Friday, December 24, 2010

A Christmas Story

'Twas the night before Christmas, and all through the house, not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse... the children were nestled all snug in their beds, while visions of sugarplums danced through their heads...

Yeah. Right.

'Twas the night before Christmas and in the Louch house, Captain Chaos was stirring and much louder than a mouse... the child was not snuggled all warm in his bed, though visions of Legos were dancing in his head...

Preparing for Santa's visit tonight took some serious effort -- the sort that only a seven-year-old can swing.

"I cleared a space on the table for milk and cookies on the round table. Do you have the cookie plate? Can I leave him a chocolate bar? I'll unwrap it for him. I'm the first kid to leave him a candy bar. Should I put his name on it so he knows it's for him? How many cookies should we leave him?

"Can I leave my ferris wheel on for him to see? I bet he'll leave a note because it's so neat. Will he step on my Legos? Should we move them? I'll pour the milk for him. Here, Mom, put the cookies here. Is two enough? Should we put some of the chocolate chip out too? And we need a carrot for each reindeer! Do we have eight carrots? Rudolph doesn't need one because everyone leaves him one. I'll move my Legos so Santa doesn't step on them. Fuzz won't eat the cookies, will she? She doesn't eat chocolate.

"Hey, mom, does Santa make all the toys?"


"Does Santa make all of the toys. You know, like Hex Bugs and electronics and stuff?"

"No. He hires out to companies in China and Japan and Taiwan. It's called division of labor. They help him out with the electronics."

"Oh. Okay."

At this point, however, my husband the chimed in to correct me. "It's outsourcing."

"What's that, dad?"

I shot the big guy an amused look. Show off! Thought you were so smart. Now you're doomed. You got yourself into this, you get yourself out of this.

For the next ten minutes, my child grilled his dad on "outsourcing" and why Santa used those companies and not his elves and how he picked those particular companies and why just electronics and if the people who made the electronics got to visit the North Pole. The husband had to do some fancy footwork to make it all make total sense in terms of Christmas magic, in terms of the North Pole, and in terms of a seven-year-old's absolute belief in jolly old St. Nick.

Finally, his interrogation wrapped up, Chaos looked at his dad and made one final announcement. "I know Santa makes the stuffed animals himself because that's just sewing."

I looked at the husband as I answered for both of us. "Absolutely."

This time, the big guy opted to leave it at that.

Merry Chrismas Eve

For the first time since, my focus has been more on the holiday itself than on losing Dad five years ago. Perhaps this blog negates that statement, though. As I have for the previous four years, I tracked the day's events against those in 2005. Bring woken by my mom, getting ready, waiting for the hospice nurses to come, waiting for the funeral home to pick up the body... but for the first time, I'm not avoiding acknowledgement or feeling my usual Scrooge-like sentiment about "stupid holidays."

Instead, the iPod is playing a very wide variety of Christmas tunes, I made a few cookie trays, and I am even getting antsy about tomorrow morning. Sometimes I even sing along with the music.

I downloaded some new Christmas songs onto the iPod. Saucy, satiric ones that tickle my fancy. Osama got run over by a reindeer, for one. The Twelve Days of Christmas, as sung by Doug and Bob McKenzie. And then there is the less-than-conventional. I could have bought little Jackie Evancho's rendition of O Holy Night. But I opted for Weezer's version.

My guys are in the family room building a K'nex ferris wheel that my mom just gave Gav this afternoon. Well, the big guy is building. Gav is just watching and announcing that he's the supervisor.

I'm blogging while boiling the cavatelli. It's a peaceful holiday so far, which bodes well. So far the only "disaster" was the garbage disposal dying this morning. Not a big deal in the least.

A few times today I did think about that day. But five years gives one time to heal and, finally, I guess, things are a little less raw. And, you know what, though I often say it sarcastically, I do believe it -- Christmas comes regardless of us. Prepared or not, interested or not, fully decorated or not, it comes. The calender doesn't really care how you feel or what you think. So, honestly, may as well enjoy it.

I plan to. :)

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Chef Chaos

On my dresser is a small crystal bowl with a 15-watt light bulb in it.

I've kept it because I don't know why. I just have.

This past spring, I woke to smell of something burning. It was a thick, heavy smell and was coming from the hallway. Strike that. It was coming from Gavin's room. The realization immediately sent me into a panic. Not only was something burning, but it was IN MY SON'S ROOM.

So I woke the husband and we methodically searched the room, feeling walls for heat, checking outlets. We questioned Gavin endlessly, were you playing with matches, did you smell anything last night, did you jam something into the outlets? By the time Aunt Na arrived to get Gavin off to school, I had the husband in the attic checking the wiring by the ceiling fan in Gav's room.

The smell, however, kept getting stronger and stronger, but nothing -- and I mean nothing -- was burning. Nothing that we could find, anyway.

Then Aunt Na thought to check Gav's bedside lamp, the one he kept on during the night. There it was. The 15-watt bulb, burning sure and bright. Good quality those GE bulbs.

For Christmas, Gavin received an Easy Bake Oven and he learned that you could actually cook using a 100-watt bulb.

I bet you know where this is going, don't you?

Yep. Using his understanding of the Easy Bake, Gav decided to see if he could melt a foam sticker. On his light bulb.

So there's a 15-watt bulb on my dresser. Covered in melted foam. I'm still not sure what to do with it. All I know is that it makes me laugh every time I see it.

Saturday, November 27, 2010


Perhaps, if this makes you uncomfortable, you can blame the two glasses of wine. They made the words easier for me.

I've my iPod plugged in and am enjoying some golden oldies. The Skyliners are singing right now, but all I can think of is how Janet Vogel decided to turn start her car one day and leave the garage door closed. They lived just up the street from us, her youngest son is just a year older than me.

Morbid, no doubt. I'm good for that. My mind invariably goes to the process of dying, of what it's like to know your life is ebbing away. I think, too, of how I told my girl friend not to envy me the time had with my father. When Dad was first diagnosed, we were thankful for the time given. By the time he died, it was a curse. We didn't need that much time. We didn't want that much time. No one does. Twenty-odd months are too expensive, too high a price to pay for the chance to say good-bye.

We had time, in those long months, not to talk about the old days and say what needed said. We had time instead to smell death and hear its rattle. In the last month, I couldn't bear to walk into the same room, though I did, holding my breath, because he was already a corpse. But he just happened to be breathing. If that's what you wanted to call the gasp and hiss of air passing in and out of his lungs.

When you sit in the same room with the dying, it's a peaceful hell. There's a simplicity of the moment, for your task is just to be there. Helpless, but there nonetheless. I read, I wrote, sometimes I napped. At regular intervals, my mother or I would put on rubber gloves and rub morphine into the soft skin of his inner arm. We like to think it helped. And, though we each privately thought of it, we were never brave enough to give him more than the prescribed amount at the prescribed time.

The smell of dying goes away after you're in the same room for a few minutes. Olfactory fatigue, it's called. Your nose gets used to it and you begin to ignore it. So by the end of the chapter of the book you think you're reading, you can no longer scent the dying man.

You can still hear him, though. There's no fatigue of the ear strong enough to block out the inhaling gasp and the exhaling hiss, because, in the back of your mind, you're wondering if that gasp will be the last one you hear.


There's a box on my dresser. An antique copper box, probably a good 60 or 70 years old. In it are obituaries from the last 50 years. The fallen leaves from our family tree. My mother gave it to me some time ago. Her "Box o' Death," I jokingly called it. It's mine now, and my job is to keep the family obits in there. Someday, I suppose, it will be handed down to Gavin.

But that's a blog for another day.

Must I be so melancholy at the holidays? Yes. No. Perhaps. This Thanksgiving marked six years for my grandfather's death. This Christmas will mark five for Dad. As I said once before, any holiday without a trip to the funeral parlor or hospital is a good holiday.

It was a good holiday.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Daydreaming vs. reality

So we've started second grade. Amazing. Wasn't it yesterday that I was prying him out of the car to go to preschool? Putting stickers on a chart for each day he didn't cry? And yet here we are, moving further and further away from all those "baby" things.

He doesn't hold my hand in public, clinging as if for life itself. Instead he ventures a few feet away, puffed up with his independence and swaggering just a little bit.

At restaurants, he orders for himself, his voice quiet but sure.

At home we argue sometimes. Two very similar personalities trying to get the final word. Because I said so just doesn't seem to work like it used to. He prefers explanations.

My mother says he's another me, whatwith his stubbornness and imagination. I'm okay with that. You need imagination. Without it, what is life but dry facts and numbing repetition?

But never let it be said that life is without bumps. Gav's challenge this year is his imagination. Apparently it's working overtime -- particularly at school. Seems that his mind wanders a bit too much and his teacher needs to constantly remind him to stay on task. We received our first note of the school year. His teacher wants to know how to help him focus during class.

The problem is that I haven't an answer for her.

I spent the vast majority of my elementary education in my own little world, emerging just often enough to do my schoolwork and look like I was paying attention. I didn't struggle academically, which made it all the easier to attend school in body much more than in mind. There seems little point to a lot of the work we did, and I was often corrected doing things my own way (in spite of their being correct). Gav's pretty much the same way. He claims boredom -- and given that he's getting straight-A's -- I believe him.

Actually, I do have an answer for her.

Challenge him. Teach him something that interests him. Teach him something that, to him, has meaning.

Ah, but there's the problem. She can't cater to my son at the cost of his peers. I'm not unreasonable enough to demand it, either. Truthfully, I really don't see his daydreaming as a "problem," except for the fact that he needs to time it a little better and play by the mundane rules of life once in a while. Gav already knows that we expect him to remain focused on his work until it's done (and done correctly). Then, we said, he can let his mind wander to his heart's content.

A parent-teacher phone call is scheduled for tomorrow to discuss this situation. By the tone of her note, his teacher sounds like she values imagination in children, so I'm hopeful that things will go well.

Of course, no matter what, this sure as heck beats another four-boy kicking contest...

Monday, June 28, 2010

Talks to Strangers (probably runs with scissors, too)

I talk to strangers. A lot.

Thanks to that trait, I've closed a bar with a Russian history professor (as in from Russia), explored the Muhammad Ali Museum with a former Pittsburgh Steeler, experienced homemade Czechoslovakian food in Omaha, and danced the night away outside the Seelbach Hotel at Louisville's Fourth Street Live.

The older I get, the more adventurous I get.

Just two short weeks ago, I packed a bikini, sunscreen, my fountain pen, and a few steno pads and headed down to Destin, FL, for "Operation Girls Gone Writing." Carol and Heidi went with me. We met in person once. Two years ago. For just a few short hours in Indianapolis, IN, when I was there for an economics conference. The rest of the time has been spent "meeting" via e-mail and conference calls, as I've worked with and for both of them on numerous writing projects over the past three years.

Imagine if I hadn't talked to these strangers?

We wouldn't have lounged by the pool and talked about all those things women talk about: food, sex, and diets. We wouldn't have seen dolphins in the bay. We'd have missed the piano bar, the too-friendly old guy, and the taste of rum. We never would have known the sands of Destin, still free from oil at that point, and learned that swimming in algae is something like swimming in hair.

Who would have bought too much candy, too many presents for our boys back home, and too much rum?

I have a blog in the works to sum up the weekend. I'm still pondering what to say exactly, but it's on its way.

All I know is that I'm glad I talked to these strangers and can't wait to do it again.

Twitter Trip

I don't have a Twitter account anymore, but if I did, my Girls Gone Writing weekend in Destin, FL, would read like this:

5:30 a.m. --> @ airport, no line for security -- nice change!
8:31 a.m. --> boring flight, played solitaire, lost a lot
9:46 a.m. --> met Bobs @ ATL waiting for tram; Atl Bread Co out of bagels
ate choc chip cookies, Liv still in Indy, plane needs part, missed ATL flight w/ us :(
2: 45 p.m. --> @ hotel, @ pool w/ Bobs, Liv's phone off
3:20 p.m. --> Liv calls, drops f-bomb, 2nd time 2day; taxi $55 = 3rd bomb
6 p.m. --> dinner @ Village, seafood & rum
7:31 p.m. --> refuse to ride zipline due to wearing a dress, buy a daquari instead
8:27 p.m. --> karaoke bar overrun w/ kids, don't go in
8:30 p.m. --> @ piano bar, more rum, sing-a-long to Sweet Caroline

8 a.m --> big breakfast, Village for towels, then beach!
8:20 a.m. --> $30 beach towel? wtf?!
10:34 a.m. --> saw dolphins!!!!!!
10:55 a.m. --> shopping for dinner dresses "just because"
11:45 a.m. --> no luck w/ dresses, will eat dinner anyway
11:51 a.m. --> candy store = lunch
1:30 p.m. --> @ beach, no oil, just algie in water, like swimming in hair
2:05 p.m. --> took lots of pics, hope I look ok
4:50 p.m. --> leave beach via resort bus
5 p.m. --> bus driver confused, return to beach
5:05 p.m. --> circle parking lot while driver gets bearings
5:10 p.m. --> leave beach parking lot
6 p.m. --> return to hotel alive
7:30 p.m. --> board bus, new & better driver, off to Village for dinner
9:03 p.m. --> off to dance after delicious dinner... too smokey & expensive, return to piano bar
10:14 p.m. --> fifth bachlorette party @ bar, may hurt someone if have to sing "going to the chapel" again
10:19 p.m. --> leave piano bar in interest of sanity

8 a.m. --> breakfast, souvineer shopping
12:15 p.m. --> airport security insists on Ziploc baggie for glass jar of liquid foundation
12:16 p.m. --> baggie now required for airport-approved container of mouthwash
12:18 p.m. --> toothpaste and airport-approved container of powder blush go into third baggie
12:21 p.m. --> airport security detains me over 99-cent can of shaving cream
12:30 p.m. --> allowed to throw out 99-cent can of shaving cream
12:41 p.m. --> sternly told to keep all items in approved Ziploc baggies for remainder of trip
12:43 p.m. --> promise to keep all items in approved Ziploc baggies for remainder of trip
12:44 p.m. --> allowed into airport
1:30 p.m. --> board plane, stewardess announces that our pilot is Capt'n Jack Sparrow
3:30 p.m. --> uneventful flight home, played solitaire, lost a lot

7 a.m. --> back at work...

Thursday, May 27, 2010

To Tell The Tooth...

I have nothing to say at the moment except that I should be working on research before the day's activities begin. However, work is a little difficult at the moment as we have "Pajama Pants Head" running around upstairs.

How can I do anything but laugh when I hear his tearing around upstairs and his father trying to (patiently) tell him to take his pajama pants off of his head and get dressed so that we can go out?

A few weekends ago, I attended a baby shower for one of my girl friend. While perusing the adorable baby blankets and onesies the night before, while trying to figure out whether of not a newborn really needed the so-cute-it-hurts sandals, I realized that I have no desire to return to those days. None. Na-dah. Zilch. Zip. Zero.

While she's dealing with the final months of pregnancy, I'm dealing with loose teeth and arranging playdates. She's about to hit the easy part of motherhood, while I'm looking at my kid and wondering how the hell I'll keep him from knocking his face off while he plays "stuntman!"

Speaking of teeth, the day before the baby shower, when I picked Gav up at my mother-in-law's, I asked what had become my usual greeting: "Do you still have your tooth?"


"Let me see."

He opened wide, proud to show me the tooth that was hanging by a thread and would not, not for anything, fall out.

"Um, no." It wasn't there.

He didn't believe me, of course, and ran to check in the mirror. After all, for the last several weeks I'd been telling him it was turning purple, green, or whatever other color popped to mind. I'd also told him that the tooth fairy was going to start charging him for the tooth because he was keeping it too long. Why believe me now?

It was indeed gone. FINALLY gone.

Of course, the next mystery was where had it gone?

We ransacked the couch where he'd been sitting, sifted through his bowl of Cheeze-Its, looked under the couch, ran our hands over the carpet, checked his shoes that were next to the couch, shook out the afghan he'd sat on, checked his tumbler full of iced tea... nothing. Na-dah. Zilch. Zip. Zero.

You can probably put two and two together on this one and guess where the tooth disappeared to, given that he'd been snacking at the time it apparently fell out.

But, please, no more jokes about "this tooth shall pass." Really. I'm sure it did by now and, no, I didn't look.

Sunday, May 09, 2010

So much to say, yet nothing. I haven't posted since February, though a lot of nothing has happened.

I think.

I've four posts that I keep meaning to finish, but each time I start them... well... nothing seems to "work." And, perfectionist that I can be, I refuse to publish them just to publish them.

So I've the blog on February's snow storm and what it was like to be trapped in Moon Township in a hotel without power, water, or heat. Then there's one on my trip to Omaha at the end of April when I was -- once again! -- trapped in a hotel (with power, water, and heat). This time it was thanks to a three-hour flight delay that would have caused me to miss my connection in Chicago. I spent the night in Omaha at the Holiday Inn and went to bed at the gloriously decadent hour of 8:30 p.m. I've a third post about my tendency to talk to strangers and how much fun it can be.

Fourth is the unfinished post about Gavin turning seven.


How can I say that nothing has happened when my little miracle is no longer that little? The little boy who came into this world two months early is in the family room right now, playing bowling on Wii and yelling "yeah baby!" each time he successfully knocks down the pins.

"Yeah baby!"

My son has his own catch-phrase. Everything is "yeah baby," though sometimes we alternate with "now that's what I'm talking about!"

When I choose clothes that he likes, he pronounces that I "know his style." When I read his mind and tell him that he can't ride his scooter down the sliding board and do other "mean mommy" things designed to keep him alive and in once piece, he sadly tells me that I always "foil his plans."

He has definite opinions that about what is cool and not cool, but don't think they always coincide with the rest of the world. He also has definite opinions about why things work, why they don't work, and why he should be allowed to test his theories. He will bargain and cajole and pester for everything. While it makes me insane sometimes to explain things umpteen times, I have to admit I like that side of him too much to change it. Give me an independent thinker who questions me over a well-behaved lemming any day.

At bedtime, we read books like Diary of a Wimpy Kid and Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing. When he reads on his own, he likes to peruse the two medical terminology books that he appropriated from my bookshelf. While I miss having a little boy who could comfortably fall asleep in my arms as I sang to him, I have more fun with the interactive boy who listens to the same music as I do and is not above dancing around the kitchen with him mom to the sounds of Lady Gaga and Pitbull. (American Pie, however, is his current favorite.)

How can I have nothing to write about?

Perhaps I have too much.
(Such a blessing. No?)

Saturday, February 20, 2010

I think it was the snow bank. His car must have glanced it, just enough as he came down the hill, to veer more to the right than the left. That's the only reason I can think of. It had to be the snow.

We were getting out of the car, ready to go to karate class, when a faded black car came tearing up the parking lot that connects a back road to Route 30. Gavin was still climbing out of the back seat, actually, as the punk roared past us. I looked at the driver, annoyed at his speed, but more interested in the beige 4 x 4 that was pulling out of the adjacent parking area and making sure that Gavin didn't run out in front of him.

He didn't. The driver saw us, paused, and I herded Gavin -- who is "almost seven" as opposed to "only six" -- to the passenger side of the car. He deals well with my eternal belief that parking lots are full of cars ready to careen out of control and slam into him.

The parking lot is a hill, so when you pull in it's easier to get out of the driver's side (which is the downhill side) than the passenger side. He'd left his bag with sparring gear in the backseat, as usual, so I got it out. Closing the doors on that side take a little extra umph depending on just where one parks on the slope, but the over-sized button on my coat caught on the frame and the umph was for naught. Gav was patiently waiting on the other side of the car.

I didn't hear the crash itself. It was the sound of something metal dragging along the pavement that made me look up as I made my way to my little guy to hand him his bag.

The faded black car was speeding down the hill. It's front end now smashed, the bumper barely attached.

I remember screaming Gavin's name as I ran to him, dragging him backwards, remember realizing that it was making a beeline for my car's back end, and remember watching -- just watching -- as the driver somehow managed to miss by inches.

And then he was gone.

And I was kneeling and holding my son, shaking, because I had dragged us towards the front of my car and, had that punk hit my bumper, the force very well could have turned the car around and slammed it into us.

"That front was really destroyed," Gav said. "It was totally destroyed!"

"Yes, it was." My voice sounded normal, for which I was thankful.

"It was totally destroyed, Mom!" He had no clue what could have happened. Small mercies.

We made it inside and class started and I sat there, just not quite able to focus on the economics paper I was supposed to be writing.

My mind was racing and I kept seeing the car coming down the hill. Sometimes I saw my button caught on the door frame and wondered what would have been different had it not caught. I went back outside and looked at the snow piled high next to the building and at the fresh mark where he must have hit it, walked up the hill to where the accident had happened. Only the bumper of the car he'd hit remained by now. A man was on the phone, and I told him that I saw where the driver had sped off to, pointed out the road, and said I'd be in the karate school if there were any questions once the police arrived. Then I went back inside. Then back outside.

A police car was quietly sitting at the entrance to the dead end road that I'd seen the black car head down once he'd left the parking lot.

I went back inside.

Eventually, the adrenaline rush ends and rational thought returns. By the end of class, I was able to focus much better and was, for the most part, done replaying it in my mind. Thoughts of what could have happened were replaced by white hot rage and what I wanted to do to that son of a bitch who could have killed my son. The enduring image is a meat grinder and his hands so that he never drives again.

(Just because rational thought returns, doesn't mean one has to be rational, you know.)

And when we left karate and walked through the parking lot once more, Gavin listed all of the karate kicks he would have used on the driver had I been hurt.

Maybe a meat grinder is too humane.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Captain Chaos and the Matchbox Cars

Gav inherited a solid wooden box from my Dad. It's about 13" x 8", roughly, and was a Christmas gift to Dad years ago. A bucolic hunting scene is on the front. For those years that Dad was alive, it sat next to the fireplace at the cottage.

It's still next to a fireplace, but now it's our fireplace. The box used to hold matches for the fireplace. Now it holds Matchbox cars. It's a good little box, sturdy enough to survive the abuse even a six-year-old can dish out.

And the other night, well...

Chaos does not own just brand name, indestructible Matchbox cars. He also owns a few dozen cheaper ones from the local dollar store. Those cars break rather easily -- which he discovered that Friday night. The handle of a wrench can easily smash one of these cars.

Very easily.

Six cars later, the Big Guy told him that enough was enough, that his curiosity should be appeased, and to quit bashing cars on the kitchen table.

Always a good little man, Gav handed over the wrench. Reluctantly, I might add.

The Big Guy was wrong, however. Curiosity was not appeased.

Stripped of his wrench, he needed a new method to crush the cars. Preferably one that was a bit less noisy so as not to attract the notice of his parents (who have this crazy tendency to back each other up on things like this).

The next thing I knew, he was adjusting the kitchen chair, then sitting down rather hard, then adjusting the chair, then sitting down rather hard, then adjusting... well, you get the idea.

I'm not sure if I should take the science books off of him or not. Seems that we've moved from Rube Goldberg machines to simple machines. You see, he was putting the cars under the chair's leg then slamming all fifty pounds of himself onto the seat to effectively (quite effectively) crush them.

Wheels, fake glass, and cheap plastic were flying all over the place. While it was certainly quieter than the wrench, and certainly more thorough, it was much less controlled. I'm still finding occasional pieces of the wreckage in distant corners of the kitchen, leading me to think it wasn't so much a crushing but an explosion.

Chaos demolished two cars before I had to swoop in, hide my laughter, and make him stop.

He, again, was reluctant to obey, but he knew that it was the wiser course of action. Anything else would have resulted in the remaining cars residing on top of the fridge.

But he hadn't really stopped. He'd paused. It was now all a matter of determining what he would use next to accomplish his objective.

Ah, but bedtime has a way of hampering the best of plans, so he had to wait until morning to annihilate the remaining ten cars. So for the next nine hours, all was calm in the Louch house.

"Mom. Mom. Hey, Mom. Are you getting up yet? Mom. Mom..." When he was three, I would wake up and be eyeball-to-eyeball with him. Now that he's six, he has to lean over a bit, but we're still eyeball-to-eyeball when I open my eyes. "Mom, can we go downstairs yet?"

Gathering my wits, I got up and we did just that. He fussed with his cars while I made breakfast. I was curious that he hadn't started trying to smash them, but wasn't about to remind him.

Then I saw it. The wooden box, which is a good 15 pounds or so when filled with toy cars, sitting a bit a-tilt on the fireplace hearth. Underneath, a cheap plastic car, slowly... very slowly... being flattened...