Divider 1
Divider 2

Archive for February 2010

Flying Cheesy Dogs and the Art of Perfection

Makes you wanna cuss. And, I don’t mean “curse” in that polite and grammatically correct way. I mean cuss. In the vernacular.

The other night (seriously) I made “cheesy dogs,” the quintessential kid-friendly dinner composed of hot dogs stuffed with cheddar cheese and wrapped in crescent rolls. The parts are out of their respective packages and on the table with presto combined deliciousness in under 20 minutes flat. The pervasive opinion of the preschoolers in my house is that they are best accompanied by tator tots. No, preparing them probably doesn’t actually constitute cooking, and they don’t have much true nutritional value. But, they’re popular, and they can be a Mommy’s salvation after a long day of work.

So, last Friday I took full advantage of my own need for a quick fix at the end of a busy week. I made cheesy dogs. Eight of them. They were fresh out of the oven, and I was prying them from the pan with a spatula in my usual “grip with the pot-holder and scrape with all you’ve got” method. They always stick for some reason. The first one is the hardest to remove from the cookie sheet because of the close quarters produced by eight wrapped hot dogs arranged on about 180 square inches. Plus, the melting cheese always eliminates any space left between them.

I was holding with the pot-holder. I was scraping with the spatula in the upside-down position that almost always works. Almost. Before I could say “beefy jumbos,” cheesy dog #1 flew off the pan and onto the tile floor.

I told you. Makes you wanna cuss.

Don’t you just love the best laid plans? The table was set. Little Drummer Boy and Bug were in the living room announcing “I’m hungry!” I don’t remember, but I’m sure Baby Girl was on top of the coffee table. The week of a thousand heart-filled preschool parties was finally over. Tator Tots were on the table and ice in the glasses.

Just to recap: Cheesy dog #1 was ON THE FLOOR. And no one else was in the kitchen. So, what did I do? NATURALLY, I picked up #1 from the tile, blew it off and gave it a prominent location on the yellow serving plate. I popped those other seven suckers off the cookie sheet in short order, and “Dinner is served.” (Please send Martha Stewart Living subscriptions. Quick. And, Mama, just forget you read this.)

The bad news: Sometimes things just don’t work out the way you planned. The good news: No one has ever keeled over from a little grit on their cheesy dog. Honest.

Life isn’t perfect. In fact, perfection is an overrated and hopelessly flawed pursuit. And although I hate to play the role of the realist, realistically, a life lived in whatever moment of perfection I might enjoy is perhaps a life spent waiting for the other shoe to drop (or the other cheesy dog, as the case may be.) Perfection just can’t be maintained. And, TRYING to maintain it can be a nerve-racking, tension-filled, white-knuckle attempt. It’s simply not sustainable.

Sustainable perfection implies that the people achieving it are perfect. It assumes that those folks will always make wise choices, that they will always take into account and avoid the pitfalls (and clumsy spatulas) of life. It means they will never make mistakes, or at the least, they will always learn from their all-too-brief mistakes immediately and completely. Funny, I don’t see that person when I look in the mirror. I don’t know ANY people like that. In fact, the reality of those traits is pretty much universally disproved by the popularity of Wiley Coyote, don’t you think? Yeah, or at least by flying cheesy dogs.

Now, if you’ve never experienced your own cheesy dog epiphany, let me assure you that it’s coming. It’s a fact, and there is no fruit in denying it. The lesson learned from my own cheesy dog experience was that I can really shift my body a little to the left to block that whole flying off the pan thing, and this: Real life happens in the grit.

Thank God for the grit. It’s the stuff that lets us know we’re human just like everybody else, bound in a commonality of error. It’s the dust that reminds us of our own inherent needs, our own blessed short-comings. It’s the crunch that protects us from the trap of arrogant assumptions and exclusive palates. It’s the road-worthy flavor that ensures we are flexible and patient and willing to change and aware of the unexpected and able to embrace a surprising life.

Sure, plans are better made. They’re better laid with the best of intentions and wisdom and effort. They’re worth thinking about and following. But, from the poster child of plan Bs, let me just say that into every life a little cheesy dog must fall.

Blow it off and bon appetit!

Tangibility

8:26pm
On a common Tuesday, this post might be replaced by some alternately witty, profound, silly or introspective list of ten things. It would be some concise presentation of what’s been going on in my mind–something boiled down to a few words or a few descriptions. Sometimes it would expand itself to a Tuesday twenty-five or morph into a Thursday thirty–fruit of an overzealous mind or a week procrastinating about more important things. The concept for the Tuesday Ten series was honestly conceived as a way to facilitate a quick post, a catalyst for easily writing something during the middle of the week. Not so today.

8:30pm
Try as I might, I couldn’t even come up with a measely list of ten today. I’ve written before about the smoke and mirrors afforded to me by WordPress Dude. You know, the ability to germinate on posts in my queue while giving the impression that something described as “last night” actually was so. It’s not always true. (gasp!) No, sometimes when I say “tonight” it actually means several nights ago, or several months ago. I know. It’s a little opaque, and I usually try not to deceive in that way, but I’ll admit that sometimes the time markers are just a flat out lie. The sentiments are real, to be sure. It’s just the time frame that is occasionally all wonky. I’m working on such a post right now, one that describes an occurence from last Friday. I intended to write it that night, but alas, I lost my motivation. So now, several days later, the “last night” is no longer really “last night.”

Admittedly, this confessional paragraph is probably a little over-cooked and unnecessary. Nevertheless, I’ve included it to underscore the fact that tonight’s post is different. I’m writing in real time.

8:38pm
I tried this experiment once before during my 12 Days of Thanksgiving last year. I used it then–like I’m using it now–to provide a little self-intervention, coaxing myself into a better frame of mind. So, while I’m distracted by checking the score of the Mississippi State/Kentucky basketball game and starting the dishwasher and listening to one of the many updates about the car chases happening on the coffee table, I’m also writing to redirect myself.

8:44pm
I feel disconnected today.

I spend much of my time connecting things — marketing budgets with preferred advertising opportunities, brands with their favored potential customers, little boys with their juice cups and stuffed animals, a little girl with her “poppy” or board book, hamburger meat with the appropriate spices, etc. Yet today, I find myself disconnected. From myself. I’ve been in that solitary place of being at a safe, but uncomfortable distance from my own thoughts, from my own hopes, from understanding what matters to me, from the tangible realities that motivate my passions. Does that ever happen to anyone else?

I’m lonely today, lost in that place where I can’t put my finger on any one thing, any one feeling, any one desire. I find myself distracted by the constant motion of my own wandering, and removed from the tangible connections of real living. I’m avoiding. Hiding. Shielding. Hedging.

I read a statement yesterday to the effect that LIVING is more than simply breathing in and out. That one stuck. While  the inhale and exhale of life is necessary, the fact of its involuntary nature lacks the intention that moves me beyond mere existence. It’s quantity, but not quality. It’s a breath, pure and simple. And while pure and simple may fulfill the body, it doesn’t speak to the sigh or heave or gasp or laugh or whistle or sniff that could touch my soul and spirit. Today, I’m not feeling the expansion of my lungs that a deep breath should afford. I’m not feeling the expansion of my perspective. There’s a disconnect somewhere–somewhere between the ordinary of existence and the extra-ordinary of living. I’m afraid the breakdown occurs in my own attention to detail. I need a fresh view of even the monotonous and seemingly insignificant gestures that really connect me to people and relationships and experiences (both near and far)–those that connect me to the world I live in, to the LIFE I want to really live. I need a shot of tangibility, something that brings me back to myself, something that reconnects me with what matters. To me.

9:06pm

10:17pm
I feel myself wanting to experience freshly, or for the first time, the little everyday tangible things that constitute living, familiary and connection. The things that bring near those who are far. The things that remind me of important times. The things that show me what’s changed. What’s the same. The things that cause me to see what’s right in front of me. The things that let me know life is alive.

10:30pm
For the next 15 minutes I’m making a Tangible Life list and checking it twice. Hello, intervention!

Handwriting. A four-year-old boy lingering in my lap. The smell of whole wheat pasta cooking. The inflection of a voice. The subtle shift in a smile when it’s tired. A well-chosen phrase. Finishing a conversation. Hearing something you need to hear. Hard-working hands. Vibrant color. Blue cloudless skies. Rinsing a little girl’s hair. Being asked to play with trains. Playing with trains. Turning the pages of a book. An unencumbered grin. A hearty laugh. Postage stamps. Little boys who “help.” Singing songs. Moving to music. A phone call with my mother. Hearing my father say “I love you.” A familiar quilt. A good vocabulary. Three-year-old arms around my neck. A dishwasher that works. A little girl’s giggle. Wooden spoons. Dinner at a restaurant. Chocolate ganache. Sweetened iced tea. A crisp February. Shiny earrings. Soft sweaters. Honey mustard. Drools. Car chase sounds. Dinosaur fights. The sound of a saxophone. Wiping a tear. Blowing a nose. Washing a blanket. The sound of a laptop keyboard. Blue jeans. Black boots. Soft touches. Kind words. Wide open smiles. Down pillows.

10:45pm
These things and experiences let me know this day is real. And, this day is all I know I have. Connection made.

Courage 2010: The Post Behind the Post

“If one is forever cautious, can one remain a human being?
~ Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

Little Drummer Boy recently informed me that he is no longer afraid of Pinocchio. He received the Disney classic from G-Mo and Paw-T for his birthday last year. He got several movies as gifts, and it took us a while to get around to watching Pinocchio. LDB didn’t make it far into the story before he decided it was scary. We turned it off, put it out of sight and that was that.

Now, if you haven’t seen Pinocchio lately, let me indoctrinate you. There’s plenty for a four-year-old to find scary, and plenty to get me kicked out of the Mommy-of-the-Year running. It’s filled with all kinds of questionable activities: wooden boys coming to life, wiley fox hoodlums enticing boys away from school, child labor forced by one-toothed men, child slavery forced by seedy carnival producers, boys turning into donkeys, cigar smoking, lying, ferocious ship-swallowing whales, all those tick-tocking clocks while everyone’s trying to sleep, and the word “jackass.” Yep, plenty to instill trepidation.

So, through what I can only surmise was the influence of peer pressure, LDB announced that he was no longer afraid to watch the movie. “I promise,” he said. It sounds like maybe they watched the movie in his preschool class or read the book, and during that process of comraderie, he overcame his fear of growing donkey ears. That’s how it is with Little Drummer Boy. When confronted with a new and somewhat scary situation, his preference is to wait until he’s suddenly ready–until he grows more or forgets more or learns more, until he can partake effortlessly of the thing he can no longer remember frightened him. He just waits for the experience to sneak up on him.

Bug is different. I’m not actually sure Bug’s ever been afraid of anything, which makes ME lose a lot of sleep. He’s apt to put his whole tiny being into whatever presents itself, and caution has never been a barrier for him in making the experience completely his own. When we’re watching Pinocchio, there are a few parts that cause him concern, but they are often overcome by his desire to dance during the musical numbers that surround them. He might get up from his chair and run to the edge of the hallway, peeking around to see the upcoming scary scene from a safer distance. Or, he may run over and sit right next to me in anticipation of a frightening moment. He always continues watching, though. And, he’s somehow always able to overlook those troublesome scenes in favor of choreographing his dance moves for the next song. It’s courage, I tell you. And, I have a lot to learn.

There’s never been a time in this world when courage was needed more than today. It seems like more humans are in hunger than ever before. More in slavery. More in despair of governments and poverty and disease and court decisions. Yes, adequate courage is indeed wanted in nation building, but I’m realizing that just as profound a courage is wanted in basic human living. Can I really maintain myself as a human BEING if I am forever cautious about the being part? Of all the battlefields requiring valor in this day, perhaps the one most insistent is the battlefield of the ordinary, the daily living of life–living connected and engaged with all that such a life entails. That battlefield is the one where I’m required to BE the human being I am, staking claim to each moment with the courage to live it fully, and rescuing real, meaningful life from the abyss of complacency. No, there’s never been a time in MY life when courage was needed more. And, when I come to the end of it, I want to know that I’ve partaken of that courage and built that sustainable life beyond mere existence.

That’s the crux of my 2010 theme word pursuit. I started it with a quick Tuesday 25 last week, and the concept is in dire need of elaboration in the form of a post that’s been staring me in the face, unflinching, for several months now. Courage. I want to find it, to maintain it, to live by it in this one life with which I’m blessed. I want to apply it where the voids of hunger and hope for something more need filling. I want to adopt it where the constraints of routine need more freedom. I want to employ it where the chills of exposure need more covering. I want to speak with it where silence needs more breaking.

Yes, I have a lot to learn. From Little Drummer Boy. From Bug. From Pinocchio. I don’t want to spend my life waiting for the experience to sneak up on me at a time when I might be prepared to live it. To live a life unbounded requires courage–the courage to sit through the hard parts, to stand through them, to raise a fist at them, to grab someone’s hand through them, to run and hide from them, but to come back, to sneak a peek at them, to ask questions about them, to choreograph them and dance around them. I want to have the sheer audacity to move beyond existence. I want courage.


Divider Footer