Saturday, May 5, 2012

Oh the Sun Shines Bright...


I try to care about sports, but I really can't. My family members are all die-hard University of Kentucky basketball fans, and although I'm good at donning the blue when they make it into the Final Four, my heart just isn't in it the way others' are. I loved to root for the Mets when I lived in New York, but I think that was more about my gluttony for punishment than any true sportsmanship. The Superbowl? That's a great excuse to pig out on chips and chili.

But the Derby. The Derby is different. As a child I willingly watched the entire day of racing (the Derby is one of several races run that day). I marked up the little racing form, analyzing the silks, rooting for fillies and female jockeys, seeing which horses did well on turf and which ones ran better on sloppy tracks. I got so excited I could barely stand it when I thought about the fact that Captain Kirk was a mere hour away. I was curious about those strange infielders, and why they seemed so ecstatic to be covered in mud. I drooled over the gorgeous hats and dresses. I cried my eyes out at the little video they played of Dan Folgelberg's "Run for the Roses," set to footage of misty rolling hills and little foals learning how to walk. Lord. Even typing about it now brings a tear to my eye.

Why? I have no idea. It could be because of the millions of terrible memories I have of my dad, a few precious ones are the times he took us to Churchill Downs. Dad was an illegal bookie, or as he liked to call himself, "a professional gambler." This always makes people ooh and ahh with excitement and even sometimes envy. What an exciting life! Sure, if visiting your dad in jail, spending some years on food stamps, and having shady characters ask you to "take some numbers" when your dad couldn't answer the phone sounds like a healthy childhood.

Consequently I hated gambling. I hated everything it stood for. The angry, violent outbursts. The lies when my friends asked what Dad did for a living. The sneaking in shopping bags when we needed to buy school clothes. All because some stupid sporting event had robbed us of our money.

But at the track, I was a bonified gambling addict. Dad let me pick horses and even gave me $2 to hand to the people in the betting window. I imagine a child who looks very much like Stella saying to the clerk, "I'd like $2 to win on number 14, please." Adorable, if not a tiny bit disturbing.

We bet small money on the track, so Dad's notorious temper rarely showed. He was happy, like I was, to be around such beautiful horses, such crushing excitement. He'd take me right down to the track and pick me up so I could see the thoroughbreds run by. I could feel the pounding of their hooves in my chest. It made me shiver.

During some of our rare salad years (the roller coaster of gambling), we even co-owned a thoroughbred. A gorgeous filly named Fury's Way. We used to visit her on the backside, and she'd try to eat my hair. I said it was because it looked like straw. It made me giggle.

I guess I've had an epiphany writing this little blog. The Derby reminds me of the good parts of my childhood - horses, excitement, beauty. It's been a part of my life for 36 years. I've only ever missed it once - in 1996, when I lived in France and they had the NERVE not to show it on any of their stations. (I'm still mad about that.) Dave and I went to a wedding in Philadelphia once and had to attend a rehearsal dinner around the same time as the Derby. I refused to go the dinner until after we'd seen the race at a nearby sports bar. I schooled the bartender on how to make a proper julep and got pissy with the man next to me when he laughed at "My Old Kentucky Home."

So, the next time I get judgmental about someone who's freaking out over a basketball, football or baseball game, I'm going to remember myself today. Cooking Kentucky's traditional foods, highlighting my racing form, and crying every five minutes when I think about anything Derby related. Sports can touch the heart, I concede, and bring us so much joy.

May the best horse (mine) win!

Saturday, April 14, 2012

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, STELLA!

The most amazing moment of my life - hands down.
Our gorgeous four-year-old!


I can't believe it was four years ago today that I met the love of my life.

And this might sound corny, but I honestly love this kid more and more each day. This age - four - is just so perfect. She's funny, she's smart, she can communicate her needs, rather than screaming and crying and hoping I get the point. She sleeps. She snuggles. She REQUESTS hugs and kisses (rather than acting like they're a burden). She has a best friend and is a social butterfly.

How far we've come. How much we've changed. And it's all been for the better.

Stella Rae, four years ago today I was consumed with fear. Fear that you'd get hurt on my watch, fear that I couldn't cut it as a mom, fear of breastfeeding and night wakings and that the flashbacks from the pain of natural labor would haunt me to my grave. All of those fears seem silly now, replaced by the much bigger fears of child predators, random violence, kidnappings, and decades of therapy bills where you complain about my imperfections.

Four years ago I was consumed by love. That has only grown. Grown and grown and grown. I look at you and your beauty HURTS. How did someone so lovely, inside and out, come from my body? It's a mystery and a miracle.

I hope I can be the mom you deserve. And I hope age four is your best year yet. Thanks for making my life more rich and meaningful than I knew it could be! Happy birthday, darling!

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Spring!


I know that the Pagans of the world will beat me up for saying this, but Spring is here, Equinox or no Equinox. The weather is warm, the grass is green, and trees and bushes are blossoming everywhere. It is glorious.

And I'm curled up in the fetal position, consuming every allergy product known to man.

But that will not stifle my love for this season - my favorite by a landslide.

I spent twelve years in New York City, and every year around March, I could be heard whining and moaning and, as is said in that fair city, kveching about the sheer LACK of anything resembling a real Spring. Sure, there are flowering trees, many of which are located in the picturesque neighborhood known as Park Slope, Brooklyn, where we used to live. Yes, there is a short patch of temperate weather between the frozen winter and the sweltering summer. And yes, the minute the manicured toenails and arms were bared, men and women both resembled their animal cousins in the wild, eyeing each other ravenously to check for compatibility. But, New Yorkers, I must tell you that this is not Spring.

Spring is daffodils poking up at the beginning of March (which is why they're known as "March flowers" in these parts). Spring is day after day after day of weather where you need a sweater in the morning, short sleeves in the afternoon, and a sweater again in the evening. Spring is that hail storm that manifests out of nowhere and is gone in twenty minutes. Spring is cowering in your basement, at least a couple of times each season, praying that the tornado won't come near you. Spring is sitting on a porch swing, singing a favorite song, and stopping whenever someone walks by. Spring is lying in the grass and watching clouds transform before your eyes. Spring is running into your friends at the local farmer's market. Spring is deciding how you want to spend your Derby Day. Spring is knowing you can actually get comfortable and enjoy this season, without that dread that it could disappear at any moment.

I'm home again. There's a lot I miss about New York. Friends, first and foremost; brownstones; crazy characters roaming the streets and subways; the knowledge that this is New York, and nothing can ever compare.

But I am so grateful to be back in Kentucky for the Spring. And though my eyes may water, my nose may run, and I might be hacking up some strange-looking things right now, I'm so happy to be home!

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Omgosh omgosh omgosh!!!

When you are an avid, AVID fan of something, and then you get to be a part of that something, that's just about the best moment in the world.

I've been in love with the Moth Storytelling Series since I heard about it during my younger days in New York City. I love telling stories, I love hearing stories, I love stories. I'd battle the crowds at Southpaw in Brooklyn or Housing Works in Manhattan to throw my name in the hat, hope, pray, calm my racing heart, and either tell a story or not. I'm not much of a gambler (having an illegal bookie for a dad will knock that urge right out of you), but this is one chance I loved to take again and again and again.

And for all the many times I didn't get to tell a story that I'd spent a week slaving over, I still had the time of my life, hearing about the varied human experiences of my would-be competitors. Funny, heart-breaking, unexpected, boring, bizarre, melancholy, self-absorbed, self-deprecating stories that make you feel connected to strangers in fairly intimate ways.

When I heard the Moth was coming to Louisville, it felt like kismet. Moving here was not an easy decision. New York City has so much to offer, there really is no competition for it, and although I put on a brave and convincing face for Dave, I often found myself wondering of we made the right move. As ridiculous as I think it is to expect God to intervene in things like passed footballs, A's on exams, or favorite storytelling series coming to your city of residence, this simply felt like A SIGN that we were in the right place.

I performed at the first slam in Louisville, telling about a horrific French boss I had during my freshman year in the Big Apple, and felt simply thrilled. I didn't win, I didn't care, I was happy the Moth was here.

Then I came back. Month after month after month. Name dropped in each time. And my name kept not being called. I'll admit it, I got frustrated.

And that night in December, nine names had been called, none of them mine. And damn it! I had a good story - a story I was proud of! I whispered to Dave, "The minute the last storyteller is done I want to get out of here and beat the traffic." It's kind of a faux pas to leave before the winner is announced, and you're supposed to go up and say the first line of your story if your name isn't chosen, sort of like a teaser - this is what you WOULD have heard, had my name been called! I just couldn't face that; I was almost in tears.

Then they called my name - LAST - and I told my story. It was the most relaxed I'd ever been, because I was certain I wasn't going to get to go. As I told the story, I heard it, too, and some long-bottled emotions from my childhood resurfaced. I don't let myself think about those days too much, in fact a lot of my childhood is simply gone - forgotten - but in front of those hundreds of people I let myself feel the utter shock and sadness of an eight-year-old who realizes how scary and unpredictable the world can be. I let myself go somewhere I don't go, even when I'm alone.

And when I won, it was the cherry on the cake. And I let myself feel that too - that happiness - and it washed over me and invigorated me. I've learned in my 36 years on this planet to revel in these moments, these moments that are few and far between, and let them fill you up and prepare you for those times that drain you.

So, without further ado, if you want to hear something I'm pretty darn proud of, just click here.

Oh, and P.S., I just saw there's a picture of me on the main page (the first link on the blog). Keeping with that spirit of focusing on the positive, I will revel in how cool it is that my picture is on the Moth page and not the fact that I have a frigging double chin in the picture!

Monday, February 20, 2012

Recap

My Patient Patient

Stella stayed out of the Jersey Shore drama and just soaked up the rays.

Father-Daughter Bonding

Me at the Derby!



When I was a kid, I kept a diary religiously. Except when I didn't. There'd be an entry or two every day for years, then suddenly a year with nothing. When I picked my diary back up and realized how much of my life was omitted, I figured I owed it to my future adoring fans (or the mourners who'd find my diaries after my death, if I was in a dark mood) to recap the year. So there'd be one quick entry with bullet points describing the high- and lowlights of the previous year. Then I'd quickly transition into mooning over some unrequited crush.

Well, fear not: there are no unrequited crushes these days (I'm sure Dave's relieved to hear that). But I am anxious to start writing about daily life because, as these blogs go, mine's pretty interesting at the moment. But first, a recap of my year sans blogging.
  • Illness/surgical procedures. A slipped disc in my back - lots of meetings with people who insisted I needed surgery. Then, finally, against my own prejudices, a chiropractor who righted my life again (let me know if you want his info - he's a miracle worker). Also, a very embarrassing and painful surgical procedure that shall remain nameless. All this made me pretty miserable and lethargic for a long time.
  • I went to the Derby for the first time in my life, which is insane, considering how obsessed with it I am (just ask my NYC friends who ate benedictine at my annual parties).
  • Crazy trip to NYC. I mean crazy. First of all, we drove. (With a 3-year-old.) We rented a beach home to hang out with friends on the Jersey Shore, and I guess that shore rubbed off on us because we had some serious inter-friend drama. Then a visit with Dave's family, and a blow-out with Dave's sister over our misuse of her home's marble. (Somehow during my illustrious youth in Upton, KY, nobody ever taught me that I can't put any toiletries at all on a marble, nor am I allowed to get water on it.) There was, thankfully, a fabulous wedding thrown into the mix, which was good, because I needed to dance off some aggression. Finally, a sweet trip back to Brooklyn to visit with wonderful friends, causing us to feel conflicted about our move to Kentucky. Good times.
  • My mom was diagnosed with melanoma. This is what led to my grandmother's passing, and my brother survived it not long ago, as well. Thankfully, they were able to remove all of my mom's cancer through an operation, but it was an emotional time to say the least.
  • My brother, Jason, and his wife endured a heart-breaking trip to the Ukraine, certain they'd bring home an adopted child or maybe two, only to run up against a million brick walls.
  • School - a new year, a new grade, new everything. The kids are incredible this year - very hard-working and polite, but I'm a perfectionist as always and I continually strive to turn them into world-class writers before the year is over. A realist, I am not. Which is why, frankly, I think I'm a good teacher.
  • The Moth Storytelling Series came to Louisville! I repeatedly said that Louisville would be the perfect city if it only had the Moth, and it's absolutely true. Now we're a little liberal haven with excellent theater, art, food, music, friends and THE MOTH! I've performed in it twice, and won the December slam! That was totally a dream-come-true moment. And then it got better. Much better. Because I found out that my story is going to be on the podcast. The podcast that I'm obsessed with. I'm not worthy! I'm not worthy! (I'll totally post the link when it is up.)
  • Dave came down with septic staph, an illness we thought at first was just strep throat. When he got to the hospital, his EKG was abnormal, so the nurse called me to inform me my husband was having a heart attack. Thank God they were wrong, but the muscle of his heart was inflamed, causing it to beat irregularly. He received amazing care from Baptist East Hospital. Seriously amazing. Made me so grateful we moved here, because we never had such a competent, caring, attentive stay at a hospital in New York, and that's including my amazing labor and delivery experience. And we were touched beyond belief by the selfless generosity of my family and our friends. My mom and sister scoured our dirty home, my brother Kerry researched doctors and sent us a care package, my other brother, Jason, and his wife, Nikole, fetched groceries and other treats for us, and my brother-in-law, Brian, took Stella out with her cousins so she could have some fun. My mom was on full-time Stella duty and was my emotional rock. And our friends brought us food and visited Dave in the hospital and reminded us what a wonderful community we've established for ourselves here. This experience shook Dave and me to our cores, reminded us how lucky we are to be alive, to have each other, to have everyone in our lives.
  • And now, finally, at the age of 39 and 36 respectively, Dave and I are looking into home ownership. Because in Louisville, you can actually get a place in a non-scary neighborhood with more than 1.5 bedrooms for less than $600,000. And that still kind of blows our minds, especially if you read about any of our real estate drama in NYC.Link
  • Stella has really grown out of a lot of her Sensory Processing Disorder, with the help of a wonderful occupational therapist and her terrific preschool, AJ! She is social, sweet, creative, brilliant, and most amazingly of all, a fantastic sleeper!

I guess those are the main traumas, er events. I think you see why blogging shifted to my back burner for a while.

In terms of the here and now, Stella is watching "The Cat in the Hat" and eating toast, Dave is at the hospital for the intravenous injections that he's been receiving since his hospital stay three weeks ago (he's got one more week to go), and I'm sipping coffee in my PJ's. It's gearing up to be a sweet day off at home, if I can push aside the more than 150 papers I have left to grade.

Until I blog again...

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Sabbatical

What a year it's been. Not that you'd know. Because I stopped writing on this blog...

Well, I'm back, and there's no stopping me now. (Even if you really want to.)

So stay tuned, because stories of parenting, public school teaching, and general merriment are coming your way. (But not right now, because I'm going to go see a movie.)