Thursday, March 27, 2008

Dating a Single Mom - Avast Ye, Potential Mateys!

In an effort to release some of the sugarized energy buzzing from my two sons as they thinned their herd of chocolate Easter bunnies, we went to Legoland, a pleasant theme park consisting of tiny blocks, tiny European humor, and the requisite tiny screechy children. I honestly do like going there. Unfortunately I couldn't find anyone to watch my kids so I had to take them with me.

After hiking 87.3 miles and consuming approximately 23 odd snacks and beverages in even odder containers, we eventually found ourselves manning a water cannon in the Pirate Shores area. We were a mutinous bunch of landlubbers for Splash Battle, lying in wait for the evil pirate tourists cruising by in fierce, plastic pirate ships. In our crew, one person pumped the water, another aimed the cannon at passing pirate ships (also armed with water cannon), while the 3rd person (me) discovered that if you cover the mouth of the water cannon and let go at just the right time, you could pressurize it enough to really hammer the poor slobs in the pirate ships. If you must attend a theme park, the aggression that builds up waiting 45 minutes for a two-minute ride has to vent somewhere, so I highly recommend the opportunity to splatter complete strangers with icy cold water. Har, mateys.

It was incredibly loud and chaotic, so of course my phone rang and, distracted Captain/Mom that I am, I answered it. Ever answer your cell phone during a siege? Of course not - you know better.
Me: Hello?

Steve: Hi, it's Steve.

Me: Which Steve?

Steve: Um, how many Steves do you know?

Me(now knowing that this is the Steve who's sensitive about how many Steves I know): Can I call you back? We're marauding at the moment.

Steve: What?

Me(to my son): Hold your fire, hold your fire! Wait 'til they're closer!

Steve: Is this a bad time?

Me: Actually, it's quite fun. (to my other son) Watch your back - aaagh!!!

Steve: Are you ok?

Me: Never been better. (to my crew) INCOMING AT SIX O'CLOCK! FIRE! FIRE!

Steve: Would you like to go to dinner Saturday night?

Me: Friday's better for me. (to crew) FIRE, DANGIT! Sheesh, that little blonde girl is kicking our butts!

Steve: Fridays are tough for me...

Me: I'M HIT!!!! GET HER MOM, BOYS - FIRE AT HER MOM!! Ooops, sorry for yelling Steve. I gotta call you back.

Dinner date is for Friday. Whether he shivers my timbers is yet to be decided. He'd just better try to keep up or he'll be walkin' the plank.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Spring Breakage

We're approaching a unique astronomical event know in scientific circles as a Sugar Eclipse. When certain stars, such as those found in the Big Dipper of Chocolate and the Great Nebula of Boredom, align, their energies merge to form a melting pot of buzz, ennui, and opportunity. The result is a storm surge of incredible proportions and potentially disastrous results.

Over the past few months children everywhere have been cooped up in school. Keen students that they are, they have not frittered this time away uselessly studying reading, writing, and texting. Instead, they've picked up handy tips from schoolmates on the proper technique for games like "Living Room Baseball" and "Hallway Soccer." And now, according to tradition, we're going to fill them to the brim with Easter chocolate and set them loose in the house for a week straight.

The only things missing from this equation are:
1)a government grant to study the results
2) a reality television show to profit from the event itself.
Think The Nanny meets Prison Break. Don't even try for the grant - I've already sent in my application.

Around here the school system schedules Spring Break for right after Easter. I can't blame them. I wouldn't want hyper-sugared wall-bouncers in class then, either. The kiddies are amped to the tune of 800 chocolate bunnies. Nobody can focus when they're cranked up on sugar peeps. So they're home. And bored. And dangerously sugared. Less than three months from summer vacation, the weather is getting nicer, daylight sticks around a little later, spring is certainly upon us. Unfortunately, so are baseballs and footballs and trips to the emergency room.

The real reason it's called 'Spring Break' is because sooner or later, something is going to break - a lamp, a screen door, my sanity. My nine-year-old was just playing golf in the living room. MY living room. His rationale was that since the balls were the same color as the walls, they wouldn’t leave a mark. Luckily he has a nasty slice or the mirror over the fireplace would’ve been blown to bits.
Why do we expect, year after year, to survive Spring Break? How can we possibly free-feed jelly beans to jaded juveniles and not anticipate something might go awry?

I suspect selective parental memory comes into play. This is the same base logic that kicks in whenever you see a baby and think how cute the little thing is, conveniently overlooking the endless night-time feedings, stinky diapers, colic, drool and other lovely offshoots of baby ownership, to the point that you actually consider having another one. Why? So one kid can pitch to the other one in the living room? Are we that insane?

Yes, we're hardwired to continue the species. Unfortunately, we are not hardwired to have nice, breakable things. Unless, of course, my grant money comes through and I can afford to replace my previously nice, now-broken things. Until they break again next spring.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Bedtime Ramblings

"Mom, I have a question," he said.

Of course he did. It was late, I was tired, and he wanted to delay bedtime yet again.

"Does infinity meets negative infinity somewhere?"

"What?" (I should never have taken those heavy-duty vitamins while I was pregnant with him.)

"Negative and positive numbers meet at zero, of course. I imagine they meet somewhere else, too."

Key word, imagine. My head was starting to hurt.

"You know," he continued, "At some point the numbers have to meet. Maybe on the other side of the universe. Maybe not in a direct line. Maybe in a huge circle around the universe."

"You mean, like, near heaven?" I yawned.

"I guess," replied my young mad scientist, giving me a verbal eyeroll. "Maybe it's more of a spiral than a circle. Or a double helix, like DNA."

"Did you brush your teeth?" I asked.

"Oops," he smiled. "I forgot."

"You're thinking about negative infinity in outer space, but you can't remember to brush your teeth?"

"Mom," he asked, "On my world map, it has Kashmir. But on my globe, it's not there. What happened to it?"

Classic move – you’re beaten, so you change the subject. The kid was learning.

"Well, where did you see it last? Maybe if you cleaned your room once in a while you could find it.” Zing.

"No, Kashmir, the country. It's on the map, but not the globe. Why?"

"Maybe your brother has it. Did you brush your teeth?" Right back atcha, son.

I don't remember trying the same tactics with my parents. I don't even remember them tucking me into bed. Many times I grabbed a blanket and fell asleep in the pasture with the cows and horses. It was pretty comfortable except that one of the steers, Wilbur, liked to hog all the covers. Yes, that's weird, but the animals didn't snore anywhere near as loudly as my dad, who could rattle windows all the way down the hall. On the other hand, my little sister got tucked in until she was at least thirty. That proved especially difficult once she got married, but my parents persevered.

One thing I do remember vividly is my dad's version of a wakeup call. If any of us dared sleep in past 7 am, even on the weekend, he'd sic the pack on us. We'd hear a whispered 'git 'im' from downstairs, a loud commotion on the stairs, and all four dogs would burst into the room, leaping onto the bed and digging the sleepyhead out of the blankets. If you were smart, by the time you heard the galloping in the hallway, you were moving your keester out of bed. To this day, if I hear galloping, I dive for cover. Come to think of it, that probably saved me a few times during my nights outside in the pasture.



"I brushed my teeth."

"Ok, great.....we'll find Kashmir in the morning."

"Ok, thanks, Mom.....Mom?"

"Yes, honey?"

"What about infinity and negative infinity?"

"Ask your father."

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Billy Ball

A beautiful spring day for a ballgame- the pitcher stares down the leadoff hitter, a rookie, at the plate. First pitch is a fastball outside. The second pitch, another fastball, is chopped just foul to the right of first base. Good swing, just a little late. The third pitch comes inside, near his hands, and tips the rookie back on his heels. He hunkers down and re-sets himself. The fourth pitch is up and outside - ball three. The rookie's worked this at bat all the way to a 3-1 count.

With a big swing at a slider, he misses. Sixth pitch is another slider - a strike out and it's over. Or is it?

he rookie, #60, is Billy Crystal, age 59.999. Yes, Billy Crystal the comedian, the lifelong Yankee fan. And I'm so very jealous. Not just because his birthday is coming up. Or because he's hilarious. Or because he made some incredible movies. Or because he hosted a very nice awards show or two. Because if only for a day, he's playing for the Yankees.

This scheme apparently got started when Crystal bumped into Derek Jeter, the legendary Yankee shortshop, while on vacation in Costa Rica. Billy was lamenting turning sixty. Derek, in his typical golden boy fashion, asked how he could make it better and voila, Yankee contract for a day. Crystal was thrilled. And petrified.

At sixty, he's trying something new. Scary, yet so very invigorating. How many of us do that? We get used to that cozy, worn spot on the couch, that comfy television show, that same old nine-to-five. Change is scary. Just breaking in a new couch can be scary. Imagine facing down a major league fastball when most people your age are playing bingo.

Billy was nervous. He did well, very nearly had a hit, but struck out. He got a standing ovation from the crowd and high-fives from the Yankee regulars.
Hey, he tried.

My chances of meeting Derek Jeter in Costa Rica are about as slim as you can get. But they're even worse if I stay on the couch. So.....

Remember the hippie vagrant in Pretty Woman - "Ya gots to have a dream. Everybody has a dream. What's your dream?" You're reading my dream. I've wanted to write professionally since before Harry Met Sally. Hopefully I didn't strike out. But if I did, so what? At least I got off the couch and into the game.

And thanks for reading this far.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Just For Fun

"Mom," he asked me, "What do you do for fun?"

My little master of the curve ball. "Is this a trick question?" I asked. Kids ask the darndest things. Dangit. I was automatically prepared with the stock mom answer- taking care of my wonderful children- but he was too savvy for that. This was going to take more than the standard, politically correct response.

I didn't want him to think that being a grown-up was, well, boring. Although I certainly wasn't lighting up the red carpet or being the belle of the ball. Let him at least enjoy his childhood before he had children of his own and faced the muzak.

If my memory serves me, there once was a time, long ago, that I had a life. Most of us did before children came along. Sure, they give our lives meaning and fulfillment. They also suck out millions of brain cells through our ears. In a way, that’s probably merciful - we’re spared from knowing what we missed out on by having kids.

Was I doomed to permanent dullness? A baby boomer's nightmare - Night of the Living Dead, Cranky, and Boring. I'd seen older people who were incredibly worn-looking, the sparkle long gone from their eyes, waiting for the early-bird special at Denny's and arguing heatedly with their mates over where the ketchup belonged in the refrigerator. Usually one was the arguer and the other was at least pretending to be deaf. As one grew louder, the other grew more hard-of-hearing. Probably for forty years straight. Hey, even fiber can't solve everything.

It occurred to me that because I was so focused on my kids, I really didn't think about 'fun' time for myself. I loved taking care of them and playing with them, but by centering my life around them I wasn't being a very good role model. Besides, with some luck and a strong tail wind, in ten years or so they'd be gone and I’d be left to my own ‘fun.’ I didn’t crochet and I lacked strong opinions about where the ketchup went in the fridge. Yes, I was doomed.

One morning I saw an elderly couple taking a walk together in the park. Isn't that sweet, I thought, they're holding hands. Maybe there was hope for me after all. As they got closer, I discovered that in reality she was trying to walk away and he wouldn't let her. He had a death grip on her arm and was squawking loudly. Something about a ketchup bottle.

"Hellooooo, Mom," he asked me, "I asked you a question. What do you do for fun?"

“I like,” I murmured, “to daydream.”

As he walked away, shaking his head, I heard him mumble, “I am so doomed.”

Monday, March 10, 2008

Stuck on Polo

We were playing a tournament at the Los Angeles Equestrian Center. It was arena polo, similar to hockey in that it's a physical team game played off the walls, and similar to rodeo in that it's rough, fast fun in a dirt arena.

The other team's fans were booing me. I took it as a compliment - they considered me a threat, and I had scored on them already, taking the ball all the way down the wall right in front of a hissing crowd.

One of my horses, Superiora, was and is to this day the fastest thing I have ever ridden. A gorgeous chestnut running quarter horse, 'Supie' resembled a rubber band that was constantly wound very tightly.

When I first saw her, she was out in an arena practicing incredibly fast rollbacks. By herself.

She loved speed and loved to play. Unfortunately, her prior owner had fried her brain on polo, so once she got going she was nearly impossible to stop. I taught her barrels, which she loved, to the point that as we flew out of the arena after our turn, she'd do a rollback in an attempt to go back and do it again. The lateral 'g' forces as she whipped around the barrels made me physically nauseous. I'd dismount and not be able to stand. Anyway, she was intense and I got her cheap because most people were afraid of her.

Near the end of this particular tournament, I took a shot at the goal and missed. However, the ball bounced off the wall and I was able to spin around on Supie and attempt a near-side back shot. This is where you lean your right hand and mallet way up and out over your left side, and swing down and back over the left side of your horse, sending the ball flying back behind you. Horses naturally don't like having big sticks raised high over their heads, but good polo ponies tolerate it because they know something exciting is about to happen.

And of course it did. The ball bumped a dirt clod, I missed my shot completely and hooked my mallet around Supie's butt. Unfortunately, the end of the mallet lodged under her tail and stuck. Startled, Supie clamped her tail down and reared. At that angle and degree of horsey muscle tension, try as I might, I couldn't dislodge the mallet. To make matters worse, my right arm was extended out across the left side of my body, my upper body hanging out over arena dirt, trying to keep the stick from falling under Supie's legs.

There was a gasp from the crowd as Supie and I crowhopped and bucked the length of the arena. All the while I was hoping Supie would "exhale" enough so I could pull the bamboo enema from my mare's behind.

Finally it came out. I was beet red, half from fear and half from embarrassment. Supie was pawing the ground, flicking her tail like a mad cat, just as embarrassed as I was. The crowd was now roaring with laughter.

At least we won.

For Suzi

FYI- the following is not a funny post. In fact, it made my big, strong dad cry at work, so be forewarned. It was written a few years ago to help my young child deal with the death of our dog. The painting at the end was done by an artist inspired by the story.
Once upon a time, there was a magical black dog who was smarter and faster and sassier than any dog that ever lived. "You're so smart, I bet if you wanted to, you could talk," said her best friend.
"Yup," barked the magical black dog as she sprinted out the door to chase some squirrels.

One day she notice a bluebird sitting on the ground. "Aha!," thought the magical black dog as she sneaked up on the bird, "Now's my chance." At the last moment, the bluebird flitted away to a tree branch. "Someday I will fly up there and get you," grumped the magical black dog.
"Later, later," replied the bluebird as he flew away.

A few days later, as the magical black dog was clearing the yard of squirrels yet again, the bird flew down for a chat. "Hey," said the bluebird, "how would you like to chase clouds instead of squirrels?"

"Yes, yes," responded the magical black dog.

"Of course, you couldn't live here anymore. You would have to move to the sky, where the clouds live. But since you're magical, that would be easy for you."

The magical black dog was sad, "I could never leave my best friend. I must always protect her from squirrels and sad thoughts."

"Later, later," the bluebird chirped.

Then very early one day, as the magical black dog wearily chased another annoying squirrel from the yard, the bluebird returned. "Please help me," he said. "My friend the Sun needs someone to chase the stars from the sky before he rises every morning. The stars are lazy and won't get out of his way. He says if you want to, every once in a while you can chase the clouds away, too."

"I am tired of these bothersome squirrels," said the magical black dog, "But who will take care of my best friend? I can't leave her, ever, ever, ever."

The bluebird replied, "You can come visit her in her dreams, and chase away sad thoughts, and lick her tears away. You will always live with her in her heart, and with thoughts of you in her soul, she will never be lonely again."

And the skies cleared, and the stars disappeared, for the magical black dog had chased them all away.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

A Little Help?

When I lost my job, as seems to be happening to many people lately, my kids were thrilled. They had visions of home-cooked meals, more 'Mommy' time, and improved service from their waitress. Since they're not regular readers of my column, they had no idea how disillusioned they were.

There are tougher things than working full-time and being a single parent, but the list is short. I hit the ground running and didn't stop until bedtime. Lunch consisted of nonstop errands. I quit renting movies because I'd fall asleep in the first ten minutes. "Me" time was zzzzzzzzz.

As far as chores went, sadly, often the easiest way out was to just do them myself. Folding laundry took less time than showing an ornery 9-year-old how to do it. The kids knew I wasn't up to dictating the finer points of a wrinkle-free lifestyle.

Now, however, I had time to think about who should clean what, and how, with what, and when. Armed with eight hours of sleep and Lysol, I was ready to do battle with my raggedy offspring. Visions of orderly bedrooms and healthy snacks danced in my head.

What mother of a boy hasn't dreamed of raising a tidy son? I was attempting the Everest of male perfection – to find a way to get my guys to like cleaning and still grow up to be manly men, to get them to love a spotless kitchen and march those errant socks into the laundry basket with a smile. Someday their wives would thank me. Or perhaps the wives would simply assume my boys were genetically programmed to be neat, which I would be forced to take as tacit thanks, since that's as close to a thank-you as those spoiled, ungrateful wenches would get after stealing my sons away from me and never letting them visit their poor, dear mother. Whoops, getting ahead of my angry self there.

I grabbed some dust rags and holstered my Windex. "What's that?" asked my eleven-year-old.

"It's that stuff that makes bubbles," my nine-year-old replied. They didn't even recognize cleaning supplies. This was going to be harder than I thought.

"Mom, no bubbles in the house," snarked his older brother. They both chuckled and returned to watching television.

That was it. The kid gloves were coming off. The cleaning gloves were going on. I sauntered Patton-like in front of a flickering Scooby Doo. "Gentlemen," I boomed, "The time has come.... to clean."

I handed them dust rags and disconnected the life-support to their vidiot-box. "Mom, we can't see!" they squawked.

"I have the same problem with the top of the coffee table. I can't see that either."

They stared at the rags. They stared at me. They stared at their hands. I knew they were searching their brains for a decent excuse, scanning my face for weakness, looking for a way out. The next one to flinch would lose.

"Aw, Mom, not noooooow!" The familiar white-flag whine. I won. It was now. It was time. It was going down.

They'd be gobsmacked. They'd be flabbergasted. They'd be busy. My first area to attack was the coffee table. At one end, Lego warriors fought back an onslaught of tiny plastic troll monsters. A copy of "No, David!" served as a rebel stronghold, and sticky rubber mice wallowed in the moat. Cries of “Die, trolls, die!” filled the air as the horde was eliminated.

We kept rolling. Next up was the video game corner. Long known as a notorious dust-bunny breeding ground, it was an archeological dig site dating all the way back to Pong. Mario and Luigi had perished in there without as much as a proper burial.

Yeah, guys clean. My guys clean. Yes, it may have helped that I referred to Windex as "the ultimate liquid power-tool" and encouraged them to "murtilize the evil dust bunnies.” Nevertheless, the fact remains that they cleaned and will live to clean again. We beat back the goo and clutter of a hundred tiny toys and recaptured a small part of my sanity.

Losing my day job gave me time to focus on my main job - being a mom, and being, whether they liked it or not, there for my kids. Kids who could learn to eat a few more vegetables once in a while. Hmmmm….

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Irish Rovin'

Top 'o the blog to you this fine and glorious day. All the hills around are wearin' green, much like the hills of Erin.

Enough with the blarney chatter. I’m here to set you straight about Ireland's mythic lore. It's for real. Real enough for me to believe. Real enough for you to consider. Sit down and travel with me now.

Long ago I entered a contest for a trip to Ireland. Time has faded the details, but my mother insists it was because of my dulcet writing skills that I won, and one thing I've learned is to never argue with an Irish mother about their offspring. I only remember getting a telegram at my college dorm room informing me I had round-trip tickets. (For the younger readers, a telegram was a slip of paper with a note on it that a delivery person would give you to read. This was before texting, email, even computers. Yes, I'm aware I'm old.)

My first reaction was that it was a college prank and I very nearly tore it up, yelling at the frightened delivery man that he was a shabby fake, but it (and he) turned out to be quite real. So away I went to spend my winter holiday. I flew into Shannon Airport near Limerick in December, offseason, because I thought I could get a better 'backstage' view of the country that way and because I had the luxury of taking nearly a month wandering and exploring to my heart’s content. All too often vacations are crammed into a week or two when they desperately need more time. Spending a little more to discover the contents of your heart is a tactic I heartily recommend.

In Limerick I settled into a “Bed & Breakfast.” “B&B’s,” especially the smaller ones, offer an amazing peek into daily Irish life. Typically you reside with an Irish family in their home, with very little dividing you from their private lives. You eat at their table and sleep in their guest room. They welcome stories from America, and share their own tales. Personally, I’m so enthralled with the Irish brogue that they could read a grocery list and I’d listen. But their take on history, both near and far, is eye-opening. Keep in mind that history over there goes back not hundreds of years, but thousands. That kind of perspective makes slowing down and taking your time less of a crime that it seems to be here in the states. In the land of eons, what’s an extra week?

My introduction to Irish ways began years before. When most children heard bedside lullabies, our mother treated us to such hair-raising stories as “The Bloody Hand of McGuinness.” McGuinness had fallen in love with a princess, but her father, the king, held a contest for her hand in marriage. Who ever touched the far side of the river first would wed his daughter. Desperate, McGuinness cut off his hand and threw it across, winning the contest, and becoming royalty (and a lefty) in the process. Quite the lively story, matched only by the nightmares that sometimes followed such a tale.

And here I was in the land of such legends, wandering and wondering. I walked much of Limerick, blending in a bit in an effort to savor the town. During the standard tourist season, May through October, Ireland puts on its best face for a rousing, thriving tourist industry. After that, things relax even more than they usually do. Then the fun really begins.

The entire country is a series of small towns and large hearts. Even in big cities, people talk to you as if they were continuing yesterday’s conversation with an old friend. In pubs. On buses. In pubs. Did I mention pubs? Aside from the glorious stout and local brews, I was introduced to DuBonnet & White, a wonderful wine spritzer made with lemonade and perfect for the tasty cheese sandwiches offered everywhere. Bread is made fresh daily, as are the most incredible pastries.

In Limerick, a distant relative of mine proudly made me an “American pizza with everything on it.” At first glance, the pie appeared unassuming - cheese, sauce, dough. When I bit into it, I found the 'everything' was under the cheese and sauce. This made odd but reasonable sense considering the toppings that could normally fall off were now well-secured by mozzarella.

Another distant relative (the Isle is crawling with them) gave me a wonderful tour of the countryside, following a path taken by rally (racecar) drivers, most likely because the route passed every pub in the area. We, on the other hand, did not pass every pub. Passing even one would be considered unsociable, so instead we stopped at every pub.

At Durty Nelly’s, a pub founded in 1620 just outside Limerick, we tipped a pint. Compared to many taverns, Durty Nelly’s is a bit of a tourist stop, considering it sits right next to Bunratty Castle, an authentic if commercial tribute to Erin’s past. Nevertheless, I held a pint at the bar, bumping my hip on an odd spot in the wood. The bartender explained that since knights would stand at that very spot, eventually the scabbards of their swords had worn that spot in the bar. Over the course of several hundred years.

Near the Cliffs of Moher was a pub with the most marvelous music playing. I asked the proprietor what it was and he replied, “Jigs and reels.” I asked him to be more specific, and he handed me the cassette tape. One side was labeled “Jigs & Reels.” The other side was of course entitled, “More Jigs & Reels.” Alas, sometimes the best tunes never break the top 4o.
At a tavern south of Galway, a group of men was gathered in the back, staring quite seriously and silently at something on television. Perhaps a poetry reading or a political speech. When I got brave enough to peek around at the object of their attention, I found it to be a Tom & Jerry cartoon.

Continuing our pub crawl, I spied an interesting crest – one with a red hand on it, blood dripping from the bottom. “That’s the crest of McGuinness,” a patron replied as he caught me staring at the grisly plaque. He explained the ancient tale I already knew - the very same story my mother used to tell at bedtime. I had written it off as Blarney until I spied the crest on the wall. The hair on the back of my neck was slowly rising.

Our mother had told us other stories. Ancient, unbelievable stories of our ancestors. In 1699 BC, King Milesius of Iberia (now Spain) discovered that his brother had been killed by a wild horde in Ireland. (For my mother’s sake we'll ignore the fact that the king’s brother shouldn't have been messing in Ireland in the first place.) To avenge his death, Milesius got royally peeved and sent his eight sons to invade Ireland. Five of the king's sons were killed in the attack, but three survived and established the clan of the Milesians.

My family is direct descendants of this tribe. To this day, if anyone in our clan is the least bit threatened, we all invade, conquer, and pillage. My mother swore this all to be true- it had to be, since, she argued, it had an exact date attached to it. Plus it featured the very impressive name, Milesius. If you need more proof, please refer to the rule mentioned in the third paragraph above about never arguing with an Irish woman.

For the record, my father’s mom denied the story, saying that the Milesians, as the Spanish Armada after them, all ‘drrrrrowned on the rrrrocks.” I’m afraid that has less to do with true history than an Irish Nana being afraid of sharing Spanish bloodlines with her Puerto Rican neighbors.

I had the precious gift of time and the precocious gift of odd perspective, so I skipped the Blarney Stone completely (you don't know want to know where that thing's been) and headed off for something different. Dingle Bay was other-worldly, not only for the incredible charm of this fishing village, but for being a Gaeltacht, a place lost in time where the natives speak the ancient language of Ireland. Lilting, rhythmic, and unique, Gaelic sounds a bit like melted Portuguese. When you have no hope of understanding a single word, the focus turns to the tune and meter of the voice. An Daingean, as Dingle Bay is known in Gaelic, was pure music.

A friend had rented a car to explore the back country, and we toured the Ring of Kerry, a wonderful loop of road in the Southwest. As I shared the eerie tales my mother had told me years ago, we veered off N70, southwest of Killarney, just because we could. We came upon a tiny, crooked sign that read, "Scenic Route." No details, but all the quaintness of an impish leprechaun. We followed the trail up into the hills, and it evolved into an 8-kilometer-long, single-lane, goat-path of a dead-end. The most interesting dead-end I've ever been on in my life.

The road ended at a gate. I approached it, finding a small tin box and another enigmatic sign. “Admission – 10p.” I looked around. There was no one to see whether I paid or not. Tickled, I plunked my pence into the box and listened as it hit other coins. This was already worth the price of admission.

We were up in the mountains near the coast, and the breeze picked up a bit. I heard a goat nearby. He turned out to be our tour guide to an ancient staigue fort, a monstrous monument built of stone upon rough-hewn stone. Shaped like a huge horseshoe and overlooking the ocean, the fort commanded an incredible view. The walls were at least twelve feet high, six feet deep, rock deftly tucked into rock ages ago. It was open to the sky, the goat grazing contently in the middle while the wind swirled past me and history. It was then that I found the plaque.

“In 1699 BC, King Milesius invaded Ireland…” I was standing directly on my great ancestor’s landing place. As I gathered myself, the fort seemed to spin around me, and I wondered at the odds of the world twirling for 3700 years with me coming round to the same place, with the same blood flowing through my veins as had this angry king.

The grave of Fial, daughter of Milesius, was down the mountainside a bit. A massive pile of stones, I could imagine the little Milesian boys getting in trouble for playing with the rocks –“Oh, fer pity’s sake, Heremon, Junior, leave your Auntie Fial be!”

The goat and I looked out at the ocean. We could see the skelligs, natural stone spires sticking out of the ocean hundreds of feet high. My direct ancestor, Ir, a son of Milesius, died in a shipwreck on treacherous Skellig Michael. Legend has it that monks would climb up and out on the skelligs to kiss a cross and hopefully live to pray again. Sort of an early drinking game that fell out of popularity... literally.

A place of natural and brutal beauty, Ireland invades your heart and soul. A mystical blend of light heart and tragedy, it epitomizes the splendor of contrast. Eventually, I had to leave, but always, I’m still there. While far away, it still echoes within, and always will.

When going on vacation, leave time for, well, vacation. It's quite often found in the wildest places. Just give it time and it will find you. Vacation isn’t always a where- it’s often a who. Given a chance, a good vacation transcends time, allowing you to go back and visit in your mind, relishing, remembering and reliving. Don’t wait to win a contest – go. And failte.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Live, From Texas and Ohio, it's Democrat D-Day!

Step right up and dangle your chad - we have all the makings of an exciting political showdown. The Democratic Sweeps Week is giving "Lost" a run for its money as top topic at the water cooler. If a similar thing was happening in, for instance, baseball, I'd be excited. But this is our country's future, my healthcare, my war, my gas tank, so I'm more nervous than excited. Next to this, sports and entertainment trophies pale in comparison.

For the Democrats, it's anybody's horse race. Hillary has gone to the whip, scoring key tv appearances on Saturday Night Live and The Daily Show. Barack is spending like there's no tomorrow (there isn't). American Idol has nothing on how these two perform.

Obama certainly sings a lovely song. "I'm asking you to believe," croons his website. "Not just in my ability to bring about real change in Washington...I'm asking you to believe in yours." The problem is, we don't need another song. We need a solution. We need to quit dreaming and get doing. His bedside manner is quite charming, but anyone who marries for charm finds out what happens when the honeymoon is over. The dream can become a nightmare. A weak dollar, an ugly war, it's time to wake up. No more snooze alarm.

Sadly, the best soundbite often supercedes the best intentions. Is Clinton getting choked up during her campaign really more of a story that than Bush not getting choked up about invading Iraq? A little emotion once in a while usually illustrates a heartfelt decision. (For the record, I've shown more emotion at a shoe sale at Nordstrom than Hillary ever displayed in her emo non-event.)

Hillary contends that Barack's dream is a projection of what people want to see. What dream isn't? Everyone likes to dream. Dreaming is fun. That's a big part of the Obama allure. Clinton, on the other hand, is Monday morning reality. Not our favorite time of the week, but if you're gonna get something done, that's the time to do it. Not in your dreams.

Let's leave the excitement and dreaming for the reality TV stars. When G.W. Bush was running against Al Gore, a friend commented that Gore was "boring." I replied, "I'll take boring over stupid any day." That time around, not quite enough people did. And here we are.

I'm done sleeping. I'm picking the doer over the dreamer.