Blogs Are Stupid

Doesn't anyone believe in Dear Diary anymore? What happened to the joy of putting actual pen to paper? And why does every ordinary Jane and John think they can write well enough to burden the world with their scribblings? It’s a mystery that badly needs solving. My first entry contains my thoughts about blogging and will set your expectations. The rest will probably be stream of consciousness garbage, much like you’ll find on any other blog. Perhaps we will both come away enlightened.

Thursday, September 24, 2009


My life is not terribly interesting. One might even say, it's mundane. But I try to see something extraordinary in the ordinary, and often, I find that I can. I spend a lot of time writing about that. I guess maybe that's my way of making my humble little existence a little more meaningful and exciting.

But this year...this year it seems like there has been nothing but one death, drama or debacle after another.

I don't have to list them. If you've been reading, you know.

This week, it was a flood. Yes, a flood.

After years of being on water rations and watching every living thing shrivel and die from lack of water, we had a flood. It's really almost inconceivable. But for 24 hours straight, we watched the rain come down in an a near constant downpour and wondered how much more the ground, already saturated from a week's worth of steady rain, could absorb. How much more the previously ailing lakes and rivers could cold.

When I took Pubescent One to school, there was a lot of standing water, but nothing that alarmed me. In just a few hours, things changed drastically. By the time I took Diminutive One to school, there were large sections of road underwater everywhere. I had serious doubts about being able to make it home.

As I approached a puddle that spanned the entire width of one road, I wondered if I should try and cross it. They say you can be swept away by as little as six inches of water. But traffic was backing up behind me and I was anxious to get out of the weather, so I slowed down and began to drive through it.

About halfway through, I lost the road. I felt my van begin to float and also felt the panic rising in my throat. I was going off the road, I was being swept away!! Dear God...this is the kind of stuff you see on the news and think, "That poor stupid soul." I made a conscious effort to push down my fear and panic. I eased off the gas, let my van come to a stop, and then slowly depressed the accelerator again. I found purchase and drove out of the quickly deepening puddle.

I don't mind telling you, I was shaking like a leaf by the time I got to the other side.

Then it occurred to me that the puddle would be completely impassible in just a matter of minutes. How were the kids going to get home? A bus is big and heavy, but it can still be swept away. I regretted having taken my kids to school. I wanted them home with me...NOW.  I realized however, that it was foolish to try and retrieve them now since I could very well kill myself in the process.  The school was probably the safest place for them to be anyway. Its made of concrete block and sits on high ground. There are no bodies of water nearby. If they couldn't get home, at least they would be safe.

I spent the morning listening to the radio and eyeing the rising water in my yard. Where the water came from, I had no idea, but suddenly a white water river had sprung up on the hill, washing away pieces of the earth, and sweeping all manner of debris into the yard. Our house is built on a slab, low to the ground, in a natural depression. It didn't take long for the water to begin pooling on the patio. By mid morning, it was level with the threshold to the back door. I began moving keepsakes to higher ground, thanking my lucky stars that we had a two story home. We could camp out upstairs if we needed to. We'd be safe.

But all the same, I was mentally cataloguing all the things in the house that could serve as a makeshift raft...just in case. A king sized headboard? A crib mattress encased in water proof plastic? A platoon of plastic bins lashed together? I wondered if there was an acessible point of egress in the attic. I wondered if the fire safe box was water proof as well. All these things I worried about, to keep from worrying about my kids.

At noon it was announced that the Middle School would dismiss at 1:15. But they didn't say if busses were running or how the kids would get home. I knew if I tried to drive to the school it would be disastrous. I had indicated on the disaster evacuation form that they should come home by bus in case of emergency, but what if the busses couldn't get them home? I called the school only to get a busy signal...of course. Every other parent was wondering the same thing and calling to find out how, in the world, our kids were going to make it home safely.

I finally got a harried secretary who assured me that the busses were running and knew every alternative route to get the kids home.

"But most of those roads are underwater, even the backroads. Maybe it would be safer just to keep them at school?" I argued. 

"Welll....maybe" she replied hesitantly, "except that the roof of the media center has collapsed. We're not sure about structural integrity."

I thanked her and hung up.

I drove the short distance to the bus stop and waited in the pouring rain with five or six other cars. We waited nearly an hour, during which time, the panic that had threatened to overtake me all morning was almost impossible to ignore in the solitude of of the van, with only the shush shush shush of the wipers and the muted roar of the rain to keep me company.

Being on the high end of the neighborhood, I feared for what my neighbors might be experiencing. A creek runs through much of our subdivision, and even a modest creek can become a raging river with this much rainfall. The next day I would find out that much of it was already underwater as I sat there waiting for the bus.

Every awful scenario possible ran through my head, fueled by the sight of water rising to obscure more and more of my tires as I waited. The bus could be swept away, overturned, stranded in raging flood water with the kids all clinging to the slippery metal hull. I could envision them being wrenched free, one by one, to hurtle downstream like human driftwood.

I had to do something to stop myself from going into a full blown panic attack. I seized my cell phone and frantically dialed my parents' number, hoping against hope that I would get a signal. I did.

"EYALOW" said my Dad, 900 miles away.

At the sound of his voice, familiar and safe, one that had both scolded and soothed my entire life, tears flooded my eyes and the words left me in a torrent.

"DAD!...Dad...I'm sitting here in a flood and it's pouring and all the roads are underwater and I'm worried about the busses getting through and the house is going to flood too and I'm panicking and I can't do anything except sit here and wait and I know you can't do anything about it and I don't want you to panic too...but could you just talk to me for a few minutes until the bus gets here and I know Diminutive One is safe?"

My Dad didn't miss a beat.

"Well...those busses are so big and heavy it would take a lot of force to sweep one of  'em away. And those drivers know what to do....

For twenty minutes my Dad talked to me of banal things, trying to keep my mind off the crisis at hand. And though, sadly, his words no longer have the power to chase all my fears away as they once did, they did help calm them significantly.

Suddenly, the headlights of the bus appeared at the crest of the hill, as it came lumbering through the rain with sails of water fluttering out behind it. 

"Oh God, they're here, they're here...they made it...I love you Dad...bye."

I hung up the phone and watched as the children streamed from the bus, running for the shelter of cars and vans. They laughed, these kids, thinking it all a very grand adventure. Diminutive One bounced into the van with a flurry of water and words.

"MOM! Guess what! We had to turn around THREE TIMES! And the last time, the bus driver said this was his last resort. And then we saw it was flooded too, but he went through it anyway. And one kid almost crapped his pants he was so scared! But I remembered what you told me this morning about the bus being big and heavy, so I wasn't scared. And you wouldn't believe it Mom...we saw some neighborhoods where people were in boats! I can't believe this....hey...why are you looking at me like that?"

"I'm just....really glad to see you!" I said cheerily. 

And then I started to bawl.

Until then, it had all been a great lark, something to tell stories about. But Mom crying means serious business and that subdued him quite a bit.

"Geez, don't cry Mom. I'm okay. You told me yourself everything would be fine, and.... HOLY CRAP!!!"

By that time we had pulled into the driveway, and he saw the water moving swiftly through the yard. Eyeing the torrent he hurried into the house and then peered out that back window.

"I guess it's a good thing we have a two story house. Maybe we should look for something we could float on." he said.

He was beginning to realize the gravity of the situation. Though he had been out in it only moments before, it took my tears, and seeing his own home threatened to drive the point home.

This was serious.

We spent the rest of the afternoon huddled together assuring one another that everything would be fine. At 3:30, we made another bus run to get Pubescent One, who was, understandably rattled. Everything had been fine when he went to school, but when he emerged, the landscape had changed drastically.

"Jesus Christ" was all he said as he climbed into the van, his face pinched and pale.

At home we anxiously waited for the last member of our family to make it home. Husband had been out on interviews all afternoon, though I had begged him not to go. We cheered when the rain stopped, and again when Husband's car turned into the driveway. By that time the water in the yard had slowed from a torrent to a trickle, and the standing water on the patio had receded enough that I no longer worried about water getting into the house.

I breathed a sigh of relief, feeling that my control over things had been restored. In my heart, I knew that to be a wholly fallacious belief, but I didn't let myself examine it too closely. My family was home and we were safe and dry. Thousands of others were not so fortunate..

Some people lost everything...including their lives. Some people are still stranded by washed out roads. Some people are shovelling mud and sewage out of their homes. Some people are being told that their home owner's insurance won't cover the losses. Some people don't know how they're going to recover.

I will tell you....there are very few times in my life that I have been that frightened.

But we were lucky. So very lucky.

Here are some photos and video. As bad as they are, I don't think they really convey the magnitude of this disaster.

This is my backyard. There is no body of water anywhere near. The creek is downhill from my house. I just don't know where it's all coming from.

Here you can see how quickly the water is moving. This was pretty early in the day, but the water was already about 4-5 inches high in the backyard.

This is our neighborhood pool, as seen from the road. It's only a few blocks from my house, but downhill. The creek is right behind it.

Pool 7

Same view, 24 hours later.

Pool 5

Note the waterline on the poolhouse door.

Pool 2

The pool itself  is still underwater.

Pool 1

There are tons of pictures on the net of other areas around metro Atlanta. You can go to WSBTV to see photos, video and even arial views of the flooding.

More rain is expected and estimates vary from 1/3 of an inch to 4-5 inches. Whatever you do...pray, meditate, cross fingers...please do so with that first number in mind. I don't know how we would fare if we had to deal with any more than that.

Thank you.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Sins Of The Father

Look at these beautiful little boys.

Just look at them. Don't they make your heart ache?

I didn't know this photograph existed until recently. It had been hidden away for many years along with the very few momentos that survive from that time. I found it in a box under a 70 year old newspaper dated August 14th, 1945 which was emblazoned with a  bold black headline.....


Looking at the photo always causes me a rush of conflicting emotions.

It makes me smile and evokes feelings of tenderness, though they are not my children. It makes me wistful for childhood and all its gifts. For how could these towheaded little imps make a person think of anything else? They personify innocence and insouciance. They conjure up images of grass stained knees, of sunshine and mud and cops and robbers and pajamas with chaps clad cowboys on them.

Can't you just imagine them facing one another with guns drawn, sneering..."Whatsa matta copper? Aincha got the noive to shoot me?" And then one of them falls, clutching his chest, gasping, retching and flailing dramatically. The other blows on the barrell of his gun and replaces it in the stiff plastic holster on his hip.

So I think of that when I look at this photograph. And it makes me happy. Because I believe there was some of that in their lives. Enough that none of them became criminals or drug addicts or suicide statistics.

But it also makes me sad and angry. Because I know that they were denied the one thing that would have made a real difference.

A father.

65 years ago, when they were too young to understand why or how, their father disappeared from their lives.

He didn't die. He didn't go missing in action behind enemy lines. He didn't suffer from amnesia and forget that he had a wife and children. He just decided that he didn't want them anymore.

Think about that for a moment.

How could a father simply turn his back and never wonder if they cried for him at night? How could a father never wonder if they were doing alright in school or if they had enough to eat or whether they made the football team? Most fathers couldn't.

But he did.

He left them behind when he went to war, never realizing he would not return to reclaim his place in their lives; never guessing he would break their mother's heart and turn her into a cold, emotionally distant woman. Never understanding that he shamed her with his abandonment; made her a pariah in the Catholic church which would not condone or recognize divorce, and set her apart from the 9 brothers and sisters that were her support system and from the God that she had obeyed without question all her life.

He did heroic things and saved many lives. And then, on a cold European morning, while looking out over a vista of pain and suffering; wondering how such atrocities happen, he met a tiny birdlike woman with a tattoo on her arm. She was more dead than alive, but something in her could not be extinguished. She was a bright light in the bleakness of human misery that was all about him.

And for her, he forsook his sons.

He replaced them with two other strong strapping sons, and gave them everything his forgotten boys longed for. They thrived, as boys will do when they have a positive, nurturing male role model in their lives. They prospered, as boys will do when given the priviliges of a middle class upbringing and college education.

One thing about getting older that is difficult to reconcile, is the ability to see our parents as they really are, instead of infallable beings who will never die, never hurt, never falter. In recent years, I have struggled a lot with that. The love is still there, still incredibly deep, but overshadowed by the judgment and doubt that comes from an adult perspective. I don't like it, but I can't seem to help it. More than anything, I want to go back to the days when I thought they were perfect.

But I know and understand things now that I didn't before. I have become privvy to long hidden truths; hurts and heartaches buried ages ago.

Throughout my childhood, my paternal grandfather was an infrequent guest in our home. We saw him once a year when he visited from his home in Virginia. When he came, he brought his birdlike wife, who seemed softspoken and kind and always dressed so nicely. She wore cat's eye glasses and spoke with an accent that was both guttural and mellifluous. She fascinated me.

But I felt the tension and recognized the tentative manner in which the adults spoke to one another. There were pleasantries and niceties, but no real substance to their conversations. It was all very polite and careful.

I didn't know then that they had once gone twenty years without speaking. I didn't know that for twenty years, the forgotten boys had struggled to find their way in the world with no means of navigation; no paternal compass.

But I know now. It explains a lot. It has helped me understand and forgive a little. And it has made me sorry. Sorry for those little boys and sorry for the men who became fathers without knowing what exactly a father is. I still struggle with anger sometimes. But more often than not, it's a dead man who bears the brunt, and that's just as well, since his sins have no place in this life anymore.

I've realized that I don't need to have perfection.

Because I have a father.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Chicken Soup for A Granddaughter's Soul

I know, I know...I suck. I haven't gone two weeks without posting since I started this blog. But with work, and health's been crazy and exhausting.

Now, my boys have the swine flu. I knew they had the flu, but I didn't expect it to be anything but the run of the mill influenza A or B. But when the doctor and both nurses returned to the exam room after doing nasal swabs on the boys, swathed in latex and wearing surgical masks, I knew it was a wee bit more serious.

And people, they are SICK. This is some bad, bad mojo. You don't want to get this, and you don't want your kids to get this. So far, Husband and I are still healthy, but we are effectively quarantined for 5-7 days.

EDITED: To add a picture, for which my son will some day vow to never forgive me. Yesterday, he was fever free much of the day, but suddenly, around 4 o'clock in the afternoon, it spiked to about 104. So what did I do? I snapped a picture. No, first I gave him some Ibuprofin and then I snapped a picture. If you look closely, you will see that even his earlobes are flushed.

So anyway...I'm making chicken soup for my sick boys. And, as always happens, I'm thinking of her. So I thought I would repost this piece in rememberance. Enjoy.

Chicken Soup For The Granddaughter's Soul

I'b sick.

It happens every year. The kids go back to school and bring back a surfeit of germs and plethora of pestilence. They get a little sniffle sniffle, a little koff koff. I get the head cold from hell with a full complement of symptoms. And it seems, that as an adult, I don’t have the resilience or the fortitude that I had as a child. I take to my bed where I languish in agony, mentally cataloguing my symptoms and praying for just the slightest opening in my nasal passages to assuage the pressure in my head.

If you're like me, nothing is more comforting than a mug of steaming hot chicken soup when you're under the weather. But not just any chicken soup. No sir. No quivering, reconstituted chicken flavored goo from a can will suffice.

When I'm sick I want chicken soup made from my grandmother's age old family recipe. "Dane Soup" they call it, though I don't know why. We have a smattering of Danish heritage, but we are mostly of German descent. My Great Grandmother's name was Willhelmena Ernestina Steinberg, (Steenberg, not Stineberg) and it doesn't get much more German than that. My Grandmother, Rena, married my grandfather, Edwin Schroeder (ShrAY-der, not ShrOH-der).

Their recombitant genetic Teotonism created four children who could have been poster children for the Aryan race. So the name of this soup has nothing to do with lineage, nor do the Danish hold a patent on chicken least not to my knowledge.

It's a true mystery.

This soup is a badge of honor in our family. It's difficult to make because success relies upon more than the ability to follow a recipe. The ingredients are fairly simple, the combination unremarkable. But for the dumplings to come out right...firm but springy, light but substantial, doughy but not has to have a certain sense of when the batter is right. It must be thicker than pancake batter, but not as thick as drop biscuit dough. It must be elastic but not sticky. It must sliiiiiiiide off the spoon, clinging, stretching, until the filament breaks and springs back. It not only has to look right, but it has to feel right when it slips into the bubbling broth. It must sink quickly and then bob to the surface where it will be steamed into plump and tender perfection.

Needless to say, I have had my fair share of failures.

Once, I used self-rising flour in ignorance. When I expectantly lifted the lid off the pot, I was stunned to see that the dough had absorbed all the liquid and swollen into one giant dumpling with bits of chicken, celery and carrot protruding from its craterous surface. Another time, I forgot to add the melted butter and the dumplings crumbled into the soup leaving bits and pieces of gluey debris floating in the rich yellow broth. Once, for no particular reason that I could think of, the dumplings sank to the bottom of the pot and stayed there, where they became tough, warty little clods that did not look remotely edible.

But I've got it now. My dumplings are perfect (Well, most of the time. I still have the odd culinary lapse here and there) and that means that I have passed the test. Now I'll always be one of the family elite; one who got the dumplings right. But it means more than that to me. It means a sense of connection to a grandmother I never knew. Every time I make this soup, I think of her and I miss her.

My mom often tells me that my Grandmother was terribly proud of me. My mother was born to my Grandparents late in their lives. Her closest sibling was already 17 when she arrived, so by the time I was born, most of the grandchildren were teenagers. There had been no babies for quite some time.

I had a full head of black hair, and my mother would tell me, smiling, how Grandma always had to take off my bonnet and display my plentiful jet black mop to new acquaintances. The other cousins had all been fair and bald; one until the advanced age of three. So Grandma delighted in the novelty of a baby with an abundance of hair, which was so riotous and unruly that my mother plastered it to my head with Johnson’s baby oil to affect some semblance of tidiness.

Grandma knitted me sweaters and booties and bonnets. She sewed me dresses. She combed my hair into fantastic creations which she secured with bows and ribbons and pink plastic barrettes. She showered me with love and attention and then, quite unfairly, she died abruptly at 59 with no warning and no word of good-bye.

One cousin, who was 13 years old at the time, declared that it had been the absolute worst day of her life. Because my Grandmother was the quintessential apron wearing, cookie baking, doll clothes sewing, home canning, full metal Grandma.

Then, of course, I couldn't realize what a loss it was, but years later as a young girl, with only one remaining Grandma, who was enjoying her freedom after years of raising three boys to adulthood on her own and wasn't particularly interested in baking cookies or sewing doll clothes...I felt monumentally cheated.

Every Christmas and every birthday I missed her. When people spoke of her, I was jealous and I was angry. Why hadn't she gone to the doctor? Why hadn't she taken better care of her health? Didn't she care about being there for her last three grandchildren?? And then just as quickly as it had come the anger would fade, leaving only contrition and sorrow. Of course she hadn't wanted to die. She hadn't meant to leave us without a grandmother. She just never thought that death would claim her so soon or so suddenly. None of us do, I suppose.

Not long ago, while cleaning out my Aunt's basement in preparation for their move to a retirement community, my mother came across several old reels of 8mm home movies. She brought them home and showed them to me on my last visit home. I had seen many photos of my grandmother of course, but its hard to divine someone's essence from a motionless black and white photo.

As I watched the grainy flickering image on my parents' living room wall, she emerged form the screen door of a white farmhouse. Startled and embarrassed by the camera, she smiled. That smile took my breath away. She was so beautiful, but it was more than that. It was proof that she actually lived and breathed and existed somewhere other than my imagination. She patted her hair and then waved her hand as if to indicate that the cameraman should not waste any more precious film on her. As she walked away, I was struck by a sense of overwhelming familiarity. I knew that gait; I knew the shape of her body. But how? Was it an actual memory, or just the desperate need to identify with her somehow?

Just then my sister breezed in, and once again my breath was snatched from my chest. I had always wondered where my sister got her beautifully aquiline nose and her sweetly shaped lips. But it was more than shared features. It was the sway of her hips, the curve of her bosom, the spring in her step. They were so similar that it gave me goosebumps. And now I have something other than a crumpled photograph or a grainy home movie. She is more than just a hazy, amorphous grandmother ideal. She was real and she lives on in my sister. She lives on in all who remember her. Nearly 40 years after her death she is always a topic of conversation at family gatherings. She is spoken of as if she was here only yesterday.

So I stir my soup, and I think of my Grandma. The comfort is not in the soup itself, but in the history of its making. I feel close to her and I like to think she would have been proud. I did it Grandma. I made the soup.

If I'd had a girl child, she would have been named Rena. I would have told her all about the woman she was named after, and I would have taught her to make Dane Soup. I would have laughed when she got it wrong, and praised when she got it right.

Maybe someday I’ll have a granddaughter to whom I can pass on the secret of the soup. Maybe I will be the quintessential Grandma. And maybe someday someone will mourn me as much as we mourn her.

May they celebrate with soup and remember.

Friday, September 04, 2009

I Know...Right?

It's weird having a High Schooler.

So many things have changed. For instance, I no longer have to prove that he sprang from my loins before taking him out of school (Incidentally, stretch marks don't count). There is a teacher parking lot and a student parking lot, which just kind of blows my mind. He gets himself up, showered and fed and has made his own transportation arrangements.

But perhaps the most disconcerting thing, is the realization that he really can get along without me, and will do so at every opportunity. With relish.

My fourteen year old is spending the weekend with a friend's family in Florida. I saw him off at noon today and felt decidedly odd as I drove away without him next to me in the front seat. He fills that space so completely that when he's not there, his absence is as large as his presence.

This afternoon, as I went about my daily chores, I realized I was unconsciously listening for the sounds of his homecoming; a slammed door, the thump of his backpack hitting the floor, and finally, the ttthhhhhhhtchk of the refrigerator door opening.

As my first child, his presence once seemed weirdly novel. I remember the fear and bewilderment of his first day at home. I can recall looking at him and thinking that mere days ago, I had been childless. How could something so momentous occur so quickly? In the awkwardness and fumbling of his infancy, it seemed impossible that anything about him could become old hat.

But it has.

Not in a dreary, timeworn way, but in a comfortable, fundamental part of my life way.

And like the car, the house echoes with his absence.

He was annoyed with my preparations and precautions. When I picked him up from school, I pressed his insurance card into his hand and told him to put it in a safe place.

He rolled his eyes. "Mom...what do I need this for?"

I was exasperated with the question. It's not that hard to extrapolate why I wanted him to have his insurance card with him, nor was it an unreasonable measure to take, under the circumstances. They were going to be swimming, waveboarding, riding roller coasters and God knows what else. Besides....

"Dude, what happens if somebody cuts your vehicle off in traffic, you swerve into another lane, get broadsided by another car and then the vehicle overturns, trapping all of you inside."

"God Mom, like that's really gonna happen."

"Probably not. But I've told you a million times, my job is risk assessment and management. I'm supposed to expect the unexpected."

I got another eye roll.

"Besides, you could trip over your own feet walking down some steps and end up breaking your arm."

That gave him pause. His size 12 feet have given him grief before.

"Well that could happen." he conceded.

I know, right?