Thursday, February 3, 2011

The Happiest &^$*ing Place on Earth

We just returned from a four-day Disneyland extravaganza. I know, that sounds like a good thing, but in reality, we managed to traumatize two of our children within the first twenty minutes of being in the park, and they didn't recover until the very last day of our trip.

For those of you who have never experienced the kind of lapse in judgment that allows you to justify spending loads of money for the purposes of hopefully seeing a giant mouse in person, let me tell you a little about Disneyland. Disneyland is a wonderful place, full of happiness, and fairies, and fun themed rides which seem like a really good idea when you are waiting in the giant rat mazes for your turn, but which actually contain all of the elements needed to cause your small children to need therapy for the rest of their lives. For example, Matt and I entered the Happiest Place on Earth with our three children in tow, and headed straight for Space Mountain. We spent the next fifteen minutes talking up the kids about how much fun they were going to have, and that it would be just like riding a rocket into space.

I'm surprised Child Protective Services weren't waiting at the ride exit so they could remove our two weeping children directly from our evil clutches and place them with more appropriate parents, such as Charles Manson or Britney Spears. Of course, Maggie loved it, because she's adventurous and not afraid of space monsters or the dark. Luke and Ella, on the other hand, had experienced every phobia-inducing thing possible in the space of two minutes. Finally, after three days of trying to talk them down off a ledge every time we tried to take them on a ride, they gave in and went with us on Pirates of the Caribbean, which they both loved, and the Haunted Mansion which Ella loved but during which Luke never once opened his eyes.

So, as the seasoned Disney traveller that I am, I offer up my top tips for travelling to the Happiest Place on Earth and returning with as much money and as many of your children as possible.

Tip #1: Start Small.

If you have small children, it's best to ease them into the whole Disney Experience. Sure, on the outside it's all colorful and happy and whimsical, but lurking behind that polished exterior is a seedy underworld of terror-inducing items such as Yetis and bats and giant snakes and falling rocks and annoying singing dolls who bear a striking resemblance to Chucky. Instead of heading straight for the Space Mountain of Fear, you may instead want to opt for something more calming, like unanesthetized fingernail removal or It's A Small World. After you have gone on several of the inane rides in Fantasyland such as Pinocchio's Journey, Snow White's Journey, Peter Pan's Journey, and That Caterpillar from Some Movie I Forget Right Now's Journey, you can amp it up a little bit and head for the really fun stuff that will cause you to wonder why you ever thought strapping yourself to a roller coaster car operated by a guy in leiderhosen was a good idea.

Tip #2: Bring Lots of Money.

Lets face it, folks...all of that Officially Licensed Happiness (TM) isn't free. In fact, Disneyland is like the grocery checkout aisle on steroids: every ride you go on ends with a fun-filled walk through a themed gift shop that contains the one perfect thing that your child has to have or they will spend the rest of their existence in a grief-induced state of catatonia. In what I thought was a flash of brilliance not seen since Einstein wrote his Theory of Relativity, I informed the children immediately upon landing in California that they would not be allowed to purchase any souvenirs until we were ready to leave Disneyland on the last day. That way, I argued, they could peruse all that the marketing geniuses had to offer and they wouldn't find something else to purchase five seconds after they bought, wore and destroyed whatever souvenir they felt they couldn't live without. This had the effect of limiting the instances of pleading for items to the minimum allowed by Disney Law, which is 15 per child, per day, not including pleading for cotton candy or churros.

Food is also expensive. My husband made a good observation, for which I will give him credit to get him off my back about me always having to be right. When you are in, near, or within 50 miles of Disneyland, it is impossible to feed a family of 5 for less than $50. Impossible. Pizza in Downtown Disney? $75.00. McDonalds "Extra Value Meals?" $50.00. Mouse-shaped ice cream bars and frozen bananas on sticks? AT LEAST $50.00. Sure, we had all of these plans to save money...we agreed to never eat in the park because eating in the park is for dummies and we are seasoned non-dummy travelers who would never succumb to paying $10 for an officially licensed corn dog just to get the kids to shut up. But no matter where we ate, it was at least $50, especially if I needed a glass of wine for medicinal purposes, which of course I did. Which brings me to my next tip.

Tip #3: Millie's Restaurant Sucks Hairy Man Parts.

For those of you who have never had the extreme intestinal discomfort-inducing misfortune of dining at Millie's, let me give you an overview. Millie's is a "classic American restaurant" conveniently located about a block from the main gate of Disneyland. It's cute from the outside, and looks as if you could at least enjoy a comfortably mediocre meal for $50, which is what I promise you would spend even if you were eating a meal composed mainly of the sauce packets at Taco Bell.

Looks are deceiving. In fact, Millie's is like the angler fish of restaurants: they lure you in with the homey decor, and proceed to feed you food of such epic badness that it defies all culinary rules and the laws of physics. For example, my breakfast was simultaneously burned to a crisp and cold, and portions of it still appeared to be raw. Matt's breakfast was the consistency of wallpaper paste but not nearly as appealing. Luke declared it to be the worst food he's ever had, and this is coming from a boy who routinely dines on candy he finds on the floor and Pillsbury Toaster Scrambles for breakfast and says they are the BEST things he's ever eaten. I actually began to feel the moral obligation to stand outside of Millie's Kitchen of Hell and warn prospective patrons that they would be better off eating selections from the dumpster behind McDonald's.

But, we restrained ourselves so we could return to the Happiest Place on Earth to procure several thousand dollars worth of souvenirs that the children will forget about when we return home. Matt declared that Millie's was the best $50 he ever spent. I'm pretty sure he was kidding.

Tip #4: Avoid Disney Hotels.

I'm not saying this because they are horribly over-priced and not worth it...I'm saying this because if you go into one, you will immediately experience extreme room-envy and the perfectly fine hotel room you rented for quite a bit less money will now begin to seem like the honeymoon suite at a roach motel where they rent you sheets by the hour. My brother-in-law secured a suite at the Grand Californian, which is the mother of all Disney hotels, and the children got to spend the night with him. I'm surprised they came back to stay with us at all, especially after the Space Mountain Incident. The Grand Californian is beautiful and stunning and full of Disney themed whimsy and I got the distinct impression that they had secret wallet-scanning devices implanted in the decorative plants to determine whether you could, in fact, afford to be in the lobby.

But really, we enjoyed our off-site hotel, especially since it allowed us to save several hundred dollars that we could use to buy food, which turns out to be the most expensive thing you will purchase at Disneyland, except possibly for those pictures they take of you when you are concluding your ride experiences and where the G-forces cause your face look as if you are being actively launched into space. In fact, my children were so enthralled by the pirate-themed spray park at our hotel that they kept asking to go swimming instead of going to Disneyland. Perhaps next time we'll just go stay near Disneyland and swim and watch the fireworks over the giant wall o' Happiness thus saving the $1000 in park-hopper passes so we can afford to eat dinner.

Tip #5: Go in the Winter.

If you're like me, you have a reaction to being in large crowds that causes you to want to punch people you don't even know, especially if they walk on the wrong side of the street and bump into you a lot. Unfortunately, this behavior is not looked upon with favor at most of your major attractions, so you have to either learn to control yourself or go to those attractions during times when your typical Disneyland patron is doing more important things, like working or attending school. So, you should really aim for heading to Disneyland during the hours of 9 a.m to 3 p.m. on a Tuesday in the middle of January, as long as there's a full moon and it's raining. Really, that's about the only time you'll be able to go to Disneyland and not have half of Southern California standing in line in front of you, waiting for the opportunity to terrorize their children on Space Mountain. I also heard that Superbowl Sunday is a good time to go, since most of the nation will be at home watching Superbowl commercials and enjoying the game in the form of drinking beer and eating vile chili-cheese dip made with Velveeta.

If you attend Disney's California Adventure during one of the other, less desirable times, you can make your experience better by sending your kids in by themselves to wait in line while you excuse yourself to another sector of the park where you can drink $11.50 Disney themed cocktails in peace like civilized people. Then, when the time is right, push your way through the thousands of people who have since lined up behind your children so that you can join them on the ride. At least, that's what I saw a lot of parents doing while I was standing in line with my children like a good parent.

So, there you have it. My top five tips for travelling to Disneyland, the Happiest Place on Earth, a place where, if you wish upon an official Disney-licensed Star (Patent Pending) your dreams really do come true.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Put the pedal to the metal

I have several friends who are embarking on an entirely new phase of their lives; one fraught with emotion, terror and even peril. Almost everyone I know, save a few, have had to reconsider their lives, make significant changes, and bite the bullet even though they are scared to death.

No, I'm not talking about getting divorced. I'm talking about their kids getting drivers' licenses.

Most of these friends have made sure that when their child turns 16, there is a car available for them to drive to school, drive to the store, and drive them home when they have too much to drink at my house. Unfortunately, several of these cars have since been wrecked. I, on the other hand, didn't have my own car until I was 23, and that was a present from my parents after my college graduation. When I turned 16, my parents gave me a sewing machine, presumably on the theory that it had a pedal just like a car, but cost less to insure. This was just one of the many reasons I was vastly unpopular in high school.

Now a days, it seems like everyone in high school over the age of 16 has a car. I suppose this is why I think kids today are too soft. Whatever happened to riding the bus? I grew up having to wait at the end of Eastwood Court, braving the sub-zero temperatures with my legs encased in hideous acid-wash jeans, my bubble-gum pink lips freezing to my braces, trying desperately to avoid any moose-related encounters. You can imagine that I was pretty keen on learning to drive. I begged my parents to teach me to drive. My dad successfully avoided teaching me for several months, based on the lame excuse that the roads were covered in ice and snow and it was going to be at least four months until break-up, which was the Alaskan word for springtime. I eventually pointed out in June that all of the ice was off the roads, and had been for a couple of months. I also mentioned that, despite his concerns, a freak summer snow storm hadn't happened in recorded history in Anchorage. So, my dad gathered all his available courage and took me out in his brown Chevy sedan.

Learning to drive the Chevy was a very difficult task, mainly due to a surprise mystery feature of being required to turn the steering wheel at least five full rotations before the steering column would engage. It was like a scene out of one of those terrible police-oriented TV shows where the driver moves the steering wheel back and forth like a maniac but the car doesn't actually swerve. You just never knew when the car would suddenly catch up with the steering wheel, which caused me some concern.

When my father and I would go out for a leisurely driving lesson, he calmly reminded me of various driving hazards while gripping the door handle with such ferocity that he left permanent hand prints in the pleather. I was a timid driver, and my ultimate driving challenge was making a left turn across two lanes of traffic so that I could go to the local mall to purchase more hideous acid-wash jeans and watch movies featuring Tom Cruise in his cool phase before he went Scientologist and started jumping on couches. I would wait in the middle lane, patiently looking for my opportunity to turn, namely, that moment when there was no visible traffic approaching me within four miles, and which rarely happens during the daylight hours. While I was waiting for my chance, other less cautious drivers would begin to accumulate behind me, and my father, in an effort to be helpful, would gently encourage me to apply my foot to the gas in the form of yelling "GO GO GO GO" at the top of his lungs. Of course I immediately closed my eyes and obliged, blindly spinning the steering wheel and accelerating from 0 to 60 in 1.3 seconds, which was unwise inasmuch as the parking lot had a speed limit of 15 miles per hour.

My mother, God love her, was not any better of a teacher. She spent the entire time I was driving pointing out the window and saying "Curb. Curb. Stop sign. Curb. Pedestrian. Moose," in a calm voice. Also, she was a speed Nazi. If I went half a mile an hour over the speed limit, she'd yell at me. This is somewhat ironic since my father has had to activate the speed alarm on moms BMW in order to prevent her from getting so many speeding tickets that they'll stop fining her and send her straight to the electric chair. But back then, she was a real stickler for the speed limit, and to this day whenever I drive anywhere with her I watch my speed, lest she take away my driving privileges for good.

Finally, I was initiated into the mysterious world of parallel parking. In order to pass my driving test, I had three chances to parallel park the car. So, my dad went out and put a couple of obstacles in the road a car length apart and tried to show me how to wedge the car between them, in an apparent violation of the laws of physics. I carefully pulled up along side the first obstacle, which I think was a trash can, put on my blinker to alert traffic that I was parking, and then began turning the wheel frantically, hoping the car would turn eventually. I then carefully applied my foot to the accelerator, and proceeded to slowly drive over the top of and crush the rear trash can while taking out the front trash can with the bumper of the car.

After approximately 426,330 repeated attempts, I finally managed to park the car without further damaging my fathers trash cans. I was ready. Once my parents decided that I had all the training I was going to get, they took me down to the DMV and I took my road test. I had been preparing for this one moment for the past three years of my life, and I passed with flying colors. It only took me two tries to parallel park, and I didn't injure any pedestrians.

Unfortunately, my excitement was short lived, since I didn't have a car and couldn't very well drive my sewing machine to school. I bargained with my parents to let me drive to school on the occasional Friday, as long as there was not a full moon and the Friday occurred in a month that didn't end in an R. Even after we moved to Oregon, which didn't involve driving in ice and snow, I still didn't have a car. I upgraded my sewing machine to a bike, and rode to my college classes daily through wind, sleet and rain. Only when my brother joined me at Oregon State did I finally have access to a car, which my brother and I fought over incessantly and which I still think proves that he is mom and dad's favorite.

So, once again, my children are probably doomed to not have a car of their own, simply because I didn't have one, dammit. I'm really starting to sound like my father, who used to tell us the age-old story about having to walk to school uphill both ways, barefoot, in the snow, with only his three-ring binder to fight off the pack of wolves which trailed him. But, I suppose sounding like my parents isn't all bad. And, it will save me a lot on insurance.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Road Trip

I've been travelling to Portland a lot recently. The trip from Coquille to Portland takes approximately four and a half hours, unless you follow the speed limit exactly, which I do as far as everyone reading this is concerned. There's nothing like travelling in a car for extended periods of time with your children to really make you think about why you have children. In addition, we live in an age where children seem to need continuous electronic stimulation, which would be fine if said stimulation could include shock collars, which, according to my lawyer, it can not. Instead, children need continuous electronic video stimulation, in the form of handheld video games, DVD movies and episodes of inane cartoons that are not nearly as good as the cartoons we used to watch. Kids, of course, supplement the electronics with various irritation-stimulating activities, such as staring at each other for the express purpose of annoyance, attempting to NOT touch each other (as in, "MOM! SHE'S NOT TOUCHING MEEEEE!" while the offending child is, in fact, so close that scientific instruments would be necessary to measure the distance between finger and face) and playing the ever-popular "copy your sister" game.

During my last car trip, which was the second consecutive trip I had to take WITHOUT my husband, who was off in places like Rhode Island and Portland "working," and for which I will forgive him eventually, I started thinking about how we used to travel when I was a child. We did a lot of car travelling when I was a kid. You see, I grew up in Alaska. Alaska is a large state where places of interest are often separated by vast sectors of tundra, which is an extremely boring form of scenery, and your typical car trip to go camping could take upwards of 6 hours if the car didn't break down or you weren't slowed by a herd of moose obstructing the highway.

For example, my family, in an attempt to experience the miracle of nature, would routinely travel to a location called the Tangle Lakes. According to the modern miracle that is MapQuest, this trip should take about five and a half hours. In practice, however, it takes much, MUCH longer. First of all, we were travelling in an International Scout with a travel trailer attached to it which weighed significantly more than your modern travel trailer, which meant that we weren't exactly speeding down the highway. Also, our progress was impeded by potholes the size of water buffaloes. Finally, my mother would helpfully read the Milepost guide, which is a travel guide which only true Alaskans know how to read because it is written in code presumably so that non-Alaskans can't stumble upon oil fields or something. She would tell my father where various points of interest were along the way ("Look honey! A tundra museum at milepost 265!"). This would prompt my brother and I to whine about stopping at these points of interest because we needed to stretch our legs, go to the bathroom, eat and explore opportunities to irritate each other outside of the car, so that what should have taken five and a half hours ended up taking about nine hours.

Granted, we were measuring our trip in Kid Time, which is an extremely boring form of time. Back in the late 70's and early 80's, we didn't have portable dvd players, hand held video games and iPods. Most of our electronic devices weighed almost as much as Orson Welles and were not at all portable. The only portable device we had was a transistor radio, which was unhelpful inasmuch as it only had one earphone and it stopped receiving signals just outside of Anchorage. Therefore, my brother and I were forced to look out the windows, read books and listen to extremely non-cool music such as Anne Murray and Helen Reddy which my father taped from his extensive collection of sleep-inducing albums which we were never allowed to touch, presumably because he knew we would scratch them on purpose if given the opportunity.

After approximately 10 minutes of actual time (equalling seven and a half hours of Kid Time) we grew tired of reading and looking out windows, and instead resorted to pestering each other for the remaining trip, pausing only to pester our parents for food and water, which they were probably withholding in an attempt to weaken us in the hopes that we would become unable to move or speak.

It's good to know that almost nothing has changed in the last 30 years. Now, instead of being forced to look out the windows, read books and listen to Anne Murray, I force my children to look out the windows, read books and listen to 80's music. The view from our van windows on I-5 is no more exciting than the view I had in the International Scout; it's just less moose-intensive. And while I do allow the younger kids to play educational games on their Leapsters and Maggie to play extraordinarily non-educational games on her Nintendo DS, I've stopped bringing the DVD players because the bulk of our four hour drive to Portland would be spent arguing about who got to pick the movie. Also, I grew alarmed when my kids started measuring time in the number of SpongeBobs it took to get to where we were going:

Kids: MOM! Are we there yet?
Me: We're on the freeway. We're surrounded by fields. Does it look like we're there?
Kids: How many more SpongeBobs til' we're there?
Me: 15.
Kids: (after one SpongeBob) MOM! Are we there now?

So now, rather than allowing my children to watch videos, I instead spend the entire trip ranting about how I used to have to spend all my available vacation time listening to worse music than I am forcing on them and that they are lucky that they can play video games because all I ever got to do was look out the window and if they don't stop not touching each other I might have to pull the car over and give their video games away to the first person I see on the street. When my husband is in the car, I have backup; backup capable of launching himself from the front seat of the van all the way to the back seat in two seconds flat without touching the middle seat at all, and inserting himself between Luke and Maggie who at this point are too stunned to continue whining or almost not touching each other. When I'm on my own, however, all I can do is issue empty threats from afar. I realize that I'm making this much harder on myself than I need to, but I'm going to fall back on the time-honored tradition of forcing my children to be miserable because it builds character.

So, in about two weeks I will once again be making a trip to Portland, and once again my husband will be "working," this time in San Diego, for which I plan to forgive him eventually. I'm starting to think he's planning these trips on purpose. And my children, despite my many attempts to explain how good they have it, will begin asking if we are there yet 30 seconds after getting in the car.

I can't wait.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

This won't hurt a bit

If the U.S. Government is looking for new methods of extracting information from terrorists now that Nancy Pelosi has expressed her concerns over waterboarding, they should consider threatening the suspects with being sent to their class reunions.

I'm fairly certain we could obtain all sorts of valuable intelligence, based on my reaction to the thought of my own class reunion. Let me first say that I am voluntarily subjecting myself to this event, and I would be happy to gather data for the government in exchange for being allowed to deduct all trip-related expenses from my tax return this year. I will be sure to collect all necessary receipts and submit them along with whatever form the IRS requires in such a situation. I should probably call Tim Geithner for some guidance on the subject.

I remember high school as being the most traumatic experience of my life. I did not enjoy high school, which makes me wonder why I want to go to my reunion at all. Why am I willing to fork over large amounts of money for a trip which instills fears in my gut so disabling that I haven't even been able to pack because I am afraid that all of my nice clothes will magically transform themselves into horrible 80's fashion and when I get to the reunion all I'll have to wear is a pair of high-waisted acid wash jeans and a "Frankie Say Relax" t-shirt? Or, worse yet, parachute pants?

I think we all have fears about seeing people we have not seen in 20 years. What will they think of me? Will they even remember me? I'm glad that I may not be recognizable, since my hair is no longer permed and large to the point where my coiff took up enough space to be subjected to property taxes. I'm also not sporting five pounds of aluminum on my teeth. But there is a significant part of my brain devoted specifically to convincing myself that I am the same gangly, awkward teenager who never really seemed to fit in. Try as I might, I cannot convince myself that I am a woman who has successfully completed college, law school and a bar exam, that I have a wonderful husband and three beautiful children, and a brown belt in tae kwon do, which has alleviated most of those pesky coordination problems.

Oh, I tried to fit in. I remember going out for cheerleading once. Somehow I had convinced myself that, despite all evidence to the contrary, I was coordinated enough to perform choreographed dance moves and yell at the same time. I was clearly misinformed. My parents, when I was younger, enrolled me in dance classes in the hopes that I would learn to walk without tripping on curbs, sidewalks, lint, etc. They were told by my instructor, in no uncertain terms, that their money would be better spent elsewhere. So, I went to the tryouts, lurched around the gym floor and tried my best to look like a person who was not suffering from some sort of nerve disorder. As you may have guessed, I was not invited to be a part of the team. After the cheerleading tryout debacle, I avoided sports altogether. After I regained some semblance of self esteem, I settled on choir, which was better suited for me inasmuch as I was never required to move and sing at the same time. It had the added benefit of occupying at least two class periods a day, sometimes three, so that I could limit my exposure to other more dangerous activities, such as walking in the hallways.

In order to calm my nerves prior to the reunion, I am trying to reassure myself that no one will remember me anyway. I certainly don't remember many people. What was the name of that guy I had a huge crush on, to the point where I thought I could not go on living if he didn't smile at me in the hallway? I have no clue. I'm fairly certain it started with a P, but beyond that, I'm drawing a blank. What was the name of the girl I was good friends with for two years, and then suddenly was in a note-conducted war with for some reason which I cannot exactly remember, but which consumed me for the better part of the last two years of high school? No clue. The amazing thing is that these long-forgotten people took up vast sectors of my available brain matter at the time, to the point of excluding important information such as how to do algebra. Now I have an easier time remembering the lyrics to an obscure Duran Duran song I haven't heard in 20 years.

I am fortunate that I DO remember a certain group of girls from high school, girls who I did spend lots of time with and I am very excited to see. It's been a long time, and I know that we will have lots to catch up on. That is what I'm looking forward to. Those girls were the ones who made coming to school bearable, even on those days that I didn't think I could put on my electric blue mascara and drag myself to school. Those were the friends who shared the same likes and dislikes as I did, who loved to get together once a month and have a movie night at each other's houses, and who sat together at prom. If it wasn't for them, I wouldn't have made it through.

I'm sure I'm stressing out over nothing. I'm very sure I'm going to come home after my reunion and will nothing but wonderful memories to share with my friends. Now if I could just convince my brain of that fact, I'll be golden. And, I had better get packing.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Ol' McMuenchrath Has a Cow...

I don't think I'm cut out for this.

When my husband and I got married, we discussed everything a responsible couple should discuss about the future. We talked about our careers, we talked about whether we wanted a family and how big a family it would be, and we talked about where we wanted to live eventually. One subject that never came up, however, was livestock. We never had any sort of discussion about whether we would or would not own cows, chickens or goats. I realize now that every couple should have this discussion, unless they live in a high rise apartment in a large city, where owning livestock would be logistically impossible, not to mention highly stinky. Women and men should be required to sign some sort of livestock release form prior to getting their wedding license, or else they could find themselves in the situation I find myself in now, which is owning several animals I am woefully unequipped to take care of.

You see, I grew up in a family which was rather anti-pet. I petitioned unsuccessfully for years for a dog or a cat. Eventually, after much sniveling and whining, I was granted permission to get a gerbil, I presume to shut me up. I named my gerbil Sammy, and Sammy lived a happy but uneventful life scampering playfully around his cage, running on his little wheel and periodically escaping and causing my mother to leap to high places and shriek when he would unexpectedly scamper playfully through the family room.

My pet experience ended rather abruptly when I took his cage out to the garage to clean it, became distracted by something shiny (as most 10-year-olds do) and accidentally left it in the unheated garage overnight. In Alaska. Needless to say, Sammy made his way to the giant rodent-wheel in the sky, and when the ground thawed later that spring, I held a memorial service in the backyard.

Once I escaped from under the anti-pet thumb of my parents, I adopted a dog in college. I loved that dog. Rosie was my girl. We did everything together. I was so upset when I found out that my apartment in law school wouldn't allow pets, and I didn't know what to do, other than beg my parents to take my dog. It was a long shot, I knew. But, in a decision that still stuns me to this day, my parents decided to adopt Rosie. They then proceeded to turn into the most deranged people I have ever met. These people, the people who told my brother and I that they didn't want pets, that they HATED even the idea of having pets, began treating this dog like a spoiled grandchild. If they were going to get a hamburger, the dog needed a hamburger too. If they went to get ice cream, they had to get an ice cream cone for the dog too. I knew they had really gone off the deep end when they would make special trips out for hamburgers and ice cream for the dog and THEY DIDN'T GET ANYTHING FOR THEMSELVES.

So, my animal ownership experiences are limited at best, which is why it is extremely stunning that I now find myself in an ownership position of a menagerie of animals, and a backyard that looks like the Clampett's house before they struck oil and moved to Beverly Hills. At my husband's behest, we began collecting various livestock and chickens when we moved to the country. He never has any idea how to take care of the animals when we get them. We are always woefully unprepared to take care of them. He simply acquires first and asks questions later. This is why we wound up with two cows but no barn, water supply or any way to transport food to them. Standard operating procedure in our house, after getting a batch of animals, is for my husband to run around in a panic trying to come up with housing, food and a containment system for them. He then gleefully hops on a plane and leaves for a couple of weeks, thereby leaving me in charge of our ever-growing brood. It's quite the system.

This is how I wound up in charge of two cows that have demonstrated an amazing ability to pass, ghost-like, through fencing and disappear for a week and a half. They wandered all around our neighborhood, committing minor acts of bovine vandalism. I actually found myself having to call the sheriff's office and report a "Cow at Large." That was a phone call I never, in my wildest dreams, ever thought I would make.

I grew up in the city. I do not "wrangle" animals. Therefore, I was shocked to find myself and two of my very good and very, very forgiving friends roaming in a pasture, mooing and shaking a can of grain in a vain attempt to lure my escapee cows into a trailer. The cows, being much smarter than I give them credit for, realized that I was offering them grain under false pretenses and refused to cooperate. They just stood there, chewing their cud and silently mocking us.

All of this happened while my husband was in Hawaii. He had been gone no more than 24 hours. I'm adding this information to the file I'm keeping for when I have to enter therapy. Granted, he had a legitimate reason for being in Hawaii, and it was non-surfing related. That didn't make me feel any better, however.

The happy ending to this story is that I did indeed get my cows back, and after establishing how they got out (apparently cows can actually go UNDER fences, especially if the fence builder didn't actually attach the fencing to anything in his rush to hop a plane to tropical locales) I was able to mend the fence, re-contain the cows and restrain myself from filling my freezer with assorted steaks and 300 pounds of hamburger. My husband is now back on cow patrol, at least until he decides to fly off to Aruba or somewhere else where he doesn't have to worry about cow retrieval.

And I'm currently looking for a nice house in the city, where cow ownership is frowned upon.

Monday, April 20, 2009

On Death and Taxes

It's good to hear that the President has a plan to reduce the deficit. Since he has almost single-handedly tripled it in a matter of three months, I'm glad to know that he has a secret plan to reduce it by half sometime in the next century or so. It'll still be larger than when he got his hands on it, but anyone who points that out will soon be getting mysterious calls featuring menacing heavy breathing courtesy of Barney Frank.

I, for one, would like to propose my own solution to the deficit problem. I'm at least as qualified as any current member of the government, based on the fact that I once forgot to declare $150 in babysitting income on my federal tax return when I was 14. Let me take this opportunity to sincerely apologize, and point out that I'm only human, by which I mean I'm just like anyone else who would like to be able to cheat on my taxes and get away with it in the form of being nominated for a cabinet position. Plus, I have demonstrated my superiority in that I have never been involved in an ethics scandal. (The United States Senate: Scandal Free since 5:38 am today!)

I have a three-pronged proposal. Prong one is based on reducing federal spending. I realize this is a drastic move, one which should not be tried unless we can't think of any other way to reduce the amount of money we owe to China. For example, instead of increasing spending on programs such as the Commission to Name "National" things such as the National Insect, National Root Vegetable, and National Embarrassment (Joe Biden) by 50% over last year's bare-bones spending on such activities, they should only raise it by 25%. Actually, none of us should stand around idly while the government slashes spending in this way! We should demand they slash it more! They should slash it down to a mere 10% increase! Of course that would mean we would only have enough funding to complete the naming of our National Embarrassment, but if that's the price we have to pay to get our deficit under control, then it's "time to be patriotic ... time to jump in, time to be part of the deal, time to help get America out of the rut."

Now I know that many non-patriotic namby-pamby members of Congress would argue that cutting spending is too drastic in times such as these, when the only thing currently keeping our economy afloat is lunch meeting expenditures made by government employees at Hooters. Come to think of it, it's probably racist, too, but it will take time and a special Blue Ribbon Commission to determine whether cutting spending is racist, or at least instigated by Rush Limbaugh, which is just as bad.

Which leads me to prong two of my plan to reduce the deficit: Selling government owned SUVs.

You see, while we normal Americans are increasingly encouraged to give up our gas-guzzling modes of transport in favor of cramming a family of five into a SMART car , I see many government SUVs cruising around our freeways (Note: I know SMART Cars only have two seats. In times like these we are all forced to make sacrifices. You can purchase a SMART car modification pack from the US Department of Transportation containing all the parts you need to successfully strap your spare children to the roof).

Most of the time, these government SUVs are being used to move one person around from useless meeting to useless meeting. Valet charges alone eat up almost half our national expense account funds. We all know that nothing good comes from these meetings, especially when you consider that any gathering of government officials usually results in increased regulations, higher taxes, and proposals to name sewage treatment plants after sitting US Presidents. The US government should take its cue from successful businesses (wait...I'm sure one will come to me eventually) and use one of those online meeting services like Tom Cruise did in that movie Tropic Thunder.

Therefore, I propose we sell all government SUVs to the Chinese, since they are currently the only nation on earth purchasing cars at the moment (except perhaps India). Unfortunately this would also give the United States government a sudden influx of cash, which we should immediately impound until they can prove they won't spend it immediately on non-deficit reducing items like a professional make-up artist for the first lady and a new neck-mounted teleprompter for the President for those tough situations where he needs to walk and speak extemporaneously at the same time. I realize that this will also mean the President may have to modify his motorcade somewhat, but being that his administration is looking more and more like a circus every day, it won't seem too strange to see the President and his cabinet officials emerging, clown-car like, from a fleet of 1992 Geo Metros.

We also need to take away Nancy Pelosi's ability to travel via airplane. That really won't have an effect on the deficit, but it would certainly make me feel better.

Prong three of my plan involves exporting Al Gore to someplace like Siberia, where he can sit in his warm, dung-heated hut and weave sustainable clothing from sedge grass while writing his manifesto. By doing this, we will reduce the yearly energy usage of the city of Nashville, TN (mainly the sector occupied by Al Gore's compound) by 99%. Energy costs all over the nation will drop, due to the unexpected fall in demand. The benefits of lower energy costs will "trickle down", allowing more people to be able to afford to do things like open businesses, manufacture products and employ people. With steady increases in our gross domestic product, and the resulting boost in our economy, we may be able to pay down the deficit even more!

On second thought, maybe I only need a one-prong approach.

I have to go now. My phone is ringing. I think it's Barney Frank.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Merry January!

I'll admit it. I'm a slacker. Ms. Manners would be mortified.

I haven't sent out Christmas cards in about 10 years.

The last time I sent out Christmas cards roughly coincides with the birth of my first child. I sent them out that year, complete with lovely personal hand-written notes to all of our friends and relatives. Then, Wham-O...Maggie was born. Every Christmas since she arrived, I have dutifully gone out and purchased Christmas cards, special stamps and various labels, printed paper, rubber stamps and other accouterments designed to send holiday greetings which would make Martha Stewart weep into her organic cranberry martini due to feelings of inadequacy. Unfortunately, I have never actually produced any Christmas cards.

Well, I did get some made about four years ago, but due to the birth of my third child, I forgot to send them, and when I realized that I had missed Christmas by several days, I was too mortified to send them out for fear of being outed as the shameless procrastinator I am.

This year, I decided to send out Christmas greetings, deadlines be damned. I laughed recklessly as I tucked my cards and other items aside and waited for the day when all of the holiday hullabaloo was over. And, about five days after 2009 blew in, I sat down and wrote

a letter to everyone who kept sending cards to us, even though we clearly didn't deserve them.

Then, one evening about seven days after 2009 arrived, I sat down at my computer and began addressing envelopes, folding letters and writing on the cards. My husband looked at me as if I had sprouted another head. "Christmas cards?" he questioned. "It's January!"

Me: "What's your point?"

Matt: "Well, shouldn't you have sent them out in December?"

Me: "Hey, according to my Catholic Life calendar, Christmas doesn't officially end until January 10th. I'm golden."

So, I sent them out. I haven't received any mocking emails or other scathing replies, so I figure everyone enjoyed getting their holiday greetings after the holidays. After all, they certainly stand out from the rest of the crowd.

I think next year I'll send my cards out in February. Groundhogs day is completely overlooked, greeting card-wise. I'd better get started on my letter, or I'll never get it done on time.