Archive | July 2013

It’s Never Too Late To Become A Fan(atic)

I literally had my whole entire life to stalk him.  He grew up in Abbott, Texas spitting distance from my dad’s home town (Forreston, Texas) and was cresting the height of fame when I was in utero. 

But I didn’t pay one iota of attention to Willie Nelson because I fucking hated his music. I hated almost all country music, making exceptions only for Dolly Parton, and later in college, I made discreet one-off exceptions (like if country song was playing when I made out with a cute Sigma Chi– see Moon Over Georgia).  My dad always had his tapes around– I remember him singing “Turn Out The Lights, The Party’s Over,” when he was trying to get us kids to bed.  It worked, because the song was so lame it made my ears burn so I crawled into bed to SHUT MY DAD UP. 

When I got older, I appreciated Willie’s Farm Aid efforts to raise money for the disappearing American family farm, but I was busy with INXS’s Calling All Nations Tour and memorizing the cast of We Are The World.

Picture #43 of 189 that Outlaw Mama's Mama took during a Willie concert in Texas

Picture #43 of 189 that Outlaw Mama’s Mama took during a Willie concert in Texas

My family members were always on the bandwagon.  One of them has seen Willie in concert more than I have seen the inside of my local Costco.  I get Shutterfly photo albums from my parents that are nothing but pictures of Willie on stage in his signature red bandana.  Sure, it was amusing to see my mother’s 400 pictures of the Red-headed Stranger, but it was nothing to get all ablaze about.

But, then something happened.

Maybe I was ripe for an obsession or it was some nostalgic reflex occasioned by my recent milestone birthday.  No doubt there are Oedipal-Freudian connections that aren’t appropriate for this family friendly blog.  But I’ve caught Willie fever.  And it’s bad. 

I first saw him last October and since then I’ve practically bankrupted my discretionary budget downloading his music. (He’s recorded over 250 albums so I was screwed from the start.)  I’ve read 2.5 biographies about him, 3 chapters of his autobiography, and have conceptualized a novel based on a portion of his life that I find fascinating.  I can’t get through a conversation without bringing him up.   Last night I dreamed he was playing at a casino in Joliet but I missed it.  I woke up tear-stained and clinically depressed.

As a joke Jeff will say, “Name a few facts about Willie Nelson,” and I’ll rattle them off like some savant tot on the Ellen Degeneres show.   But I’m not a tot. I’m a grown ass woman.

And Mr. Nelson started recording back in 1958 (when he was 25 years old), but genius fan over here didn’t bother to become a fan(atic) until he turned 79. My timing is impeccable like that.

To sum up: Now I am stalking an 80-year-old pothead.  It feels really good to be someone my kids can look up to.  I check his website everyday to see where he is and wonder if his daughter Paula has made him eggs yet or if he’s gone on his run.  Is he playing golf?  How many tokes today? Will he ever do an acoustic tour– just him, his guitar, Trigger, and a stool? I joined the fan club so I can get “breaking” news.  I’ve spent therapy time talking about my deep regret that I came to this so late– “He’s 80 years old! How many more concerts could I possibly see? Why didn’t I start sooner? Why did I ignore his genius until now?”

God bless my family who has to live through this with me.  Ever patient with my little enthusiasms, Jeff made me this birthday cake:

Happy Birthday, Outlaw Mama!

Happy Birthday, Outlaw Mama!

That’s love, people.  My love for Willie, Jeff’s love for me and an obsession I can’t shake, that should have started decades ago.

I find refuge in Uncle Willie’s lyrics:

“Time will take care of itself so leave time alone / And pick up the tempo just a little and take it on home.”


No Grocery Shopping Til We Move…In Three Weeks

“Oh yes, we will eat all of the food in this house before we move.”

Image credit:

Image credit:

That’s the new catch phrase at my house.  Some families have headier missions, like reducing its carbon footprint or saying the rosary every night.  Others skew more towards entertainment and have catch phrases like Bingeing on Scooby Doo One Episode at a Time  or We Think Used Egg Cartons Make Fun Costumes.

Not us. 

We are moving in three weeks, so our aim is to reduce the amount of new stuff coming into the house we are packing up.  Apparently that includes groceries. 

While I was generally following Jeff’s edict that we shouldn’t buy any new crap, I didn’t take it quite as literally as he did.  I made a pretty big mistake at Trader Joe’s the other day.   I bought some peanut butter.  For the kids’ lunches.  Yes, it was organic and sugar-free, but I felt his withering stare when he discovered it, because WE ALREADY HAD PEANUT BUTTER IN THE PANTRY.  I just didn’t see it when I was making the grocery list.

I won’t be making that mistake again.

Because I refuse to go to the grocery store again while I am a resident of our current address.  I am going to show Jeff that I am following our plan.

This morning before work, I dug deep into our freezer and found something to thaw out for dinner.  My kids are going to turn on me tonight when I serve them 2 oz of beef brisket (from a Hanukkah before they were conceived), a freezer burnt Trader Joe’s burrito and for dessert: ice chips!  They will probably try to kill me in my sleep.

But that’s nothing compared to what will go down next week when I turn my attention to the canned goods in that little cabinet with shelves that spin around.  Let’s just say that I went through a significant black bean phase that involved me buying cases of them at Costco this winter.  That’s going to be ugly, especially because I still have a child in diapers.

There will eventually be tuna casserole and whatever recipe I can find that uses 238 ounces of tomato sauce.  I have a few stalks of celery that I will ration among us so we don’t contract scurvy.  For fruit servings we have raisins, strawberry preserves, and popsicles (which are 9% juice).

I’m totally gonna do it, ya’ll.  I’m going to use every single drop of food in my house or die trying.  Which very well may happen when I serve my family a leftover breastmilk smoothie on moving day.

Using The Wizard of Oz As A Spiritual Lithmus Test With A Four-Year Old

While I have yet to master the physical tasks of my job as a parent, I was ready to embark on the spiritual ones.  Yes, I was ready to introduce meaning-of-life lessons into my parenting in a concerted, explicit way, which means I plopped them right into the bedtime routine.

I started at the beginning: The Bible The Wizard of Oz.  Sadie and Simon are both enthralled with the story, which they know only from my fractured telling.  “This young girl in a pretty gingham pinafore gets lost in a storm– no one was hurt– and she wanted to get back to her pig farm…”  My bright idea was to talk about it as a spiritual journey.  (You’re wondering if I have a Harvard divinity school degree right now aren’t you?– I don’t, but I watched a lot of Davey and Goliath claymation in the 70s.)

Spiritual questers. (image credit:

Spiritual questers. (image credit:

So, I told my kids about the spiritual quest for home (Dorothy), intellectual satisfaction (Scarecrow), courage (lion) and heart (Tin Man).  I tell them about Oz and his suspect ability to grant wishes that were really satisfied through the questioner’s journey.  When I’m really channeling my inner preacher, I tell them what they seek may be inside them all along. Hallelujah! Can I get an ‘amen’?

I skipped the parts about the mean witch, the flying monkeys (because OMGODTHEYARESOSCARY), and that psychedelic field of poppies (because we are a drug-free household.)  Once Sadie had a grasp of the plot, I started asking her deeper questions to understand what kind of longings a four-year old has.

My biggest fear was that she would only be able to express longings for plastic consumer goods that come emblazoned with her favorite “characters.”  I was so scared to get that answer that I waited a week before I asked her anything direct about her wishes.  The question was a test: where did the child I am raising fall on the Tori Spelling — Deepak Chopra continuum?  (Which is another way of saying is she more like me or her hard-working, anti-materialistic father?)

You can imagine why I might be scared to walk down this road.

The night had come.  She was splayed out on the bed, clutching her non-name-brand stuffed giraffe and asking me about Dorothy’s red shoes, a detail she seized on during the first telling.  Her closet light was on and the doors were open so it was bright as high noon in Tuscan.  After describing the incredible adhesive glitter on Dorothy’s red shoes, I was ready to ask Sadie the question that was the culmination of my lesson plan on The Wizard of Oz.

“Sadie, if you could ask the Wizard for one thing what would it be?”

In the silence, we both stared at the ceiling, our heads resting on the same pillow. I could hear the soft ticking of her Disney Princess clock, and I worried it would distract her and make her think of princesses.  I wanted her to wish for everyone to have enough to eat or for her teacher’s new baby.  I really wanted it to be something with soul and something that can’t be bought at Target.

She was thinking so hard I saw her giraffe’s head buckle from her squeezing.  Just when I thought she was going to blow me off altogether– which would be better than hearing she wished for a fucking Barbie dream house– she sat up  and looked down at my face.

“I’d wish for breasts.”

Of course.

Of course a four-year-old little girl wants breasts. Now, I can’t decide if that’s the worst thing she could have said or if it is an expression of a deep desire to mother (and be like her own amply-breasted mother), so it’s adorable and innocent.  With that answer, she took my little Tori-Deepak continuum, threw it against the mantle then went out into the garage with a circle saw and make a new continuum: Dolly Parton or that little girl from Are You There, God, It’s Me, Margaret?

I’m not sure what her answer means.  But, since you can’t buy breasts at Target (yet), I guess I got what I wished for.  The spiritual lesson plans on are hiatus until further notice.

5 Ways To Ruin Your Summer

I am not going to hide my light under a bushel during this post. No-sir-ee.  I’m going to brag like a teen-aged boy who scored with a 24-year-old hottie.  But this isn’t about statutory rape or premarital sex or hormones.  This is a post about summer.

And how to ruin it.

Please excuse this F bomb. image credit:

Please excuse this F bomb. image credit:

If summer is a delicate souffle, then I’m a loud clanging gong-y monster with a pitchfork I use to pierce eggy dishes.

Oh, I ruined it alright. It’s not even over, but I did enough damage during June and July that it will reverberate for the next 6 weeks.  Someone please get me an ice pack, I am hurting my shoulder from patting my back so hard for the great job I did zapping joy and squashing fun all summer.

How’d you do it? you might ask.  Let me distill this down to a handy list.  Really, any three of the following five will work, but when you overachieve like me, you knock ’em all out before August.

How To Ruin A Summer Break

  1. Read A Scary Book.  It’s possible that this alone might have ruined by summer.  While all of you were watching the Zimmerman trial and waiting for Kanye’s spawn to be born, I was buried in a book about a school shooting.  The book was well written, expertly researched, and riveting, but it was about school shooting, which is a topic that I can’t handle without terror-induced panic attacks.  The minute I read the introduction to the book, fear like a virus spread through my body, leaving me tense and headachey.  Did I stop reading about Columbine? No, because that might have saved the summer. I read the whole thing and now find myself obsessed with psychopathy and deathly afraid of alienated male youth.  I am considering home schooling.
  2. Publish A Post On A Heated Topic.  This one too might have done it alone.  I wrote a post for a public website, and when the editor accepted it, she said, “you might get some heat here.”  Ever the woman of the world, I was all I can take heat! Bring it!  But then the comments came and I crumpled like a paper doll in a hail storm.   I read the first one and felt my breakfast inching up from my stomach.   I can’t take the heat.  Heat scares me.  Offending other people terrifies me.  Having anonymous strangers lash out at me sends me to the bathroom with GI distress.  (You will note I am too chicken to link to any of this here. Maybe next summer.)
  3. Turn 40 And Concentrate On How Life Is Half Over.  Yep, the big four OH.  It was a lovely day in my blessed life, but then I started collecting statistics about things that go wrong in the female human body after 40.  Now when I get a headache, I am sure that it’s menopause or a hematoma, but either way it’s a sign of my internal decay.
  4. Decide You Have To Move.  This decision should be made in a haze of panic and fear that a long school commute in the fall might shorten the lives of your family members. (You’ve read those studies that commuting adds stress and makes otherwise healthy people lose their hair, right?) Then, whip yourself into some urgency and pick out one neighborhood across town where you’d be willing to live, but where the houses rarely go on sale in your price range.  Once one you can afford goes on sale, drag your husband– who’s fresh out of oral surgery– to a showing and put in an offer.  Because you know what? Those insurance charts that say moving is one of the “most stressful” things humans undertake should be tested by your family.  During the summer.
  5. Put Yourself On A “Have No Mercy” Budget.  I should have been on a budget all along, and I used to adhere to one, but after my second child was born, I fell off my family’s financial grid.  And I developed some spendy habits.  Like treating myself to something material for accomplishing banal tasks like bathing my children or wearing matching shoes to work.  Did I deserve Ann Taylor Loft bauble for completing tasks concerning basic hygiene? No.  Did I do it anyway in fits of self-entitlement and delusion? Sometimes.  But now I’m on the fiscal straight and narrow, which is great, except it came on the heels of the previous four items so it’s like pouring alcohol on a gaping wound.  It hurts. 

Ever ruined a perfectly good summer? How’d you do it? I might need tips for next year.

Yes, I’m Squelching My Kids’ Passion

“Passion is energy.” — Oprah Winfrey

For years I searched for a passion– that singular thing that would compel me to stay up late, eschew nourishment, and deny myself other simple pleasures because I was swept up into the monsoon of passion.  I eventually found my way to my passion, but I was a good three decades into life.

My kids, however, they’ve stumbled upon a passion very young.  A deep and abiding fire burns inside both of them, and in pursuit of that passion, they would forsake everything– ice cream, popsicles, trips to the park, a chance to ruin stuff in my purse. 

Their passion? Band-Aids.  While they love the character Band-Aids, they will not reject a plain old brown one.  They are all over my house, my children, and my ass, which was awesome when I found one there (outside of my clothes) after a discussion with my boss.

Such good times. 

I want to foster their passions, but this one needs some squelching.  Maybe it makes me a bad parent but I plan to prune the branches of their passion tree because I can’t take it anymore.

Read more about the Great Band-Aid Epidemic here.

When The Snarky Retorts Fail, There Is Always Silence

I love a blog post that builds to a dramatic conclusion– that moment where the hero (me) says the perfect thing to the jerk at the gas station or when I finally summon the courage to ask for another breadstick, even though they’re slathered in butter and I’m surrounded by skinny people who won’t touch ’em.

This isn’t one of those blog posts.

There will be no crescendo of righteousness or perfect final quip, but it will be the truth and the truth is that I don’t always have a snarky retort.  Sometimes I just have silence and whatever look is on my face in the moment.

That’s what I had Sunday morning when I picked out a bike for spin class.  I’d brought along a piece of bona fide literature, but dumped it as soon as I saw the People magazine with that guy from Glee on it.  My nose buried in Cory Monteith’s pain, I didn’t see one of the gym regulars come up beside me– too close– and start talking to me. Sort of.

“That’s my bike,” I heard her say, while I was still reading about Cory’s Canadian childhood and the odds he beat to end up on a hit show.  She stepped even closer and repeated. “That’s my bike. I’m always on that bike.”

First I stared at her, then I stared at the 15 empty bikes in the room.  Then I went back to People.

“That didn’t even phase you, did it?” She never stopped staring at me.

I looked up again and couldn’t think of a single thing to say.  Had she asked me directly to move, there would be something to negotiate, and honestly, I would have done it. Because I get it.  I get routine and claiming shit at the gym and feeling attached to stuff that doesn’t actually belong to you.  It was important to her– clearly– and not to me; I picked that bike only because it was close to the exit.

I didn’t know what to do with her statements about “her” bike, and the class was starting in one minute.  It would have taken at least that long to unhook my shoes from “her” bike, move my unread copy of Crime and Punishment, and establish some intimacy with a new bike.

Wasn’t gonna happen.

Throwing her hands up, she chose the bike right next to me.  I guess it was the next best thing to being on her beloved LifeCycle.  All through class I could hear sighs and grunts that seemed to suggest that her class experience was ruined because lousy me had stolen her bike.  I never looked over at her, because I was scared of engaging. 

When the class was over, I wiped down “her” bike and left the room.  I watched her adjust her black sweatband with a huff of negative energy as I turned the corner.

The story would be better if I had sent her Zen-like blessings of love and peace throughout class or if I rolled out a zinger like some sassy sitcom star– you know, whatever today’s version of “Kiss My Grits” is.  Maybe I could have come up with some life lesson about serenity in the face of other people’s “stuff” or some manifestation of will to power.  But none of that happened.

I was silent and that’s the whole story.

A Fortieth Year of Blessings

I didn’t think I had issues with turning 40. Then again, for years I thought I would be a high school teacher in Conroe, Texas so I guess people change.

It started one week from my 40th birthday when I got a headache so bad I thought I’d hurl my vital organs across my bedroom. I figured it was because I’d cried so hard during Willie Nelson’s Ravinia concert that I gave myself my first migraine. Because a girl’s gotta know how to treat herself real special.  But underneath it all there was some sadness about getting older (me and Willie) and some terror about my own  mortality.

Shortly thereafter I embarked on what I like to call “charming but morbid reflection”. And I can’t stop it. Everywhere I go I see mortality and finality.   I’ve had to drop the “charming” because now it’s really just morbid reflection.

Like when I took the bus the other day.  I did not embrace the ride as an opportunity to breathe in the aroma of my fellow travelers or to savor the slice of Americana that is the southbound Milwaukee Avenue bus.  No, I preferred to chronologically sort everyone’s ages so I could tell if I’m closer to the young people or the old people. I was pleased to be right in the middle until a group of high students got on.  At that point, I became one of several old ladies staring at everyone with a scowl on my wrinkled face.

But, even in my darkest moments, I know that being alive and healthy at 40 ain’t bad.   What’s wrong with being half way between my mama’s birth canal and my grave?

Yesterday, I watched as some teenagers whisked by me, their arses hanging out of their ridiculous and tiny neon shorts.  My first thought: They have their whole lives ahead of them. Me?  Only half. Maybe less.  My second thought: They’re gonna have to learn about pants that cover their assets soon enough.  Their days are coming.  But look at me! No one can see my butt cheeks!


This whole line of thinking snuck up on me.  What am I doing bemoaning anything? I have the life I want– beautiful family whose flaws I appreciate and can work with– a first-world existence, loyal and talented friends, a Costco card. Really?  What’s the problem here?

The answer is nothing except I know it won’t be like this forever. That makes me crazy with terror and grasping. Sometimes life is so beautiful I have to turn my face away and stare at my problems for a while. Because the problems make sense to me– not enough money or time or patience or discipline– but these blessings make no sense. These beautiful children leave me a-quiver with gratitude that sometimes hurts my heart cells.  And my husband? The same. To paraphrase the Talking Heads, how the hell did I get here and who are these beautiful people who love me and wipe their snotty noses on me?

My worries and morose musings fit my mind like an old leather glove. My blessings bring the discomfort of the unexpected and the undeserved.  I don’t understand a thing about any of this, but I know I am blessed.  Deeply blessed, and it scares the shit out of me to imagine how to be worthy of it all so I’d rather think about death.  Because I’m weird and now I’m 40 so no more apologizing for that.