Saturday, April 28, 2007

April Showers Bring...Babies.

I love a good party. So when Catherine, Kristen, Julie and Nancy invited me to my very first virtual Baby Shower for Liz (Mom-101), Christina (A Mommy Story) and Tammie (Soul Gardening) - I immediately RSVP'd 'yes.' But then I started thinking about the finger-sandwich platter I wouldn't get to attack, and the rum-spiked punch I wouldn't be able to chug and then pass out from. And what about the chip and dip platter I wouldn't be able to stuff my face with while I pretended to be interested in the conversation taking place between the two ponytailed übermoms sipping their Coke Zeros nearby?

But then I realized that even though I wouldn't be able to overindulge on party food, I wouldn't have to down all those Tums when I got home either. Or have to eat pureed pees in that tortuous "Name That Food" game that was all the rage a few years ago. In fact, I could stay at home and eat whatever the hell I wanted. Why, I could even do it without having to put on any makeup, while wearing my pajamas and sitting on my butt in front of the computer.

What a brilliant idea. Only virtual showers from now on!

I'd been asked to do a post sharing the very best and very worst advice I'd gotten when I was pregnant. Being that my first pregnancy was eleven years ago, I'm having a hard time remembering any of the advice I got, but I can think of advice that I wish I'd gotten. Things that, if someone had told me back then would certainly have saved me alot of anguish, time and threats to Rigel that I was going to run off and have the baby in a hut in Belize. And here they are:

1. No one's going to give a rat's ass about the fabric pattern on the stroller.
Buying our first stroller was traumatic, and I'm pretty sure that the scientists at NASA didn't even put this much thought into their first space launch. We combed through Consumers Reports, visited five-thousand baby stores and stopped strangers on the street to ask them for stroller advice. When we finally decided on one and went to the store to buy it - the horror - they didn't have the exact fabric I wanted. Rigel had the nerve to suggest we buy what they had, but I insisted on getting the muted blue plaid, and who's going to argue with a pregnant woman who's the size of a barn?

And so we drove to another city, fifty miles away, to get our stroller. And wouldn't you know, not one damn person commented on the stunning fabric pattern. Commoners!

2. If friends ask if you need help, or would like a backrub, or should they bring anything over, your only answers should be, "Yes," "God, Yes," and "A Macho Taco combo from Chevy's."
I don't know about the rest of you, but I was always reluctant to accept help or favors, even when it was offered. I had family here to help and they were lifesavers, but sometimes friends can bring that extra something outside of the daily routine. My mom, my sister and sister-in-law were pretty tapped out helping me with diapers, feedings and nail clippings and probably would have kicked my ungrateful ass if I had asked them to run out and get me a tall-half-caf-percent-semi-dry-cappuccino and a brownie.

3. Really, spending five hours boiling nipples and sterilizing bottles is a bit much.
I distinctly remember the first time I used a baby bottle and the paranoid frenzy that preceded it. I believe I not only made sure my kitchen counter was spotless, but I vaguely recall insisting that the whole house and that of any neighbor's within a two-mile radius be scrubbed and disinfected with industrial bleach as well. I think I boiled those suckers for days, and then put on a hazmat suit to fill them with frozen breastmilk. But come to think of it, I believe it was the last time my kitchen was clean.

4. No one's going to give a rat's ass if the crib doesn't exactly match the nightstand.
See #1.

5. Babies don't need nightstands.
Need I say more.

Liz, Christine and Tammie - I'm wishing you the best as you get ready to welcome your new babies into the world. Enjoy it - and I'll check and see when I can send over that taco combo.

(Thanks to Catherine, Kristen, Julie and Nancy for putting this on. And for saving me a trip to Babies R Us.)

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Thursday, April 26, 2007

A Not-So-Sporting Life.

I was hovering around the snack table at a birthday party recently and started talking to a woman whose daughter was the same age as Kira. We both thought we had seen each other before and tried to figure out where our paths might have crossed. She mentioned some activities we possibly had in common: Soccer league? Summer softball? Basketball camp? I told her it was highly unlikely she had seen anyone in our family at these events, since it would have required us to be outside, chasing a ball and breaking a sweat. I threw out some suggestions of my own: Fighting over a muffin at Starbucks? Buying toilet paper at the grocery store after midnight? She left to talk to someone else after that, which was fine since she was starting to hog all the dip.

As you can tell we're not a team-sports kind of family. Rigel is an avid tennis player and plays once a week, but he never played on any teams when he was young. I played basketball when I was around 11, but it was pure torture, and my most vivid memory is of falling off the bench during a game. I'd like to say it was because of a heated girl-fight over a bad foul, but in fact it happened when I leaned over to see how many minutes until lunch and fell on my face when my feet got tangled in each other. The coach never let me play much after that, which wouldn't have been so bad if he didn't insist that I sit on the floor wearing a helmet.

I often feel pressured to involve our kids in sports but I'm not knocking it altogether. I think the physical exercise it provides and the camaraderie is important, and hey - those teeny cleats are so dang cute! It's just that having two daughters who have absolutely no interest in joining a team, who would rather design the soccer uniforms than wear them, makes us definite outsiders. Sometimes when I tell other parents our Saturday plans involve neither games, tailgate parties or tournaments they eye me suspiciously, like I had just told them we'd be holed up in our house all weekend cooking up big vats of meth instead.

I admit that Rigel and I aren't exactly inspiring our kids to become team players, but let me just say that they do get their share of exercise - at least twice a year we insist that they turn off their Nintendos, put down their liter-bottles of Coke and go outside. But breaking free of our DNA is hard, and they gravitate towards activities where it's not necessary for them to co-exist peacefully with twelve other players or where they don't have to learn to lose gracefully. They play badminton, or handball or lately they've been rollerskating - not rollerblading, but the four-wheel kind, which is what all the young kids are doing. Or at least they used to - FIFTY YEARS AGO.

And it gets better! We just bought a croquet set - can we possibly get any nerdier? We're having fun playing it, but unfortunately I can't get enough people together to form a league and there don't seem to be any listings for croquet tournaments on ESPN. Once they get tired of this, I'll be signing the girls up for shuffleboard and then dropping them off at the senior center for big-stakes bingo.

When Kira was six and most of her friends were already on their fourth year of team sports, I thought it was time to join the ranks and sign her up. I was getting tired of going to other peoples homes and seeing those trophies for "Best Goalie In Diapers" and hearing about the baseball scholarships they'd already secured for their fancy preschools. I told her she could choose any sport she wanted and I'd find a team for her to join. She thought about it for a few minutes and after some careful consideration told me, "Jumprope."

I have to admit I loved that answer, and it makes me think about how happy my girls would be if they were allowed to continue to keep playing as children. What about a Freeze-Tag Tournament, or a World Series of Hopscotch? I know that's just the sports nerd in me and they may not always prefer a birdie over a bat. But in the meantime I'll be outside, kicking the hackeysack around with them and setting up their tetherball.

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Monday, April 23, 2007

NEW!! Sweatpantsmom Cleans AND Disinfects!

Come and visit my new site, Views From The Pants, where I'll be reviewing products, restaurants, books and movies and giving unsolicited, rarely useful advice on a variety of topics.

Today is my first review, where I'll be talking about my adventures using Cozi Central, a free web-based organizing program. Don't miss the excitement as I give you rare insight into my grocery shopping list and then demonstrate some really juvenile things you can do using their awesome cell phone interface.

Come join me, won't you?

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Thursday, April 19, 2007

Daddy's Girls, Now With More Megahertz!

In the last two weeks we celebrated both Kira and Rigel's birthdays. Kira turned eleven, and Rigel turned - well, older than that. I don't see any need to reveal too much here about his age, especially seeing as he is a whole four months younger than me. It's not a big age difference, but I still like to think of us as one of those modern couples with an Ashton Kutcher/Demi Moore kind of thing going on. That is, without the fame, money, hard bodies and flawless skin. Uh, come to think of it, more like a Harold and Maude kind of thing.

As she always does Kira put together her massive Birthday Wish List, neatly typed, numbered and then emailed to me with the subject line, "Just a few things!" It contained everything from a pack of trading cards to a $150 skateboard, and as usual she included helpful notations to assist the confused gift giver, "iDog (NOT iDOG MINI)" and when referring to the overpriced skateboard she humbly added, "Any design!" She's good at these lists, and I can't help but feel sorry for her future husband who no doubt will receive similar lists before any gifting occasion with things like, "Mercedes Benz (NOT C CLASS)" and "4-Carat Diamond (Flawless, natch!)"

Fortunately, as the girls have gotten older Rigel is showing an added interest in shopping for them. Before, I'd only give him an item or two to pick up on his way home from work and I always felt bad for him, having to pass by the aisles of remote-controlled monster trucks to spend all his time picking out tea sets and rhinestone jewelry boxes. He'd usually call me on his cell phone from the store, sounding a little miffed and wondering why the hell Barbie needed her own helicopter, anyway and threatening to buy the girls that set of science encyclopedias. I'd pretend to sympathize and then listen to his stories when he got home about being hopelessly trapped in the Polly Pocket aisle of Toys R Us, searching for the Magic Dream Condo, the one "with the pool (NOT THE JACUZZI.)"

But now, with the girls growing sophistication in taste, he's come to realize that they actually want stuff that he likes buying. When the girls wanted guitars a couple of years ago, I didn't have to do much arm twisting to get him to spend hours at Guitar Center researching kids Fenders and miniature amps. He thought buying Kiyomi a drum set for Christmas was insane, so he spent several nights at three different music stores to prove his point and came home with a mixing board for himself instead. Even the request for a video game requires a visit to Best Buy, which beats trolling the aisles of Target looking for kitchen playsets any day.

This year we decided to get this for Kira, and Rigel seemed more than happy to pick one up at the Apple Store, much more excited than when I had mentioned him stopping by Macy's to get her that purse she'd been wanting. I was thankful, though, because it was one less thing I'd have to do, and I'm hoping for his sake and mine that this phase lasts awhile. I know that soon enough I'll be doing all the shopping again - the thought of him wandering the aisles of Sephora searching for lipgloss just seems too sad to me.

So all you dads out there with little girls, take heart. You won't always be struggling to pick out the perfect dress-up slippers or desperately trying to figure out the difference between a skirt and a skort. Soon they'll be asking for the good stuff, stuff that makes it possible for you to spend countless guilt-free hours in stores that you like while still currying the favor of your wives, and most importantly, your little consumers at home. (Sorry - spending an afternoon at Hooters because your kid likes chicken wings doesn't count.)

I've been telling Rigel to enjoy this brief period because it won't last for long. And I know that someday, when one of them sends him out at midnight to buy tampons, he'll realize just how special this time really was.

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Monday, April 16, 2007

If She Can Play A Cowbell He Might Consider It.

A few months ago I wrote about losing our pet cat, Mookie. Even though she was an ornery thing who had attacked and scratched every one of us and all of our friends and family members, we still loved her just the same. The girls had grown especially close to her and took her loss very hard, although up until three years ago they were afraid to get near her because of her frequent and unprovoked attacks. One of my earliest memories of the bond between our child and beloved pet is of a 2-year old Kira running into the housse screaming, "Kitty hates me! She's EVIL. EVIIIIIILLLLLL!" Like I said, they were really close.

Ever since she died the girls have been pining for a new cat. I'm all for it but Rigel is holding out, hoping that if he stalls long enough he can put it off for awhile, maybe until the summer or better yet until they get their own apartment. I don't really blame him as most of the cat duties fell on him, from the cleaning of the cat box to the weekly job of removing the ninety-pounds of cat hair that had amassed inside the garage. He'd emerge from these cleanings in a foul mood, cursing out loud about how emasculating it was to use a power drill that was covered in soft black and white kitty fur.

A couple of days ago Rigel's sister sent me this video with the message, "...maybe you could talk Rigel into getting a cat for the girls if the cat could play an instrument and could join his band." I am so not into animal videos, especially ones where people film their pets doing amazingly cute things, but for some reason this one made me laugh so hard I nearly coughed up a furball.

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Thursday, April 12, 2007

Wishing We Could Hunt Eggs Forever.

We spent the last part of our Spring Break as the guests of good friends of ours who own a ranch a few hours outside of L.A. They've refurbished three small houses on their property into charming guest cottages, and we had an entire house all to ourselves along with a beautiful, unobstructed view of a lake. As if all of that wasn't perfect enough, our hosts drove their own espresso machine all the way up from L.A. and placed it in our kitchen because they know, and are slightly afraid of, how miserable, cranky and abusive I get without my 4pm double-shot cappuccino. It was like the Starbucks Bunny leaving me his golden egg.

We love hanging out with these friends, and an added bonus is that their two daughters are Kira and Kiyomi's best buddies. When the four of them are together they form an impenetrable unit and mysteriously seem to exist without any adult intervention. They enjoy an autonomy during these times that miraculously empowers them to even - gasp - get their own snacks. So while the girls raided the cupboards, played croquet and drew outfits for their band, the four of us adults were left to sit on the porch admiring the lake, drinking good wine and most importantly, planning our naps.

Their ranch sits on over a hundred acres, and one of the best things about being there was seeing the freedom that our girls enjoyed. We felt comfortable having them out of our sight and they could easily move from one house to the next since they were less than fifty-feet from each other. Kiyomi would wake up early in the mornings, run next door and wake someone else up for a change and it was glorious. At home my paranoia and the threat of child abductors, feral dogs and meteors prevents me from rarely letting them out the front door without supervision. They're allowed to ride their scooters or skate the length of our street, and can go slightly farther than that if one of us is standing outside monitoring their every move with a military tracking device. I figure that by the time they're in college they'll be allowed to go completely around the block, as long as they call us on their cell phones from the halfway point.

As you can imagine, being in such an idyllic setting got Rigel and I thinking of how nice it would be to have a vacation home of our own. A place to retreat to on the weekends, a place for our kids to grow up with and our grandchildren to fight over. We started hallucinating, "We could do this!" and after a couple glasses of wine actually believed that we could afford such an endeavor and came up with a concrete plan to make it happen. But eventually the truth set in and we came to our senses - I had to concede that no one is actually going to pay me for a lap dance and Rigel wisely decided that he should hold on to both his kidneys.

We had a great time, but I have to say that as I watched the girls squealing during their Easter egg hunt I got a little melancholy. I know that activities like these will soon be a thing of the past as they give way to other more mature pursuits - my gut tells me that soon they'll be doing the hiding and it'll be something more contraband than eggs. At times like these I have to remind myself to live in the moment, and to enjoy these glimpses that are gone in an instant. Watching Kiyomi fly a kite, seeing all four girls bake a cake for Rigel's birthday that we celebrated that weekend, even the sixty seconds of paralyzing fear I felt when our friends mentioned they "may have seen a rattlesnake." They're all memories that are there for me to bask in, grasp and tuck away. I just need to remember to stop, step out onto the porch and smell that double-shot.

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Tuesday, April 10, 2007

One Step Away From A Hairnet And A Housecoat.

I was talking to a friend last week and she started telling me how she had driven her kids to school that morning while still wearing her pajamas. I'm so envious of this - my girls are younger and I still have to park and walk them onto campus every morning. This means I need to at least pull on a decent pair of pants, although I can keep my pajama top on as long as I cover it with a jacket. I call this The Half Pajama Maneuver, and I admit that giving it a name isn't nearly as alarming as the fact that I'm incapable of putting on a decent set of clothes in the morning.

We started trading fashion tips, such as her trick of sometimes doing the Reverse Half Pajama Maneuver, meaning she keeps her bottoms on but puts on a nice top since she'll only be seen from the armpits-up while in her car. I told her about my miraculous Donna Karan sweats that do double-duty as both sleeping apparel and school-drop-off attire, which allows me to move efficiently from my bed straight to the drivers seat of my van and then - ta da! - back into bed. At least I don't have a name for this maneuver. Oh wait, I do - pathetic.

A few days later I had a conversation with another friend about birthday parties. Both of us have kids that are old enough to be dropped off at these events, but we were complaining about always being that one parent who is asked to stay and help with the party festivities. While other parents manage to make a clean getaway, happily skipping off to their spa appointments or afternoon matinees we find ourselves dishing out cake or lacing up skates on fourteen pairs of feet. She suggested maybe showing up looking slightly disheveled and mumbling about having left something in the oven, but I thought that approach was too subtle. Why not show up dressed entirely inappropriately - chances are no one is going to ask you to stay and organize the piñata line when you're wearing a halter top and ass-less chaps.

As my kids get older I'm starting to see a pattern here, and it's not pretty. Gone are the days when I'd be happy to throw on a clean pair of capris and a t-shirt to take the girls to Gymboree, or pull on a decent outfit when I knew I'd be chatting with other parents at the birthday party at the bowling alley. Now I have entire conversations with other moms that center around strategies for making oneself appear as socially unacceptable as possible. At this rate it's almost guaranteed I'll be showing up at the girls' high school graduations in my bathrobe and a fanny pack stuffed with cans of Bud Lite.

My gig may be up, though, as I'm starting to embarrass the girls. The other morning I was walking them through the parking lot and Kira pulled at my sweatshirt that was peeking out from under my jacket.

"Omigod. Are you wearing your...pajamas?" she asked, sounding like she was truly afraid to hear the answer. Like how I remember sounding when I was asking my Dad if it was really necessary that he sit down and talk to my prom date before we left the house.

"Of course not. This is my sweatshirt," I corrected her as I yanked my jacket back down over it.

"But didn't you sleep in it?"

I had nothing to say to this. It's time to shape up, abandon my lazy ways and start getting dressed in the mornings in a decent, respectful manner and to start setting a good example for my children.

Or buy a longer jacket.

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Many humble thanks to lildb of I Obsess for nominating me for a ROFL Award for this post.

March ROFL Award

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Wednesday, April 04, 2007

The Post Where I Coin The Phrase "Mother Of All Time-Suckers."

Rigel is out tonight, holed up in a studio somewhere with his bandmates putting the finishing touches on their demo. They got a great response to their two shows last year at B.B Kings Blues Club and decided to record some of their songs. Mostly they're just doing it for themselves and maybe to send out to clubs to get more bookings, although let's face it - it's all starting to sound like they're one step closer to spandex jumpsuits, permed hair and hotel rooms filled with underage groupies.

I'm a hundred-percent behind his double life as a rock star as he is behind me and all of my hobbies, including the time-sucking one that is writing. I have another project in the works that I can't mention for fear of jinxing it, but if it happens will be prove to be the mother of all time-suckers, and he's voiced his support for that as well. I feel pretty fortunate that we have a marriage where we can give each other the space to pursue other interests, although we reserve the right to put our foot down if it gets out of hand. For instance, he can erase my Blogger account if he finds out I've locked the kids in the garage so that I can finish writing a post, and I get to drive over his guitar with the van if he starts using a fake British accent or decides that he'd like to snort the ashes of a deceased loved one.

But we have our detractors, those that don't entirely approve of our seemingly divergent lifestyles. It may be as subtle as the "You sure get out of the house alot" when Rigel mentions his band, or the raised eyebrow I got from the friend who saw me alone at Borders on a Saturday afternoon while she was busily herding her kids into storytime. And then there's this comment from another mom, "That's why I love my kids being in soccer. We spend time together. As a family." She said those last words almost as a reprimand, as if to say, "You and your hobbies. What's next? Going on tour and leaving the kids with a stack of Lunchables and your ATM card?"

I find myself having to defend our actions, pointing out that most of our time spent on personal pursuits are when the kids are at school or asleep, and emphasizing how much time we actually do spend together as a family. I feel pressured to whip out appointment calendars with highlighted dates showing that weekend we spent in Yosemite and trips to the beach and the museum. Soon I'm sure I'll be forced to show receipts from amusement parks, movie ticket stubs and testimonial notes from waiters saying things like, "Dined together as a family of four. Looked very happy."

We're fine with the fact that our outside interests aren't the same and that it means we spend some of our free time apart from each other. I'm certainly not ruling out ever having a shared hobby or pursing the same activity - it's just that for some reason I could never see Rigel and I spending an afternoon antiquing together, or high-fiving each other during a heated game of bridge. Aside from reading my work he understands that writing is a solitary pursuit, and unless I learn to play a killer tambourine or they need a kazoo solo I certainly won't be joining his band anytime soon. I guess there's always bird watching together someday, while our teeth are soaking in a glass and we're waiting for the grandkids to come and take us to Denny's for the Senior Slam.

But we shouldn't have to defend ourselves. Because we're joined as a couple does that also mean we're joined at the hip? Is one of us supposed to suppress our passion for a particular pursuit to appease the other? I don't think so. I've always felt that part of a successful relationship is allowing the other person to be who they are and to encourage the other to pursue those things that make them happy while still being faithful to the marriage and the family. And I'm not just saying this because I read it on that Dr. Phil book cover while I was waiting in line at the supermarket today.

So to those who may judge us and think we're too self-involved, or mistakenly assume that we don't spend enough time together or with our kids, or tsk-tsk because we won't join you in attending the Pasta For Lovers cooking class at the Y, I have this to say:

Get a life! Preferably, your own.

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Monday, April 02, 2007

That Blog Girl Awards Her Perfect Post.

A few weeks ago I had lunch with a client and she brought along a friend of hers - let's call her, oh, Trout Lady. No particular reason - just an image that came to mind. Trout Lady owns an up-and-coming restaurant nearby and wasted no time in making sure I was aware of this. She then spent practically the entire meal showing off her vast, vast knowledge of all things food. Why, Trout Lady was a virtual expert on everything gastronomical - from which restaurants were the best in town to the origin of the parmesan in our caesar salad. At any moment I expected her to whip out a computer and subject us to a Power Point presentation showing us the path the food was taking through our digestive tract. And the adjectives! Everything was preceded by a precious descriptive word, to further demonstrate her appreciation of the meal being served to the heathens she was so unfortunate to be dining with. I mean, call me simple, but using the word 'ethereal' to describe a pork chop just smacks of elitism.

Apparently my client had previously mentioned my blog to Trout Lady and midway through the meal asked her if she had had a chance to read any of it. At this point Trout Lady, flustered that anyone would interrupt her twenty-minute speech on the acid content of Bavarian balsamic vinegar, stopped, looked at me and then said caustically, "Oh. So you're that blog girl." I would later hear her use this same tone when she reproached the waiter for failing to shave just the right amount of truffles on her risotto.

I didn't have time to respond, as she immediately launched into a diatribe about the overuse of capers by American chefs, but if I could have I would have said this:

Why, yes - I AM That Blog Girl, thank you, and proud of it. Extremely fortunate to be part of a supportive community of talented people. Happy to be able to record and share my thoughts on everything from my children's emerging musical tastes to my husband's inability to stack juice boxes. And, most of all, grateful to have access to amazing writing by my fellow bloggers that has the power to make me laugh out loud, shake my fists or move me to tears, all at the same time. All while sitting comfortably in front of my computer while enjoying an ethereal cup of coffee, I might add. Put that in your panini and grill it, Trout Lady.

And if I could have? I would have sauteed, plated and served her (with a delicate beurre blanc) this tasty post by one of my favorite bloggers, Moobs. On the journey to his wife's grandmother's funeral he reminisces about her life and the Alzheimer's that, at the end of her days would leave her frightened and confused. But in his usual expert mix of humor and poignancy makes his tribute more about her life than her death. In this passage, where he recounts their first meeting at an expensive vacation paid for by his wife's family, Gran attempts to show Moobs that she's definitely the boss of him:

Once seated I squeezed at whatever mental gland secretes small talk and got ready to nod at anything she said. I was in the middle of saying how lovely something was when she leaned over towards me and said in a voice that echoed around the mountain slopes “You are only here because of my husband." I nodded politely before the penny began to drop. At first I was confused. Was she saying her husband and I were related? Sensing that I may not have followed her train of thought she leant forward a second time and said, "It’s HIS money that is paying for YOUR holiday." I bridled and had to fight an urge to write her a cheque there and then and drop it into her lap.

But the part that got me, the words that had me grabbing for a tissue and fighting the urge to call my husband and my kids and request that they come home immediately and never leave, was this:

As I searched for my black tie today I prayed a selfish prayer: “take me first." I know there are readers who within the hour have held their child in their arms and felt the responsibility of being their baby’s whole world. It is fleeting. A friend called me to tell me this morning that his scan has shown he has heart disease. We will lose the ones we love. Yet, even though the backwards step into the shadows awaits us all, I somehow cannot bring myself to mourn. This beautiful, fragile life brings us such astonishments: the moment we first hold our lover’s hand, a baby returning our gaze, kisses, the consolations of friendship, reunions and a thousand other experiences and expressions of love. What does death teach us? Don’t waste a minute - abandon yourself to love.

That Blog Girl proudly nominates Moobs, and his piece My Old Black Tie, for a Perfect Post Award.

The Original Perfect Post Awards – March ‘07

(See the other March Perfect Post awardees at Petroville and Suburban Turmoil.)

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