28 05 2009

IMG_2528 1I think that someday I’ll need to write a book.  Being a parent with two offspring in the entertainment industry can be one exciting ride.  It has taken me to many places I never thought I’d go and taught me a million things about the particulars of recording studios and movie sets that I never thought I’d know.  And frankly, I can never get enough of it.

This Sunday, well before the sun is up Shop Girl and I will be on our way to LA where she has studio time booked for 10 days of laying down some new music.  She comes alive in the studio but it has been a long road since her first experience back in 1999.  Yes, chapters could be written and I’m not going to go there now.

On Monday we heard the sad news of the death of Jay Bennett.  In our personal opinions – he WAS Wilco.  In the early Spring of 2003, Shop Girl’s first EP was recorded at the Pieholden Studios in Chicago with Jay Bennett as her producer / engineer.  Best Boy’s wonderkin multi-instrumentalist roomate back then was David Vandervelde.  When Jay got to know David during those work days that started at 1 p.m. and went till 6 a.m. the next morning – something magical happened.

I think Jay saw in David his own particular brand of musical genius and a deep friendship / musical mentoring was born.  We were able to stand at a distance and be amazed at the things that were created in the Pieholden Studio at David’s hand over the next number of years until he was signed to a Secretly Canadian.

Just wanted to take a minute before these next few days get incredibly busy to say sometimes the scariest risks we take in our lives can be the richest.  If you ever have to drop your barely 20 year old daughter off at a warehouse in Chicago and enter through a dark passageway lined with filthy discarded mattresses, take a deep breath and walk through the darkness.  Leaving her there as the only female with a half a dozen guys was another little adventure in faith.  And from that beginning has come a lot of great music.

I woke at 3:30 a.m. today.  Thinking about this journey, thinking about Jay and the funeral that will probably be this week sometime…and wondering about the fun Shop Girl is about to have with good friends in LA.  This time around her producer will be Evan Slamka from Marjorie Fair.  And I’ll leave you with Evan singing  Empty Room…”but if I die young, fill my empty room with the sun.”  Shop Girl will try to do just that for you, Jay.

Free Fallin’ Friday

22 05 2009


So yesterday I tried an experiment.  There is so much traffic  flowing by this house each day, I thought it was worth the risk after Goodwill rejected the potentially dangerous “pack and play”.  Anything that I don’t have to pay someone to haul – is a good thing.  Sure enough, within the hour as we were sitting in the late afternoon shadows someone stopped.  I even explained how it works so my conscious is clean and I even pointed out the spot that Billy had repaired.

All night long I thought about what else I could put out there today.  I wanted to turn the house inside out like a dollhouse – and give it all up for grabs.  We are calling them Freecyle Fridays now.  Today’s victim was a metal patio table with the hole in the middle for an umbrella.  The umbrella in the garage isn’t the one that goes with it even though she was convinced it was.  No amount of magic was going to get that pole in a hole that was too small for it.  “Okay get rid of the table…but keep the umbrella.”  Thank GOD!!!

It’s been a long three days.  I’ve gotten lots done but there are moments of despair.  There is no way around this but through it and each baby step counts.

A friend of her’s from church died earlier in the week.  Tomorrow was supposed to be the day we go to the cemetary to “clean” but the funeral is in the morning and that would be too much for her.  So before the cut & perm I had scheduled on her behalf today, I drove her out to do the grave thing.  I had been out earlier in the morning and knew what had to be done so I had everything I needed in the car.

As we were getting out of the car, she lamented that she didn’t have a little American flag to put on Billy’s grave for Memorial Day.  “Like this one?” – I had stopped and gotten one before I loaded her into the car…

When we got to the headstone she noticed what I knew was there – bird poop on Billy’s head – well at least dribbling down his name.  I had a gallon of soapy water and a rag to take care of that.  And we laughed that of all the open space that they could have aimed…it landed not just on Billy’s head but the McNiece family common gravestone too.  So they both got a quick wash and buff.

I never thought about Memorial Day much before.  She was telling me on the way out that as a little girl in Bemidji it was day that they really got excited about…especially because her maternal grandfather was a Civil War vet and there was all kinds of music and hoopla that went with decorating the graves with little flags.

So I am feeling all American and good about freecyclin’, cleaning up the headstones and Free Fallin’.  And who could be more American than Tom Petty? 

what hurts worse than a root canal?

20 05 2009

DSC_0026It is all about perspective.  Before 9 a.m. two Mondays in a row, I found myself with innumerable items jammed into my mouth and held captive for an hour and a half of torture.  I take the gas.  Strap me down, knock me out and get it over with already!

Some things are just a momentary pain…then there is THE TOOL BENCH.  I spent the days I wasn’t here just strategizing.  How to sort, where to sort, when to sort.  Tools will be gifted or donated.  But there is lots of other stuff that isn’t worth the hassle.  Today I took a trip down to the metal recyclers to get some tips.  Remember Billy showed me the way last summer.

So with magnet in hand – I dump out jars of nails, bags of doodads, boxes of godknowswhat and what sticks to the magnet – goes in one bin, things that don’t: go to the other.  I worked for about an hour then drove back down there to see how I was doing.  $2.43 was my bounty.  I think I am going to save all the money from the project and play it on the Megamillions  – with my special series of Billy numbers.  To the victor go the spoils!


how to clean the attic

13 05 2009

DSC_0005Step 1:  

Go to have your teeth cleaned.  Never mind that it has been over 4 years and you aren’t having any pain or trouble.  Let them do a full set of x-rays which will suddenly change the course of your life.

Step 2:

Meet with the kind receptionist who is left to tell you that your “no pain-no gain” clause will cost you at least $3000.  Now you have pain.  There is gnashing of teeth, clenching, grinding and other goodies that will eventually cost more if you don’t stop and get a grip immeditately.  Smile, thank her and tell her you’ll get back to her soon to schedule.

Step 3:

Wait two weeks – Eat a pretzel and allow one chunk of salt to find its way to that spot of decay that they said they saw on the x-rays that you instantly believe really IS there.  Ponder the tears in your eyes and the pain radiating from your jaw, through the side of your head, directly to the brain center that triggers the dialing mechanism in your fingers.  Try not to cry while talking again to the nice receptionist and begging her for an appointment NOW.

Step 4:

Go to the pharmacy to pick up the meds she phoned in for you to take while you wait another 4 days for your appointment.  Caution: remember next time when she asks if you want a prescription for additional pain meds the answer is always YES even though you don’t have an insurance plan that will cover the expense.  Some things are just priceless.  Do not question why you have been prescribed steroids and an antibiotic.  Begin to trust the dentist’s wisdom.

Step 5:

Pay careful attention to the literature accompanying the meds which will alert you to the onset of periods of delusional or psychotic behavior.  By day 2 of your 5-day blister pack, you will notice aforementioned changes.

Step 6:

Go to the appointment for the root canal that you never knew you needed because there was no pain.  Ask for the gas and cry when they take it off your face and tell you they couldn’t get to the root and you now need to see a specialist NEXT week.

Step 7:

Open the sunroof and all car windows.  Allow the Tourette’s to flow freely as you drive home.  Take more steroids.  Watch HGTV.  Be aware as the anger becomes part of you.

Remember that the workman are coming this week to install new attic windows.  Do not despair that you ordered them before you knew that you were going to give the dentist money because you had no pain.  Dwell on the fact that the workman will NOT be able to install the windows because there is no floor space left in the attic.

Step 8:

Take yet another day of steroids and begin your attic cleanse.  Your body will not feel what it is doing.  Note:  again it is important to remember that next time the nice lady asks you if you want pain meds to say “YES, OF COURSE!”. Tell your arthritic hip with referred knee pain that it has been magically healed by the steroids and that is why it is able to make countless trips up and down the stairs like some spring chicken.

Step 9:

Stand after 8 hours of frenetic activity and take in the handiwork.  You will need this mental picture for reference in a few hours.

Step 10:

The following morning when there are no more steroids in the blister pack and your body racked by pain is wondering why a trip to the dentist resulted in 10 bags of garbage and more curbside recycling in front of the house than the whole block combined – make a plan for next week’s project for post-REAL root canal DEAL and don’t forget to ask for additional pain meds.   That is how you get the attic clean.

From Georgia with love

8 05 2009

DSC_0057Before my feet even touched the floor this morning, I had mothers on the mind.  My Blackberry blinked with an new email alert and as I lay there reading, my heart went out to a friend living in Casablanca, Morocco who’s son is getting ready to leave this summer to begin college studies in the States.  Two seconds later, NPR played a bittersweet Story Corps piece about a mom putting her daughter up for adoption.

Motherhood comes with loss.  We never know before we get into the club what may be required of us…the form that it will take – but it is inevitable.  Best Boy is making plans to move to LA later this summer.  I do my best to stuff down all the feelings I have about that.  Since he’s the one, who at three years of age was quick to say “no talkin’ B!”, his thoughts and words tumble out only when we are in close physical proximity doing something totally unrelated.  I am already imagining the worst and thinking that the next time I will really have an inkling of what is rolling around in his head is never.

It is the nature of motherhood to jump to dramatic conclusions – most of which never come true.  But some things do and we’ll find ourselves caught in nightmares that we can’t ever really shake – the forms they take are as bizarre as dreams themselves – things don’t make sense and are random, sometimes seen in black and white but often garishly colored.

My thoughts then went to the Mrs.  She just had a sibling reunion at her place with the two remaining brothers.  I stayed put up here in the North so as to give them all their emotional and physical space (I would have had to sleep in the car).  She wondered out loud as to how many more times this side of forever they would all be together again.

She has been in the role of mother for almost 70 years now.

Little did Georgia Ora Smith know how she had prepared her daughter for such a lifelong stint.  Certainly she herself had been an incredibly strong woman who was purposed enough and undaunted by the conventions of her day to become a school teacher on the Red Lake Reservation in northern Minnesota before she wed.  I have to find the picture that has long captivated me with Georgia primly dressed standing tall beside the Chief in full feather regalia – his arm draped around her shoulder.  One of the few things in addition to that faded photograph that I know of – is the hand-hewn, soft, silver spoon that has my mother’s teeth marks still warping the outer edges of the bowl.

Georgia’s third child was finally a girl followed a couple years later by another son. She didn’t know that the Great Depression would bounce their family from North to South like a ping pong ball.  Nor could she predict that her husband would be sent to a mental hospital in the South because so little was understood about grand mal epileptic seizures at the time.

Her diaries record those years when a $5 money order would come postmarked from somewhere on the road as my Grandfather’s watch repair panel truck/livingquarters meandered from town to town looking desperately for what little work he could find in an effort to support his struggling family.  Christmas gifts of an orange along with a glorious quart of milk for each of them that they didn’t HAVE to share is a memory the Mrs. often recalls.   Georgia kept them together as a family.  It was pure determination. She never knew that she only had 14 years to spend with her daughter.  An outbreak of “sleeping sickness” stole her away leaving my mother to be the embodiment of the sacred feminine in an all male household.

After that summer of sadness,  another woman was brought into my mother’s life – her demented paternal grandmother from Canada – now in the care of the recently widowed son and his four children.  I silently scream, “What were you thinking??” but it was family and that is what you did.

My mother must have been 15 or so when she and her younger brother headed out with that demented grandmother she hardly knew – surely still reeling from the loss of her own mother – on a bus bound for the Chicago area and yet another new home.  At a rest stop, the grandmother found a police man and claimed to have been kidnapped by these two kids.  My mom said she remembers just standing there crying and begging the policeman to just take her grandmother away.  It was all sorted out and the journey continued.

A hell of a way to start the journey into mothering.  She had no one to share all the girlie girl things with along the way.  She is someone who’s shoulders have long been weighted with doing – housework, laundry, nurturing, caring, fussing – in short, loving the best she knew how.

I think of the millions of hours Shop Girl and I have spent laying side by side in the dark talking through her days while she still lived at home.  That has all been replaced by Friends & Family plans or free Mobile to Mobile minutes.  Her time in LA just meant my phone would ring at 3 a.m.  And I expect it will again.

What did Georgia know to teach the Mrs., that the Mrs. taught me, that I can teach Shop Girl, who will be mother in her own time?  My mom has always been a sounding board for me.  Secretly, she may have been screaming at me – truthfully, she may have been scared out of her wits as to what I was saying or doing…but she was listening.  To say it never came with judgment is not to say she didn’t show me right from wrong but I never felt like I wasn’t loved and respected as a person who was working through the twisty turns of my own personal journey and she was there to remind me that I was cherished regardless of the outcome.

DSC_0021Maybe the genius is in the baby spoon.  Before children can feed themselves, our hands direct the spoon.  One spoonful at a time.   Sometimes we end up wearing what we’ve attempted to put in…it gets spit back at us or gagged up.  We don’t have any guarantees that once it is in the body it will do its intended work.  But we load it up and head it toward the mouth nonetheless.  And in return, there may be times that our efforts to help get “bit” and permanent scars at the edges of our lives might be markers of our best intentions.

Georgia’s spoon is a constant reminder to love and nurture – weather the losses with grace and resilience befitting the generations of strong women that have shown me the way – but with a steady hand offer up yummy morsels of life itself.

p.s. Here’s a shout out to my neighbor Kathy who is a the consumate picture of motherhood itself.  She runs a wonderful day care and is the best substitute mommy I can imagine while their mommies have to be out there trying to keep food on the table.  And she still has time to have beautiful tulips in her yard.  Right before a storm the other night and they were away, I stole over and brought some digital goodness into my life.

doohickeys and whatchamacallits

7 05 2009

DSC_0084For Shop Girl – it is Nordstrom’s Rack.  For me – the hardware store.  Those places where just stepping inside makes your heart race just a little faster as your eyes dart back and forth at all the glory.  I go with a single purchase in mind and come out with something entirely different- even at times forgetting what I went there for in the first place.

It happened like that for me last week while I was at the Mrs.’ place.  Whatever it was I went for, was soon forgotten when, blinded like Paul on the Damascus Road, I mysteriously found myself standing yet again in front of the “Wall of Wonder” – the paint chips.  I never tire of stealing hands full  at a time for no good reason.  Well, I do have my reasons even if I never get around to purchasing a quantity that would fit in a gallon bucket.  Buying those itty bitty sampler jars doesn’t hurt at all and they don’t guilt you into commitment.  Genius – those wonderkins at Benjamin Moore that came up with that marketing ploy.  No wait! – I remember why I am am looking at these colors – a friend who lives 300 miles away is looking for new colors for her livingroom.  Or is it me…?

I blame Billy for my hopeless addiction to hardware stores.  There was nothing he couldn’t fix or at least attempt to fix.  Just last summer there was something wonky with their toaster one evening and I had plans to just toss it and get another one the next day knowing it had probably been around twice its normal life expectancy.  Magically the next morning it was working fine and in commenting on it, Billy piped up claiming to have been up all night, taking it all apart and fixing it.  There was NO WAY I was sleeping THAT deeply on the couch 5 feet away.  Maybe by then, he just did it by some means of psychokinesis – maybe we understand less about dementia than we think.

Regardless, I have inherited the DIY (do-it-yourself) approach to simple home repairs.  Plus, I have a leg-up with YouTube.  What’s not to love?  Or one better – my other addiction to HGTV.  Never mind that what I don’t have are the fifty people off camera to do all the heavy lifting, time-lapse photography that isn’t shown with the time code running, a mobile tool shed the size of Montana, a MegaMillions budget and the yummy carpenters to boot.

Since we seem to have passed the Big Thaw here in the Arctic Circle AND I finally got around to storing the garden hose sometime in Februrary, I have been noticing that the outside faucet was dripping ever so slowly and steadily – wetting the side of the house right where there is a seismic gap between driveway and the foundation large enough to stick my fist in. With my recently acquired first hand knowledge and terror of what water in a basement can mean when it is ignored for years, I was going to put a stop to it immediately.

In less than ten minutes, I had the entire faucet in hand (after shutting off the water valve you idiot!) and was inside my handy Ace-is-the-place-with-the-helpful-hareware-man store.  Lady #1 with the ear piece sent me to the correct aisle  and alerted any staff hiding away somewhere in the bowels of the store sorting penny nails that a customer needed help and let them know my “20”.  I pawed through the wall of cute little bins and waited.  Finally settling on what I thought I needed, she noticed me again and barked into  her mouth piece that the “customer has been waiting a LONG time for help!!!” and would someone please respond.

As I stood there with two gizmos in hand, another red-vested woman appeared and I foolishly thought this was going to be another “dispatcher” – “Are you finding what you’re looking for?”  I just wanted confirmation that I wasn’t getting a boiler drain or gas feed – she looked at the original I held and pointed to the 3/4″ and said “That one!”  I turned it over and over in my hand trying to see what markings had made her so sure.

“How did you do that?  It looks just like the 1/2”?

“Honey, after 31 years of looking at sillcocks – you’ve seen one- you’ve seen them all…you can tell the size just by looking at them!” In that moment, I was overwhelmed with jealousy – I wanted to BE her.

A sillcock!  Yes – this was no ordinary doohickey (Billy’s favorite utilitarian hardware word)…it was in fact a sillcock.  Not  – “outdoor-faucet-where-you-hook-up-your-garden-hose”.  I’m dying to know just how it got its name!

I could hardly wait to get home and the Dr. knew I was up to no good when I stood on the back porch – two sillcocks in hand- with a huge grin on my face.  “Are you proud of yourself?”  Silly boy – of course, I was!  I grabbed my Teflon tape (any girl worth her salt always has a roll on hand) and a few “righty-tightitys” later and a jog to the basement to turn the shut-off valve back on – and we were in business.  But all was not said and done until I asked the Dr. to check to see if his sillcock was dripping.  I love my job!


how I roll

1 05 2009

DSC_0003It has already been a full week since I saw this little guy enjoying the farmer’s market in Yellow Springs, OH.  No one needs to tell me that the older I get the faster time goes…but YIKES!  Seriously – where DID seven days go?

Unlike a few weeks in my recent past spent lazily reclined on my couch reading book after book (I do miss them!), this week was punctuated with progress.  There was a nagging little post-it note buried on the Mrs.’ bulletin board that now has more things marked OFF than visible.

As morbid as it may seem, one of the things she really wanted to take care of while “I still have my wits about me”, as she put it,  was pre-planning and pre-paying funeral arrangements.  After all, she really liked everything about how things were done for Billy’s, so why not just “ditto” them.  We sat there flipping through the book of memorial folders and thank you notes and she quickly and effortlessly settled on appropriate themes – she decided that Alfred Lord Tennyson‘s poem “Crossing The Bar” didn’t work since she had not been a sailor.  I had to agree.

Later in the day we were talking about the experience and she said that it had been so easy – so free of emotion.  She couldn’t imagine what it would be like making those simple decisions so fraught with grief. We siblings had done the arranging of things for Billy and she fully trusted us with the task. The kinds of situations funeral directors must face on a daily basis is astounding.  I’ll take my job, thank you very much.

This week was momentous too because there is great hope.  An expert who spends his working hours in cobwebby, dank flooded basements – uttered the words I dared to believe possible – “Fixable.  Definitely fixable.”  It was like a mega dose of Super-Complex vitamin B for me…let’s hope that the high lasts long enough to do what needs to be done to get us to the day they actually show up with all the gear on site.

Are those two things off the list what made this week different?  Or had it been the road trip on an unseasonably warm weekend – just getting in my car and driving for 5 hours?  Just two nights away from all the familar things that nag nag nag their way into my brain night after night.  Is stepping away the key to getting things done?

I felt a little like Lucky Chihuahua inside a shopping cart getting to see and go places I don’t normally roam and a tad pampered at that.  Dinner out, breakfast out, long conversations…that’s all it took.  What a lucky dog I am.