Wednesday, January 5, 2011


Today I have a real-live, honest-to-goodness 15 year old daughter, one who can legally sit behind the wheel of a car and press the accelerator. I really can’t say “where has the time gone?” I know where it’s gone: the time has gone to nursery school and days at the beaches, little brothers, soccer games, and Disney World. It’s passed through New Kids on the Block and the Jonas Brothers and to All Time Low. Time has passed with baby dolls and Barbie and American Girls.

I was looking into quinceañera traditions today. It’s a Latin girl’s fifteenth birthday: kind of like a sweet sixteen, but much cooler, as I understand it.  I came across the tradition of the Last Doll. If I understand this correctly, the birthday girl receives a porcelain doll at her party; at the end of the night, the doll is passed down to a younger sister or younger family member, symbolically giving away the last toy of her childhood.

Our Last Doll ritual happened last month, even though I didn’t know it at the time. I realized, however, as I was packing up her last American Girl doll for her younger cousin, that something monumental was happening.

“She can have her; she’s in the back of my closet,” my daughter said casually. Her cousin had been asking for one for Christmas and, since those things aren’t cheap, a used one is a great find. She took her out of the closet. Her blonde hair was a little ragged and, somehow, her hand had been stained with pen ink. She still had all of the doll’s play clothes and party dresses carefully stored on tiny hangers. 

The night before we took Julie – that’s the doll’s name – to Atlanta to her cousin, I put the doll and her clothes in a tote bag for the trip, remembering her when she first appeared under the Christmas tree a few years ago, packaged carefully in her red box. And now, here I was, jamming her into a bag. I had a lump in my throat and tears in my eyes. I knew that this was my daughter’s Last Doll, the last doll she would ever play with. I’m sure that there will be others, collectibles, souvenirs – but this would be the last one who would ever go on pretend adventures in her fabulous matching outfits, and would lie in bed at night with my little girl.

But there you go. It’s the circle: little girls grow up and hand down their dolls to another little girl who will grow up… and on and on.

I learned today that there’s another beautiful quince tradition: the birthday girl receives a ring, sometimes from her mother, which symbolizes exactly that: life travels from beginning to end and back around to the beginning again.

So I am heading off to the jewelry store to buy my beautiful quinceañera a ring.

(Author's note: if I screwed up any of my information about the quinceanera, please let me know)

Friday, October 8, 2010

The Imperious and the Obsequious

Ben has a wonderful new teacher this year, who believes that students should actually be challenged.  This week’s spelling words were based on the book that his class is reading in class this month, The Secret Garden.  Since it’s a nineteenth century novel, it has some arcane words (like arcane, I suppose).  I doubt that any of these words are on Georgia’s CRCT exam, and that’s just fine with me – I’ll refrain from jumping up on my soapbox and offering my opinions on standardized tests.  At any rate, Ben came home this week with his list of 10 spelling and vocabulary words.  I was impressed.

Ben is enjoying his new spelling and vocabulary words.  He especially enjoys using them when he talks to his sister.  He has found that his new big words come in handy when he wants to insult her.

“Libby,” he told her in the car today, “I think that you are quite imperious. You’re also surly.  And you’re definitely not obsequious.  Oh yeah, and you’re also massively stout.”

Libby protested.  “I know he’s insulting me, but I don’t know what he’s saying!” 

I played along and refused to translate for her.

Libby decided to exact revenge.  We had been rocking out to “Semi-Charmed Life” by Third Eye Blind when she got a hold of the iPod.  After searching through the music library for a few minutes, she cranked up the volume and turned on… Justin Bieber.

Ben and I howled in protest.  “NO!!”

“Not fair!”  I yelled over the radio.  “You can’t do this to me! I’m collateral damage!”

Then it got worse.  She started to sing along.

Baby, baby, baby, ooh
Like baby, baby, baby ooh

We howled even louder.

Ben surrendered.  “All right! I take it back!  You are un-massively stout!  You are un-imperious!  I mean it!”

But she wouldn’t turn it off. 

As I write this, she is posting on Facebook, telling all her friends how she got Mama and Ben in the car this afternoon. 

 But I’ll show her imperious little butt. 

I’m putting on Lady GaGa when she gets in the car next time.  And I’m gonna sing along:

P-p-p-poker face, p-p-poker face
(Mum mum mum mah)
P-p-p-poker face, p-p-poker face
(Mum mum mum mah)

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Rock of the Marne Race Report: September 19, 2010

Allen and I headed up to Savannah, Georgia on September 19th to race the Rock of the Marne Sprint Triathlon.  I am turning in my race report today.

Rock of the Marne Triathlon Race Report

Fifteen Good Reasons, and One Excellent Reason, Why Rock of the Marne is My New Favorite Triathlon

1.  The name:  “Rock of the Marne Triathlon.”  Even if you didn’t know that “Rock of the Marne” is the nickname of the Army’s 3rd Infantry Division, how cool is that for a triathlon name?

2.  It’s the oldest triathlon on the US Mainland. First raced in 1979, as a half-Ironman, by a few guys who got together to swim a little, bike a little, drink a little, then run a little.  Apparently, in that order.

3.  Beer.

4.  From a bottle.

5. Served in a glass.

6.  At 9 in the morning.

7.  It was fun watching Allen try to balance his bike and gear on the way to the car after he had his two beers.

8.  It’s a deep water start in Savannah’s Forest River.  And you get to jump off a dock to get into it.

9.  It’s a flat, fast bike course around the perimeter of Hunter Army Air Field.  And it’s a pretty nice tour of the base, too (and, at the speed I go, the bike really is a “tour” for me).

10.  I got to chat it up in the beer line with a bunch of hottie male triathletes (triathletes get better as they age- grrrrr….).

11.  I beat Allen in the swim- again- even though the last time that I swam was about a month ago (but he whips my ass in everything else, including transition).

12. The race director instructed us not to park in the church parking lot across the street (it’s Sunday) – or you will be “struck DEAD!”

13.  There was no pressure to attempt to place in my age group after I saw the Team USA uniforms on a number of the athletes there, and realized that they just got back from the World Championships….

14. I actually beat the girl on the beach cruiser.

15. We parked at the mall across from the base. It doesn’t get any better than that:  triathlon and shopping.

The Most Excellent Reason:

 It really got me, and I got choked up, when the race director announced, after I crossed the finish line, that I was”… racing in honor of her son-in-law (to be), Sgt Charles Gaines, 3rd Infantry Division, Iraq.”

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Lost Loves, Part II: Please Stay in Florida

Ben has a Lost Love now, too.  It is summer, 2010, and our last day of vacation in the Florida Keys.  We are camping on Sugarloaf Key and we are trying to squeeze every last second out of the day, before we have to pack the Scamp and head home.

Allen and I are heading out into the Bay in our kayaks, to see if it’s possible to paddle out to sea from our campground; Libby is reading or writing or texting or doing all three at the same time.  Ben wants to go to the pool.

Although I am Paranoid Mom, Allen convinces me that there will be other people at the pool and I will not find him at the bottom of it after we finish kayaking. 

He returns, having not drowned, as we are beginning to pack the camper.  He is quiet, and he looks sad.  This is not an uncommon occurrence, since Ben is like me, what you’d call “sensitive.”  Having his Nintendo DS run out of power can cause this kind of behavior with Ben.

Today, we are unable to pry the reason for his angst from him.  He just won’t tell us.  This is serious.

Finally, we throw out a wild guess: “Ben, is this about a girl?”

Bingo.  The gates open up, and the story spills out.

She’s from Arkansas.  She’s on vacation with her parents.  They have come to the Keys for Mini-Lobster season, a yearly 24 hour grab for Florida Lobster which precedes the actual Florida Lobster Season.

Ben met her at the pool.  They swam, and they talked a lot.  They both love video games.  She knows a great app that Ben should put on my iPhone:  “Bowmen Attack.” They are, obviously, perfectly suited for each other.  Ben is falling for her, fast.

Her parents call her.  She jumps out of the pool.  She’ll be right back, she tells Ben.

But she never comes back. 

Ben rides his bicycle over to the pool a couple more times, to see if she’s come back.  He rides around the campground trying to catch a glimpse of her.   But she’s gone, probably off in her parents’ boat to go diving for lobsters.

As we pull up to the office to check out, Ben jumps out of the truck, for one more look at the pool, just in case…

Will Ben think of her every time he plays “Bowmen Attack,” like Allen thinks of his BC co-ed when he hears “Please Come to Boston”?  Probably.  That’s how Lost Loves are. 

Author’s Note: 
Oddly, after talking about all of this, I realize that I don’t remember having a Lost Love.  Ok, maybe one, now that I think about it.  I met him during a 2:00 a.m. fire alarm, at Landis Hall at Florida State University in 1986.  We talked, we laughed, it was wonderful… but then the Fire Department gave the all-clear, and we lost track of each other in the crush of students going back into the dorm to go back to sleep until someone pulled the fire alarm at 3:00 a.m.  I moved out of the dorm right after that, sick of the college idiot freshman  fire alarm pranks.  And I never saw him again…

Any lost love stories out there?  I’d love to hear them.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Lost Loves, Part I: Please Come to Boston

Lost Loves:  those individuals who inhabit our lives, and our hearts, for a brief moment in time.  The world shifts, somehow, and for a little, you are Meant to Be; then, suddenly, the world shifts again; and as quickly as they come into your life, they go out, never to be seen again.

My favorite Lost Love story is Allen’s:

Please Come to Boston

“Come here-I have something to play for you.” 

I dragged Allen into the living room the other night.  I had a surprise for him.  My iPhone was hooked to the stereo.  I pressed the button, then took his hand and led him to the center of the room (fear not, the story isn’t going to get any steamier).  I slipped my arms around his neck and gazed up into his eyes.  I love that I can actually look up at a man—this almost never happens to 5’9” me…..

So, in the center of the living room, I drew Allen close, and gazed up at him, and began to sing along to the music:

Please come to Boston for the springtime
I’m stayin’ here with some friends and they’ve got lots of room
You can sell you paintings on the sidewalk
By the café where I hope to be workin’ soon
Please come to Boston
She said no
Boy, won’t you come home to me

He was speechless for a moment.

“Oh…. my…. gosh…..”  he finally said, a dreamy kind of smile appearing on his face.  He looked down at me, and held me tighter, and sang with me:

Hey ramblin’ boy, why don’t you settle down
Boston ain’t your kind of town
There ain’t no gold and there ain’t nobody like me
I’m the number one fan of the man from Tennessee

Libby, on the couch, watched this whole scene with teenager skepticism.  There were two middle-aged people slow dancing to lame ‘70s music in the middle of the living room.  This was somewhat odd behavior— but her mom and her step-father were somewhat odd.  It was she who coined the term “Nerd Love” to describe our romance, after all.

“She doesn’t know the story, does she?”  Allen asked.

“No, I don’t believe that she does,” I replied.

So, shuffling around the living room rug to the strains of Dave Loggins’ “Please Come to Boston,” Allen told her the story.

It was 1975, and Allen was in Submarine School in Groton, Connecticut (while I was in Elementary School over in Hamden, Connecticut, I enjoy reminding him).  He had a rare day off, and he and a fellow sailor wanted to go check out the area.  So Allen drove the fabled ’67 Firebird over to Cape Cod. 

The Cape was another world to my sun-bleached surfer boy from South Florida.  It was cold, and windy, and barren.  There were high sand dunes which obscured the view of the grey Atlantic from the road.  But, when he climbed up on one of those dunes, there were whales—whales—breaching offshore (the only whales that we have in South Florida wear Speedos on the beach).  He watched their huge forms surface for just a moment, then disappear beneath the waves.  The sight was extraordinary.  For Allen, it was like a sign:  extraordinary things were going to happen today. 

Of course, some things will always remain the same, no matter how unusual the circumstances.  Sailors must go steamin’.  They stopped in town for the night to eat lobsters, drink beer, and look for female… company.

… She was sitting at a table in the bar, laughing with her girlfriends.  She was pretty, sweet-looking – not glamorous by any means, but Allen liked looking at her.  He liked looking at her a lot.

He came over to her table and struck up a conversation.  She was with her friends on Spring Break.  She told him that she was a co-ed from Boston College.  She was smart and funny, and soon the two of them were sitting alone, talking about anything and everything.  Could it be that The One, the one that he was meant to be with forever, had suddenly entered his life? 

Allen doesn’t like to dance, but she wanted to, so she took his hand and led him to the dance floor for a slow dance. 

She drew Allen close, and she gazed up at him, and she began to sing along with the music:

Please come to Boston for the springtime….

That was it.  It was over.  My sun-bleached surfer boy sailor from South Florida was in love.  Here she was, a co-ed from Boston College, singing, asking him to come to Boston for the springtime….

This may be the best day of his life.  This was beyond extraordinary. This was a miracle.

After the dance was over, she stopped back at the table to check on her friends.  Her friends wanted to go walk around the town, see what else was going on, she told him.  She’d be back in a little while, promise, she told him.  He’d be waiting, he told her.  She squeezed his hand, and she smiled.  He watched her leave, and anticipated the moment that she’d walk back through the door again, to him.

It seemed to Allen that the night dragged on forever, shooting pool and drinking beer- and waiting for her.  And waiting for her.

She never came back. 

The next morning, he drove the Firebird sadly back down cold, gray Cape Cod and back to Groton, to finish sub school. 

He traveled around the world, then came back here to Waresboro, Georgia, and to me.   

But, all these years later, in the middle of the living room, I am the brown haired girl in the minidress on the coast of New England.  And he’s going with her, to Boston in the springtime.

Libby admits that this is, indeed, a romantic story of Lost Love.  Lost Nerd Love, maybe, but still romantic. 

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Race Report: Georgia Veterans' Triathlon 2010

Meanwhile, back at the Woman’s Triathlon….

The Georgia Veterans’ Triathlon is held, appropriately, in Georgia Veterans’ State Park, in Cordele, Georgia: up the road from Tifton, and down the road from Macon on I-75.

The park is fabulous- we’ve camped there twice, in a huge campsite, and stayed at the Lodge once, in a beautiful room (in which I proceeded to put black marks on the wall with my bike- they came off, thank goodness). The park is on Lake Blackshear, and sports both a regular gold course and a disc golf course (giving me two different opportunities to suck at golf). There’s a great museum with some great military memorabilia, a swimming beach and a couple of great restaurants. So, once you’ve finished your morning workout, and have eaten your post-race sausage dog provided by Stripling’s General Store, and take your nap, there are lots of things to do.

As for the race itself- it’s one of my faves.

The swim is a 500 yard beach start in the very nice warm water of Lake Blackshear. The bike course is rolling and a little technical, following the road that follows the edge of Lake Blackshear. The run covers 3.1 miles of park road (and is sometimes brutally hot).
It’s a well-organized, fairly small, laid back race.

The women started in the last couple of waves, so it was basically a Woman’s Triathlon later on the course. This is a very good thing.

I believe that I’ve discussed the phenomenon in other blog posts. An all-woman triathlon is very different from a co-ed triathlon. . I over-generalize, I know- we do have very assertive and aggressive riders in my gender- but there’s a different vibe there, especially amongst us back-of-the-pack female athletes. Although Cordele is, of course, a co-ed triathlon, our starting position created a Virtual Woman’s Triathlon.

Two classic examples of Woman’s Triathlon behavior from the race:

I Had to Use the Mom Voice.

As a rule, I do not mind young people racing triathlon alongside me. There are some excellent young triathletes out there. The kid that I had to deal with on the bike course, that day, was another story entirely.

Kid was an absolute nuisance on the bike. I caught up to him a couple miles into the bike, on one of the more treacherous turns in the course. He was weaving all over the road; he’d call “on your left,” start to pass, change his mind and nearly ride into another cyclist. When someone tried to pass him, he looked over at them and sped up. He drafted. He blocked.

But when Kid finally started riding to the left of the center line, I had about enough. It was time for the Mom Voice.

“You need to get on the right side of the lane NOW! You are breaking the rules, and you are going to get hit by a car and then you won’t grow up to be a pro triathlete (actually, I pray that you don’t grow up to be a pro triathlete, period).”

The Mom Voice worked- at least, long enough to get around the little monster and get some distance between us.

[At this point in the report, I would really like to climb up on my soapbox and express my views about Kid’s participation in this triathlon. But, for the sake of brevity, I will refrain. Perhaps another time. Soon.]

No, No: You Go On. I’m Not Competing Today.

I was, thankfully, past Kid and on the final couple of miles of the bike course. I was thinking about passing the woman in front of me when, suddenly and inexplicably, she flew over her handlebars and lands, faces first, on the ground.

I unclipped and dropped my bike on the grass.

The poor girl was trying to sit up. There was blood dripping from her chin, and she had somehow woven herself into the bike when she crashed. One of her feet had lodged itself in the spokes of the front wheel, of all places. I wiggled her foot out of her shoe to free her, as there seemed to be no way in hell that I could free her shoe from inside of the spokes. We used the sock to put pressure on the gash in her chin, which was now dripping blood steadily onto the asphalt.

No fewer than 4 other women stopped, jumped off their bikes, and came over to help. Another woman slowed down to talk to us.

“Are any of you girls competing today? ‘Cause, if you are, you can go ahead, and I’ll stay with her.”

We all insisted “no, no, we’re fine. You go ahead and go. We’ll stay with her.”

And we all did, until a passing truck driver offered to carry her and her mangled bike back to transition. One of the girls helped her to the truck; another loaded her bike on to the bed of the truck; another loaded her own bike onto the truck and rode with them.

I got on my bike and rode out onto a now empty course. I wasn’t disappointed about the loss of a lot of time in the race, but I really didn’t want people to think that I was last in because I was an incredibly slow pathetic biker. This is also a very classic Woman’s Triathlon attitude: we are pathologically afraid of finishing last, because everyone will laugh at you and point and you will be completely humiliated and never do another triathlon again, if you ever do one to begin with, because what’s the point in doing a triathlon if that’s going to happen to you? This is why, of course, our beloved Sally Edwards always volunteers to be the Final Finisher in her Woman’s Triathlons.

Surprisingly, I was not dead last that day. I did manage to pass a few people on the run. Everything else ended fine. Kid disappeared before I could throw him (and his parents) in Time Out; the injured triathlete, I heard, needed stitches on her chin, but that was about it.

I had my sausage dog, and my nap, and then played a very bad game of disc golf. And I remembered, even though I don’t race as much as I want to, how awesome this sport is—and how awesome women triathletes are.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Ben's Greatest Hits

Ben says the strangest stuff. He makes these comments at odd moments, in the most unlikely places. He doesn’t realize the impact of what he’s said until everyone in the family stops and stares at him, and then bursts out laughing.

We’ve compiled a list over the years of Ben’s Greatest Hits:


We are in line at The Dollar Store, buying 50 items that we really don’t need-- but, hey, they’re only a dollar! The usual sibling bickering is occurring behind me as we ring up dollar toys and dollar candy and dollar knick knacks. Libby is exasperated with her brother.

“Mama, why did you have to have another child? And why did it have to be a boy?”

Ben shot back. “So when we move to China and Mommy has to give you away, she’ll at least have one kid left!”

Ben has arrived home after his first day of kindergarten. He is regaling us with all of the events of the day.

“But the best part, “he says, “is that we had these great new cookies at snack time: Fig Mutants!”


We are arriving home after a trip to Wal Mart. As we pull into the yard, we notice that our beloved dog, Bobo (he died this year and we miss him a lot), is limping. Ben and I get out of the car to assess the situation.

“Ben, I can’t figure it out. Which leg do you think he hurt?”

He looks at Bobo carefully. “His front passenger side one.”


We are grabbing a bite at Zaxby’s. Ben wants to exchange his honey mustard dressing for ranch dressing to dip his chicken fingers into. He heads up to the counter and returns several minutes later.

“Ben, we already had ranch dressing at the table,” Libby said.

Ben throws his hands into the air. “Now you tell me! After I stood in line for then minutes and had to watch a man mating llamas!”

This made more sense when we turned around and saw the television hanging over the counter. It was tuned to a documentary about llama farming on Animal Planet.

Stay tuned for Ben’s Greatest Hits Volume 2. Libby will be the co-editor. Although she usually tries to ignore most of what Ben is saying, she comes to me now with something she just heard him say: “Mama, you have to put this one in the blog, too!”