Friday, January 29, 2016

Hawkeye Cauci: Vote Early, Get It Over With

Dear Rest of the United States,

I know your undies are all in a bundle over the potential outcome of the upcoming Iowa caucus and future-present-and-past results of the approximately ba-zillion-and-one polls out there that show MarBenEb FiariChrisTrumCruz leading/lagging in the race for the GOP nomination, and speculation on whether or not BernIllary and the DNC can defeat him/her/them in November.


It's not like we're going to determine the next leader of the free world.

Oh, wait, yes.

Yes, we are.

Eh. Calm down.

We got this.

But are Iowans really qualified to predict the presidential nominees?


You think Iowa has any more/less psycho-wacko-wingnut-jobs than any other state?

In a word? Puh-Leeze.

Let's look at this from the candidates perspective, shall we? Iowa is a nice “warm-up” state, figuratively speaking, in February. If a candidate can transition from the heat and humidity of the Iowa State Fair in August to the freeze and frost-bite of the Hawkeye Cauci in February and still keep their wits about them I'd say... well, I'd say they need their heads examined, but that's just because they're running for President in the first place.

But in terms of campaigning, Iowa has its share of (soft-ball, warm and fuzzy, play-it-safe) attractions to qualify for First In The Nation status:

We're nice. Except for that one guy who threw a tomato at Donald Trump. Tomatoes are out of season in Iowa, so I question that man's status as a true Iowa native. I think a real Iowan would have thrown a snowball, or an ear of dried feed corn, or a cow pie. Maybe a comb, or a can of Aqua Net (one can only resist such a tempting target for so long). Actually, I don't think a real Iowan would be so rude (and I apologize for the Aqua Net comment – sort of).

We'll go to your rally, sit and listen quietly-ish, nod politely, smile and applaud. We'll even laugh at your lame jokes and pretend you don't look uncomfortable wearing a seed corn cap and rolling up the sleeves on your (recently purchased) plaid work shirt. We'll let you shake our hands, kiss our babies and knock on our doors. We'll even pretend to listen to what you have to say.

Iowa is a cheap date. You don't have to lavish us with champagne and caviar. We'll take a pork chop on a stick or maybe a barbecue (we prefer our steaks to be Iowa, corn-fed beef). The cost of living in Iowa is below the national average, so you get more bang for your buck here. You can campaign in Iowa and still have money left over to woo the other states. Please don't be offended when we ask you to pay in advance and figure in the gratuity for you.

Iowa is picturesque. Iowa is just one big, friggin' photo op for candidates. Four seasons (frequently all in one day), acres and acres of fields (don't worry, we don't know what's growing in there either), a variety of farm animals (and farmers) that are not camera shy, clear(ish) lakes, along with rural, urban and suburban vistas (all accessible from one spot)... we're a little slice of photography heaven (yes, we have ball fields, too). Nary a single M1A1 Abrams Main Battle Tank in sight. (Take that, Michigan! I'm surprised Mr. Dukakis didn't see to it that your primary got moved to... never.)

Iowa is average. I say this as a proud, life-long (so far) Iowan, you don't get much more white-bread, normal(ish), ordinary, cross-generational, cross-cultural, everyday, average 'Merica than Iowa. If it plays well in Iowa, it should be successful anywhere(ish).

True, our census data points don't plot out very far and wide, but we are not all 75-year-old retired, angry, white, male, farmers. Some of us are 74-years-old. But by the time the February caucuses roll around, most of us are just cold. And angry.

And anxious for our phones to stop ringing.

Which brings me back to why no one should worry too much about pre-caucus poll results (with a +/- 100% margin of error, depending on which candidate paid for it) predicting the potential caucus outcome, because...

Iowans love a good phone prank. Iowans take their caucus responsibilities seriously. The endless and repeated phone calls from poll-sters? Not so much.

There is a possibility that I, myself,  have completed more than one automated phone survey in a less than honest fashion, (“Do you plan to attend the upcoming Iowa Caucus? If yes, press 1” 1. “If the cau..” 1. “If you...” 1. “If...” 1. “I...” 1.) only to find that while I was (mis)taking the survey I received automated calls from five other poll-sters.

Not to worry. They'll call back.

They always do.

I'm read... 1...y.

Fo... 1...r.



Saturday, January 16, 2016

Show (Me) Choir

 I have heard there are places in the world that do not know the wonders of High School Show Choir.

Places where the spotlights never shine, sequins aren't a way of life, and drama is largely relegated to telenovelas.

I weep for these places.

Or I would, but I'm afraid my cat eye eyeliner might run.

Or my wiglet might fall off, skitter away and frighten small children.

Or my bumpit might slip askew making me look (even more) like a crazed unicorn (because I only have, like, 10 strands of very thin, fine hair on top of my already pointy head).


How I was ever able to reach 50... I mean 39... years of age without wearing excessive amounts of sequins, glitter, faux hair pieces, massive amounts of eyeliner and “50 dolla' make you holla'-” red lipstick – and – and this IS important – make it look good – is beyond me.

'Cuz let me tell you.

I would have rocked that shit.


Back in the day, our swing choir – I believe we still called it swing choir, because every once in a while I slip up and still call it that and today's show choir kids look at me like I'm speaking Klingon – put on a little extra makeup, but nothing fancy – and – and this is a BIG AND – AND – we had (Are you ready for this? Are you sitting down? Fair warning. Don't say I didn't tell you.) (Take a deep breath.)

One outfit.


You read that right.

There was no costume change.




I'm not really sure, because I was part of the band. Because, as I've said in past blog-posts, I can't carry a tune in a bucket with two hands. And I can barely walk across a perfectly smooth, level floor, let alone dance on a wobbly stage in heels while looking up, smiling and singing.

But as long as you are fanning yourself and feeling faint...

I don't remember a lot of glitter or sequins.


I said it.

We suffered from glitter under load.

Imagine there's no glitter/ It's easy if you try...

Unless you've just spent the day at a modern Iowa High School Show Choir Competition, in which case you are HAVING trouble FOCusing BeCauSe You are SUFfering from SPARKLE and FOG overload and you have the uncontrollable desire to app – CLAPCLAPCLAP – laud and randomly shhh – WOOT WOOT – ouuuuut and scrEEEEEAAAAmmmm for no apparent reason other than because the ten million other people jammed into this high school gymnasium (max. occ. 800) are SCREAMING for no apparent reason other than they are supporting the talented, brave, be-sequined, eye-linered, pouf-haired, sweating, singing, panting, dancing, amazing, high school students performing up on the (swaying from all that energy) stage.


(well deserved) Mic Drop.

Because these days that's where I spend my Saturdays.

Out in the audience.

Cheering and clapping and screaming and beaming and cringing and smiling while the show choirs perform.

Because that's my boy – the drummer with all the hair and the timing and the talent, the one who won't speak to me in the hallway but who isn't opposed to taking money or snacks. And I know all those kids in the – AMAZING – band (didn't they just blow you away?). And can you believe the kids in that crew that get everything put together just right without freaking out (much)? And I know those kids who are singinganddancing andsweatingandpanting andmakingitlooksoeasy and Sounding. So. Good.

Because I'm a show choir mom.

But not just a show choir mom.

Because you can't be just a show choir mom or dad or grandparent, aunt, uncle, sibling, cousin, coach, director, choreographer, accompanist, or... anything.

You are a hair-fixing, tie-straightening, emergency-drum-head-buying, lunch-money-providing, bobby pin- and safety pin- carrying, tear-drying, concession stand-working, concession stand-consuming, alteration-making, stage hand, hugging, clapping, cheering, shouting fool for show choir.

Because once you've been exposed to glitter and sequins and cat-eye eyeliner and bumpits...


What can I say?

Other than I'm gonna make that shit look good.


While I'm grocery shopping.

Fair warning.

Friday, January 8, 2016

We Wish You A Happy Chris-Val-Fourth-Giving

Every year it seems like there's that one Christmas decoration that gets overlooked when all the others are put away at the end of the season. You know the one. The little figurine or picture or table runner or towel that gets overlooked in all the re-boxing and storing and cussing, and then – WaBam! – it's July and someone asks “Why do you still have this life-size Santa standing in the corner of your living room, half-buried under a pile of unfolded laundry?”

You know the one.

Eventually you find it and set it at the top of the stairs with all the other stuff you plan on taking downstairs on your next trip to the laundry room, and then – WaBam! – it's November and you're going to be getting the Christmas decorations out soon anyway, so, why bother?

Or maybe you do take it downstairs, but all the Christmas decoration boxes are full, and you've piled a bunch of stuff on the floor in front of them so you can't get to them to store it away properly (and you'd like to say the storage area is a mess because of The Great Remodel, but the truth is it's always higgledy-piggledy) and so you end up putting it in with a pile of random holiday decorations and it's never seen again or at least not for a couple of years and by then everyone's forgotten about it and – WaBam! – it's like having a brand new decoration to display.

My point is...

This year's front-runner for mis-stored Christmas decoration is Max's stocking. He thinks it's still in the living room, under the Christmas tree, hidden among the empty boxes and the last few (practical) gifts (like the socks that I lovingly picked out because they desperately needed them and the jigsaw puzzles I gave them even though I am the one who ends up putting them together although they all appear out of no where to put that last piece in). Gifts that I will add to the assorted piles in their rooms when I take down the Christmas tree.

Taking down the Christmas tree, of course, reveals that one Christmas ornament that gets overlooked when all the other ornaments are carefully taken off the tree for re-boxing and storing, so when it comes time to take apart and store the Christmas tree – WaBam! – there it is and you have to set it aside while you continue to unfluff and unplug and fold up and squish the pokey, dusty, fake-needle dropping tree sections back into the box because they all came out of there and so they must all go back in but now they don't fit and you're hot and sweaty and dusty and where did that freaking decoration go and where is the cat and why is the box meowing?


Except that this year the children were in charge of putting the decorations on the tree and they took one look at the piles of stuff on the floor in front of the Christmas tree decoration boxes  and decided that we would do a minimalist tree, enjoying the sparse beauty of a semi-fluffed, pre-lit artificial tree upon which most of (well, some of) the lights worked.

In the quiet darkness, those twinkling white lights (the ones that lit, anyway) were quite lovely and peaceful. Or they were until the cat decided to claim the tree as his own fortress of solitude and hid beneath it to launch nightly surprise attacks upon the unsuspecting ankles of anyone passing by.

Eventually The Princess decided to add some hand-crafted decorations to the tree, just like she did
when she was little. But instead of hanging glitter-covered cut-outs, or Popsicle stick creations, or beaded... somethings... she decorated the tree with Buffalo Wild Wings crowns, using it as an excuse to eat there almost exclusively the week before Christmas. (Note: Buy B-Dubs stock. Now. In large quantities.)

I am hoping that Max's stocking turns up eventually, but if not it will join the Santa decoration which has sat on top of the entertainment center year-round for the past three years. Santa's become a fixture up there, along side the family photos in the inspirational, catch-phrase photo frames (“Good Times,” “The Boys,” “Family Fun”). The photos that are now five years out of date – except for the “Family Fun” frame which still has two empty spots – in the frames that caused The Princess to roll her eyes so hard they still haven't focused.

“Mooooom,” she said, rolling her eyes, “we're not that kind of people.”

What kind of people? I asked.

“The kind of people who put signs with words on them everywhere.” Which is kind of funny, because since then she has painted approximately ninehundredseventythree canvases with inspirational sayings and snippets of songs and they cover Every. Square. Inch. of previously bare wall space in her room.

And she's right, because I'm fairly certain the kind of people who routinely display inspirational messages on their walls would never leave a Santa decoration up all year. For multiple years.

Sometimes I worry that I'm shortchanging my kids by not decorating for each season. But at least once a month I do try to rotate the pile of mail, newspapers and assorted school papers needing to be signed and returned – or at least clear off enough space on the dining room table for three plates (we're never all four home for dinner at the same time anyway). And the laundry is always folded and moved out of the living room within two weeks. And there isn't (hardly) any expired food (from 2009) in the refrigerator.

And in addition to the year-round Santa decoration, I also have a pink-glittered Valentine heart on my bookshelf, a red-white-and-blue flower arrangement over my sewing table and a solar-powered, head-bobbing, Thanksgiving turkey figure on my desk, so it's not that I don't decorate for the holidays, but more like I decorate for all of them all the time.

I'm multi-decorational. Continual celebrational.

Happy Chris-Val-Fourth-Giving.

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Snow Shovel Philosophy (It's Getting Deep)

Just before the new year commenced I spent two hours – two hours – shov-rap-ling the sidewalk at the church, the duties of a church secretary being many and varied.

One might think the mindless task of shoveling/scraping/chopping hard-packed snow and ice with the look and sound of Styrofoam but the density and weight of tungsten would provide an excellent opportunity to wax philosophical, particularly given the emphasis placed on reflection at this time of year.

One would be wrong.

In the first place, even the most mindless of tasks requires a certain spacial awareness. It is best to avoid slamming the ice chopping steel blade down onto one's cold-numbed toes.

In the second place, it is hard to fit in much by the way of deep thinking when an endless loop of swear words is playing in one's head. It is best to keep those words unspoken when working outside a church, I believe.

The deepest philosophical question I wrestled with during the first hour of manual labor was not mans' place in the cosmos, but rather the futility of clearing sidewalks in Iowa in winter. These questions may or may not be related.

What is the point of our existence? What is the point of clearing a sidewalk when the forecast calls for more snow?

How do we leave our mark on this world? Are not my footprints in the snow a mark on this world? Do they not prove my existence?

Would the insurance adjuster and the town's streets department have me erase this humble symbol of my insignificance by threat of higher premiums and fines?

Apparently so.

After an hour and a half I was distracted from my duties and wool-gathering by the noisy flyover of a flock of migrating Canadian geese. In my zen-like state I was able to interpret their noisy chatter:
“Are we there yet? Are we there yet? Are we there yet?” honked the young geese.
“Don't make me pull this flock over!” replied the father geese.

There may have been an “eh?”, “hoser,” or “take off” thrown in the mix as well, considering these were Canadian geese. I honed my Canadian translation skills by watching Bob and Doug McKenzie hosting “Great White North.”

With swift, sure strokes of their wings the geese left me – and the cold, Iowa winter – in their wake as they continued their journey south to warmer climes and ice-free sidewalks As the last of their chatter drifted away on the wind I was left to ponder my own non-migratory situation.

I am a delicate, hot-house flower, dammit What am I doing here?

To be sure, there are parallels to be made between the progress and setbacks encountered while chip, chip, chipping away at an ice covered sidewalk, and the accomplishments and losses experienced over a year or even a lifetime.

The satisfaction of a well-placed stab of the ice chopper which causes large chunks of sn-ice to scatter is an apt metaphor for goals achieved and concrete evidence (literally) of forward progress.

But hidden beneath the reluctantly yielding sn-ice, are chunks of crystal clear, pure ice -- rock hard and unforgiving. A blind stab of the chopper glances ineffectually off these frozen-water diamonds, causing vibrations to resonate back through the chopper handle, painfully stinging hands and wrists, elbows, shoulders and core.

Perhaps this is the more keenly felt metaphor.

Beneath the ups and downs of everyday existence are hidden empty spots – rock hard and ice cold in their nothingness – left in the heart by loved ones lost. Memories, triggered by a glancing blow, send the pain of their absence resonating through me.

I wish for an easier, faster way to melt the ice on the walk, or to mend the black holes in my heart. But concerns for the long-term effect of chemical ice melt on concrete trump concerns for the short-term effect of shov-rap-ling on my arms and shoulders.

And only time can wear away the sharp edge of loss.

As for the geese, two days later I watched a flock retracing their route north already. I detected a shrill addition to the usual chorus of travel-related calls: “I thought you counted the kids after the last rest stop!”

For now the sidewalk is clear.

For now I find comfort in the happy memories.