to tell. Or a Vivian story to tell.

Today I was in Postal Pack and Ship, once again late in sending Cal’s Valentine’s Day birthday present. I’ll skip the story about how I spent all afternoon trying to find a $6 flat-rate box and ended up paying $22 to ship a box of brownies, a check and a card.

MUCH more interesting stuff happened. Stuff that makes me, the world’s biggest adolescent and young adult proponent, worry about all our futures.

(And just so we’re clear, while this story demonstrates alarming behavior by “youths,” it’s CLEARLY their parents’ fault. As it usually is.)

While I was at the counter of the friendly shop, a college-aged couple came in, and they wanted stamps. I feel like the dialogue is really better than any retelling I could come up with, so here goes:

Pam (the owner): “May I help you?”

College Boy: “We need stamps.”

Pam: “OK, what kind? (laying stamp samples out across the counter) We’ve got cars, jazz, plain ol’ American flags … which ones do you want?”

College Boy: “Whichever are cheapest.”

Pam: “Ummmm, all stamps are the same price, so …”

College Girl: “OK, the rose ones are pretty.”

Pam: “OK, how many?”

College Girl: “Um, eight?”

Pam: “OK, eight books or eight stamps?”

College Girl: “Oh, just eight stamps. Right?”

She looks toward College Guy, questioning, then back at Pam.

College Girl: “How many do you need for a card, like two?”

Pam: “Like a greeting card? Usually just one. Unless it’s a funny size or extra heavy …”

College Girl: “No, it’s just like, birthday cards.”

Just, like, birthday cards.

I got into the car and immediately quizzed Vivian on how to address an envelope, where to put the stamp, and what those blue boxes that say “USPS” on them are for.

When I teach college students, I try to be accessible and friendly, and when they don’t, say, know how to use a Mac or understand what I mean by “thumb drive,” it’s totally understandable! I work with them, because they are attending college to expand the knowledge base granted to them by their secondary education and the life lessons instilled in them by their parents.

But for me to imagine that someone who’s probably 21 or 22 years old  has no idea how much a stamp costs or how many go on a birthday card? That’s just odd. It makes me kind of feel dumb, like I’ve totally overestimated the entire 18-22 demographic of Stillwater. Do I have students like this in my class? Are they confused about the rest of the world? Do they understand that voice in the drive-thru isn’t trapped in a tiny box? That the dirt goes into the vacuum bag and not through the cord into the socket? Have they ever even run a vacuum, or did they think the carpet just used dry shampoo on itself until its nap gleamed?

Mom and Dad — yes, I’m talking to you, People With Small Children — you simply CANNOT be the helicopter parents you feel tempted to be. Right now it’s playgrounds and sandlots, but I am telling you that if you don’t let your kids do stuff, screw up, learn from examples and do their own thing, they are going to grow up to socially and emotionally retarded.

Was I a complete moron in college? Absolutely. But that wasn’t my parents’ fault. They made me do stuff like clean the house, fill the car with gas, balance a checkbook, understand the difference between beer and mixed drinks, and just generally experience adult life AS A TEENAGER STILL LIVING AT HOME. Where they could help and guide, but not DO.

So I’ll get off my soapbox now, but remember, parents and someday-to-be parents: It may be hard to watch your precious little ones make mistakes, fall down, and get hurt, but it sure beats the peals of laughter I shared with Pam after those two left (God bless their little pin heads).


Sleeping with the fishes

16 Jan

Vivi: “Momma, sad news. One of my fish is dead.”

Me: “Oh, honey, I’m sorry. Do you want me to dispose of the body?”

Vivi: “No, I’ll do it. What should I use — this spoon?” (holding up one of my good silver slotted serving spoons)

Me: “God, no … (rummaging through the kitchen) … I use this … don’t want to dirty up this .. Can you just use, like, a Joe’s cup and scoop him up?!”

Vivi: “Why can’t I just use a slotted spoon like all the other kids?”


Family tattoo day

16 Jan

The holidays are a time to celebrate what makes you special as a family. In our case, it’s five people either emotionally stuck in, or actually living through, their early 20s.

So, tattoos. It’s a Christmas miracle!

First, we have Ol’Boy, who up until recently was a tattoo virgin, but as we heard and has proved true, once you get one, you only crave more. The first is not just an ode to the childhood toy he was never (thankfully) allowed to own (think unrequited Red Ryder BB gun), but more significantly, it’s a nod to his family’s love for and dedication to music (“Sick for Motorbike” is a song by a Japanese group called the Pillows, something Cal introduced him to and we all rocked out to because it was obvious this group didn’t know a lick of English) and our family’s dedication to living life purposefully and not being lulled into stereotypical categories.

Here’s Billy’s first tat:

Cal has three other tats: a Spiderman logo on his inner arm, a richly colored and beautifully rendered Calvin and Hobbes on one inner forearm, and a lightning bold on his inner wrist. He was the first in the family to get any sort of ink, and like a good parental figure, I made sure I was good and anguished about it, even going so far as to (ridiculously) suggest that he DRAW IN SHARPIE the tat he wanted, where he wanted it, and see if he got sick of it after a week. Imagine my surprise when he did just that — and became positive he wanted it.

Here is the Calvin and Hobbes tat (Cal’s middle name is not Danger. It’s Hobbes):

Sam is the real pro. He’s had seven to this point (I think?). Of course, Cal gets a little bitty lightning bolt, and Sam comes home with this:

That was a little bit of a shocker at the time. Now I love it. The rest vary from small …

To especially large and significant:

Sierra also has some pretty extreme ink — placement-wise, anyway. She’s got a blue dragon on the back of her neck, and some odes to JRR Tolkien and her family, as well.

All of them said they wanted tats for Christmas, so a family tattoo day became part of the holiday celebration (made special with an extended Cal and Sierra tw0-week trip to Oklahoma, which happily meant lots of togetherness).

We started to day at the delish Kaiser deli in downtown OKC where they served the MOST amazing crab bisque I’ve ever slurped, and since it was an old ice-cream fountain, specialized in adult sundaes. We then headed to No Regrets, where our artist, Ashley, spent the entire afternoon arting us up.

Batting first was Sisi, who started with some Victorian roses in mind and ended up with a more classical sailor tattoo look:

Cal was next, and his was another cartoon inspired work — Ant Man! Riding an ant, of course.

Sam decided it was time to memorialize his own love of music and upcoming move to Hotlanta with a pair of colorful headphones:

(It should be noted that Sam was the most willing of all of us to let our artist work her magic, and we were all thrilled with the results. I love the 80s hiphop vibe of this.)

Billy fulfilled his lifelong wish for a second tattoo, one from “The Natural” — “Wonderboy.” I had always objected to this simple design because, No. 1, it was too simple. I’m a go-big-or-go-home (from hereon out to be written as GBOGH) with tattoo designs. No. 2, I think it seems arrogant, and he’s about the further thing from arrogant a human can be. But so far most people have gotten the reference.

I remained on the fence right up until the day of about getting inked myself, but when it came time to pull the trigger, I had to listen to Sam’s sage advice: “If you don’t reaaaaaally want a tat, you probably shouldn’t get one, because it’s going to be there forever.” Excellent parenting skills, that Sam.

So I compromised and went with the one body modification I really DID want:

I adored it from the moment it popped into place. (People asked me if it hurt, and I could accurately tell them that it felt like someone stuck a needle through my nose. Why is that not an acceptable explanation? Can you not envision/feel that sensation?)

Here’s the gang with Ashley:

We ended the day with burgers and sugar (cleverly disguised in thousands of bottles as something called “soda pop”).

As holiday traditions go, it was unusual, but that’s what made it so much fun. I am blessed to have been welcomed by these children years ago, and they (and the one fiance between them) have been so important in shaping who I am. I love them all deeply — I’m not their mom, but I love being their maternal/business figure and I count my blessings whenever they are around.

If I ever did get a tattoo, I’d probably try to recreate that happy picture above, when they are basking in the aftermath of a family time wherein they got to be who they really are.

If only boring people get bored …

28 Oct

… then I’m going to take on that Dos Equis guy as the Most Interesting Man Alive.

Yes, I’m a man now. The operation was a success.

I’m trying so hard to keep up with all the correspondence I want to, while still maintaing a relationship with my Ol’Boy and Vivi.

(A conversation from last night:

Me: ” … if you, you know, had to live in an unhappy house.”

Vivian: “Did you say ‘ we have a Happy House?’ ”

Me: “No, I said, if you were LIVING in an UNhappy house.”

Vivian: “OK, I was like, ‘We bought a Chinese restaurant?!’ “)

But I got to catch up with an old friend on my walk tonight (do I not have all my best conversation at the wrong end of Baxter’s leash? It’s a dangerous place, friends. There are poodles and piles of crap everywhere, just begging to be yanked into), which was nice. We’re both all old and smarter and inquisitive and shit. I’m more interesting over a bottle, near a music source. Otherwise I’m liable to start talking new media and digital advancements and other really, really mind-numbing stuff.

Point being, so much is going on, I feel the need again to bullet point it, lest my exploits be lost to history (read: I can’t remember what the hell happened to me last week, let alone a year ago).

1. I should be in Orlando right now for the annual collegiate student media conference, but I am not. It’s homecoming weekend and I’d be there alone, and it’s just not worth it without my students. But sad face.

2. Next week G$ should be rolling into town and I’ll get to hold/suck on the face of her new little boy. Yay!

3. Vivi’s band concert is next week, as is OSU’s High School Journalism Day and a training session at the Oklahoman, but NOTHING takes precedent over the Greatest Holiday in America. Next Monday night is Halloween, and it will be our first in Stillwater. (We usually go to Tulsa but the rumor is that our new neighborhood is the bomb.com at Halloween.) She’s going as a gypsy. I’m going as a middle-aged mom following children who are trick-or-treating, and hoping that someone takes pity on me and gives me wrapped sugar. That’s not part of the costume. Like, I really want that last part to happen.

4. Of course, the most important news of the week is that Cal and Sisi made it official by putting a ring on it, and so now I’m helping to plan a wedding, which I LOVE. I have to say that I am so, so, so thrilled — my soon-to-be daughter in law has gone from a sweet girl to an incredibly clever, funny, smart and dare I say GORGEOUS young woman. I am so lucky to have her, and for Vivian to have her, and for Cal to have her. Cal, of course, is the oldest soul I know and a simply magical person. It’s by the grace of God he’s in my life. I used to joke that I only married Billy to be closer to Cal and Sam, and I was only partly kidding. They are … well, they’re just amazing. Here’s to an incredible life together that I am blessed to share in.


‘They call me MR. Pig!’

19 Oct

So much has happened. So much that I can hardly afford time to see my husband and child, let alone write about it.

So here’s my version of the last four months, short-form version.

1. Bought a house. It. Is. Awesome. If you love living in old lady houses, which I totally do, in which there’s one consistent color of brand-new paint throughout and carpet on EVERY earthbound surface save the kitchen (yes, even the bathrooms are carpeted). My old hardwoods were lovely, but as my old boss Marco Bruno says, “Hardwoods are for dreamers,” IE, people who can afford maids or who love to sweep every few hours. I just walk in and kick off my shoes and marvel at how freaking nice it is.

2. New paint, new carpet … and a deck! That overlooks the woods! Wherein there is a trail that I forged that leads to a road to an old hayfield where I take my dog daily and he runs while I trot in circles and he occasionally manages to notice the deer and foxes that run past and chases them and scares me because it takes him 15 minutes to come back! But mostly just the deck and the woods.

3. Yesterday I found two turtles making sweet love in my woods. Clearly, I attract amorous turtles.

4. Work — love my O’Colly students, and love my job teaching two sections of one class called electronic communications and one class called Newsroom 101. Making both up as I go. Challenging as hell, plus I’m still writing ad copy for a national deals company. So three jobs, but I’m making bank, and so is Billy, and it’s so much easier to find oxygen that way.

5. Vivi is great, thank God. Middle school agrees with her, the girls aren’t mean and she’s even met new friends. She’s turning out to be kind of pretty, with the occasional flash of future hotness popping out.

6. Billy is great. He’s hot and nice. What more could I possibly ask for? Oh, he got this:

I have pretty much decided against any sort of tattoo for myself, but I am a hell of a support team during the action.

So many random thoughts: Jim and Nora visited over Labor Day, Sarah moved to ESPN (no, literally, she works so much she might as well live there), my five nieces are so sweet and fun, Kyle is raking in awards … life continues to be so blessed. And tomorrow is my baby momma’s 47th birthday — I hope she has a great day, even if she wouldn’t really cotton to me tellin’ her so. 🙂 She did give me the two greatest stepsons a mom could want, and for that I thank her!

One-hour photo

19 Oct

Tonight on the way to get a fall jacket at Walmart …

(Me: “You don’t have to buy Walmart clothes anymore. I can afford to get you something nicer now.”

Vivi: “But I LIKE this jacket. It just happens to BE from Walmart.”)

… she’s reading the signs on the side of the building.

“One hour photo … ‘Can I stop smiling now?’ ‘No, 49 minutes to go.’ ”


Knock ’em a kiss

11 Aug

I just got off the phone with a good friend who found out this afternoon that her elementary teaching contract hadn’t been renewed for this school year.

Not only was she informed of the school’s decision a week before she was to report to her classroom, she is currently raising three beautiful, charming little girls while her husband serves our country in the National Guard.

Four Oklahoma National Guardsmen have been killed in the last week in Iraq and Afghanistan, and of course we suffered an incredible blow earlier this month when a helicopter full of Navy SEALS was shot down.

This has been a stressful time for her, as her sister is also serving in Afghanistan. Now, my friend is faced not only with the uncertainly of her sister and husband’s welfare, she has to somehow find a job that will help her family put food on the table.

It hurt my heart to find out tonight that this fabulous teacher was pushed out for purely political reasons (and she knew that it might happen — all year she’d been saying “I could lose my job for doing the right thing.”). I am seriously considering rallying to her defense, and putting as much pressure as I can on the school board to find her a position, but you know what the worst part is? She can’t talk to her husband about it. He’s a million miles away in some desert, ensuring that our kids even GET an education.

When I found out she hadn’t been offered her job back, my heart ached. But when I imagined the pain she must be enduring from having to go it alone — without even being able to discuss with her best friend how her legs had been cut from under her — I couldn’t help but tearing up.

She’s the kind who will be OK. She’ll land on her feet, and someday she’ll see this as a blessing, just like every other obstacle in her life.

But right now it must hurt so bad.

So for her, go kiss your best friend — hopefully it’s the one you’re married to, living with, in a facebook relationship with. Imagine how you’d live your life without their advice and hugs. Imagine what she must be going through alone.

Imagine it and be glad it’s not you, and pay it forward with a hug, a kiss, a kind word, a supportive note, a helpful call.

She doesn’t get that luxury.

The storm a-brewin’ …

9 Aug

Well, OK, technically it brewed previously, but that’s the only title I could think of, because I SUCK AT HEADLINES. On my resume it should say, “Reliable and hard-working, but no headlines, please.”
So this crazy wind storm kicked up tonight, trapping me in the JB building (not the BJ building — that’s a story for another time). I looked out and it was getting dark at 7 p.m., so I opened up the doors to find the acrid smell of a grass fire (not unlike what the organic burning material Satan will foreshadow the apocalypse with) and wind blowing so hard that there were metal barrels and drywall soaring around in the air.
As with any good Oklahoma storm, limbs were cracked, roofs were torn off, and my power JUST went off.
Now I feel like a live blogger.
So I’m home alone at nearly midnight because Billy is working late, and I have no power, an NO clue where some candles might be. I don’t even thing I OWN any candles.
The light from this laptop is the only thing I’ve got going for me.
So I guess it’s time to go find an alternate power source. Damn. I hope I’m not horribly murdered in the middle of the night as in so many cheap horror movies. I hope Billy get home soon. I hope it’s OK that I let in the muddy dog. It better be — he’s my best chance at survival at this point!