Monday, June 30, 2014

The Trouble With Women

We women are a competitive bunch and we compete for all the wrong reasons.  Decades after women returned to the workforce in greater numbers, we're still hashing it out over who is the better mom.  The one who stays at home and raises her kids or the one who goes to work every day and raises her kids?

Or the idea that somehow just having children puts you on a pedestal higher to God than women who can't or don't want children.

Bottle or breast?  Public, private or homeschool?  Soccer or football?  Honors or regular? 


I have never heard my husband or brothers ever compare themselves to another man.  Ever.  But me?  I have played that game with gusto.  I have patted myself on the back many a time at the expense of other woman.  We all have, but today it's important that we stop.


My preferred method of birth control was always the pill.   It was covered under my health insurance plan thirty five years ago when I worked in Chicago and it's been covered under every insurance plan we've ever had.  Similar forms are also covered such as the IUD and implant or injectable contraceptives.

My daughters (for very different reasons) use birth control and it is covered by their insurance.

This is a reasonable expectation from an employer's health plan and far cheaper to provide than the alternative.  Preventing pregnancy, regulating cycles and clearing up acne, are but a few of the reasons one would need birth control.  This makes for a healthier, more productive woman and thus, a better employee.

This Supreme Court, however, doesn't see it that way.  Women (at least the ones at Hobby Lobby........for now) are required to march lockstep with the religous beliefs of their employer.  Rather than a discussion between a woman and her partner about family planning and the method under which they choose to do that, the court believes the employer's beliefs get a say in the decision.

Though I am long past the need for birth control, my daughters are not, and the fundamental decision to prevent pregnancy and manage their own health with their own doctors (by methods that are best for them) took a huge step backwards.  It is no surprise that the majority opinion consisted exclusively of men.

For conservatives and opponents of Obamacare this was considered a huge victory.

The Hobby Lobby customer, however, is predominantly women, and unless their sales strategy was to rely on men from here on out to buy the cheap crap they import from China, they picked the wrong battle with the wrong gender.

Suit up, ladies. 

Game. On.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Guns & Books

I have been in love with my little town ever since we moved here.  In our search for a home in a new state, we found it completely by accident.  As we drove the tree-lined streets that day in October, leaves blanketed the lawns, kids were out playing and neighbors were raking.  I knew we had found our home.

All these years later it has never lost its charm.

Our city council (after a lawsuit brought by a resident) voted by a 6-5 margin to allow the open carry of firearms.  The person who brought the suit, and who will now drop it, said it was a victory for gun owners.  I the victory sweeter when you get to fire it?  One can now strap a gun around their waist when they walk out the door including on our city sidewalks and parks.

Parks like the one I took my kids to for years a few blocks away.  The one that pulses with life from sun up to sun down with walkers, runners, moms with toddlers, Little League practice, soccer practice, lacrosse practice, kite flying, kids biking on training wheels and dog walkers.  The park that has hosted birthday parties, graduation parties and the annual touch football game every Thanksgiving.

In the hundreds of times I was at that park, it never seemed to me that anybody needed to be defended.  The only thing that could be considered a weapon is a baseball bat and most of those are bigger than the kids trying to swing them.

A couple of miles south of here a family made national news when the Little Free Library they put up at the edge of their property had to be removed due to an ordinance preventing free standing structures.  Remove it or face a citation the letter from the city said.  The criticism against the city has been fast and furious and they may still be wiping egg off their faces, but so far they haven't relented. 

I have seen many Little Free Libraries around this area, and like the town I fell in love with all those years ago, I am charmed.  Over the moon charmed that on a walk around the neighborhood you can help yourself to a book because of the generosity of others.

I remember reading Diary of Anne Frank years ago and feeling my heart pound as the Nazis combed the neighborhood looking for Jews.  In House of Sand and Fog when Behrani's son is killed by police I felt sick to my stomach.  The story of Atticus Finch defending Tom Robinson from a rape charge and racial injustice in To Kill A Mockingbird is as relevant today as it was when it was published in 1960.  In The Glass Castle, Jeannette Walls writes of the home she grew up in that teetered on the edge of a mountain and I felt that if I breathed too deeply that house might tumble down.  I couldn't get warm the whole time I read Into Thin Air.  I caught myself gasping for air when I read The Perfect StormLit, The Tender Bar, Change Me Into Zeus's Daughter, Don't Let's Go To The Dogs Tonight, Half Broke Horses, A Walk In The Woods, All Over But the Shoutin', The Cliff Walk and Running With Scissors are memoirs that will stay with me for a lifetime.

Every day we are warned that fear is right outside our door.  Bad people doing bad things are "out there" and the only logical answer to that these days is accessorizing with a gun so you're at the ready with a trigger and a bullet.


I believe that the minute you step outside and open the door to a library you are transported to a place of tragedy, despair, humor, joy, and adventure.  Like all those characters from books that take up space in my heart there are the stories of each and every one of us within those pages.

There is never enough time to read all the books in my stack next to the bed but it never discourages me from adding more.  The summer when I was nine years old and still struggling with reading, my mom enrolled me in the library's reading program and I checked out Little House on The Prairie.

Nearly fifty years later, I now live in a town named after a prairie and I have never forgotten my beloved Laura Ingalls and the year I finally learned how to read.   

This is what we owe our communities.  This is what we give our kids.  This is the door that opens us up to the magic.





Sunday, June 22, 2014

Making An Indecision

The Big Daddy and I have been homeowners for the last twenty-two years.  Same crib, same layout, same home owning chores.

By outward appearances we seem responsible.  From the front and side we've got curb appeal, and anyone who watches HGTV or peruses Pinterest knows that's where you make your first impression.  That's what counts in the home-owning biz.

Behind the curtain, though, the wizadry falls far short of the hydrangeas out front.

We have a never ending and growing list of things that need to be done.  Many of these are of the wishlist variety like refinishing the floors, replacing the furniture, updating the fireplace and gutting the kitchen.  We hope to accomplish some of this after the last semester of college tuition is paid in January of 2016, and though it's far too early to order the dumpster for the driveway I think about it.

All. The. Time.

Until then there is a host of non-wishlist, boring maintenance repairs that we talk about frequently but fail to act upon.  We wring our hands over the "what ifs" of time and money and never move from our indecisive asses to get anything accomplished.

Currently the handle on the kitchen faucet shows signs of needing to be replaced, but what kind should we get?  And since we're going to gut the kitchen in two plus years, maybe, just maybe, it really doesn't need a replacement just yet.  No?  Tack on the faucet on the bathroom shower upstairs and the sink in the basement and now we're talking big bucks and a trip to Lowe's and Home Depot for comparison shopping.  Once inside we will get side-tracked by automatically flushing toilets, custom sinks and towel warmers.  Longing for a Lotto win that we never play, we will leave with nothing and stop for ice cream on the way home because that cleanses the palate of the cost of home maintenance.

The outside of the house is in need of a paint job.  The Big Daddy wants to side it to the tune of tens of thousands of dollars.  I want to leave it as is and replace the shingles that are split and cracked.  We are at an impasse and then there is the anxiety over color that paralyzes us.  For three years we have talked about the outside.  For months there has been a flyer from a paint company on the kitchen counter.  FREE QUOTE!!!!  COLOR CONSULT!!!  It's as if the Universe was dropping the answer in my lap, and I move that answer everyday when I wipe the ugly Formica counters off and put it back in its Home of Limbo.

Tomorrow, I tell myself.  Tomorrow I'll call them for that free quote.

The roof on the screened porch has rotted in one corner from a leak (because the gutters need to be replaced) and former roofer extraordinaire Big Daddy says "I can fix that" but it is going on two years and I am losing faith in my roofer turned Bill Nye.  And the screened porch isn't so screened with two big holes from a squirrel that came in one end and out the other for a frantic peek inside.

A few weeks ago when we went on a garden tour we came home with GRAND plans for the backyard.  A vegetable garden oasis edged with perennials.  Adirondack chairs in the corner to sit and have a glass of wine and watch the birds.  A backyard that had all the curb appeal of the front with no grass to mow and veggies to sustain us through the growing months.  An apple tree?  Yes, that, and we'll pick some and slice them and have them with our cheese and crackers in our vintage chairs.

We will be that thin, attractive and vibrant couple throwing our gray hair back and laughing with twinkling eyes like those couples in a Cialis ad because they'll be hot sex after sitting in the pretty, new yard.

But wait a minute.

We did have a plan for a backyard oasis from a landscape architect that we paid for and on further digging I unearthed it.  It was dated 2006.

We looked at it with our bespectacled eyes and threw our heads back and laughed.  Eight years ago we started this plan?  Our chubbiness jiggled in on the joke and then I folded it and put it back in the drawer.  HOW MUCH IS THAT GOING TO COST US we pondered as we gazed upon our Sanford & Sons backyard and wrung our wrinkly hands.

Every day we roll the dice of indecision and then sit in wait for the adrenaline to kick in when the faucets reach their tipping point or the air conditioner heaves its final blast of cool air in the middle of July.

It's the fiery spontaneity in our homeowning marriage that comes from being long-standing Suitors of Calamity.  The cure eventually pulls into the driveway and emerges from a truck carrying a clipboard and tool chest.

"Sign here," he says tsk, tsking as we look at the total and take our medicine.  "Probably could have saved you some money if you hadn't waited to this point."

Yeah, yeah, yeah.  If only we could figure out when the moment is right.


Sunday, June 15, 2014

No Vacancy

Three times over the years we have driven from Kansas City to Spokane, Washington where Mark's mom used to live.  Since we have never lived near family, our kids were accustomed at an early age to long car trips.  This particular trip was always our longest but there was plenty to stop and see along the way, and when things went off the rails we would bribe them with promises of candy or ice cream at the next gas station stop.

During these trips we saw the Badlands, The Corn Palace, Mt. Rushmore, Wall Drug, Arches National Park, Yellowstone, Seattle, and Mt. St. Helens.  Those trips will always hold some of my favorite memories with the kids.

We never made a plan along the way.  Each trip there and back would take three days, and though we knew the vicinity of where we wanted to stay for the night, weather and traffic would dictate our home away from home at the end of each driving day.

Mostly, though, we go through life as The Fishers and assume that The Universe will be announcing our impending arrival and needs long before we pull into town.

Such was the case when we left Spokane after a glorious week in a cabin at Loon Lake.  We packed up and said our goodbyes with plans for our dinnertime destination and nightly stop to be Billings, Montana.  Eight hours later we pulled into town and looked at the strip of motels with their Welcome State Olympian signs in front, picked a place and went in to get a room.

"A room? You want a room tonight," the desk clerk said.  "Did you make a reservation?"

"Well, no, but we were just here ten days ago," I answered like that had anything to do with anything.

"You can't get a room.  Everything's booked.  It's the State Olympics.  There are no rooms."

"The State Olympics?"

"It's the Olympics only statewide," the clerk said.  "Biggest event of the whole summer here in Billings.  We've been booked in advance for months."

"Oh, just one is all we need.  Surely you have one room," I said.  Because, ummmm, we are the Fishers.  Haven't you heard?

"We don't.  I don't think anybody does but I'll call the Howard Johnson's across town.  I heard they had a couple of rooms left.  You may be out of luck, though, and the nearest town is Cheyenne, Wyoming."

"The nearest town is in another state?"

"Oh yes," she said.  We're few and far between out here."

It was then, at precisely the same moment, that The Big Daddy and I knew we were entering Shit Creek with three, tired kids who'd been promised over and over a pool to swim in at day's end.

The Howard Johnson did have one room left and no they would not hold it for us, so we raced across town to get it before anyone else did.

Raced.  The Big Daddy gunned it while I pleaded with The Universe for just one room at the inn.

The Big Daddy sprinted from the car to the front desk and one look at his face on the way back was all I needed to know that we had arrived at said Shit Creek and our paddles were back at Loon Lake.

We stopped at a Taco Bell and then started driving, confident with our limited knowledge of the area that the motel desk clerk was mistaken.  Somewhere between these two states there had to be a little town with a motel that could put us up for the night.

There was no such thing.  The Wild West has no suburbia.

Six hours later, at 2:00 a.m. we arrived in Cheyenne, Wyoming.  Sleepy kids in the back of the car, sleepy parents in the front.

Our lodging for the remaining hours was one room with one bed.  Fortunately, we had two cots in the car and set those up for Maggie and Will.  Mallory, who was but a toddler slept with us.  Getting kids and bags and cots had woken up our sleepyheads and so there we all were in the crappiest motel room ever wide awake.

We turned the t.v. on and watched half the Batman movie that George Clooney starred in.  By the end we agreed that it was as bad a Batman movie as we had ever seen and probably not the least bit appropriate for our young kids to watch.  It was the last domino to fall in a day of bad decisions.

We dozed off for a few hours until it was time to hit the road again for another day of driving.  A noisy window air conditioner rattled and revved like a jet engine preparing for take-off.  Will and Maggie tossed and turned and talked to each other in their sleep.  Itty bitty Mallory sprawled sideways in the bed and kept turning in circles in her sleep like one of the Three Stooges.

The Fishers, crammed into a smoky smelling, paneled room that had likely seen things that would make an episode of COPS, had indeed arrived.

The Universe wasn't impressed.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014


After we got used to the fact that our son was gay, Mark and I would slowly reveal it.  Much depended on the circumstances and the people.  To be honest, it is one of those things that seems hard to work into a conversation.  Imagine saying to a friend over dinner, "By the way, our kid is gay.  More wine?"

The sentence itself seemed to hang like an unmoving cloud over the the dinner table.

When we told one friend how hard the whole thing was for us he asked why.  "I am always afraid for him," I said.

"Really?  Because you think somebody might actually do something to him?"

"Well, yeah.  We are in the Midwest after all and those kinds of things happen regularly."

"Huh," he replied.  "I had no idea that went on any more."

I didn't know whether to laugh or hit him in the head.

These many years later I don't care so much who knows and who doesn't.  It is hardly breaking news anymore.

I do, however, still flinch at stories of cruelty to others due to their sexual orientation.  When I read of a kid who committed suicide because they were bullied I would bet the farm they were labeled "gay" by the time they were eight years old.  When a report surfaces that a mob humiliates and taunts someone who is transgender I feel physically ill.  When the Westboro Baptist Church smells publicity and decides to hold its God Hates Fags posters at the latest funeral, I shake my fists at the God-who-alledgedly-hates-fags and shout, "They're in Topeka, Kansas, for You's sake.  Smack dab in the bullseye of tornado alley.  Do something big."

Recently, I was having a conversation with someone I really like and we were talking about Neil Patrick Harris. "I was so disappointed when I found out he was gay," she said.  I was taken aback for many reasons, but mostly because it's hard to be disappointed in someone you have personally invested nothing in.

When Michael Sam was drafted by the Rams somebody commented on Facebook that the whole thing was a publicity stunt.  "I don't go around announcing I'm straight so why would he announce he was gay."

Fear is the great announcer.

Being in control of your fear is the great empowerment.

Time and again I have been made aware of kids who are on the cusp of discovering who they are and who they are attracted to.  They, like my own son was, are terrified of their feelings and what they mean so when Michael Sam or Ellen Page or Jim Parsons say, "Look at me.  I'm just like you," it is a victory for every single kid who is trying to be brave and tell one person.

When the Pope was asked about gays and the Catholic Church he said "Who am I to judge?"  It made world news and was deemed a giant step forward in acceptance, but I flinched at that one, too.  For moms like me disappointment and judging is our middle name.  We've had plenty, thank you very much and it has everything to do with religion rather than our gay kids.

Regardless of what box any of us check when it comes to sexual orientation, the real question is "Who am I not to love?"

When that happens we can collectively say that we prayed the fear away.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

How Does Your Garden Grow

Mark and I have become crack addicts at the garden center(s).  If he should say aloud, "I think I'm going to pick up a couple more tomato plants," I jump in the car before he even asks if I'd like to tag along.  Once there we make a pact to keep it reasonable and not get carried away.

Carried away is a relative term.

He fills the counter with vegetables.  I fill it with flowers.  We both mutter "holy crap" when the total is announced.  Really?  That much?  We drive back home, often deep in our own thoughts about this spending on our gardens.  A few days later an opening in the dirt appears here or there and one of us announces that a quick trip to the garden center is needed for "one or two things" and then we're back staring at a counter full of plants muttering again.

This weekend we went on a garden tour where it became clear that our little foray into garden spending was but an amateur's folly compared to the real players.  At a conversation I had at the last garden with someone working the event, we talked about this spending of money we all tend to get carried away with to achieve a great garden.  "Yeah, my partner and I say every year that we're not going to go over $5000 but we always do."

I got the vapors.

Five thousand? 

There were enough flowers throughout the day to make me swoon, enough vegetables to make Mark sigh.  So much creative juju all around to fill us up and make us all dreamy-eyed.

Behold the work of the pros and the ideas that have the brains of Farmer McGregor and I reeling with possibilities for next year.......after we pick clean the money tree in the backyard we planted.

The paint studio

Boxwoods done in a Scottish plaid

Wednesday, June 4, 2014


There is an effort underway in Kansas City to replace our airport.  It started with a study.  These things always start with a study to make a "want" look legit, and then lays the groundwork for the massive bill that taxpayers are going to be eating sooner or later.

I, along with many others, love our airport.  It's kind of run down.  The lighting sucks and there's not many places to eat.  There used to be three terminals but now we're down to two.  I'm sure I read why they closed Terminal A at some point but now I don't remember.  It's probably because The New Airport People want to put the squeeze on us fliers and make us scared that the whole place is going to go out of business.  At our airport, though, you can drop off at the curb and nobody cares.  I sat there for 45 minutes one night waiting for The Big Daddy's late arrival and there wasn't a cop in sight.  And should you decide to park in the lot you can be in the terminal in five minutes.  It used to be that the first thirty minutes of parking were free and we always thought we were beating the system when we got to the cashier and owed zero dollars.  We'd high-five like we just beat the bankers with their fees.

When we flew in and out of Boston a couple of weeks ago, however, that airport was a beast of another color.  We were dropped off on Sunday morning for our return flight and the place was already busy.  With no bags to check in we went right to the American Airlines computers to get our boarding passes and there was a line.  Quite the line.

It was 5:30 a.m.

While we were waiting our turn I noticed a distressed man at the counter being yelled at by a ticket agent.  His flight was on its final boarding call and he wasn't going to make it.  Because missing your flight and being yelled at by one person wasn't enough, another agent joined in the belligerence.  I watched all this and thought about going up to the counter and saying, "You know, people really don't start off their day saying I'm going to miss my flight today.  I'm going to totally screw myself, cost myself more money and make the ticket agents mad and be late."  But I refrained because I hadn't had enough coffee yet to outass the people who were being asses.  He walked away dejectedly and we got our boarding passes and headed to security.

Did you know that there are people in Logan Airport that work the security lines and their only job is to look at the size of passengers bags?  Un-huh.  I got stopped.  "Can't take that on the plane.  Too big.  Go check it."

"What?  No.  I brought it here and nobody said a thing.  It's fine.  It fits in the overhead bin.  Really."

"Okay, stand it on its side," she said.

And so I did and Bag Size Checker got out a tape measure.  A frigging tape measure.  "It's two inches too tall.  You have to check it."

The Big Daddy was seething.  "It fits and we are not checking it."  With that he tried to cram it into one of those little boxes that says "Is your bag the right size?"  It wasn't.  He tried every which way and that sausage wouldn't fit in the casing.

We went back to American Airlines to use the computer to check my bag.  The line was even longer now because, after all it was 6:00 a.m.  We waited to use the computer and when that was finished waited for somebody at the ticket counter to call my name and take my bag.  This was the most hare-brained of systems.  Dozens of passengers hanging around waiting for their name like a teacher calling attendance and nobody was being called.  There was some kind of stress going on there and I thought that maybe they were doing it on purpose so we would miss our flights and they could team up and yell at us like the sorry soul from earlier.

Somebody behind us with a bigger mouth than The Big Daddy and I said, "Why aren't you calling anybody from this side when we've all been waiting?  Why are you only calling people from that line even though we've been here longer?"

And I was like, "Yeah, American Airlines, why you gotta be like that?"

A few minutes later my name got called, we unloaded my slightly too big bag and went back to security where there was NO ONE MEASURING BAG SIZES.

What appeared to be a thirteen year old boy checked my boarding pass and license and looked up at me.  "You've been pre-screened, do you hear me?  Don't take a thing out of your purse until you go through security.  By the way, cool hair."

Pre-screened?  What is he even talking about?  Cool hair?  Not in the mood right now Doogie Howser.

My pre-screened self and The Big Daddy shuffled through security with all the other cows in the herd and boarded our flight.  I sat between two women, one who took her shoes off immediately and the other who took forever to eat a bagel smeared with peanut butter that made me want to gag.  Peanut Butter Bagel Lady kept saying "good girl, good girl" and I didn't make eye contact to my left or right because I thought I was stuck between Smelly and Crazy.  Halfway through the flight I noticed a dog in a carrier under the seat and I was like, "What the heck?  First peanut butter and now a dog?  Am I on a plane or a Greyhound bus?"

When the flight landed Peanut Butter Lady got her little foufou dog out of his carrier while we taxied and she picked at his eye goobers over and over.  Each time she'd get one she'd hold it in front of his mouth and he would lick it.

There really should be a Code of Conduct for Flying for those who are confused about things like smelly bagels, smelly feet and snacking on eye goobers when confined with a crowd of people in a turbo-charged area. 

A few hours later we were back in our home sweet home airport.  We got my bag and headed to the parking lot.  The automatic door to leave wouldn't open until the fifth try.

Our crummy little airport is just like our crummy little house.......a little sad and peeling - a lot welcoming.

I love you just the way you are.  

Sunday, June 1, 2014

The Taxi Driver

Mark and I have recently come back from a quick trip to Boston.  Mr. Smartypants Scientist was invited to a collaborator's retirement events at Harvard.

How do two bumpkins from Kansas secure that gig?  Well, he worked his tail off for it.  I tagged along like I belonged there and made a note to myself at the reception to ixnay on the Speckled Trout chattay.

In a decades long commitment to cheapen any experience we might have, The Big Daddy secured lodging a bit away from Boston proper to save some bucks.  As in so far away that getting anywhere via public transportation required a hotel shuttle ride to the mall, from the mall getting on a public bus to the train station, once arriving at the train station taking the red line to Park St., once arriving at the Park St. stop transferring to the green line.  The Big Daddy would say it wasn't that big of a deal but in the couple of times I was involved in this escapade it took two hours.  The last time took all of that and then a 0.8 mile walk (due to a M.I.A. shuttle) from the mall back to our hotel, weaving around construction cones and then crossing the entrance and exit ramp to the highway.

Always the adventure with that guy.

Our return home was via an early morning flight and so there we found ourselves sleepy-eyed in our hotel lobby at 5:00 a.m. meeting our taxi driver for a ride to the airport.

He introduced himself.  We helped him put our bags in the trunk and set off for the quickest, calmest ride of the trip through a quiet Sunday morning Boston with few cars on the road choking traffic.  A most welcome departure from the experience we had seen all weekend where sitting in traffic regardless of the time or day was as frequent as the seafood restaurants.

Our cab driver (which was the fourth of the trip) chatted with us as he made his way to our destination.  A former hotel manager for 14 years for the Intercontinental, he then spent 26 months in Afghanistan as a cultural liaison and interpreter for the U.S. Marines, and that's when this very interesting man became ever more so.

He told us of the time when the unit he was working with was trying to bring basic services to a village and met with a young Taliban fighter to discuss the most urgent needs of the people.  He introduced the Afghani to the Marine Corps Lieutenant and he refused to shake his hands.

"Why will you not shake his hand? " our driver asked him his native language.

"Because he is a non-believer and Allah said to never touch the hand of a non-believer."

"Oh he did?  Really?  Did he tell you that himself?"

"No," the Afghani said laughing.  "He's been dead too long for that.  My mullah told me."

"Well your mullah is full of shit.  Allah never said that and you don't disrespect a man trying to bring you clean water, do you hear me?  You shake his hand."

In many ways this taxi driver of ours reminded me of the main character in House of Sand and Fog.  A man of such dignity that his words carried the weight of gold.  A man who made you want to stand a little straighter and parse your thoughts more carefully.

As if reading my mind that was curious to know how he came from all that and was now driving an airport shuttle he said, "I came back and went to work for this company because it allows me to set my own hours.  After fourteen years in the hotel business and more than two years in Afghanistan I am home more for my kids.  That is what I wanted for my family.  To be there."

Inside that taxi the world became a smaller, more manageable place.  Nothing was solved but common ground wasn't so difficult to find and we agreed that many things done in the name of his religion and ours have been the recurring source of too many problems in this fragile world we all inhabit. 

Mark folded a generous tip and extended it our driver and we three stood on the curb for an awkward moment.  I felt like hugging the guy but opted instead for a handshake. 

The universal first step to respect.