Thursday, November 19, 2009

Movin' On Up . . .

. . . and not to the East Side. And maybe not to a deluxe apartment. But I am moving the blog and all its contents over to:

amycates.wordpress.com

Archiving two years' worth of posts will take lots of time and virtual cardboard boxes, so this one will remain right here for now, growing weedy and looking like the Addams Family's front yard. It will be like that one house in every neighborhood, where kids walk by at a fast clip and let misguided baseballs go unretrieved.

This will be Boo Radley's house.

As you travel over to the new site, please keep expectations low for the next week or two. Moving takes time, but I hope to make it worth your while and not a pain in the rear to remember where it is.

If you have subscribed to this blog via RSS feed, please note this feature is also available at the new place. I hope you use it.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Things You Can Feed Your Dogs (a helpful reader service)

Editor's Note: Sorry for the month-long absence. I've been busy and preoccupied with 10 magazine articles and their deadlines, a nasty computer virus that TamiFlu couldn't cure (but that a $130 repair bill could), a chance encounter with Loretta Lynn's tour bus (a story for another day), general anesthesia, day-to-day living and the final round of college visits with my high school senior. So, cut me some slack and get to reading.


I'm no veterinarian, but I have compiled a list of go-to items that you can feed your dogs when your kids don't tell you that there is no dog food in the house and the bag has been nearly empty for three days but now it's completely empty and it's 7 a.m. and would somebody, please, stop that barking? (Note: These are individual options, not the makings of a buffet. For best results, one entree at a time, please.)

* Cheez-Its
* leftover Ramen noodles
* oatmeal (instant or slow-cooked)
* scrambled eggs
* the perimeter of the omelet that you didn't eat that morning because the texture is weird
* a hearty soup
* Chex Mix
* toast
* pancakes or waffles (no syrup)
* Ritz crackers
* a handful of salmon-flavored cat treats

For my protection, I've copied (and edited) the following warning/disclaimer from the Lipitor website, but I think it's equally helpful here, as it may prevent litigious threats or claims, which, frankly, I don't really need right now.

If you take LIPITOR (or Amy's advice for veterinarian patients and their owners), tell your doctor if you feel any new muscle pain or weakness . . . The most common side effects are gas, constipation, stomach pain and heartburn. They tend to be mild and often go away. Eventually.

Monday, October 05, 2009

Gwen, Scary American Girl Doll

First, they mocked the '70s. Now, they've marketed homelessness.

Who's running American Girl? Barbara Boxer?

That's it, American Girl LLC. My family has supported you long enough. We've opened our home to Kaya, Kit, Ruthie, Samantha, Molly, Josefina, Bitty Baby, a couple of baby twins, some doll that came with a surfboard and possibly another freeloader or two who has taken up space on a bed, in a doll crib (oh, yeah, we have that, too), on the den floor. We've lined bookshelves with books that have been read and reread ad nauseum. We've outfitted their makeshift and portable homes (Rubbermaid boxes) with an AG knockoff bathtub from Target, a canopy bed (they take turns sleeping) and enough hats to make the Queen Mother jealous. (And if that sounds like a lot of money spent on American Girl dolls and accessories, know that my daughters are smart enough to ask for these things from their grandmother. And I'm smart enough to let them.)
Your first wrong move, American Girl LLC, however, occurred this year when you "archived" Samantha Parkington, "a bright and compassionate girl." Samantha was our family's first American Girl, and she has served us well, keeping the other American Girls in line. Oh, sure, we've had our moments, when we have found her wearing inappropriate clothes better suited to the surfer girl, or hanging upside down from the edge of the bed. But all in all, she has maintained propriety and encouraged us to dream big and . . . well, to be nice.

And then you really pushed the envelope with the recent introduction of Julie and Ivy and their hippie 1970s ways, grouping the '70s with historical periods like the Revolutionary War and making moms of 11-year-olds feel mighty old. Bad move.

The latest American Girl to come on the scene (that's the '70s influence talking) is Gwen, Homeless American Girl. She is the doll who lives in the box she came in. All for the online retail price of $95+/-.


A quick click on americangirl.com, and Gwen can be your own Doll You Can Pity, your daughter's Doll Whose Sad Life Keeps You Up At Night, her Doll That Doesn't Come With Any Accessories, her Doll That Costs As Much As Any Other American Girl Doll But Whose Net Profits Don't Benefit Any Social Agency or Cause But That's OK Because This Is Capitalistic America And No One Should Apologize For That But Really? This Is Tacky.

This is not about sheltering your kids from issues. This is not about sugarcoating real life. This is about keeping things in perspective. When it comes to dolls, we prefer dreams, not nightmares. That's why Barbie has lasted so long. Would Mattel market a Homeless Barbie and a Deadbeat Dad Ken?

My youngest girls come up with their own sad tales. For free. They don't need a $100 doll to open their eyes and scare the, excuse me, crap out of them, fearing for their parents' marriage (see Julie, a fun-loving San Francisco girl who faces big changes) or whether they will have a home tomorrow (see Gwen; but don't try to find a description for Gwen because she's so unfortunate that she doesn't even have a description; she rides on Chrissa's coattails and arrives at your doorstep by UPS in an eyelet lace dress and a pink headband that doubles as a belt).

American Girl does a lot of things right; this just isn't one of them. Perhaps if the money made from the sale of Gwen dolls built a shelter for women and children or maybe a dozen or more Habitat homes, maybe there wouldn't be a backlash. Maybe Gwens would come flying off the shelves at the warehouse. Maybe the whole deal wouldn't seem so . . . icky.

If the setup were a little different, we would love for Gwen to join the menagerie of American Girl dolls here, where each day looks sort of like a Victorian frat party. Unkempt hair, missing shoes, tiny dishes all over the floor, all the tea you can drink.

And then Gwen wouldn't be homeless anymore.


Thursday, September 24, 2009

Welcome to Wal-Mart: Come As You Are

BusinessWeek, back in 2007, offered the following explanation of Wal-Mart's shift from its longstanding slogan "Always Low Prices" to "Save Money. Live Better."

"Always Low Prices,” was always a benign descriptive slogan that befitted the brand, the store and the mission. The addition of “Live Better” is obviously meant as a deal closer, conveying to the consumer, who may or may not be conflicted about shopping at Walmart, what they get out of those low prices.

It was a shrewd move on Wal-Mart's part, as the economy started circling the top of the toilet bowl the very next year, and next thing you know, Wal-Mart was on everyone's radar. People who had treated Wal-Mart with such disdain, never giving it a second thought, were suddenly clipping coupons and buying Faded Glory jeans. People who maybe had never considered the thrill of saving money were captivated by the allure of staying afloat while still . . . living better.

And to these people, the rest of us extended a hearty welcome.

"Come on in!" we said. "Join us for some popcorn chicken in the deli and the clearance rack in the bakery!" And they reacted as if they found the Holy Grail. We watched them on local news reports and read about their plight in the newspaper. "We're really having to cut back. We're clipping coupons and buying clothes at Wal-Mart instead of at the mall."

And all of us just smiled. Apparently, we were doing something right -- something noble -- all along. They wanted to be like us. We were smart AND popular. But THEN, they started looking around and asking themselves, "Where do all these people come from? Am I really shopping alongside this?"

Thanks to cell phones and this new shopping sector's heightened sense of awareness in our "Live Better" world, our inboxes and a certain website are filled with all sorts of images that we, frankly, have never really considered. And if we could be completely honest here? We're a little scared.

I've never given any thought to what I wear to Wal-Mart, and now I'm concerned I might end up on this site or as an e-mailed image.

I once drove to Wal-Mart at 3 a.m. after leaving the emergency room, carrying a list of supplies I needed for a condition that I won't go into. Wearing my husband's t-shirt, sleep pants, a hospital bracelet and Band-Aids on my arms, I placed a bottle of carbonated sodium-something-or other and various other recommended accoutrements on the conveyor belt. The clerk looked at my purchases, eyeballed me up and down, then asked, "You having a procedure?"

I just wiped my brow with my palm and said, "What makes you ask?"

This sort of thing doesn't happen at Nordstrom's.

But today, in 2009, would I feel safe entering Wal-Mart dressed like this? Not likely.

Maybe as we climb out of this recession, the newbies will be gone, and the fascination with Wal-Mart shoppers' clothing and hairstyles will fade and we can go back to our ways, undisturbed, unkempt, unafraid of being photographed.

Because true Wal-Mart shoppers don't give a flip about Living Better. We're more about . . . Come As You Are.

There. There's your new post-recession slogan, Wal-Mart ad agency. Come. As. You. Are.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Big Brother Is Watching, and Boy, Is He Confused

This is not really about the shenanigans of Wired's Evan Ratliff, who is trying to disappear off the face of this way-too-connected-and-nosey earth in an effort to see if we truly are way too connected and nosey.

This is about, Hey, I'm Jealous and Why Can't the Rest of Us Do This?

Ratliff has written his own sociological experiment and cast himself as the leading man. He is attempting to stay "lost" for 30 days, beginning back on Aug. 15. No texting, no Twittering, none of that awful Facebook business. He'll likely have to avoid hidden cameras (and they are everywhere) at grocery stores, malls, ATMs, wherever. He has probably had to turn to using cash instead of debit cards, just to cover his trail.

In a word, he's kicking Big Brother's you-know-what and making him spin around in circles.

Big Brother was an Orwellian leader long before it was a lame reality TV show. And lest you think this sounds a little like Amy Is On Lortab, maybe you should reread 1984 and join the paranoia party with me. Because people, this is a crazy train. And nobody is requiring you to ride. Hop off at any time, and live in ignorance with me. It's a beautiful place.

And I know many of you are looking to relocate to a less-connected place, as evidenced by the accidental tourists who land here. According to this morning's stats, 19.92 percent of visitors to this site arrive by Googling "i hate texting." Maybe they're looking for a support group, a kindred spirit, ways to break the habit, I have no idea. But whatever you're looking for, I hope you've found that you're not alone. I hate texting, too. My hatred toward texting is so fierce that we forbid the practice in our family and slap fines of $1 per text on the one kid who even has a cell phone. And just so you'll know, we politely ask guests not to text. At one summer party involving pre-teens, the cell phones popped out the minute they walked in the door. I quietly walked over to a group of girls and their texting ways, and I politely informed them, "Put the phones away, or I'll put them away until your parents pick you up." So that made my kids the most popular kids in school. I don't care. My house. My rules.

But texting is only a small part of a much larger problem. I call it the Gladys Kravitz Generation. Everyone is looking through virtual windows at everyone else, tapping everyone on the virtual shoulder, being all virtually nosey.

Back in the day, parents teetered on espionage by unearthing a diary or journal in their kid's bedroom. I long for those days. Now, we have the internet to help us do our job, and let's just admit here that sometimes it's just TMI. We are exposed to and are guilted into absorbing too much information every day. And it's exhausting.

I was dining on a delicious chicken sandwich with friends recently, and as they were comparing notes about school websites and homework assignments and grade reporting practices and all those things that were totally foreign to parents a generation ago and make us totally anxious and occasionally ticked-off, I wiped my mouth and asked, "Don't you ever wish we didn't even have access to this stuff?"

And you could have heard a pin drop, when Tommy stopped and locked the door. (Sorry--my inner Kenny Rogers just oozed out.)

"What do you mean?"

"What I MEAN is," I explained, while polishing off my daughter's fries, "don't you wish it didn't even exist? All this technology? Like there was still a mystique about report cards and 'incompletes' and 'tardies' and missed homework assignments?"

"I've never really thought about it."

"Maybe you should. Maybe we all should. It doesn't mean you love your kids less if you don't stay on top of their homework or grades. Just enjoy the excitement of report card time, and deal with it then. In the meantime, let the kids handle their business." As a policy, it sounds perfectly reasonable. In reality, we know the follow-through will be shoddy. It's not our fault; we already have access. It's hard to turn back.

I'll come clean, here: I do check my kids' grades. Not daily. Maybe not even weekly. But I do it. Not because I have a burning desire to help them with math, but because I need the occasional bargaining tool.

"Take you to a movie? I don't think so. You pull up that science grade, then we'll talk."

When iHomes and TVs are blaring at top volume and the noise is deafening, I pay a little visit to the computer, and sometimes, the hammer comes down with a painful blow. "Turn that music down and go read some history, would you? And for not turning in an assignment last Wednesday? Mop the kitchen floor."

My techno-fatigue may be part of a larger disorder, but I remain unapologetic. I know enough to get by, and that's enough. For me, anyway. I still refer to my cell phone as a "car phone." It's a respectable pocket-size model that I received as a gift some four years ago. (I didn't ask for it.) It does not have texting capabilities, unless you know how to type in Hindi or whatever is required when using number keys as letters. It does not take pictures. It stays in my car and never crosses the threshold into my house. I do not Twitter. I do not have a Facebook page. If we know each other, I may tell you how tired I am or that I'm baking apple brown betty, but I generally keep those things to myself and not on a real-time APB.

So, considering my relative abstinence from technology, could I disappear for 30 days without a trace? In a snap. And without a 12-step program. For all you know, I could have played shuffleboard with Evan Ratliff on the lido deck yesterday afternoon.

I didn't. But I could have.

Have a happy (and text-free) weekend . . .

Sunday, September 06, 2009

This Happy Meal Took a Turn

At 11 o'clock Saturday night, we stopped at a McDonald's, because we only want the best for our kids. A Happy Meal, we figured, would fill the bill and knock them out cold until we would wake them up at 1 a.m. when we got home and tuck them in bed, still wearing grass-stained jeans and sporting dirty feet. Don't judge.

It wasn't until Sunday afternoon that I asked, "Hey, what sort of toy did you get in the Happy Meal?"

"Paper dolls! American Girl paper dolls!" And off she went, to bring them to me. So proud. This miniature book, with a built-in yellow ribbon, neatly tying the covers together to keep the paper dolls in place and the fold-out scenery neatly creased. It was so darn sweet, a person could cry just thinking about it. This, I thought, may be just about the cutest thing McDonald's has ever done. American Girl paper dolls.


Not. So. Fast.

"It's the newest American Girl! Julie!"

"What time period is she from?"

"The '70s."

"The NINETEEN70s? That's not a historical period. That's my childhood. Give me that." And I read the intro about Julie Albright, who I must tell you was born at least roughly around the same year that I was born, so I should know a little something about the early '70s, Miss Julie Albright, and one of those things is that MODERN history does not count when you are manufacturing and distributing dolls and books about historical characters.

Julie's story takes a detour from the typical American Girl tale. Kit, for example, is a resourceful girl from the Great Depression (1924). Felicity is a spirited colonial girl (1774). Kaya is a daring Nez Perce girl (1764). Molly is a patriotic girl who helps hold things together on the homefront during WWII (1944).

Julie is a pre-teen who plays basketball and enjoys fondue (1974).

Julie and I are sort of peers--in a time sense, anyway--but our worlds were so vastly different back in 1974 that I believe she must have been living in some foreign land. Like San Francisco.

In the shadow of the Golden Gate Bridge, "there were big changes happening in America. Her (newly divorced and recently relocated) mom started working full-time, running her own shop called 'Gladrags.' Protesters marched against the Vietnam War. Laws were passed to protect the environment and endangered species. Julie found her inner Democrat at the tender age of 12. She would one day grow up to be a lobbyist and work alongside a Tennesseean named Al Gore and talk way too much about carbon footprints and global warming."

OK, I made up that last part, but you get the picture.

It wasn't always easy getting other people to be open to new ideas, though. While change could be hard to accept, Julie realized that when it's important--when a friend is in trouble, an animal is endangered, or a rule needs to be rewritten--it's time to make the change happen yourself!

Because that's what 12-year-olds do. And then you turn the page and learn how to make your own Cootie Catcher, like Julie did. When she and her activist friends weren't effecting change in the Bay area, these trendsetters were busily crafting fortune-telling devices that they called "Cootie Catchers" out of 8 1/2 x 11 sheets of paper. (I always thought we egocentric pre-teens of suburban Atlanta invented these, along with paper footballs and personal notes disguised as origami. But as we all know, Georgia is on the other side of the continent from California, and all trends and fashion start there and eventually make their way across the land. Like a slow-moving wave.)

Marietta, Georgia eventually caught up with other trends, too, as I remember a girl who rode my school bus lived with only her mom after her parents divorced. They lived in one of the biggest colonials in our neighborhood. Her mom played a lot of tennis and made fish sticks for dinner. The girl had a trampoline and a canopy bed. Apparently divorce was more lucrative back in the '70s.

In my limited research, I couldn't find what Julie's mom sold at Gladrags. But whatever it was, it must have been expensive and in high demand because according to the American Girl catalog, Julie wears all the latest fashions, like a calico dress and matching bandana, and she has cool "sound accessories" (a hi-fi record player), as well as a banana seat bike and, as if you didn't see this coming, a stupid canopy bed.

As with any Happy Meal deal, you can't request which toy is tucked away in your Happy Meal box. It's the luck of the draw. Pure chance. A roll of the dice. But if you hurry, maybe you
can drive through a few times this week to increase your chances and read more about Julie, Creative '70s Girl, and her best friend, Ivy, and set up little paper scenes in their paper doll kitchen, equipped with avocado green appliances, Jiffy Pop popcorn and one of the country's first microwave ovens.

Offer ends Sept. 10.




Thursday, August 27, 2009

A Little Homespun ADD

I have worked from home for more than 13 years. In that time, I have been as productive a freelance writer as you could hope to meet. But in that time, you would never know what goes on behind the scenes.

Despite the absence of a time clock, a supervisor and dress code, I get the job done. I work at odd hours, on a whim, with or without being fully dressed. (Kidding -- I'm always dressed. Not well, but dressed.)

These are the perks and the pitfalls of working from home. But it's all smoke and mirrors, these little traits of the work-from-home segment of the labor force.

While working Sunday night on an article about adult ADD, I came across a website devoted entirely to the subject. And it was an ADD sufferer's NIGHTMARE. The lists and categories and subcategories of archived and bulleted articles and links and sidebars . . . I thought I'd never get back to work. Article titles like:


* Making ADD-Friendly Career Choices

* Feeling Overwhelmed, Disorganized, Scattered?

* ADHD: Not Just for Kids Anymore


And my personal favorite . . .

* Gee Whiz, I Missed It Again: How Can I Improve My Time Management Skills? Well, for starters, don't visit sites with dozens of bulleted archived articles with catchy titles. And second, who put the most comfortable couch in the house in this office? When I take breaks and stare at the ceiling, I see spots that I missed when I painted. Maybe this was the wrong color choice, after all. I need a color wheel. And money to pay someone else to re-do this because, honestly, this room just about put me in traction. But hiring it out would cost a few hundred dollars. Can I spend a few hundred dollars on painting one room? Maybe not today. Maybe I should get back to work.


An excerpt from "ADHD: Not Just for Kids Anymore":

It is estimated that between five to seven percent -- or more -- of all children suffer from attention deficit disorder. But what happens when these children grow up? Some are lucky enough to have learned to compensate for their poor attention span, impulsivity and distractibility by finding a good career match. Others married spouses who have been able to help structure their home lives. And yet others are still struggling, trying to figure out why they cannot seem to work up to their potential. Worse, many adults with undiagnosed ADHD find themselves living a life of shame, poor self esteem, and worse. (This sounds rather dismal, don't you think?)


Some of the symptoms that may indicate an attention problem include distractibility, impulsivity, inattention, difficulty staying on task, having many projects going on at one time and rarely completing any of them because kids are in and out of the house all the time and everyone seems to want to eat when you really don't feel like cooking, and hey, who ate all the leftovers in the middle of the night and didn't they know that was the dinner plan for Thursday? That just really ticks me off. Oh, and irritability, and difficulty falling asleep and difficulty waking up, which seem mutually exclusive if you really think about it.


But the good news is, Distracted Adult, you may not have ADD at all. The article goes on to say that symptoms of ADD may mimic other disorders, like depression, anxiety, and some medical problems like hypothyroidism. But I already have hypothyroidism and basically no functioning thyroid to speak of, so maybe I'm depressed and anxious. Maybe I'm depressed and anxious about not having a thyroid. The thyroid, as you may know, controls the balance of the universe. Every bodily function, emotional reaction and predisposition to having a good day gets its direction from the thyroid. Without it, you live a life of shame, low self-esteem, or worse. Or, you take medicine every day for the rest of your life to keep from blowing up like a balloon or suffering such severe leg cramps that you walk like you're suffering from rickets, or like you're the Log Lady from Twin Peaks.


Twin Peaks, you should know, was not David Lynch's most bizarre work. In the earliest years of our relationship, my husband would subject me to Eraserhead, which we rented repeatedly on VHS for about a dollar. (A dollar too much, really.) It remains one of the most quoted movies in our house, although I didn't understand any of it. Maybe David Lynch had a temporary case of ADD while making Eraserhead.


But my point is, shouldn't a website devoted to helping adults dealing with ADD be, you know, simple? Link-free? Filled with very brief articles? A monochromatic design, perhaps? It seems sort of cruel to lead ill-focused visitors on this blind trail of archives and helpful hints that have way too many paths branching off the main road. Which reminds me of a bike ride this summer through a state park, where some people thought that I (who had left the trail map in the car or camper or wherever) might be the best candidate to pedal back to a bulletin board they recalled seeing, with its maps of trail heads and points of reference, to check our location and even convinced me it was just a few hundred feet back, but 20 minutes later, I was still pedaling and was convinced that I had crossed the state line.

People can be so cruel, and it's wrong. It's a disorder, not a party game. Sniff.

Now, why did I walk into this room?

Monday, August 17, 2009

Hey! I Know a Little Something About "The Most Hated Woman in Sports"

I opened my mailbox Saturday to find this:

The Duke lacrosse team, Alex Rodriguez, Eric Ramsey . . . when it comes to dirty laundry, Selena Roberts of Sports Illustrated and New York Times fame knows how to scoop up some of the biggest sports stories in the country and share with the world. Yep, she tells it all. But something is missing from her own bio in this fall's cover story.
Let's go back a few years, shall we?

Just months before we graduated from Auburn, Selena and I once took a road trip on a rainy Sunday night to Columbus, Ga. to see REO Speedwagon at a general-admission concert.



The opening act was (and this is even more embarrassing--for both of us, really) Richard Marx.




And one more thing: I'll take your REO Speedwagon and your Richard Marx and raise you . . . two backstage passes. That's right; Selena Roberts and I went backstage and met them all--REO Speedwagon and Mr. Richard Marx-- in all their '80s big-hair glory. Is this something I'm proud of? Is it something I think of every day? Absolutely not. But I think it bears mentioning here because while some folks might call Selena's current-day reporting tactics on A-Rod's steroid use "stalking," I say, maybe it's in her blood. Like a blue tick hound. I've seen her outside REO Speedwagon's dressing room. Impressive.
I also think A-Rod and the Duke lacrosse team and probably a few others may delight in being privy to this information in case they decide to strike back in a more formal way. "Sure, I played around with anabolic steroids, but where were YOU, Selena Roberts in winter 1988? Does the name 'Richard Marx' ring a bell?"
And a footnote, in the form of an excerpt from the story about Selena in Auburn Magazine:
She switches to journalism, having loved to write as a kid, and pairs it with her childhood fervor for sports by convincing The Auburn Plainsman sports editor to offer her some assignments. By Roberts' senior year, she's editing the section herself. "It was great fun, sitting around all night long, talking about life, politics, the world," she says.
Are these the words of "the most hated woman in sports"? I think not. These are the memories of a former 20-year-old holed up in a student union basement for 20 hours or more, trying to digest Maryland turkey (good stuff) and meet a deadline while the musical stylings of the Mamas & the Papas resonated from the cassette player in the corner.
These are also the words of a reporter who is now, herself, the news and is sporting a shiny crimson jacket.
That Selena. Such a rebel. An Auburn woman would never be caught dead wearing crimson anywhere, let alone on the cover of an alumni magazine.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Top 10 Back-to-School Movies

Editor's Note: I wrote this for somebody else, and I believe it is now legal and appropriate that I can post it on my own blog. (If not, oops!) As an aside, I picked up this assignment on the very day that John Hughes passed away -- Aug. 6. Weird.


Without the work of the late John Hughes, this wouldn’t be much of a list.

Hughes wrote and/or directed some of the most popular movies of the ’80s, bringing fame to some relatively unknowns at the time and reassuring all of us that the perfect high school experience is but a myth.

School is intertwined in American culture, so as you embark on a new academic year, carve out some time to salute the American school experience with one of these Top 10 Back-to-School Movies (in no particular order and with an added bonus that I just couldn't leave off) . . .

Sixteen Candles (1984)—A husband forgetting your birthday is one thing; realizing that your parents and entire family dropped you off their radar is another. Molly Ringwald’s character Samantha Baker deals with all the drama of turning 16, without any acknowledgment or even a cake. At her side are the King of the Geeks (Anthony Michael Hall) and best friend Randy. And far, far away is the most awesome Jake Ryan in his Porsche. Sixteen Candles is chock full of teenage crushes, high school parties and general teenage angst.

Just seeing this photo whisks a girl back to 1985. I wish I had been sent to Saturday detention. I would have sat far, far away from Ally Sheedy and probably equidistant from Molly Ringwald and her sushi. As the day wore on, I would have inched closer to Judd Nelson.


The Breakfast Club (1985)—The entire movie is based in the library and near-empty halls of Shermer High School as five kids come together for Saturday detention. If you love John Hughes, then you’ll love his brief cameo as Brian’s (Anthony Michael Hall) father in the closing scene. Don’t blink.

Pretty in Pink (1986)—Written by John Hughes, this one is so full of teenage angst that you might find it too realistic and maybe a little dark. Instead, focus on the endearing relationship between Andie (Molly Ringwald) and Duckie (Jon Cryer). Be patient with Blane (Andrew McCarthy) and go ahead and dislike Steff (James Spader) all you want. Two very different worlds collide, as they often do in American high schools, but with a very enjoyable soundtrack.

Grease (1978)—If you scoff at the High School Musical movies, remind yourself of this piece of cinematic work. Danny (John Travolta) and Sandy (Olivia Newton-John) and their respective entourages break out in spontaneous bursts of song at the beach, on the bleachers by the track, in the school’s garage, at sleepovers, you name it. They even perform a little dance competition at . . . well, the high school dance. No spoilers here. It’s a musical.

Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986)—Sure, Ferris skipped a day of school, but this is a shoo-in for the Back-to-School Movie List. The very popular Ferris (Matthew Broderick) has nothing to run away from at his upper-middle-class school, but he fakes an illness so that he and girlfriend Sloane and best friend Cameron can explore Chicago, via Cameron’s dad’s Ferrari.

Rebel Without a Cause (1955)—This is a back-to-school movie? You bet. When John Stark (James Dean) moves to a new town and enters a new school, you should know nobody will be the same. This is classic cinema, with quintessential ’50s lingo and garb throughout. Natalie Wood and Dennis Hopper round out a classic cast.

Footloose (1984)—Kevin Bacon as the streetwise Ren McCormack created quite a stir back in the mid-’80s when he moved from the big city to a small Midwestern town. This modern-day James Dean, with his Walkman and all that fancy footwork, singlehandedly transformed a city with no musical soul into a dance-crazed, freewheelin’ town. But not before he struggled with being the new (and rowdy) kid in town, navigating the halls of a new school and trying to make friends with members of the popular crowd.

Back to School (1986)—What’s a back-to-school movie list without the namesake movie? Rodney Dangerfield plays a wealthy business owner who goes back to college. He just happens to enroll at the same college his son attends. But the dad throws better parties.

Freaky Friday (1976)—Not that anything is wrong with the 2003 remake with Jamie Lee Curtis and Lindsay Lohan, but Barbara Harris and Jodie Foster? Classic. Besides, what teenager would whine about trading places with the very cool Jamie Lee Curtis? But Barbara Harris messing around in your business? Totally different matter.

13 Going on 30 (2004)—What girl doesn’t want to bypass her 13th year? Especially when she hosts a pretty stinky 13th birthday party. Oh, but what a tangled web Jenna Rink (Jennifer Garner) weaves when she wishes for an older and improved self, fast forwards herself by 17 years, finds that cute boy turns out to be a not-so-wonderful adult, and that she (in adult form) isn’t what she thought she should be either. It’s like a female version of Big, but with better clothes.

Clueless (1995)—This one isn’t so much about high school as it is about the clothes. And the cars. And the popular crowd. So maybe it is about high school. Cher Horowitz (Alicia Silverstone) plays matchmaker for teachers, new students and herself. Ultimately, after makeovers and matchmaking, she uncovers a better Cher—one who has more depth than she even expected.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Amy's Dream Analysis: Fred Thompson

Dream: My dental hygienist called to say that former Sen. Fred Thompson phoned her office and was looking for me.


"That Fred," I told her.
She relayed the message that he had dyed his hair blonde and needed to talk with me about it. I assured her that I would call him later. I was preoccupied with a new zoning ordinance that would allow a state highway to run perpendicular to my front yard, which means that the new road would pass right through my kitchen. The highway would be lined with produce stands.
While Fred Thompson waited for my return call, I met with the DOT engineer, who toured me through the woods across from my house and told me to ignore the boxes and display cases of oranges and tomatoes--nothing was definite yet.

"Roads take years to build," he assured me.

And then he convinced me that this matter could stay just between us with a payoff of $35.12. (He paid me with a promissory note.) I asked him where his office would be so that I could reach him if I had any questions. He said that he would be working from the marina, where he could get free WiFi.

Analysis: Congressional elections are only a little more than a year away, and Excedrin Migraine was working overtime during my REM sleep.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Time to Get Up; Blog Break Is Over

If you were expecting a fabulous Extreme Makeover: Blog Edition, I apologize. It's sort of like this summer, as my husband was preparing to leave the country and I assured him, "You are going to come home to the cleanest house." But then he returned home, and he was disappointed to find the same crap heaps all over the place.

After a two-month hiatus from this blog, you would think I could deliver a new-and-improved look. ("My gosh, Amy, what have you been doing with yourself?") When it all shook out, I just couldn't bring myself to make any big design changes . . . or pay anyone to make any big design changes. I have some unpaid help working on a new banner and maybe a background, but for now, let's focus on the content, shall we? Don't be so shallow.

I am re-entering the blogosphere with a renewed sense of determination and adventure, as this summer brought more and new (paying!) clients and hope for the future in freelancing, and that makes me slightly euphoric. (Thanks, God!) Yes, even in the face of a recession, shrinking freelance budgets and a moderate mid-life crisis that could have rendered a weaker person susceptible to cosmetic surgery, spa treatments and costly therapy, I found myself refreshed, grateful for the short break and ready to get back in the blogging groove.

As this thing sputters and burps in its reignition phase, please take note of a few changes and maybe a couple of additions. Because this is a Facebook-free zone, I have nowhere to place Pictures That Nobody Else Cares About. So I have added a new box at the upper right corner. Today's installment is first in my Summer 2009 Flashback. While summer is certainly not behind us, the leisurely days of summer vacation are all but gone. Schedules, schmedules, but this is our lot. Check out this space in the coming days as we rewind the past couple of months.

For you technofreaks, be sure to subscribe to the RSS feed so that your iPhone, iTouch or some other something I don't have can thwack you on the head when a new post arrives. For the rest of you old-schoolers still using a desktop, this will work for you, too. The hamster running on the wheel at full speed will keep your dial-up or whatever in sync.

You will notice that I've stuck to my guns on the "no comments" arrangement. But you are always welcome to send comments via e-mail to cates (dot) amy at gmail (dot) com. (I've spelled this out for a reason; that reason is, I don't like spam. In a can or in e-mail.)

The next couple of weeks will be spotty (there she goes, already whining and backing out), as deadlines for the paying gigs loom and kids start back to school in two spurts, one week apart. And somewhere in there, I will take the last First Day of School picture of my oldest, as she begins her senior year. (Sigh.) So forgive me if it seems I'm already slacking off.

It's not my fault.

It never is.

Friday, July 10, 2009

I Demand a Do-Over

And a do-over is what you are going to get.

The E.T.A. on the new blog and new website is Monday, Aug. 10, with a grace period of two or three business days in either direction.

It will be an unveiling worth waiting for.

I hope.

Friday, June 12, 2009

You Call This a "Blog"? I Call This a "Hiatus."

Thirty-six posts into 2009, and you would think I would quit calling this a "blog" at all. It is time that I vow either to do a better, more regular job of posting, or do away with it altogether. Get off the fence. Make up my mind. Make a decision. Take a stand. Quit being so wishy-washy.

So-o-o-o-o . . .

The blog is taking a vacation, as if that isn't already apparent from these long stretches of tired posts that stay at the top of the heap for more than a week or two.

Instead, I will be channeling the stories, experiences and outright made-up events into other arenas for other purposes -- namely, a cool project for 2010 that, if I'm not careful, will begin to feel like a neglected term paper looming over my head. (You're welcome, David.)

Perhaps I'll give this blog a fresh jump-start in a few months. Or not. Who knows? If you're not in my address book (or not sure if you're in my address book), please e-mail me at cates (dot) amy (at) gmail (dot) com. (The e-mail address is spelled out to prevent big ol' chunks of spam. Blcchh.) I'll set you up so that you can receive notifications this fall, and you'll be apprised of goings-on, including blog status, upcoming events and other shameless acts of self-promotion masked as marketing tactics.

And whether you've been an occasional or faithful reader, thank you, thank you, thank you!!!!

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Amy + Tracy + Rachel + Liz . . . Minus 8

The first order of business:

I offer two final words on Jon & Kate. And those final words are . . . Who. Cares.

My only exposure to the show was a 15-minute trial more than a year ago, and after watching Kate pack suitcases for a trip to Disney World as she whined about it, well, frankly, I was bored out of my skull. This is why things like Twitter and Facebook are lost on people like me. It's like techno-voyeurism. Chased with a downer. Depressing, really.

With that out of the way, let's move on to more pressing matters. Like Amy+Tracy+Rachel+Liz Minus 8 = Beach Trip.

Threatening to be a bizarre and Deep South version of Real Housewives of New York, this trip takes four mothers of eight collective children for a four-day stay in a 50-foot RV known as The Raptor. I so wish you and TLC could come along, but frankly, there's just not enough room. Because I want my own bed.

If I were a Twitterer or a Facebooker, perhaps I would involve you in every detail of the journey.

We just bought gas!

Liz forgot the beach chairs!

Tracy ate all the Vienna sausages!

Rachel fell off her bike!

Nobody told me I was in charge of bringing the toilet paper!

But instead, I shall document only what warrants documenting and will share those events in some format, either from the beach or when I return. That depends on WiFi and my mood. And how many naps a day I will be taking.

If things go awry, maybe I could line up the other three on a picnic bench and video them as they whine about each other and give off bad vibes and hostile body language. And then I would charge you $25,000 an episode to view it.

Stay tuned . . .


In the meantime, head on over to here to check out an updated book review entry.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Friday Night at the Thrift Store

Sometimes a girl just has to get away.

Sanity is really worth something these days, so to hang on to what little she had left after a long and frustrating week, she decides to make a break for it. She can't go too far with only a set of car keys and $17. She offers no details as she makes a quick exit, leaving everyone in the house looking confused and maybe even a little frightened . . .

And on that breezy Friday night, I landed in the book section of the local thrift store.

I stood there, trying to justify the purchase of a half-dozen paperbacks that I could check out for free at the library, and a young woman in either her late teens or early 20s walked by, pushing an umbrella stroller that held a half-dressed toddler. She was practically shouting, "I love non-fiction. I don't read no fiction 'cause non-fiction is much better. I am a READER, you know. I love me a good book. So find me something in non-fiction. I can just read and read and read . . . " And she kept talking as she walked, her voice trailing off behind the racks of LPs and National Geographics.

And she may or may not have been wearing pants.

Either her tank top was oversized, or she was wearing a swimsuit cover-up with no swimsuit, but whatever the case, there was no evidence of bottoms. Just . . . a bottom. Maybe she was so busy reading non-fiction that she forgot her pants.

I waited until she was long gone so that I could turn to a fellow shopper and make a smart-aleck comment disguised as a sincere question. "Hey, was that girl wearing pants?" And as I spoke, I realized I was talking to the girl's friend, who smarted right back, "Uh, yes, she is wearing pants," like I was so stupid for asking.

I was about to lecture her about not letting her friend go all about town with no pants, but I had bigger fish to fry, as to my left was a mom helping her children find some quality novels for their leisure time. It was like something out of the movies. Peter Parker is standing on a street corner, minding his own business, maybe reading the newspaper, and a pedestrian yells, "Somebody! Help! A bad guy is holding up the bank, and he has hostages!" And then Peter Parker transforms into Spiderman to break through the plate glass window and save the day.

The mom was practically shouting. "Here. Read a page of this, and if you like that page, then you know it's a good book. That's what works for me." And I held my hands behind my back and bit my lip because the mom was handing her 10-year-old daughter a very used copy of Sweet Valley High - Power Play.

Now I don't write the New York Times Book Review, but I do know a little something about literature and paperbacks and what is appropriate for 10-year-old girls and how some parents should stick to meal planning and not summer reading planning.

And as I was thinking of how best to approach this family and let them know that they are sadly off base when it comes to summer reading lists and that DHR is just a phone call away, the mom squealed, "Oh, you'll LOVE this! These Mary-Kate and Ashley books are GOOD." The little girl looked a little embarrassed. Angelic, with curly blonde hair and slight smile, but embarrassed still.

I tried to worm into their conversation, maybe offer a little intervention. But when the mom didn't take my bait, I waited for her to be distracted by a Captain Underpants or maybe a flashing light. And then I dove right in to save the kid.

I felt like a pervert offering candy. "Pssst . . . little girl . . . come here. I have a little girl your age, and one of her favorite books is Homer Price. See? Right here. I'll bet you would like it. And look -- here's The Magician's Nephew. I'll bet you saw the movie The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe , right? And so . . ."

As if it had been scripted, the mom sneered at me and took the frightened little girl by the hand and said, "C'mon. Let's go . . ." And I am sad to report that she had a stack of Sweet Valley High books under her arm as they headed to check-out.

I felt like such a failure. I tried; I really, really tried. Poor kid and her summer at Sweet Valley High.

But it gave me an idea. Just as some do-gooders might hang outside the package store or corner bar to talk to customers about mending their ways, maybe a similar approach would work in the book section of the thrift store. A new mission for the ages. We could position ourselves throughout fiction and non-fiction (where the bottomless readers migrate) and really make a difference in our communities. We could wear the shoulder radios -- you know, to intimidate the offenders and beef up communication. A show of unity, too.

"Mary Kate and Ashley, Two of a Kind - Shore Thing at 3 o'clock . . . over. . ."

"Roger that . . . And we have a Goosebumps at 9 o'clock . . . over. . ."

"I'm going in . . . over . . ."

"I've got your back . . . over . . ."

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

A Few Words to the Class of 2009

Whether you are graduating from kindergarten, high school or college, you will likely endure a graduation speech, given by someone whose name you will not remember in 20 years. Unless, of course, you graduated from my alma mater and were privileged enough to hear the nuggets of wisdom imparted by Mr. Bo Jackson last Saturday. (Click here. An aside to this: The time that Bo and I attended Auburn overlapped by a few quarters. It was a long time ago. Auburn was still on the quarter system. He once held the door open for me at Beard-Eaves in the middle of the day. I said, "Thanks, Bo." I wonder if he remembers it as I do.)

Now I'm no Heisman Trophy winner, nor am I arguably one of the greatest athletes of all times, but I will own a high school graduate in exactly one year, and I have spent an inordinate amount of time listing all the things that I need either to teach or reinforce in the one year she will still be at home. It's a very panicky feeling. I hate it, really. I've given some thought to writing a commencement speech just for her, delivering it from the hearth in the living room, but for now, it's only a makeshift list.

This list does not include the many things that she simply chooses to ignore. Like the importance of recording debits in a check register. Or why cereal bowls shouldn't be left on a bedroom dresser for days on end.

No, this is a separate and distinct list of Things That a High School Graduate Should Know So That She Has a Fulfilling and Independent Life and Doesn't Make Bonehead Mistakes.

We prefer that our kids make their bonehead mistakes here at home, so that we can watch them fall, then pick them up and brush them off.

Perhaps you'll find some merit in this list, which is written for the general audience. In no particular order:

Don't drink the Kool-Aid. Prisons are full of people who followed a leader or tried to fit in.

Failure doesn't signal the end of the world. Kids don't get to experience enough failure these days. I'm not talking about the kind of failure that makes you repeat a grade or lands you in a youth home. Just the run-of-the-mill failure that might leave you off the invitation list for the class pizza party or prevent your grandmother from giving you $10 at report card time. Too many kids will never know the joy of making a 'C,' only to regroup and pull out an 'A' by the end of the next nine weeks. If you are heading off to college but weren't fortunate enough to experience a little failure while living at home because your parents may have hovered too much, I hope you have a tolerant and forgiving roommate.

Change the oil in your car every 5,000 miles.

Get a dog. A dog can teach you a little something about humility. Just ask my friend David, whose Great Dane once suffered a pretty severe stomach virus on top of the a/c vent.

Stand out. Don't text everything. Send the occasional old-fashioned e-mail. Make a phone call. On a landline. Buy an overpriced stamp and mail a letter.

Watch out for the "have-to" things in this world. Like choosing china and crystal patterns. (These are not really important decisions, no matter what your mother says.)

Make new friends. You would think young people don't need to be reminded of this, but you would be wrong. I learned years ago that a person's friends don't form one big circle. They make circles. Some friends fit nicely into one of many circles, but the reality is that some circles will never intersect. Don't need to intersect.

True story: My husband and I met in college, but our circles never intersected. We later worked together, and I asked him, "Why didn't you hang in my circle in college?"

"Eh, I had enough friends." And while that seemed like the rudest answer in the world, it was an appropriate answer from an immatu . . . I mean, a young man who didn't yet know the value and honor of having many circles, rather than just one big circle. He has long since mended his ways and recognizes that juggling many circles has its rewards. One of my friends (from my "school circle") said she follows the same policy. She called these "concentric circles," which is a more accurate illustration because concentric circles share a center. My mental picture of friend circles had always been a collection of independent circles, but thanks to this school friend, I see that "concentric" might be the way to go. (See? Yet another advantage of having many circles. Some of my circles might not want to talk about "concentric vs. independent," but this member of the school circle did, thereby highlighting the importance of diversity.)

Major in a subject you enjoy, not endure. That's pretty big talk from an English major who is spending her Wednesday night writing a blog for no pay, but it's a pretty good rule of thumb.

Friday, May 08, 2009

Economy, Bacon and a Mother's Day Tribute (Friday Roundup)

Let's just go ahead and get this out of the way . . . I am sick of this crap, crap, crappity, crap, crap, crappy economy. Care to know why? Because when advertising suffers, so must I. And so must all the nice people I work (worked) with and are now on the street looking for employment.

One morning this week . . . I was caught frying bacon at 6:45 a.m. ON A SCHOOL DAY. Suspicion mounted, and finally, the accusation: "Oh, I get it. Mother's Day is coming." Right. Like my ability to cook something any more complicated than a Toaster Strudel on a school day will net me anything more than a Mimosa and a gift card. Sometimes, a girl just has to have some bacon. That's all.

Speaking of Mother's Day . . . which is SUNDAY, I would like to pay tribute to the four people who I boss aro...I mean, mother. At the risk of being a little smarmy and personal and mother-like, I thought it might be a nice gesture to list three unique qualities about each child. But I'll use neither their names, nor their birth order. It will be like a fun party game, where they can figure out which one is which. Maybe I'll remember the answers and can tell them if they're right or wrong. And if you know me and my kids personally, you can join in on the fun and see who has been particularly well-behaved lately and stands in good favor (and remember, these are in no particular order):

1. writes stories every night, long after everyone is in bed, like we'll never know; will walk right past/around/over Dad to ask me a question; thinks Uncrustables are delicacies

2. the go-to person for inside information on anyone else in the house; the only one who gives hugs without wanting anything in return; vomits when someone says "vomit"

3. decided to go by the name "Roger" as a 2-year-old; truth be told, would probably still like to be 2 years old; creative streak a mile wide

4. occasionally wears a tiara to dinner; can keep a secret better than anyone on the planet; best table manners in the family

-----------------

And that's the Friday Roundup, a catch-all/catch-up after more than a week's absence. Whether you are a mom, have a mom or know a mom, Happy Mother's Day weekend (clinking of Mimosa glasses here) . . .

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Party Games and a Little Dream Analysis

After a full day of baptism and celebration this past Sunday, we gathered with about 30 of our friends to grill out burgers and play Pictionary Man.
While our customs might not be biblical, we think Jesus would approve.
To be truthful (as Jesus would want us to be), we sent the kids far, far away into the woods or somewhere, and then the women bored the men out of their skulls with all their coupon talk and bargain-shopping stories so that the men would retreat and leave us the heck alone. And then we sighed our collective "whew!" and conversation got a little spicier and more enjoyable, and then we broke out Pictionary Man.
Party games like Pictionary Man reveal a lot about friendships. Their strength. Their duration. The disbelief that so many people possess the TOTAL INABILITY TO DRAW. Tempers flared and a few pens were slammed on the table. Some examples why:

* Popeye was not a pirate. He was a sailor man. And no, he and Jack Sparrow do not resemble each other.

* "The Road to Misunderstanding" is not a TV show. Nobody knows what it is.

* Johnny Cash, Eddie Money and Johnny Paycheck are interchangeable when you're illustrating their names. This is not worth arguing about or trying to drive home a point. It's just a fact. A very real fact.

* Nobody really cares that you don't watch prime time TV. But if you paid attention to the occasional commercial and preview, you really would make a better Pictionary Man player.

* Clearly, people don't have to share the same musical tastes. But not knowing who the Red Hot Chili Peppers are, I have to say, is sort of unfortunate.

On to other matters . . .

When a person watches too much TV news and spends a little too much time online, that person can make himself a little obsessive and worrisome. This is not to say that we should ignore the threat of swine flu and share soft drinks with complete strangers on a subway, but you shouldn't be so worked up about things that you wake up in the middle of the night in a pool of sweat, fretting over another nightmare that is eerily similar to the storyline of I Am Legend.

My analysis: You are very scared of death and disease. And cleaning up vomit.

The very same night that this dream wormed its way into our house, I dreamed that I ran into one of my many friends named Michelle. We were both at the Birmingham International Airport, and she was heading to Atlanta to visit Six Flags. Her flight was announced, she said, "Oh, that's me! I have to go! I'll talk to you later!" And then she and her husband hopped aboard the Sky Buckets for what had to be a very long ride to Atlanta, as it was raining, and the Sky Buckets zip along at about 4 mph. In this dream, I was also traveling to Six Flags in Atlanta, but when I got there, the temperature had dropped to about 35 degrees, but I still rode the log ride and the Scream Machine.

My analysis: I'm not really worried about the swine flu.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Another Earth Day, Come and Gone; A Series of Questions (Friday Roundup)

A full week has passed . . . since my last post, and the only thing of any consequence to share is that Earth Day 2009 has come and gone. So I offer the folowing recap . . .

How I Celebrated Earth Day
and Now My Carbon Footprint Is As Big As Texas

* washed and dried four loads of clothes

* answered "you betcha' " when the grocery bagger asked if plastic was OK

* ate lunch with a friend and brought the leftovers home in a styrofoam box

* once home, I stacked the styrofoam box on top of yet another styrofoam box carried out from a restaurant the previous night and put them both on the top shelf of a refrigerator that is probably less than energy-efficient because it is 19 years old, but the way I look at it, we've saved space in a landfill by not tossing it in a trash heap and replacing it with a more energy-efficient and fashionable stainless steel model

* ran the dishwasher when it wasn't fully loaded

* replaced plastic bags in trash cans throughout the house

* took two showers -- one in the a.m., one in the p.m.

* didn't bother to turn off the kids' lamps before I turned in for the evening, and my bedroom TV remained on throughout the entire night

My sister is a college professor . . . and whatever it is she teaches has something to do with counseling. And that can only mean one thing: her extended family is a series of case studies paraded before students who will one day take our experiences and use them as a measuring stick of Things Not To Do, or Oh Yeah? Well, I Can Top That Story or Stop Your Whining; You Don't Know Crazy.

But that's OK because I have my own ways of publicizing the weirdness and absurdities that make our family what it is. I just don't have a captive audience of college students. So, why is it, Amy, that you continue to take the bait? The bait being, of course, questions and conversations that provide some sort of insight into why I am the way I am -- and why everyone else is the way they are and MY GOSH why can't they just see how wrong they are and straighten up?And then the questions and conversations are undoubtedly charted, graphed and summarized and posted on a SmartBoard and analyzed to death while young people sit in her classroom and shake their heads.

The latest question came in the form of an e-mail and pointed me to an online assessment. It was loosely disguised as the basis of a "genogram," which sounds like a psychological chart useful in studies, but it's actually Latin for "Your family is crazy, and we'll show you just how bad it is." But I'm nothing if not helpful and willing to serve the greater cause of higher education, so there you go. I responded to questions in totally contradictory ways, just to skew the score and make her and her students want to bring me in as a guest speaker and provide me with a boxed lunch in the Student Union.

Her request: When you have a minute and just feel like taking a personality assessment, take this test http://www.humanmetrics.com/cgi-win/JTypes2.asp. Send me your 4 letter code. This is a real personality assessment (just a short online version). I'm trying to do a genogram as a class example and I need you and Daddy to do this for me because I think you two probably will get similar, if not the same, results. I think mine will be similar to yours with a slight difference.

After tallying my results, which were nothing more than a four-letter code with corresponding percentages, I e-mailed my score and tacked on a few questions: "Why did they misspell extrovert? Where did you get this? The student health center?" My second response was "This thing is wrong. I'm so much more judgmental than it says I am."

I didn't point out the other concerns I had with this particular assessment, but they bear mentioning here (statements required a "yes" or "no" response):

"You are consistent in your habits." Isn't that what a habit is? Consistent behavior?

"You prefer to spend your leisure time alone or relaxing in a tranquil family atmosphere." Maybe I don't understand the question, but these seem mutually exclusive to me. And I'm not really sure what "tranquil" has to do with "family atmosphere." The middle of the night? When everyone's asleep? And if you're alone, can you be in a family atmosphere?

"You often spend time thinking of how things could be improved." Like this test. I was inventing all sorts of ways this test could more accurately assess my personality and therefore be an improved model of psychological evaluation.

"You prefer to read a book than go to a party." That depends on the book -- and the party.

"The more people with whom you speak, the better you feel." I'm not even sure what this means. Which people? Some people can make you want to drive off a bridge; others, you leave the room dancing on your toes. So the variables are just too numerous. Generally, however, talking can be fun, I guess. Does it lift my mood? I suppose it depends on what the other person says. "You look really thin in that dress" would make me feel better than, say, "Huh, I thought you were so much older."

Yippee! Friday! Cool stuff going on this weekend. And no, I'm not talking about Talladega. Full report to be posted early next week . . .

Friday, April 17, 2009

Duggar Tots, Networking and More Networking, the Tea Parties (Friday Roundup)

Smells like the Duggars 'Round Here ... I mean, it smells like the Duggars are cooking! After a long Easter Sunday, we sat on our screened porch with friends, discussing everything under the sun. And among the information we shared and delighted in was a recipe that apparently causes our friends to suffer such anticipation that they form a semi-circle around the oven, just waiting ... and waiting ... and waiting. They made it sound so enticing, in fact, that I demanded a list of ingredients right then and there: tater tots, ground beef, cream of mushroom soup, cream of chicken soup (you read correctly) and a can of evaporated milk.

Curiosity bubbled inside me like a can of cream of mushroom soup simmering at 350 degrees for a full hour. So I gave the recipe a try Thursday.

Some bloggers post photos of their food, but I don't think a photo would do this dish justice. In fact, it might be a real turn-off. What this casserole offers in terms of animal protein and cream soups, it sort of lacks in visual appeal.

From the dinner table:

"What is this?"

"Duggar Tots."

"What's a Duggar?"

"A family on TV."

"The midgets?"

"No, they're the people with 18 kids." Pause, awkward glances, more pause.

"This lacks ... color. It's sort of ... gray. Maybe next time you should add some vegetables, or some bell peppers."

Or just MAYBE I should leave it AS IS because everyone enjoyed a heaping helping -- some of them, even two heaping helpings. Go, Duggars and your innovative casserole recipes!

And more networking ... I may have pointed out earlier this week that networking can be such a drag. But so can empty pockets. Everyone around me is having to reinvent the way they do business, so here I am, networking away. Under the category of "shameless self-promotion," you'll find me on http://www.vulcanmediateam.com/ and on the blogroll of http://www.birminghambloggingacademy.com/. And I'll not complain about networking any more. At the risk of sounding like a Miss America contestant, this is sort of fun -- making new friends, exploring new opportunities, stepping off well-traveled paths and wandering onto new ones. God bless America. And now, for the talent portion, I will be twirling a baton of fire while playing the harmonica and clanging cymbals strapped to my knees ...

If I had attended the Chicago tea party Wednesday ... I would have dumped an entire kettle on Susan Roesgen's head. Even if I agreed with her political views, which she made so crystal clear, I would say her work on Wednesday is among the best examples of bad journalism a person could hope to see. If you don't know what I'm talking about, click here.

It reminds me of a morning a few weeks ago when I was watching The Today Show and Matt, Meredith and Ann were standing behind canvases and easels, and a nude model stood in the front of the art studio. One of my kids walked in and asked, "What in the world are you watching?"

"The news."

And then she laughed. Then I realized how stupid I sounded.

There's bad news all around us. We shouldn't have to put up with bad reporting, too. Yowsa.

Everybody's workin' for the weekend ... and here it is! Turn off the TV, make some new friends, and host your own tea party. Tots are optional.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

A Little Blog Detour

If you're looking for a new blog post, I put it here Tuesday. I like to keep you guessing . . . and hopping . . . like I'm running some sort of weird scavenger hunt or something.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Caving in to Social Networking and Stepping Outside the Crappy Box

Apparently Facebook has a professional and businesslike cousin named LinkedIn. But it's not just another of those social networking opportunities that makes people drool and bang away on the keyboard all hours of the night as they stalk other accounts and post things like, "Sure is cold today!"

Indeed, LinkedIn may be the missing link between staying in business and experiencing a full-tilt mid-life crisis.

But first, a confession: I hate networking. Oh, Amy, "hate" is such a strong word. I know, and that's why I chose it. I prefer for work just to land in my lap, on my screen, in my mailbox. To go out and find it can be a pain, and you fear rejection and neglect and all those things that make you feel like you're in high school all over again.

But in a crappy economy overwhelmed by technology, networking has taken on a different, albeit 24-hour, form. You have to connect and reconnect and use words like "connect" and "reconnect." Those are difficult tasks to master, when all you really want to do is write and earn a paycheck.

But this is still good news: If you hate cocktail parties and meet-and-greet sessions where you have to wear things like shoes and figure out how to balance a dessert plate and glass in one hand in order to shake someone else's hand, tools like LinkedIn may be part of the solution. That's right -- I caved. I resisted long enough and ignored too many invitations to LinkedIn to believe it's totally useless. So far, so good. No weirdos, no stalkers.

This just in from a fellow freelancer during an e-mail exchange re: social networking: "I prefer it easy too, but I'm thinking those days are over. I saw a story about all these publishing folks our age taking unpaid internships to learn new aspects of the biz. I think I'll just try to write a novel instead."

She may be on to something. Or on something. I have no desire to take on an internship. And I really don't want to learn new aspects about much of anything. I just want to do what I do. On the other hand, can a person just up and write a novel, and all is right with the world?

I'm not a novel-writing kind of girl, but maybe it's high time to step outside the box. Or go running and screaming outside the box. Or to allow the crappy economy to repossess the box so that I can add other things to my workload.

The cat is still in the bag, and he is doing his darndest to get out, but let's hope he doesn't suffocate before 2010. That's when Project No. 1 will be complete. He will love that his name is mentioned again in this space (because that's the way he is), so my friend DAVID and I are finally going to collaborate, after talking about it for some 20-odd years. I just hope we don't kill each other in the process. It would be a shame for a 25-year friendship to go up in smoke simply because he won't give in to my creative thoughts and admit that my visions are sometimes better than his. Besides, he needs me, and he knows it. I'm a much better speller.

So, that's Project No. 1. There it is. I'm committed.

Project No. 2? It's on the backburner, simmering away. I hope it doesn't boil over and cause a big distracting mess.

Updates to come via LinkedIn. Because that's what networkers do.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Barry Manilow: The Greatest Songs of the Eighties (An Album Review)

From an alert reader (my cousin, Chris), writing in response to the prom blog and its reference to Mr. Barry Manilow:

Just a note that the other day as I was driving I-285 and listening to intelligent discussion on a local sports-talk show, they were discussing how unmanly I, and apparently one other man in Atlanta, was to have any Barry Manilow song on their iPod. Not sure how or why, but as I was driving ALONE I looked into the rear-view mirror and saw that I was embarrassed ...

Now, not to cause you any further embarrassment, Chris, but a true Fanilow would neither be ashamed of his appreciation for superior adult-contemporary music and musical genius, nor would he question his own manhood because he happens to have excellent musical taste. I am not a man, but I imagine that if I were, I would still recognize Manilow's talent for what it is: unmatched.

The remorseful e-mail I received from Chris prompted me to grab all of my Manilow CDs (and there are plenty) as I was walking out the door Tuesday so that I could sing my heart out in carpool lines. Much of Manilow's repertoire is on my iPod--where it serves a healthy purpose at the gym, the park, on long car rides--but the iPod is a handy listening device when you're craving certain music, but the rest of the car population is not. What a refreshing change of pace to have the CDs playing at full volume so that I could sing like I was performing in an Up With People halftime show.

Yet I feel compelled to provide the following reader service.

Barry Manilow: The Greatest Songs of the Eighties may be a misleading title.



I borrowed this CD from the public library the same month it was released (November 2008). That alone should tell you something--that someone had already discarded it and donated it to the public library. Maybe they, too, were misled. Barry Manilow + greatest songs of the '80s should = songs by Barry Manilow released in the '80s. Instead, this is a compilation of Manilow COVERS of songs that I would argue are not all that great. Good? Yes. Memorable? Certainly. Greatest? Not so fast, mister. I hastily uploaded it to my iPod, and have regretted it ever since.

Here's why: Islands in the Stream (with Reba McIntire), Open Arms, Never Gonna Give You Up, Have I Told You Lately, I Just Called to Say I Love You, Careless Whisper, Right Here Waiting, Arthur's Theme, Hard to Say I'm Sorry, Time After Time, and I've Had the Time of My Life.

And then he really lost me with (and you won't believe the irony of this at all): Against All Odds.

The reputation of Barry Manilow's musical stylings were largely compromised with this release. If I were independently wealthy, I would gobble up all copies of this disc from eBay, Amazon and public libraries everywhere, just to keep them off the street and keep the kids safe.

I am forever devoted to Manilow (he had me at It's a Miracle). Nothing can shake that. But as he was going through his cover phase, he should have stopped with the '70s. He should not have stooped to '80s covers. (And I am an '80s girl at heart; and I firmly believe some things are better left untouched.)

I do love Barry Manilow. He writes the songs that make all the young girls cry (and make old women sing). I used to dream of being pulled on stage to sing the "Can't Smile Without You" duet with him, but his roadies (does Barry Manilow have roadies?) have never chosen me. And then he moved his show to Las Vegas, where, apparently, it will stay. But if he ever leaves the Las Vegas Hilton and ventures back to our amphitheatre, I'll do whatever it takes. Underwear on the stage. Big poster. Whatever.

A P.S. to Chris, whose favorite Manilow song is Mandy: Mandy may have given without taking, but the legend surrounding that song is that Mandy was a dog.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Let's Talk About Proms

Here's what I know about proms: not much.

The theme of the only one I ever attended was Almost Paradise, the smarmy love song from Footloose. But the prom SONG was the theme from Against All Odds from the largely forgettable movie of the same name. (Go ahead and Google all day long to figure out the year I graduated.) Performed by Phil Collins, it was a lovely song ... the first 100 times you heard it. But when you're one of 389 seniors and the song is played over and over during the prom lead-out, well, you begin to develop a small tic.

How can you just walk away from me,
When all I can do is watch you leave ...

I'll tell you how. It's this SONG. Played on a cassette recorder and broadcast over and over and over again on the P.A. system in a run-down civic center with a pink and purple Almost Paradise backdrop in the corner where photos were shot. Just watch me. This is me, walking away, with Phil Collins crooning, rewind, play, crooning, rewind, play, crooning.

You must know, though, that the theme of Almost Paradise was hardly a shoo-in at voting time, as Whiskey Bent and Hell Bound came in a close second.


If I were to go back in time, I would probably have spoken up and come up with a third option. Like, "Let's Blow This Taco Stand and Move On With Our Lives," or "Wake Me When It's Over," or "Can't We Just Skip This and Graduate Already?"

My own daughter's prom was Saturday night. And that is hard to believe because I don't seem old enough to have a high school junior, but nonetheless, she went to her prom and looked lovely. Probably lovelier than anyone else did. I'll never know for sure, as I didn't follow her to the prom or to the prom prelude picture party, which was apparently a media event attended by every parent in town. Except us because we were not hip to the latest trend in prom protocol, which dictates that moms and dads are supposed to follow their kids all over town, snapping pictures like they're at the Academy Awards. In the weeks to come, we are fully prepared to be talked about as That Couple Who Didn't Follow Their Daughter Around Half the Night. And I will follow with a retort that goes something like, "Hey, we didn't get that memo, and since when do parents hide in the bushes like paparazzi and snap photos of their kids eating coconut shrimp?"

It wasn't until Sunday night that it occurred to me that I didn't know much about what went on at the actual prom--never mind the pre- and post-events that seemed to have no end. "Hey, did this thing have a theme?"

"It was 'Midnight Masquerade.'"

"What does that mean?"

"I don't know. But one girl actually wore a mask."

"A mask? For how long?"

"The entire night. Her name is Julia ... but she called herself Jenny." And then we laughed until we nearly wet ourselves. (Not only was my daughter lovelier than anyone else's daughter -- she also has a better sense of humor.)

"Did you have a theme song?"

"A theme song? What's that?"

And I just didn't have the energy to explain it. Besides, there probably wasn't an explanation. But I do know that Barry Manilow is highly critical of senior classes that (in the '70s and '80s) chose his vocal masterpiece Looks Like We Made It as either their prom or class song. I've seen Mr. Manilow in concert enough times to know how this really gets his goat. "Did these kids ever listen to the lyrics?" he asks at concerts. And everyone laughs at his self-deprecating joke.

Being the Fanilow that I am, I committed those lyrics to memory while singing into a hairbrush when I was in junior high. Did that make me the coolest kid in the hall? Absolutely not. But I knew enough to know that Looks Like We Made It was about moving away from old paths and letting old feelings die. Hardly the stuff that prom and graduation dreams are made of. Teenage angst is built on grudges and hard feelings and obsessing over ex-boyfriends and girlfriends.

While prom themes may still be alive and kicking, prom songs seem to be a dying breed. And why not? What else is there to choose from? I Hate This Part? Boom Boom Pow? Right Round? Put a Ring On It?

And to bring this thing full circle, I asked my husband, who graduated the same year I did, but half a state away, "Do you remember your prom theme? Your prom song?"

"Oh, who knows. It was that Phil Collins Against All Odds song. Or that may have been our graduation song. I don't remember. That song was in there somewhere." Just think, some 20something years ago, a teenage boy and a teenage girl a half-state apart were listening to that same song ad nauseum, at a prom, at graduation and the weeks in between, wondering what in the world those lyrics had to do with their senior year. And 20something years later, they're still wondering. They can't remember what they had for dinner or where they last saw their (car keys, wallet, sewing scissors, fill in the blank), but they remember that song.

P.S. -- After more than a solid month's absence from the book review blog, I've returned. Go check it out at excellentbookreviews.blogspot.com. But be warned: It's a reprint, or reprise, or redo, or cop-out. I hope you enjoy it anyway.

Monday, March 30, 2009

The Economy Takes Its Toll on the Dollhouse

I keep a small dollhouse at the foot of my desk so that two little people can play there and interrupt my work and drive me to distraction. One day, I'll move it. Or, more likely, they'll soon be too big to crawl under there and play dollhouse. But for now, it is where it is.

This is a simple wooden frame house with no staircase, no light fixtures, no anything, really. Santa delivered it two years ago, and it is a bare-bones dollhouse, just like the ones you might see at Michael's for 19.99 around the holiday season. Some say this particular dollhouse is intended to be a bookshelf or storage unit of some sort. The rooms are divided, and there's a pitched roof. Santa and I say it's a dollhouse. And so do the two little girls who, with the help of their older sister, painted the interiors, made their own furniture from empty cardboard boxes that once contained bar soap, cream cheese or lip gloss. They made quilts from felt scraps and tiny books from tiny pieces of cardboard. They've made it a real showplace.

And lest you think the residents of this dollhouse are roughing it because they sleep on kitchen trash, watch TV mini-series broadcast from a discarded matchbox and have lawn ornaments made from Tinker Toys, know that this family is just happy to wake up each morning. The grandmother had half her head chewed off by a Welsh Corgi about 100 times her size. With no money for plastic surgery and other corrective measures, she just wanders through the house on one leg and half her head. One of the little girls is MIA, and nobody seems to remember what she looked like. So the search and rescue efforts were called off. For a brief time, a Polly doll played substitute sister, like when Sarah Chalke suddenly appeared as Becky on Roseanne, and nobody was supposed to notice. Eventually, though, the substitute move was abandoned, and the family seemed to move on with things. One less mouth to feed.

This dollhouse family has, no doubt, fallen on hard times through the years. The latest scenarios seem to indicate that the family has taken a real beating from this economy. A word-for-word transcript (they don't know I'm eavesdropping on this Saturday afternoon):

"My girl is a student because she can't get a job."

"My girl is so poor, she has only two dresses."

"That is so sad."

After 10 minutes of beating the economic downturn storyline to death, conversation turned to this:

"Your girl wasn't downstairs when the car was leaving, so she has to walk to school." (Hard to get downstairs without steps, don't you think?)

"OK, this is kind of confusing. So my girl missed the car?"

"Yep, she's walking."

"Where is the school?"

"Two miles away."

The pink convertible Polly car flees from the residence at top speed.

"Hey, my girl can't run that fast! Make the car slow down!"

"Eight hours later ..."

"They're already going back home?"

"Sorry."

"OK, now pretend the girls are already home."

"My girl has been out for, like, 10 hours."

"My girl is eating at Starbucks."

Laughter.

"You can eat at Starbucks, you know. Like, cakes."

"True."

"My girl fell asleep on her bed."

Lots of sighing here. Signs of frustration. I'm anticipating something is about to be thrown against the wall.

"You need to make the days more exciting. Make it ... summer. Let's take advantage of summer."

"Can I borrow one of the extra dresses? Maybe an extra outfit?"

"WAIT! That wasn't even a real day! That day was so boring! We need some actual action from summer days! Seriously."

"You want more action?"

"But not too much."

"I'm jumping off the roof! I'm jumping off the roof! Concussion! Concussion!"

. . . And this is why the dollhouse is under my desk and not upstairs in a bedroom.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Big Night at the Not-So-OK Corral (Friday Roundup)

(Editor's Note: Friday Roundup usually appears on Friday. That didn't happen this week. BECAUSE EVERYTHING ELSE HAPPENED Friday, and frankly, I was too distracted and exhausted. But I was able to go back and date it as Friday--you know, to keep me from appearing inconsistent.)

During Spring Break Road Trip '09, ... one of the many attractions we visited was an undisclosed location of Golden Corral, that oasis of buffet dining that beckons weary travelers and satisfies with a mighty punch. Few places can deliver such a variety of entrees (meatloaf and spaghetti ON THE SAME BAR), a buffet of carb-related side items (baked potato bar, fried okra AND macaroni and cheese), all punctuated with soft-serve ice cream and mini lemon pies. And when you're lucky? It's seafood night!

And seafood night means fried clam strips, fried cod, fried scallops, fried catfish, fried coconut shrimp and just about anything that you could pull out of a body of water, dip in flour and throw in grease. Similar buffets go the extra mile and throw in seafood salad, which has become our family's punchline for just about everything, after one family member ate three helpings of warm seafood salad in Bowling Green, Kentucky (but it was not at a Golden Corral) and barely made it out alive. "I don't know what made me sick. I think it could have been the seafood salad."

"You think? What about seafood salad served at room temperature appealed to you?" And on that particular night, some five years ago, we just left him in the prone position, groaning on the hotel floor, and we journeyed on to the heated pool. He eventually rebounded. We knew he would. He's a tough cookie.

Back to the story. This was the last night of our seven-day trip, so nothing but the best for our family. "Have at it, kids! Eat all you want! Just don't hurt yourselves." We waved farewell from the table and watched the troops descend upon three different serving areas. Would they make good choices? Would they get injured? Would we be proud of them at the end of the evening?

Our instructions had been, in the end, too little, too late. Within the hour, two were in the bathroom, one was crying at the table, the fourth was holding her head and slumped down in her chair. Was it the excitement of the evening? Decision overload? Overindulgence? Did they eat the seafood salad?

While the entire dining process should have begun and ended within a 60-minute window, an unexpected (not really; this always happens) chain of events delayed our departure. I sat at the table wearing my coat and holding my purse, waiting for everyone's return, as I watched a table of Red Hat Society ladies initiate a pledge. Or whatever it is they do to new members. Maybe Golden Corral is part of the ritual. I call "hazing." And that's wrong.

Two of my own returned from the bathroom, one looking slightly anemic, the other barely able to walk. "Can we just go? NOW? Can we just GO?"

"What in the world is wrong with you? You were fine just 15 minutes ago, pounding back those bottomless bowls of ice cream."

"I don't want to talk about it."

And then, the full report, uttered through labored breathing and the occasional abdominal hold. "There was a guy in the bathroom, and he came out of his stall, HOLDING HIS PLATE."

"Holding his plate? Like, with food on it?"

"No, he was holding it against his chest."

"That's not right. You can get all the plates you want. It's not like anyone is going to take it away from him. Maybe we should tell someone."

"Tell someone what? That a guy took an empty plate into the bathroom stall?"

"Absolutely. This is a restaurant, not an asylum."

I was outvoted. We didn't narc out the plate weirdo. We didn't blow any whistles. Those of us who knew when to say "when" walked in an upright position, waved at our waiter who had supplied us with about two dozen clean plates and headed to the car. The others? They eventually rebounded. They're tough cookies.

-------
Spring fever ... is a terrible, terrible thing. Not the kind of spring fever that makes you do crazy things, like clean closets and host a garage sale, but the kind that turns everything yellow, and you wash your car and patio cushions, only to have to do the same thing again the next day. And the next.
I'm talking about the kind that makes your throat hurt, your head pound and your nose bleed. My son contracts such severe cases of spring fever that we have thrown away shirts and pillow cases. We call these "crime-scene nosebleeds." And before you start offering your little remedies, know that we've tried them all. We just roll our eyes and mutter, "There he goes again." The first occurred when he was only 3, and we thought he was hemorrhaging to death. The physician on call in the ER that night took one look at him and asked, "Does he always look like this?" Two hours and $250 later, he was diagnosed with The Most Severe Case of Spring Allergies You've Ever Seen. Very unfortunate.
While talking to my dad on the phone this week, he launched into a tirade about the pollen, his allergies and how his symptoms are worse than anybody's on earth.
"Oh, you don't know allergies. We had to throw away a shirt last night after one of the crime-scene nosebleeds." And we one-upped each other for a few rounds ... until this: "Oh, that's nothin'. I sneezed so hard yesterday that it set off the paper shredder on the other side of the room." Now that's a sneeze he should be proud of. He wins.
-------
If you're reading this on Saturday, the day it's actually being posted, hope the remainder of your weekend is allergy- and pollen-free.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Barefoot Ambassadors -- Keepin' It Real (Spring Break '09)

My son and I found ourselves barefoot and looking for some free WiFi in our DC hotel last week. We landed in the business center, located in the lower lobby, a full floor beneath the elegant and crowded main lobby, where people wore shoes and chatted and conducted business and were all D.C.-like.

Our entire family had walked no fewer than 14 miles that day. Some of those miles formed a complete circle around a city block that, some of us knew, was leading us nowhere, but one of us wouldn't admit that it might be time to ask for directions before we all got so dizzy from going 'round and 'round.

When we returned to the hotel after what is now known as The Hard Rock Walk-a-thon, we limped off the elevator and down the hallway toward our room. "I feel like Michelle Trachtenberg in Ice Princess after Kim Cattrall gave her those faulty ice skates and her feet were mangled and bleeding everywhere."

"That's not funny, Mama." Two of the kids were crying. D.C. can do a number on a person's feet.

It was nearing 9 p.m. when we walked into our room. "I need some WiFi," I said.

"I'm going with you, but I'm not wearing shoes." He's 13. I would expect no less. Or no more.

"OK by me. I'm not either."

"I'm not even going to wear socks." I had the decency to wear socks.

And neither of these decisions should have been a big deal, as we were going to bypass the lobby and head straight for the basement--the quiet, empty basement area where nobody will be because who wants to spend St. Patrick's Day night in the business center of a D.C. hotel?

I'll tell you who: a mother-son pair from Alabama checking e-mail and a high-powered Irish businesswoman with strong government ties who was trying to get a little work done ... until the mother-son pair from Alabama walked in.

"Don't mind us. We'll stay out of your way."

And in the most Irish of accents, Aileen talked with us for at least 45 minutes about the economy in Ireland, her grassroots effort to repair it, her fascinating itinerary while in the States and how we really should make plans to be in the lobby within the next hour so that we can get a glimpse of the Prime Minister of Ireland. "He'll be returning from the White House dinner shortly, and we're all going to be gathering in the lobby and bar."

And all I could think was, "Wait, Ireland has a Prime Minister?" Instead, I said, "The Prime Minister of Ireland is here?" (Good save.)

"Yes, he's staying in this hotel. Have you not seen him?"

"I have no idea," I thought. "I may have even been on the elevator with him." (Americans can be so insulated.)

So our conversation wrapped up, we exchanged e-mail addresses, handshakes and pleasantries, and we were sad to see our new friend go. Fortunately, my astute son had the foresight to Google "Brian Cowen." And I never had to tell him to.

An hour later, we left the business center and all of its glorious free internet and headed to our fifth-floor hotel room via the elevator, which was already being held by an Irishman (well-dressed and wearing shoes). We looked at the floor the entire time, hoping he would think we were street people and not hotel guests who didn't know any better. While we were looking at the floor and not the elevator buttons, the doors opened to ... the main lobby. And there stood Aileen, who was waving her hands in the air and shouting our names. "Come with me! I've told the prime minister all about you!"

Nothing about this could be good. What had she told him? Everything you've ever heard about Alabamians is true? This mother and son have broken into the hotel business center so they can check e-mail? You're not going to believe the accents from these people? The Clampetts are in this very hotel?

I think she pulled me by the arm. And there we stood, in the crowded lobby of people in formal wear and shiny shoes. "He's in the bar. He's waiting for you."

"But WHY? And NO. We cannot go past the Secret Service and into the hotel bar like this."

"Oh, don't be silly."

My son grabbed my other arm and said, "We have to do this. It will never happen again."

"Oh, I hope you're right." And I looked at him at the very moment that he licked his hand, then smoothed his hair. We're nothing if not classy.

And the next thing we knew, we were led past Secret Service and were standing at the edge of a circle of important Irish men and women, looking the way we did. Brian Cowen stood, extended his hand, addressed both of us by name, and somebody took our picture.

I wanted to tell Aileen, the Prime Minister and everyone seated in that arrangement of chairs in that dimly lit bar that despite our dress and general lack of grooming, we can be very gracious people. We don't always look like this. Sometimes it's worse.

More than two hours had passed since we had left our hotel room for the business center. I opened the door to our hotel room, not to a hearty "WELCOME BACK!," but to a "Where in the world have you been? I've looked all over this place!" My husband then rattled off the many areas of the hotel where he searched high and low before returning to the room and assuming we had been kidnapped or forever lost in the nation's capital. "But the cool thing is," he said, "on my way back to the room, I was on the elevator with a Congressman from New York and an Irish guy, and they ..."

"You can just stop right there with your little story."

"Wait, there's more! They were talking about ..."

"No, really, you can just stop right there. We are so going to trump your story." And we did.

The next morning, we were in the White House, standing in the East Room, where the Irish had only 12 hours earlier enjoyed a St. Patrick's Day celebration with the Obamas. We knew this because we had the inside track from Aileen -- and The Today Show. And standing in the East Room, right beside us, was a Secret Service agent who told us about the party from the night before and all the food, and it was in this room, and blah, blah, blah. And the Prime Minister of Ireland was here."

"Oh, we know. His friends told us ALL about it."

In the days that followed, the entire event played over in my mind with a bunch of if-onlys. If only we had changed clothes. If only I had brushed my hair. If only the rest of the family could have been there. If only my son didn't spit-shine his hair. If only we had worn shoes. But it played out the way it played out.

Earlier this week, now back in Alabama, I received an e-mail from Aileen, who is now back in Dublin. A portion follows:

... I have relayed the story several times (especially how you were reluctant to come into the bar because you were both in your stocking feet). That was a fun thing to do – my kids enjoyed the story, so did the various other politicians and political advisers who came into the bar later that night. The Irish are known to be impulsive – and you saw this at first hand. We are also quite casual (a few of us kicked off our high heels that evening and were walking around in our stocking feet, so you weren’t alone) ...

A show of solidarity from the Irish and a new trend in hotel protocol and dress code.

You're welcome, D.C.