Thursday, January 28, 2010

LIFE TIP #10 - THROUGH - Make it your favorite preposition today.

You could go around it. Go under it. Get over it. You could get into it for hours and then find you want to get out of it.

I've tried them all. In fact, that may be why, as an English teacher, my favorite lesson of all time was teaching prepositions. These aren't just WORDS, people. They're defense mechanisms. And I am a master at all of them.

But like bell bottoms and jellies and black eyeliner and big hair (oh wait.) those things are slowly losing their place in my life. (I am sorry I have held on to the big hair so long. It's just who I am.)

Nothing profound. Nothing new. No advice. Just a healthy review of what works best. And it's in the simple tasks that this is practiced - like the past two days when my trainer has asked me to do lunges. I hate lunges. If me and lunges got into a fight, lunges would die a long, painful, gory death. But I keep doing them. And they're getting easier. I still hate them, and it always takes me a few minutes to get my form right, but I am doing them.

I'm not much of a talker though, so through is hard because it requires initiating conversations about feelings. And, news flash, gentlemen, not all women want to talk about their feelings. In GET OVER IT families, you're bred to do anything BUT talk about your feelings. But I think I'm going to start practicing.

I don't hate talking as much as I hate lunges, so maybe if I just focus on putting one word in front of the other . . . .

Wednesday, January 20, 2010



There's a strength of character that spurs a person to speak up and voice an opinion, and those issues that divide a people are the same issues that bind them together. Ideologies may differ, but the steady stream of communication that they spawn tell us that the state of our country is strong - that people are not complacent logs who sit comfortably in the fire. The conversations that most people avoid at all costs are the ones that once helped found a strong nation - one where everyone was entitled to an opinion with each person granted the right to stand by his convictions and be respected for it.

And today, while I breathe more comfortably because the course of the country has been altered, others are worried by the very same thing. What can give us ease is the fact that, while we may sit on different sides of the field, when the time comes, we are willing to play the game.
And, if we stand by our convictions and stay informed, our kids will carry on in the same vein, continuing to honor the rights given to us by those who came, fought, and died before us. And by those who are doing it still . . .

Tuesday, January 19, 2010



I am supposed to be working right now, but I've not been able to get this one out of my mind since I hopped off the treadmill last night. Spoke to two of my kindred spirits yesterday, and aside from the fact that hearing their voices greatly improved my day, there was a resounding theme in what each of them said. To be short - they both said "when" to someone in their lives.

You know how it is. We talk and talk and talk and basically say nothing of substance until someone stomps on the boundaries of our lives and then it's whoa Nelly. Or is it? How many of us really - REALLY - say we've had enough when we have? Yeah, yeah, forgiveness and all that - I get it, but sometimes I think people use forgiveness as a cop out.
"I choose to forgive" = "I choose to not engage."
So, which one is better? Does one method get you further than the other?

I think it's a game of degrees, and here are mine:

- Irritating
- Pushing It
- Acting Wrong
- Just Plain Wrong
- Making Me Seriously Tired of Your Shit
- Possibly a Violation of the Constitution or the Ten Commandments or both.

And looking at those, I get verbal between Just Plain Wrong and Tired of Your Shit. And because I am willing to overlook the first three levels, I usually do so with no regrets.

But hey, get this. I just had this thought. There is also parallel rating system that could possibly exist in conjunction with the first on a LOGIC level. It's an IF/THEN relationship.
Wow. Check it . . .

- Random Stranger
- Friend or Acquaintance
- Family Member You Don't See Except at Major Holidays and Maybe Not Even Then
- Family Member Who Knows Better
- Spouse or Parent



Of course, I've left out the actions because I am short on time and I'm kind of masochistic about punishment anyway, but can you imagine the possibilities? It's better than the possible drink combinations at Sonic.

I know there are gentler souls than I. But I maintain that "gentle" is a word they prescribe for themselves. "Chicken" is the word I prescribe to them. As of yesterday, there are two less chickens in my circle of friends. I'm no geologic expert, but I know a lot about pressure, and I think they can consider these some of the healthiest eruptions ever.

Congratulations to you . . . my friends, kindred spirits, and muses. IF you were near, THEN I would hug you. And I'd make it a DO LOOP.

Disclaimer: If you did not take FORTRAN or COBOL in college, you might be lost. Deal with it.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Life Tip #7

This life tip comes to you at the request of my sweet cousin, Britt. I thought about it for a week or so before I jumped in. See, I struggled with this issue for many years - even wrote my first 10,000 word theme on it in college - "Ralph Waldo Emerson - Analysis of 'On Self-Reliance.'" And it's been such a important theme in my life that I still have that paper and I refer to it once in a while. Here's why . . .

Emerson said something about this subject that scared me. Not in a BOO sort of way - more like a haunting. For anytime I think about what he said about following your dreams, my heart races, and I think protectively of the songs, stories, thoughts, and hints of books I've written. I think of all those thoughts - all those ideas that came from my head - indeed, my heart, and I worry for them because they have not been validated in the way I writer does of their works - they have not been published. Here's what he said - and a disclaimer here - I never said I was going to make you laugh all the time when I started this - in fact, I've been trying to make you think the whole time. That I've been funny is just a bonus.

He said,

"To believe your own thought, to believe that what is true for you in your private heart is true for all men, that is genius. Speak your latent conviction, and it shall be the universal sense; for the inmost in due time becomes the outmost, and our first thought is rendered back to us by the trumpets of the Last Judgment. Familiar as the voice of the mind is to each, the highest merit we ascribe to Moses, Plato, and Milton is, that they set at naught books and traditions, and spoke not what men but what they thought. A man should learn to detect and watch that gleam of light which flashes across his mind from within, more than the lustre of the firmament of bards and sages. Yet he dismisses without notice his thought, because it is his. In every work of genius we recognize our own rejected thoughts: they come back to us with a certain alienated majesty. Great works of art have no more affecting lesson for us than this. They teach us to abide by our spontaneous impression with good-humored inflexibility then most when the whole cry of voices is on the other side. Else, to-morrow a stranger will say with masterly good sense precisely what we have thought and felt all the time, and we shall be forced to take with shame our own opinion from another."

There. There it is. Each line is a knife slicing through the coldest of northern winds. Read it again slowly. Pay attention to what he is saying to you. This is not a person who was trying to be clever or mysterious in his writings. He's not trying to lead you down a convoluted path before he gives you the point. He tells you - those ideas, that "gleam of light" that "flashes . . .from within," - that's not something to ignore. These bards he speaks of - they were not more special than you or I - they were only more determined to say what everyone else was already thinking and they had the ability to do so in an artful way. The torturous part to me and to all writers is the last line - that tomorrow someone will say those words we've held at the tip of our tongues - in the recesses of our diaries and journals and minds - and we will have to accept our own idea from another like a stolen recipe at a family reunion.

Okay, I'll stop for a minute with the literature. I'll just say this was a huge influence on me and how I lived from the ages of 19 to 27. Self-reliance was paramount and Emerson's words were a constant stream of literary fuel. Like many of the women I know, I took great pride in getting through school on my own, living on my own, and thinking for myself. I never was much of a team player anyway - too bossy - so this life suited me fine.

And then I got married.

All you married folk are laughing now, aren't you? Doesn't work quite the same, does it? I wonder how long it took for some of you before the last brick came down. For you young, spry, singular-minded green shoots, the point is this - the idea of self-reliance will change depending on the over-arching goals in your life. It was never my goal to lose my self-reliance. In fact, it was never my goal to get married. It's one thing to fall in love and an entirely different thing to fall in love and sync with someone. That's what happened to me. God sent me a soul mate, and my life made sense for the second time in a different way. Then the fighting began.
And we fought.
And fought.
And fought.
But when I think of it now, I realize I was the only one fighting. He was just living out our vows.

You young girls listen: You get married and it's no longer all about you. This is shocking to the system. And it's not about freedom or getting to do all the things you did on your own. It's about developing that part of yourself that is undeveloped. Sure, you can change a car battery and plan your own vacations and keep a plant alive (most of it, anyway), but do you know how to let your guard down and let someone love you? It's harder than they make it look in the movies. I've never been held back by my husband, but I have struggled against him. See, when you're in love, the other person wants to know what makes you tick. And us self-reliant women have never had to explain that to anyone. We just are who we are. Or are we?

Love has meant looking him in the eye and explaining what drives me. Explaining that, yes, the treadmill is so big it takes up half the room, but I need it for my sanity. Admitting that I really hate someone reading over my shoulder because writing is such a sacred thing to me. Telling him that my life is so perfect, I'm afraid all the time that something will ruin it.

I can't even say that it means the same thing when you're in a committed relationship. I mean, I want to be self-reliant in the "let-me-rearrange-the-furniture-and-don't-tell-me-it-won't-work" sort of way, but do I really want to change my own battery? No.

Tell you what I want to do - I want to make that period of my life part of my wisdom cache. I want to be able to draw from it when my girls are teenagers facing peer pressure. I want to use it when they're in college and going through heart breaks and tough times. I want to remember it when I'm doing an 8.0 incline at 3.4 miles per hour and I'm not sure how much longer I can keep it up.

Maybe I'm too young to be nostalgic, but that's where I am. And it's a good place to be when you watch your little girl struggling to cut in a straight line, her hair falling in her face and the tip of her tongue peeking out of the corner of her mouth in that determined way - looking just like her dad when he's deep in thought. I sit and watch her and daydream about the kind of young woman she's going to be, and I wonder how long it will be before I can start reading her Emerson . . .

For Britt, in celebration of who you are and where you are. But mostly in celebration of where you're going to go . . .

Monday, January 11, 2010


Now, this sounds a whole lot more simple than it actually is. Hmmmm. I'm thinking this might work better if I change the tip . . . .

That's better. I just had a flashback to my assistant principal days, and I remembered there was really never a proper moment to just take a walk. Sometimes, I would walk the perimeter of the building with the intent of clearing my mind, and then I'd inevitably run into the lovely little couple sneaking kisses next to the soda machines or the teacher running out to his car "just real quick" while his kids monitored themselves (poorly). So, walk always turned to work. Fights were actually the best time for a quiet stroll. I always went after the runner (i.e. the emotional boy who ran because he actually wanted to cry). And I'd just catch up and walk with them in silence until they ran out of steam and started to talk. Incidentally, it's one of the best therapies for junior high kids. Walking and talking. Where was I?

So, yes, "changing your scenery" is an easier term to swallow. And doing it is so much more necessary than I realized. I always talk about going for a walk at work, but the other day, I just quit the jabbering and did it. I put on my coat, said, "I'll be back," and headed for the elevators. I was just tired of staring at numbers, tired of the sound of the heater and the phones, and a cup of coffee just wasn't going to do it that day. I'm not going to lie and tell you the minute I stepped outside, the fresh air rejuvenated me. It didn't happen that way. I work in downtown Houston, so the first thing I noticed when I stepped out into the sunlight a la Ponyboy Curtis was the rank smell of pee. Not urine. Urine is in hospitals. Pee is what people do in places they shouldn't. "I peed my pants." Get it? So, yes, cold, pee-smelling air. Definitely a change of scenery.

But I walked on, and I knew where I was headed. There's the Christ Church Cathedral across Fannin from my office, so I headed down Texas meaning to go sit in the courtyard below.
Lovely, isn't it? We have lunch here some Thursdays. A local restaurant, Treebeards, sets up a satellite restaurant there throughout the week, and it's a big hit.

I didn't sit because it was too cold, and I'd only been walking for 47 seconds at that point. So, I moved along. A turn around the next corner brought me to Prairie, and soon I was in sight of this. Zoom in and you'll see the Hubcap Grill - lauded as one of the best burger joints in town. We've been. Being a burger connoisseur, I'll concede they make some pretty damned good burgers, but the drink selection sucks. They don't make ice. What you get is a bottle or can of whatever, and that doesn't work for me. Also, there are maybe three tables - plastic - with plastic chairs. And two of them are outside. The other one is in what I can best describe as a lean-to. Your best bet is to call it in and pick it up. I'm not really eating burgers right now, so I moved along.

I don't have a shot of the next scene because I couldn't have gotten away with snapping photos of strangers talking, so I just walked slowly and listened while an electrician explained to someone who had asked him for directions how to get to I-45. Made me laugh. We are the direction-givingest people on the planet, us Houstonians. Contrary to what you may hear, most people in Houston are pretty friendly. If we meet you on the street, most of us smile. If we meet you on a freeway during rush hour traffic, we smile as we cut you off. A friendly lot. A wot. Wot-wot. (I won't explain that one. You know it or you don't)

The next scene was a downtown resident who had his sweatpants rolled up to his knees and who obviously felt a chill, so he stopped to unroll them and to tuck in the most wrinkled tee-shirt I've ever seen before he walked into Molly's Pub. I smiled at the clerk in the cigar shop as I passed him, glared at no one in particular as I passed the worst Italian restaurant in Houston, located uselessly in my building and back to the elevators I went. Took me 10 minutes tops.

Did it it work? Yes, and I'll tell you why. I didn't go for a walk to ponder my life and ruminate on a colossal problem. I didn't go it because I needed to be alone or because if I didn't, someone in the office was going to die a brutal, bloody death at my hands, I did it just because my eyes were tired of seeing the same thing, and my legs were restless.

There's a bookstore four blocks from my office and a Starbucks across the street from that. Tomorrow's scenery has already improved and it wasn't even trying . . .


Don't take this one personally. I haven't seen your pajamas, and I'm not judging them. It just occurred to me that I spend and inordinate amount of time worrying about Emma's and Ava's pajamas. Are they clean? Are they warm enough? Why are they in the kitchen?

And since I invested my time in a lazy Sunday yesterday, I should have been able to say "I didn't get out of my pajamas until 5PM." In fact, I DID say that. I did.

And it was a LIE.
I don't even own pajamas.

But what was I going to say? I didn't get out of my blue elastic waistband pants that I bought at Ross 8 years ago and the mustard yellow top I bought at Academy who knows when? It doesn't GO, I tell you. They're bum clothes. Clothes that are ugly but comfortable. Let me try that: "I didn't get out of my ugly clothes until 5 PM." It works, but it just doesn't say "comfort." It makes me imagine someone with dirty hair and jelly stains on their shirt.

So, I'm on a mission. I'm going to buy pajamas. I'm going to buy silk pajamas actually. (Raising my own ante here because I'm crazy like that.) If someone asks me what I'm doing this weekend. I'm going to say, "I'm buying pajamas because I deserve them, damnit, now get outta my way." And before you start worrying about my poor husband, don't. I HAVE lingerie. I never said anything about that, but I know how you are, and I know where your mind goes. I said I don't have PAJAMAS. Lord.

So, if you are like me and spend all your time worrying about how everyone else is clothed for bedtime, perhaps you, too should make the leap into the Nighty-Nite section of your local department store. I'm doing it because I just can't be that person anymore. I can no longer abide the lie.

My name is Michelle, and I don't have pajamas.

"Hello, Michelle . . . "

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Life Tip #5


Write to someone this week. Anyone. Just write something - a haiku or a poem or a dirty joke. Put it in the mail. Repeat as many times as you can to as many people as you can.
I'm going to write to my brother, Mark, in Iraq. So, I know you'll understand I need to reserve any further words for him . . .
God Bless Our Troops and Go Cowboys.

Thursday, January 7, 2010



This is a commercial break life tip session, so pardon my brevity and any typos.
Yes, I'm currently do as most of you are doing, watching a stunned freshman from UT try to fill some pretty big shoes. And I'm rooting for him. I think even Alabama fans grew an immediate soft spot for Mr. Gilbert, whose last minute failed hand-off before the half cost the Longhorns a senseless touchdown. I won't make any predictions. I try to never do that in football because I hate to be wrong. (Except for some odd reason, I can ALWAYS tell you when Romo is going to run it in himself, but he and I have always been tight like that.)

So, this sudden change in game plans got me thinking while I grudgingly did the evening dishes. Back up plans. Who has them? I've grown increasingly interested in them, partly because of how far Brock and I have come together in terms of becoming masters of our finances and because my job calls for it. There is nothing in pipeline logistics that allows a shoot from the hip mentality.

But enough with boring examples. Let's imagine you're in a bad relationship with your boyfriend. He's a loser, he doesn't respect you, and you recently discovered he's been cheating on you with . . . let's say with everyone. (It's my story, and I can do what I want to do, and I say he's an ass.) Okay, so do you have a back up plan? Did you consider the idea that he could stray? Yes? Good.

Okay, so your back up plan is to maim him. Got it. A little extreme, but this is all hypothetical, so I can help you refine your plan without being named as an accomplice. Okay, so do you have your torture method of choice? I'm no expert, but it seems to be the gunshot wound has been very popular over the years. At least that's what I read in the City and State section of our local paper. That's a good back up plan, but I think there are some definite holes you need to fill. For instance, what if you're a poor shot? What if you only have one bullet, and you only managed to graze his ear? These are the things you need to consider. I wouldn't go so far as to put your plan on paper - you know, premeditation isn't smiled upon in civilian courts . . .

But seriously, real back up plans for real people involve things like retirement savings, money market accounts, plenty of life insurance and a will. If you don't even have one of these already in the works, you don't have much of a plan for anything. I'll tell you why I didn't have them before I did - it just seemed like something OTHER people did. It seemed like it would be hard to do. The truth is, if you have a trustworthy person guiding you through the process, none of it is hard. The important thing is to take that first step and don't stop stepping until you've got all your bases covered. The peace of mind is worth it.

When I think of where Brock and I started financially, I sometimes think a magic unicorn must have worked on our lives overnight and gotten them straight. Then one night I discovered that Brock had a unicorn hat that he put on after I'd gone to bed each night because he's had this life long fantasy of BEING a unicorn. Tell you what, I thought twice about getting up to pee after I saw that.

A back up plan means that you're going to have to put some thought into where your life is going and then make a plan for what you will do if the unexpected happens. I won't say it's fun, and you're going to kick yourself repeatedly once you actually get some of these things going and find out how easy it was all along. And if you don't kick yourself, I'll be your back up plan. I've got a unicorn in the house with some mad hooves . . .

Go Texas.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010



I wonder how he's going to get out of this one. 8 times is not like he ambiguously alluded to the wisp of an idea on a foggy mountain cap in Nepal that he may or may not consider the feasibility of possibly televising negotiations on an unnamed network.

I wonder sometimes as I sit and watch the numerable gaffes of this junior high administration who else thinks about this stuff. Is it possible that some people go through their days without ever thinking about the country at all? Seems crazy to me, but I'm sure it's true. People get busy, their lives are full, and when they have a minute, online shopping is probably more entertaining than the Reuters news site. (And you know, I may have just found the reason for the slim pickings in my closet. Buy something to read or buy clothes? If you know me, you know my bookshelf wins almost every time.) Ah, but how great this country would be if we all exercised our right to think . . . to engage in the discourse about the direction of our great nation . . .

But I digress. I offered a variety of possible topics yesterday for today, and since it's a busy day, I'll just do a literary potpourri. (How awful is that word? Never liked it.)

Why I Don't Straighten My Hair

It takes too long and it's going to curl anyway and it makes my hand hurt.

Then end.

Why You Should Never Befriend a Possum

They get comfortable and eat through the floor in your largely unused closet from under your dilapidated house, build a nest out of your shoes and proceed to birth little, comfortable possums.

As presumptuous as this sounds, it's not really the problem. Sure, my aunt Sandra and I screamed and carried on as you would expect us to do when we decided to make use of my closet, but I'll tell you what, it's the defense mechanism of these fat-tailed nuisances that really gets my goat. For as much as we hollered (do Mexicans truly holler? No, it's just a word I use for effect), that mama possum never budged. And here's why you never befriend a possum:
no te pueden tirar esquina.

That's it. Oh. Translate it? Damn. It doesn't translate well, but I'll paraphrase. If you get into a bind, and your possum is your only friend, you're screwed. Because once they scare, they're pretty much as helpful as an ice sculpture. Have you ever scared a possum? I guardedly say I have many times, and while these are stories for another day, the point is this - they freeze. You can stand on your head and cry or throw rocks or toasters or shoes. They. Won't. Move.

Which, in the Case of the Birthing Closet, was an unfortunate thing. It's MUCH easier to be calloused about chasing down an elusive critter. But when they just kind of look up at you with long eyelashes and pink noses, your own survival instincts peter out. And I'm not the authority on the long eyelashes thing. I saw a caricature in a book of a possum once, and the long eyelashes stuck with me. Even so, my uncle Mike has never been one to shirk from the responsibility of protecting me or defying my aunt, so he dutifully collected the offensive, flea-ridden things and even though I know what he did with them, I'm not going to say because even I have a heart and at some point, this tale may end up in the hands of PETA. So, the alternate ending is that he released them into the wild . . .
The moral of the story is when you go looking for a new friend, try a llama or a gerbil.

Why not people?

Because in the sad world that is today, people just might promise you they're going to do something 8 TIMES on national TV and then change their minds . . .

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Mexican Tip of the Day #1


This one comes from the heart because I've done it on and off for years now. I'm a working wife and mother. I put in my 40 hours like many others, and my mornings are hectic and never quite as I imagine them in my ever-distracted mind. Neither is dinner for that matter. Or weekends. And it's because all too often, I use being tired as an excuse. It worked for a while, and local restaurants were grateful. However, last week, I learned that what I was lacking was not energy. It was motivation. And my husband unwittingly gave me that motivation last week.

For some odd reason, I decided to buy some fresh chicken and put it in the crock pot for the next day. Threw in some carrots and potatoes, salt and pepper and stuck the whole thing in the fridge till the following morning. Brock was surprised when he saw it but only said "Cool." Smart guy. He had reason to be cautiously optimistic as my culinary follow-through has been sketchy at best.

This was so out of character for me that I completely forgot I'd done it till we walked in that night. He'd forgotten too, but we thoroughly enjoyed the hot and hearty meal on that cold, rainy night. To express how appreciative he was, Brock innocently said, "Damn. I feel married!"

Pause here.

That's what he said.

Now, while some of you are cussing right now, getting all indignant in Comadre-ville, I want you to stop for a moment. I was not offended. I was not upset. I did not fly into a rage or become of puddle of tears. I was stilled. And sad. My husband was excited about a hot meal that took me ten minutes to prepare.

I hear you still mouthing. "Girl, doesn't he know you WORK?" "He knows where the kitchen is, doesn't he?" I hear you, but see, I have these mental images in my head - photographs my mind took of him over the years. Sit down. I want to show them to you . . .

Look at this one. This is Brock at our old house on Arnim surprising me with new paint in the restroom in the exact shade I wanted. And here's Brock installing crown molding in our first baby's room, and painting the walls in the most delicate shade of yellow pearl. Oh, look at this one. This is Brock tiling our entry way in the slate I wanted. And here he is assembling my behemoth of a treadmill in hopes of surprising me with it. Here he is pulling up carpet and treating the concrete in both girls' rooms and our bedroom. Oh, here's one of him coughing up a lung because he spent too much time inside while he was painting the floors. Here he is installing all the new ceiling fans in the house, replacing doorknobs, and installing hardware on all our kitchen cabinets. On this day, he's building a shed in our backyard. No kit. From the ground up. On this day, he's changing the faucets in all the restrooms and the kitchen. And here he is, giving me heart attack upon heart attack while he expertly and fearlessly changes all the lights in our restrooms.

I mean, really. How unappreciative have I been over the years to a man who never really needs anyone to motivate him to be a good husband? I feel married everyday. He feels married when I feed him. It's comical how simple life really is and how silly it is to even attempt to make excuses for not trying hard enough. Especially since it's not like the stove and I have not been formally introduced. I can cook. I love to bake. And I even collect cookbooks. I just don't regularly use them.

So, since that day, I've been making a real effort, and I've found that I'm not only not tired, I love being in the kitchen. I mean, I've cooked in the past, but not everyday. And now I'm trying to make sure we're all properly fed at every meal. And I think he's going to wonder how long it will last until it becomes the rule rather than the exception.

There's a Japanese proverb, "All married women are not wives." And I agree. I've been married and have stayed married, and intend to always be married. But I have not been a wife all of the time. And last week I learned that a successful wife is skilled not in everything, but is, instead, well-versed and committed to the basics. In some of the basics, I am an honor student, but in others, I could surely benefit from some remedial courses.

So, here I am in Use Your Damned Kitchen 101. And I intend to graduate. With honors.