Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Feast Of The Dead

In honor of the day, I present to you my paternal 3x Great Grandparents, Jacob and Catherine. This photo, taken around 1903, was found in a collection of glass negatives that were given to Drake Well Museum. http:// In addition to being a museum dedicated to the Birthplace of the Oil Industry, they also have a great archives collection, that is open to the public.

I didn't know a thing about these people before I started researching, and certainly didn't have a picture of them until we went to Drake Well. It was a bizarre feeling, finding a picture of a long-lost ancestor.

What I love about this picture, other than the sheer incredible-ness of finding it, is that I can see genetics in action. I don't know the why of it, but Jacob is posing for a portrait of himself and his wife wearing the filthiest shirt, and the most pitifully loose pants I have ever seen. It immediately puts me in mind of my father - he refuses to wear anything dressier than corduroy jeans, and doesn't own a single tie. Both my sister and I had to blackmail him to wear a tuxedo for our respective weddings, and he still bitched about it, before, during, and after. I like to think that his Great-great grandfather shared his disdain for fancy clothes.

It would also appear that Jacob might have been what is known as a "butt-less wonder", a trait also shared by my father, whose need to wear suspenders got him the extra pat-down at every airport security stop between here and Wales last year (much to my brother's delight).

Also, like my father, Jacob doesn't appear to be the kind of man you ever attempt to dress. Most of his face is blown out by the sun, but there remains one eye, intently staring, defying the laws of niceties. Now that I think of it, whoever took this picture takes pictures the way my dad does - everyone faces into the sun - maybe it was a family member? Another possible example of genetics in action.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

The Day Before All Hallows Eve

The day before the great pumpkin rises and I have just gotten my decorations underway. I think I hid/threw away all the tacky paper pictures the grandparents brought last year for the kids to decorate with. I know thay meant well, but the whole wicked witch with the green face and the evil black cat are kind of offensive to me as symbols of the season.

Traditionally, All Hallows, or Samhain, was known as the Feast Of The Dead. In the Celtic culture ancestor worship was a part of this festival, along with the more colorful belief that the division between this world and the next was open at this time. It also marked the end of the year in the Celtic calendar; the end of the growing season, and the beginning of the winnowing time.

Tomorrow will be something of a whirlwind, trying to juggle the holiday activities at school with the mad dash to carve pumpkins (I think we might just do them ahead this year); getting ready for the Trick-or-Treaters, and trying to observe our own End-of-Year ritual (all the pumpkins and candles must be lit at sunset, to mark the end of the last day and light our way into the darkness of winter).

I love that on Hallow 'een, we take back our neighborhood streets and go out among our neighbors to meet and greet. Its the problem I have with the whole Trick-or Treat thing at a mall or a church - our fear of trouble on "the streets" isn't helped by running away from the neighborhood - this is the one time during the year that you can go out freely into your neighborhood, walk the streets with your kids, talk to people, and reclaim the streets of your neighborhood. Not participating in that leaves not only dark doors and gaps in the place you live, but it affects the community's sense of itself as a whole. I think we should take advantage of this time of year and the carte blanche it gives us to approach our neighbors and get to know each other. Communication with one another is a far greater defense for the quality of a community than running away.

Samhain Greetings to All! and a Happy New Year!

Monday, October 29, 2007

An Unprecedented Event

I can't believe it! Every year I take the boys out to the local produce stand, or the Farmer's Market to take their picture with the pumpkins. It started with the Professor, our first-born, when he was a baby, and the expressions on their faces have pretty much been deteriorating since then (and he was pretty grumpy looking in the first shot, as it was).

Maybe it was because today is a Teacher Workday, so they were revelling in being home on a Monday. Maybe it was the extra bonus day of playing Civilization on the computer (though they did have to do extra household chores to earn it, but what's a little vacuuming, against extra time to RULE THE WORLD?), but for whatever reason, the guys actually SMILED TOGETHER in this year's Pumpkin Portrait installment.
Exhibit A:
Don't they look nice? So civilized-seeming. I almost fall for it myself.

Actually, I was confabbing with Bea yesterday and we were congratulating ourselves on the fine upstanding young barbarians we have raised collectively - ie; the young men seen above. Considering what they could be like, I feel pretty lucky to have these two wild but lovable guys.

And they don't clean up too badly either!

I also have to send out many copious thanks to Ms. Q, my resident fairy godmother, who brought me a giant Chinese takeout box of NEW PAINT! I am very excited to have lovely new tubes of artistic goodness all freshly arranged in my paintbox. Let the Painting Begin! Thank You so much Ms. Q - I feel so very loved today!

Friday, October 26, 2007

The Ghost Who Haunts Me

Alice Snyder
born March 24, 1864 - died December 1907

I first discovered Alice when I was given an old family bible by my aunt. It was an old Victorian bible, broken backed, and crumbling. In the back of the bible , along with a page of hand written family data, there were pictures of children. Some of them were tintypes, like this one, others were the later "Cartes de Visites" postcard variety. This was the only one with any kind of name on it - the letters "A S" were scratched onto the back in a childish hand. This picture was taken around the time that her older sister, Phoebe, and her younger brother, William, had both died.

It wasn't until I was in a research library last summer, going through obituaries that I found Alice again. There were two newspaper articles about her death, which apparently was a suicide.

I knew next to nothing of this branch of the family - my father's mother's family - my grandmother never knew any of her aunts and uncles. It always struck me weird that there was so little contact, when, according to census records, they were all living right around each other. What had happened that they no longer spoke to each other?

I think it was Alice's death that was the catalyst for their estrangement, but why did she kill herself?

These are the newspaper articles:
Venango Citizens Press
Franklin, PA. Thursday, December 26th, 1907

Suicide Of An Oil City Woman
Maiden Lady Formerly Employed In Franklin Drowns Herself In The Allegheny River At Oil City – Poor Health The Cause

Miss Alice Snyder, a maiden lady formerly employed as a domestic in Franklin, committed suicide in Oil City about 6 o’clock this morning, drowning herself in the Allegheny River. Continued ill health is assigned as the cause, the attempt being the second within the past week.

The woman was 49 years old and for the past year had been making her home with her sister, Mrs. Ed Sheats, in the Third Ward or West Side, Oil City. She had been brooding over her poor health for some time, and last Sunday swallowed carbolic acid and iodine with suicidal intent. She did not take sufficient quantities of the stuff to do her harm, however and was all right the next day.

Ten minutes before 5 o’clock this morning Walter Snyder, a young man employed in Boardman’s blacksmith shop on the West side, no relative of the woman, observed her walk rapidly past the shop, which is back off the street, going toward the river between Relief and Suspension bridges. The incident being unusual, he looked after her and saw that she stopped at the edge of the shore ice about 200 feet from the street car barn. Thinking that the woman was in trouble, Mr. Snyder went up to her and asked her if she were lost. She said she was. Then suddenly the woman turned to him and said:
“I don’t know you; go away and leave me alone.”
Young Snyder never suspected that the woman intended suicide and walked back to the shop to tell his employer of the unusual occurrence. Mr. Boardman at once became suspicious of the woman’s actions and told Snyder to notify the police and he would look after the woman.

On his way to the police station Snyder met Captain Rhines and they walked to the point where the former had left the woman. Mr. Boardman had already arrived and was exploring the footprints of the woman in the snow. They indicated that she had put her foot in the water at one point and found that it was not very deep. Then she went ten feet down the stream and found a deeper place. The edge of the ice indicated that she had deliberately lain down in the water.

The swirling of the water indicated the possible location of the body, and John and Lyman Bowersox, wearing rubber boots, waded into the stream. They had little difficulty in locating the body, but when they brought it to the surface all hope of resuscitating the woman was gone. The water was shallow, not coming to the top of the men’s boots. The body was removed to the Paul morgue, where it was identified.

Mrs. Sheats said her sister had left home early in the morning without letting any person know where she was going. She even went to the trouble of putting on her storm rubbers.
Venango Daily Herald
Thursday, December 19th, 1907

Drowned Herself
Alice Snyder, Oil City Woman, Plunged Into Allegheny This Morning

When found by neighbors, life was extinct – had tried carbolic acid last Sunday.

A plunge into the icy waters of the Allegheny River at 6 o’clock this morning brought death in cruel form to Alice Snyder, an Oil City woman, who for several days has been bent on self-destruction. At that hour the woman was missed from the home of her brother-in-law, Edward Sheets, of Halliday Street, where she had been living, and search was immediately instituted. Upon leaving the house, the unfortunate woman, who was evidently not in her right mind, made for the river in the vicinity of the Traction Company car barns on Reller Street. A man named Snyder, who works at the Boardman shop nearby, saw the woman walking along the bank and going up to her spoke to her, telling her to go into the shop and get warm, as the morning was bitterly cold. This she refused to do, and Snyder, who bears the same name without being related, went back to the shop to attend the boiler, telling Mr. Boardman about the woman. Mr. Boardman started for the river bank, but by that time the woman had disappeared.

In the meantime, Edward Sheets, the woman’s brother-in-law, had notified two men, John and L. Bowersock, teamsters, who live next door to his home, and these two, equipped with high-topped rubber boots, started in search of the missing woman.

They made for the river, and at a point some distance below the car barns of the Traction Company they saw the body lying in the water. Wading in, by their united efforts they soon brought the body to hand.

The police were notified and Paul’s ambulance summoned. The body was taken to the undertaking rooms.

Walter Snider, of Boardman’s shop, who was the last one to see and talk to the suicide before she committed the rash act, noticed that she had put a shawl over her head. In the brief conversation with her she asked him his name, which he told her.

Indecision Of Her Movements

From the footprints in the slush along the shore of the river, it was seen that the woman descended the bank and waded out into the water, and then retraced her steps to the bank, which she climbed. She walked along for a further distance of about 15 feet, when she descended again and plunged into the river.

This was the second attempt made by Alice Snyder within a few days. Last Sunday morning she attempted to kill herself by taking carbolic acid. The cold weather had congealed the liquid, however, so that only a small portion of the stuff ran out into her throat. Prompt measures taken by the rest of the family saved her from her purpose. Mr. Sheets had occasion to go to the sink in the kitchen and detected the odor of carbolic acid. At once starting an investigation he found his sister-in-law suffering, and she confessed that she had taken the poison. She had at first taken iodine, drops of which were found upon her nightdress, and when this failed, had tried the carbolic acid. At the time Mr. Sheets called in Mrs. Bowersock, and a physician was summoned, who administered the usual antidotes.

Odor Still Present

While C.A.Grabe, the undertaker, was preparing the body for burial, this morning, he found the throat burned and detected the odor of carbolic acid, which aroused the suspicion that, possibly, the unfortunate woman had tried that means again before taking to the river.

Alice Snyder was unmarried, and her relatives could not tell her exact age, which was somewhere near 45 years. The family and she herself are well known in their neighborhood, and bear only the best of reputations. The woman had been employed as a domestic, had served a number of times in prominent families here and in Franklin, having her last term of service in the latter city. She is highly spoken of as having been a capable domestic servant. She had been ill for several months and had had two or three operations for some catarrhal throat trouble. Her mind was undoubtedly unbalanced.
I went and looked up "catarrh" and it basically is a blanket term for any kind of throat or upper respiratory issue, ranging from something as benign as post-nasal drip, or a sinus infection, to the more severe, such as emphysema, tuberculosis, or throat cancer.

There is no telling what disease it was that drove Alice Snyder to the banks of the Allegheny River on a bitterly cold December morning, but I don't believe that she was deranged. I do believe that she had been, and still was in tremendous pain, without any hope of relief, and it was desperation that drove her to the river's edge.

I stood at that river's edge this past summer, trying to understand. I searched for her grave, which remains un-found, as does the family farm she was interred on. I stand on the riverbank with her, in my dreams, trying to ask her what happened.

Why do I care; why am I haunted by her? I live with chronic sinusitis. There are few days that I don't have a stuffed up head, and winter usually means at least one sinus infection, if not several. If I lived a hundred years ago, there would be no recourse or remedies to cure a sinus infection.

For Alice, whatever it was that afflicted her health, nothing had helped. She had several surgeries, which, most likely, were barbaric and ultimately, useless. She probably used carbolic acid, initially, to cauterize whatever was going on in her throat, but before the end, she was trying to kill herself with it, and failing to do so, lay down in the icy river that December morning and went into the arms of Death.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Family Dynamics, Part II

The Wicked Witch of The North

This is actually a name given to my mother's mother by my father, whose main goal in life is to stir up trouble. He never really liked her much, after she dropped his first-born (my older sister) during a party where copious imbibing was going on (basically any given party at my grandparents' house). In her defense, it was socially acceptable at the time, and I don't know that she would have been as heavy a drinker, if she hadn't been married to a raging alcoholic. Sort of the "If You Can't Beat 'Em, Join 'Em" school of thinking. Still, as a mother and a grandmother, she should have been more careful with her first grandchild.

My mother's relationship with her mother was difficult at best, and all the blame shouldn't rest on my grandmother's shoulders, though she did do her part (and in truth, don't we all?). A lot of the blame should go to my grandfather, who not only drank his life into the toilet, but along the way, dropped all of his responsibilities on other people. When my grandparents were first married, they lived with my grandfather's parents, which isn't that unusual for the 1930s, but when my mother was born (she was their first) my great grandparents took control of her. Why they did this, I don't really know - they were control freaks? My grandmother wasn't really happy about not having any autonomy over her own child, but she was alone in the house of her in-laws - her husband certainly wasn't going to say anything against his parents, who ran his life so well that he never really had to grow up. I think my grandmother's resentment towards her in-laws, once they were gone, manifested itself in being angry at the object of their affection (my mother), who I'm sure was quite the little bratty princess,
and used to getting her way. When I try to imagine having to live with MY in-laws, and having them make all the decisions about my life, my husband's life, and my child's life, I can see how that could warp a person. When my uncle was born, my grandmother grew a pair, so to speak, and declared that he "was her child", and her in-law's stranglehold of control was not allowed to touch him (It may also have helped that my grandparents finally moved into their own house around this time). I think my mother resents not being the "chosen one" with her mother, being the oldest, but she has never seemed to understand that it may not have been possible, having already been chosen by her grandparents, and her mother's conflicts with her were the product of their interventions.

My grandmother was an amazing seamstress. She made the most incredible clothes - never a seam or edge unfinished, never a plaid unmatched, never an inch of fabric wasted. I recently came across some pictures my grandmother took of clothes she had made for my mother, and, in fact, an entire scrapbook of pictures of just my mother that my grandmother had assembled. Is that the act of a mother who didn't care? I often wonder what she might have become in a different life, in a different time. There was nothing she couldn't sew, and she knew how to adapt any pattern, even combine patterns to make something else entirely. I like to picture her, in her alternate life, as a couture designer; she loved Edith Head, the Hollywood fashion designer, and Dior. In the pictures of her as a young woman, before she was married, she is always wearing clothes that are up to the minute fashionable (I know, because I love vintage fashions, and their history).

When my mother had her first child, at age 19, her mother had three kids, aged 4, 9, and 14 still living at home. I think it would be very hard to feel like a grandmother, when you're still in the throes of raising kids yourself, but my grandmother's un-grandmotherlyness (is that even a word?) was and has been a bone of contention for my mother ever since. Not having any other truly grandmotherly types in my life, it never occurred to me she was lacking. My grandfather, at that time, was also working at a job that was in Korea, so he was never home (not that he would have been much help if he had been), and my grandmother had the dual jobs of being a single mom, as well as having to be a working mom (was my grandfather drinking up his paycheck at this point? I can only speculate). When we moved to the south in 1969, my grandmother threw for us all an UnBirthday Party - it was to commemorate my father's birthday, but also to celebrate all of our upcoming birthdays, as we would be far away when they actually occurred. I thought it a novel thing then, and I still remember it fondly.

There was a point in my late teens and young adulthood that I was able to get to know my grandmother a little more fully. It required going to see her without my mother being there, as their perpetual conflicts made it hard for anyone else to interject themselves in between. She was a vastly different person without Mom around. She was more relaxed, funnier, less combative, and, at times, surprisingly unsure of herself. Not exactly the humorless control freak I had heard so many vilifying stories of. (but my mother's penchant for excessive embroidery is a separate story to relate another day, and oh! what a tangled web it is!) I can't say that she was ever the sweet and unconditionally ideal grandmother that other people have had, but I never felt angry at or betrayed by her, like I did when my other grandmother died (who, on the surface, was seemingly more the grandmotherly ideal). I was sorry that we didn't have more time, and I was sad that my brothers and sister had never seen the human side of her, and could not understand the wellspring of my grief.

I think of what it would be like, to live your life the best as you are capable of; the best you are equipped for it, and when you are gone, the only rememberances are for what you didn't do; what you weren't. Surely in every life, there are moments when even the strongest and seemingly, most impervious, have their dark night of doubts and regrets, just as there are moments when we shine, and no one sees it. Whether or not my grandmother was able to express that doubt and regret, or even those shining moments, to us ultimately doesn't matter - she will always be a part of us, and its a good part. When my sister creates a beautiful new doll, that is exquisitely sewn and constructed; when I whip up slipcovers, or insist on getting the facts straight in my research, those are things we inherit from her, whether she ever knew she bequeathed us those gifts or not.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Mmm, Mmm, Good Update

I made Oatmeal Chocolate Chip cookies last week and never posted a picture for all of you to see, which was terribly remiss of me. OK, here is a shot from this week's batch, last week's numerous batches having gone to all the little 1st, 2nd, 3rd, graders, who were all very appreciative. So here you all go....Bon Appetit!

Looking For Bread Crumbs

Once Upon a Time...I was going to be a famous painter. Either that or a famous writer. Then I had children and found with all the crying and diaper changing, the endless sippy cups and messes, and now the homework and volunteer work, I couldn't hear the inner voice that told me what to paint. I couldn't stay up until 2 AM, singing at the top of my lungs, while I frenetically applied paint, impasto-style.

Truthfully, I willingly gave up even trying to paint for a number of years because I felt that the work in progress that is my children deserved my full attention. They still do, but they're at school now, and my thoughts are turning again to my canvases.

I was working on a Fairy Tale series that dealt with the darker stories, but since I also live in The Temple of Bast, I have a fondness for depicting the resident deities. Its been so long since I took brush in hand that all of my beloved paints are dry and cakey, some not wanting to relinquish their caps any longer. It is my goal for the upcoming new year (by MY calendar)to replenish my paintbox and pick up my craft again.

If I were a younger me, and if our heating and cooling system hadn't died this year, I would have rationalized myself right over to the Arts and Crafts store and decked out my paintbox anew. But I am an older and incrementally wiser individual these days (much to my dismay, I assure you), so my inner voice will have to wait a bit longer; or content itself with Prisma-Colors and paper.

I have learned other crafts and skills to fill the void; my girlfriends and I learned to make jewelry with wire wrapping techniques, and tried hawking it at craft shows. I also spent the last six years researching and writing an immense volume of family history, that took my family name back to its origin, reconnected us to our extended family, and paved the way for a fabulous trip to the British Isles. So its not like I've been sitting idle, staring out the window of my prison-life, waiting for a prince to climb my unruly locks and set me free. Like the real Rapunzel, having been cast into the desert, I raised my children and made the best of it. If the prince shows up, he still doesn't change or redefine what I've become in his absence. Hmmm, maybe I've hit on the theme for my next painting - "Rapunzel In The Years Without The Prince - A Feminist's Fairy Tale".

Monday, October 22, 2007

Clouds In My Coffee

Ah, another Monday! Yeah. I'm just about acclimated to the whole weekend concept and time sprawl, when Monday rears its ugly head again. My horoscope says its supposed to be a long and hard week - it makes me feel worn out just thinking that way. (Note to self: don't read horoscopes anymore. What do they really know anyway?)

I did have a lovely Sunday Denial though, with the "goyles". We went and saw the new Elizabeth movie, with Cate Blanchett and (rrrrrrowwwwwll!) Clive Owen, who is Yum-Mee. My friend Ms. Q (whose name has been changed so you can't single out her guilty, but lascivious leer, but YOU know who you are, don't cha?) kept making this "I've got a rumbling in my throat" sound all during the movie. I thought she was coming down with something, but when I leaned over to her, I realized she was purring. Its Clive Owen; he just undoes her, and quite frankly, I can see her point - Mmmm Goood, and I don't mean soup, baby! The critics panned this film, but I thought it was pretty good - good pace and even someone who isn't up on their Tudor History could follow it (as a Tudor History Aficionado - its the discrepancies that kill a historic film for me, and there were only a few. I'll refrain from boring the mammaries off all of you by reciting them.)

Afterwards we retired with the beloved sushi and a bottle of vodka (how international, no?) and discussed the merits (again and again, the name Clive Owen enters the conversation - what was the movie about? I forget; I only know that He was in it..........)

All in all, a lovely ending to a good weekend, though its loveliness makes that Monday morning betrayal by the alarm clock a lot harder. But next weekend doth await us anon, so we shall stride forth into yon work week with renewed vigor and verve! Yea, verily!

Blah blah blah, prithee, blah blah blah, go not gentle into that good week, blah blah, blah...

Ah, Clive, how we love thee!

Friday, October 19, 2007

Meet My Sister!

The greatest inspiration and source of support for me is my older sister. From the time we were kids and she would build little fairy huts under the oak trees in the park, then tell me she had found them there (and I still look under oak trees to this day, for those fairy huts), she has always been full of magic. Her children are almost all grown now, but they can all lay claim to having had an enchanted childhood, and it has been the inspiration for me to try and give my own children that sense of wonder and belief in magic and miracles.

She started as a doll maker, when her kids were small, making castle people for a castle her husband had made the kids for Christmas. The first queen she made looked so much like me in my wedding dress that she had to give it to me and make another one. Everyone who saw them wanted her to make them some, and so it began.

It wasn't long before she was branching out and away from the castle and dollhouse dolls and was giving free rein to her imagination. The ensuing dolls are more one-of-a-kind works of art. While she usually creates dolls that are from her own imagination, she also works with her clients to interpret their vision of a doll. As a fellow artist, I not only respect her work, I've watched it grow and mature into something truly amazing. I usually covet every doll she makes - as a little sister, I feel that they should all be mine, MINE! Unfortunately, that would not pay this year's tuition for my nephews, so off they go, my dolls, to the galleries, to be discovered, sold, and coveted by others.

I have put her website address here so if you are interested in seeing more of these fabulous dolls, you can go and peruse them, even get your hands on one for yourself, though I will be coveting whatever you might buy, just so you know.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Uber Mother Gives Out Her Secret Weapon

I was planning on writing either chapter II in the Grandmother series, or an addendum to Chapter I, but certain small people who live in my house were up very early today, making a great deal of noise. I am definitively NOT a morning person, so the rocket ship that they were building (or whatever the hell it was that they were banging on and yelling about)kept the Mom-person (Moi) from getting that much needed minimum of 6 hours of sleep. So anything I write in this stuporous state is bound to be crap-ish and mundane. My apologies. I also am called from the computer today by my Uber Mother duties; I have promised homemade chocolate chip cookies to my son's third grade class, and since it is my personal mission to expose all little children in my reach to the joys of home baked goodness (organic butter and eggs, bourbon vanilla, unbleached flour, etc. but don't mess with the chocolate, now), I must go anon, leaving a paltry post in my wake. If only I could post a cookie for everyone...hey! what about the recipe? If you want to try them, they're only a mixer away.

Okay, this is my mother's famous
Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies:

Preheat oven to 325 degrees*

In the mixing bowl (and I like to use a stand mixer to make this very fast and to cream my butter into submission) add:
2 sticks of butter
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup brown sugar
cream the bejesus out of this, then add:
2 eggs from a happy chicken, if possible
beat well, then add:
1/2 tsp. salt (I was using salted butter, or else this would be 1 tsp.)
1 tsp. baking soda added to 1 tsp. water - stir together and add in
2 overflowing tsp. of Bourbon vanilla
beat it again, then add:
1 and 1/2 cups of flour
beat it into the mix, then add:
2 cups old fashioned oatmeal (its nuttier and better for you)
ditto with the beating it in, then add:
2 overflowing cups of semi sweet chocolate chips (my mother likes Ghiradelli these days, but I think they're kind of weird. the Nestle's ones are the best, I think)
again, mix them in until its all assimilated and whatnot, then:
scoop by heaping teaspoonfuls and drop on a buttered cookie sheet. Bake for about 15 minutes, but watch them - all ovens are different, and some ovens get hotter as they stay on longer. the cookies should be a nice golden brown all over. Transfer from pan to cooling rack, wait ten seconds, and inhale with cold milk.

*my dad likes to bake his at 350 because they stay more round and fat. I like them to spread out and become a bit thin and crispy. You do what you like, OK?

I have never met anyone who didn't dig these cookies - men are particularly easy prey with a box of these in hand. Ask my husband- I basically clunked him over the head, cave-woman style, with a box of these, and he's been my slave ever since (or something like that. He is harder to manage when I don't make them).

All right then, I'm off to the kitchen, and maybe you will be too.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Family Dynamics

After reading Oh, The Joys blog regarding the untimely death of her grandmother, I found my self thinking of the passing of my own grandmothers. I just read today at Fluttercrafts her blog about her paternal grandmother, and it was a vastly different story to tell, albeit one that was closer to the tales of my two grandmothers. So I guess it isn't a very original story, to talk about my grandmothers and their impact, seeing as how others has gone there already. But it is, in a way, a tribute to Oh, The Joys, that in a time of personal grief, telling her story has impacted and inspired so many of us to reflect and even share our own experiences.

It is in the fall that I usually grapple with a bout of depression, the reasons for which are both complex and convoluted, so I'm not going there. I also have spent the past six years researching different branches of my family history. It began as a desire to know if the oral traditions had any truth to them (which they mostly did not), but it evolved into trying to understand the intangible "things" we inherit. For example, there is a family dynamic in place on both sides of my family where girls, or women do not carry the same importance as men. I realize this isn't unique to my families, but why is it there? there also seems to be another family dynamic where women are expected to be the care-givers, or handmaids (as I like to call them) to the parents, while the sons have little or no responsibility. In trying to understand these traditions, I gain insight into not only where did I come from, but it can also enable me to choose NOT to carry on some of these more destructive "traditions". With that in mind, I will begin with my father's mother.
This is a picture of my grandmother's family, sometime around 1918. My grandmother, Ruth, is the little girl on the far right. She was the fourth girl in a family of six children, most of which were girls. She looked like her father, which probably garnered her some small grain of positive attention, because for her, men were always a primary source of affection. Her mother only truly valued her one and only son. When my grandmother talked to me about this picture, she told me that her mother made all their clothes. My own mother always rolls her eyes at this comment, because, being the child of an extremely accomplished seamstress, she can tell that most of the dresses in this picture look like a kid made them. But I get ahead of myself.

I honestly can't say that Ruthie was the worst grandmother of all time - I'm thinking Flutter's grandmother, hands down, had her beat, and no doubt, there are even worse grandmothers out there. She was the kind of person who liked to skip dinner for dessert, and her hand-me-down handbags were pretty glamorous to a kid. However, as I grew older, I became more aware of her negative qualities. Probably the worst thing she ever did was to pit us against our cousins. Whichever set of grandchildren she was with, the other set was held up as paragons of virtue. We were forever being reminded of how smart, talented, tidy, helpful, and perfect the other half was. What we didn't realize initially was that she was selling the same raft of crap to our cousins, who resented us in turn. She also was known for her left-handed compliments. She told me once, shortly after I was married, that she "hoped I would deserve such a wonderful husband", and how "lucky" I was to have "caught" him. Now I do realize that these are the terms of a past generation, but jeez! Give me a little credit in the equation! She also would inquire "what happened to that cute little figure you had", and warn you that "fat girls never find husbands". All words one should live by, all words spewed upon her first, no doubt.

When my grandmother died two and a half years ago, at the age of 96, It was a peaceful death, but the emotional fallout afterwards spoke volumes. My father and his sister decided they would have separate memorials for her, since they live fairly far apart, but my father never actually organized anything - not even a cook-out, to commemorate her. My father was reluctant to even speak of his mother after her death, and when anyone would try he would cut it off. A few months after her death, I arranged for my father and his sister to meet in their former hometown (I was going there to do research anyway - the bonds of ambivalence run deep, but they run strong!). I felt that they both needed to see the other, to sort of touch base, and maybe reassure each other. My aunt was far more open about her relief in seeing and being with her brother, but my dad, the psychologist, who should be all in touch with this stuff, was kind of reserved. It wasn't until later, when my aunt had left, that he started to open up, but at least the floodgates were open.
He painted me a picture of a woman who was never satisfied with anything you could do. When he started going to college at night, while working in a steel mill by day, she thought he was just being ridiculous. When he got into graduate school she told her friends that "it was just something he had to get out of his system". It wasn't until he had that PhD in his hands that she finally got excited and wanted to refer to him as "my son, the doctor". It was something of a revelation to see him so vehement about her. I had always assumed that whatever she was like with us, he had come to terms with her, in regards to himself. It also was a revelation that he didn't have this conversation with his sister, who probably had a few issues to unload as well. That's when it struck me - the worst thing she had ever done was to destroy her family's bond with one another. It wasn't just my brothers and sister, and our cousins she had pitted against each other, it was her own children as well. The one thing we have in any time of crisis is each other, and the legacy that my grandmother bequeathed, perhaps unknowingly, was self-doubt and isolation.

When she died, I was unable to feel any sense of loss, though I know I was in a very dark place for almost a year afterwards. It was almost two years after her death before I could even begin to research her family history, but I wanted to understand how she had come to be this way, maybe to place some of the blame elsewhere, so I could forgive her for a lesser role. Its very hard to love someone, at the same time you are incredibly angry at them.

I'm not angry now, enough time has passed. But the ongoing legacy of ambivalence continues, and that IS something that I can change, even if its only within my own little piece of the family.

Next Chapter: The Wicked Witch of The North (my mother's muhthah)

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

The Random Autumnal Ramblings of A Mad Woman

First, I would like to thank both The Queen of Shake-Shake and Oh, the Joys for stopping by, reading my little ole blog and leaving a comment. I feel like I'm somebody now! I have been reading both of their blogs for about three or four months now, and consider them to be my inspiration to get out there and write. Thank you both so much! (and now I have to sniffle and blow my nose)

The aforementioned injured cat, Rikki, is feeling a bit better as the week presses on, though he is QUITE irritated at being held hostage indoors. Recalling the Queen's comments about one of her cats behaving inappropriately, in regards to personal hygiene and the litter box, I am desperately hoping that a) Rikki can't read and thus get ideas, b) that he won't independently consider piddling in corners an option. Once he goes there, the rest will surely follow and it will be mass anarchy of the Furry Herd.

Now that October is halfway through and it has finally gotten to where it feels like Fall, I can turn my mind to the yearly pumpkin portrait. Ever since my oldest was a tiny baby, we have taken the kids to our local pumpkin patch, or the Farmers' Market to record the season. The first picture we ever took was this one, of the Professor at two months old:

Pretty darn funny looking, but cute. He pretty much still makes this face, especially when I try and make him eat carrots. Then there was a year at the Farmer's Market, with the fabulous artificial chicken in the foreground to add that special touch. Unfortunately, this is what we affectionately refer to as " Dad's style", where the subjects are always squinting into the light. Any picture my father ever took of us looks just like this: Ah, genetics in motion! And finally, the pumpkin portrait of 2006. Gone are the days of the chubby little cheeks and palpable sweetness, regardless of the poor composition. The Professor is obviously NOT interested in saying "cheese", he doesn't even like cheese, mom. Luckily, in this shot, you can't see the crest of hair that is perpetually standing up. The Bohemian, his younger brother, is a born ham-a-saurus, though his mother dresses him funny. I'm just be thankful he isn't excavating a nasal cavity in this shot: This year's shot will up and coming soon. I haven't gone to buy any pumpkins because the weather has been too warm - I have no desire to dig the guts out of a rotten pumpkin - but All Hallows will be upon us soon, so I guess I have to succumb and go.

We saw some really neat pumpkins online last year that gave us our inspiration for the carnage below, and I ask you: what little boy doesn't love vomit as a theme?! Can we live up to last year's grossness? Should we? Do I really have a choice in the matter? (Well, actually I do, seeing as how I am the fastest carver in the west, or something like that. I feel like I should spit a toothpick out of my mouth, shift my rifle to the other shoulder, and mumble, "I reckon so..." Ah, Clint, I love you!)

Monday, October 15, 2007

What's New, Pussycat? Whoa!

Yes, it would appear that I took a three day hiatus from writing (and what's wrong with that?). In actuality, I discovered Friday morning that one of my cats (don't ask me how many I have - if I tell you, then I have to kill you, to feed them) had some kind of issue going on with his mouth. Half of his muzzle was swollen, his lower lip was hanging slightly, and he was drooling. I probably should have taken immediately to the vet, but the phone people were finally going to come and get the phone line out of my driveway, that had been lying there for nigh onto three weeks, since the tornado ran down our street at that time (another chapter in the Who Needs Cable series, don't cha know?). So I was a bad mother, I admit it, all for the sake of a stinkin' phone line.

OK. It was after I got home with the kids from school, and we were commencing to commit a neatness on the house, in anticipation of the Weekend, when I realized that my poor cat was still looking pretty punk, and was hovering near the food dish without eating. If you don't own pets, or even if you do, this is A Bad Sign. I rang up the local vet (because the best vet is three hours away, go figure, in spite of the fact we live outside of a large city, that actually has a vet school, but don't get me started on THAT) and begged them to see him on Friday afternoon, seeing as how having to take him to a vet on a Saturday is generally VERY expensive, and (in my humble opinion) often half-assed service. The vet's wanted to blow me off, but there was no way I was sitting on this situation until Monday, so off we went, to hang out at the vet's until they could squeeze us in, which is loads of fidgeting fun, with two little boys who have been sitting still all day in school. The vet determined that our poor cat had a fractured section of his lower jaw, and had sustained some kind of blow to his head, causing him to crack a fang and making his face swell, all of which I basically told her ahead of time, except for the fracture, though I had wondered why his lower lip was hanging so strangely. (And this is why I went to this vet with this issue - I could see the problem, so I was hoping they might be able to see it too and be able to handle it. These people are not so good with terminal illness or unusual diseases, where tests have to be run, and decisions have to be made. This is the kind of vet that my regular vet has taught me how to handle - you tell them what to do. If this sounds like I'm some know-it-all pet owner, let me just say that with almost 25 years of taking care of my own animals, and a few of them were doozies, I know a few things; like maybe a cat with a fractured jaw and the smell of rot in his mouth should get a shot of antibiotics right off, something I had to insist on, as they weren't going to do it.)

So in summation, its been a Florence Nightingale kind of weekend, although I did get away for a lovely anniversary party at my sister's house, where I got to mingle and actually have an intelligent conversation (along with a few not-so-intelligent, but highly entertaining ones!)without juvenile interruptions - oh the luxury of it all! I am happy to report that our poor wounded boy, Mr. Rikki, is feeling better already, and is ready to go out and do it all over again, only his mean old mother (that would be me) won't let him out of the house.

It isn't exactly like ruling the world, but it'll suffice...for now.

Thursday, October 11, 2007


Jesus Freekin Key-rist, some weeks just seem to draag on forever. It is finally Thursday, and the glorious, most blessed weekend doth loom ahead, but even now, on the eve of my salvation, it seems too far away.

It's at points like this, that I wonder how long a week can seem, when your kids are in middle school or high school. Mine are only on the elementary school stretch, and the weekly projects, the daily parental signing of the reading log, the homework log, the field trip release forms, the endless requests for donations of expensive, sugary treats just seem to never end. I'm afraid of those over-achieving Room Mothers, who sign up for, choreograph, and execute all those horrid, sugar-pumping parties that they feel the kids just have to have. I tend to avoid sitting near them at the obligatory functions, and try to never make eye contact with any of them - I might get drafted by the Uber-Mother Police (who, by the way, are horrible judges of nutrition. How the hell their kids can sit still EVER, based on the shit they want to serve at parties, just amazes me.), and be forced to become some sort of Stepford Mom, who never swears, who admonishes her children if they fart, get messy, or act like a normal kid in any way.

I'm pretty sure, if they ever got their meat hooks into me and forced me to join their ranks, I could probably get kicked out in record time. All I would have to do (besides farting or burping noisily, and then rating it) is encourage my junior sailors to let loose a few f-bombs, maybe call me a Beotch, and that would be that. I like to think of them as my secret weapon. If that fails, I'll just tell them I'm the reincarnation of a Salem Witch, coming back to right the wrongs inflicted upon me by Right-wing, Puritanical, Jesus Freaks....

How could they resist such charms?

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Meet The Kids at A*L*P*H*A*B*E*T School

Of course it never occurred to me yesterday, while I was writing about Alphabet School, that a few visuals might be a nice touch. (Duhh!) I convinced the fledgling faculty at the school to send a few of the students to the office to get their pictures taken, and here they are:

From left to right, this is the letter h, arguably the smartest letter in the school, according to his math teacher. Next is little a, who, I understand has received demerits recently for laughing unduly in class while his teacher was talking. His Language Arts teacher tells me that he had to send little t to the principal, who, as a matter of fact, is the next letter in our lineup. Judging by the expression on his face, I'd say he's not too happy with someone- I wonder what little a has done now? Coincidentally, this spells, "hat". Is there a hidden meaning?

The rest of the crew; a couple of upper case Ts, an o, i and an e round out the current student body at the A*L*P*H*A*B*E*T School, though I am assured by the faculty that their attendance numbers are on the rise, though they plan to limit each class to no more than 26 students.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

A*L*P*H*A*B*E*T School

OK, I know I'm biased, but my kids are the coolest kids in the world. (By the way, there are two of them, they're boys, aged 8 and 10) My youngest is a whiz with paper - we always say he can make anything out of paper, scissors, and glue (or a roll of tape, if glue is unavailable), and it is no exaggeration. Today he came home from school, with a backpack full of paper letters he had made at school during free time (I hope). The letters had little ledges to stand upon so they could be upright all on their lonesome. He proceeded to set the letters up in his room and school was open! I could hear him in there , reading to them. Evidently #1 son also heard, and decided it was a good game, because then he was in there teaching the letters math ("Does anyone know what a fraction is? Yes, letter H?") Evidently the letter H is a very intelligent letter, because the teacher couldn't stop talking about how he knew all his fractions, although the lower case letter a was not only having trouble grasping the concept of fractions, he was also acting out in class and had to be punished.

As I stood in the kitchen, packing lunchboxes, listening to this game unfold, it struck me just how great these guys are - they weren't playing a game based on a video game or a TV show, or a movie, or an action figure. It isn't the first time a kid has played school - its how I learned to read - but the idea that the letters of the alphabet needed to be educated themselves, and the creativity they used to implement that, was almost as awe inspiring and exciting as if one of them had just learned to walk, or ride a bike, for the first time. Maybe that sounds hokey; there are certainly days that I feel less than enamoured to be the mother of two boys, but never let it be said that I missed the opportunity to savor the sweet times as well. There aren't that many years left of the sweet, little kid kind of innocence; the adolescent years, I've heard, tend to obscure those sweet little kid moments from a parent's memory. So for the sake of future reference, here is one moment that has been cropped and framed for posterity.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Day of The Dead

You know, I always promise myself that I won't stay up all night on the weekends; that I'll go to bed at a reasonable hour, get up and be productive, etc. But it never happens. Something about being the only one up; that feeling of blessed solitude...
This might pertain to living with the Gorilla Guys - they DO tend to get up in your Kool-Aid pretty much the entire time they're awake, and, god help me, its the playoffs for baseball right now. Mr. Gorilla Man is a die-hard Red Sox fan (poor bastard - big kiss honey!!!) so it pretty much means the sound of a sporting event screaming from the TV, as well as the jungle noises of the younger gorillas during all the daylight hours. That weekend, which looked so blissful and perfect, when viewed from Monday afternoon, has become more of a testosterone torture marathon - UNCLE, DAMMIT!
I did get to run away last night, so I guess I shouldn't complain...ah, hell with it! I need a t-shirt that sums it all up: "Born To Bitch".
Where was I?
Oh yeah, staying up all night, enjoying the aforementioned blessed WAS pretty nice- very quiet, stuff stays cleaned up, no one is chanting "mom, mom, mom, mom, mom, mom,......"
The bitch of it is, the AM hours come all too soon on the tail of the night.
(On the plus side, coffee always tastes better when you are semi-conscious, and desperately needing it's caffeinated effect. The trick is to not pour it down your front while dozing, with your cup in hand, on the throne of porcelain. Let's just say I'm not that skilled yet...)
Maybe I should call this blog Sleepwalking on the Edge of Reason.
Or Hot Coffee Blisters on The Toilet of Life...too graphic?
Could be worse...there could be pictures to go with this.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Just Another Friggin Sunday

...Wish it weren't gonna be Monday (not exactly like the Bangles' song, but what evah)
My best friend and I have a long-standing tradition that we lovingly refer to as "Sunday Denial". This is where we pretend that we do not have to rise and f-ing shine at O'dark hundred the next morning, and commence to whooping it up, like it's 1999, or maybe, just another Saturday night (wow, lots of song titles in one sentence...overkill, maybe?) and we ain't got nobody. Now granted, we don't whoop it up like we used to - gone are the days of companionably drinking a half gallon of the Captain together and singing Ethel Merman-style until someone pukes or we go to breakfast, whichever comes first. No, staid old broads that we are now, its more of a "let's run away and leave the guys to fend for themselves with "cheap disgusting food" (sorry, movie quote from Arthur), while we go get some sushi takeout (because the sushi is better without the egregiously bad service) and hole ourselves up with a few bottles of the bubbly and anything movie-wise that includes one of the following: Colin Firth, Ciaran Hinds, Clive Owen, Matthew McConnaghey- your basic eye-candy (hey, it isn't festive without SOME form of dessert, and those guys are all cookie-licious!) Maybe this isn't your idea of how to run away from it all, and truthfully, if I had the money, it wouldn't be mine necessarily either, , but there it is - when you're "Livin' La Vida Broka", baby, you gotta work with what you got. When you live with three men, two of whom are children (well, maybe all three, but that is a post for another day!) a nice evening of Just Us Girls is a beautiful thing in itself - almost as relaxing as a day at the spa, without that strangeness of being butt nekkid in front of strangers, which frankly, is kind of a buzz-kill.
So let's break out the bubbly Bea! It's not really Sunday, is it??

Saturday, October 6, 2007


Hello! Welcome to my blog site. This would be my first entry, so I'm feeling kind of weird about spilling my cerebral guts out onto a web page - it could be messy - there might be bloodstains, etc. (Truth be told, I'm drawing a blank, now that I'm on the stage...)
It's kind of like when you go into a music or video store with a thousand titles in your head that you want to find, and the minute you enter the place, it all flies right out of your head and you spend three hours staring blankly at crap you have no interest in, vainly trying to remember what it was you can in for (and you're pretty sure it wasn't for the comprehensive collection of ABBA or a compilation of the worst songs of the 80s...)
Things that make you go, "duhhhhhh!"