Dear Neighbor

Dear Neighbor One,

The proper words would have been “thank you.”  After all, I did you a favor the other day. You had driven to pick your daughter up from school because you were supposed to take one of her classmates home. Your poor daughter was distraught with tears streaming down her face because she did not want to ride home, she wanted to walk home with her friends. You asked if she could walk home with my son and I. Since we live right next door to you I said, “sure!” and “no problem!”

Your daughter and my son enjoyed the walk home and they played in our back yard for a little while. When you got home you opened my back gate and took your daughter home. I yelled goodbye and waved to you both as you left my yard, but you didn’t so much as turn around to offer a thank you.

I think that’s rude.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Dear Neighbor Two,

You did not give up your babysitter for me. I called to ask if she was available to sit for us and she said was watching your kids during the day but would be free that evening. She even checked with you a second time to be certain you didn’t need her that night so she could sit for me.

But today you said I took your sitter, that you were going to need her all day AND night. You suggested that we share her. Because I’m so nice I’ve agreed to let your kids come over to my house, or my son go over to your house while this nice young lady baby sits all three children.

I’m not thrilled with the arrangement but it will have to do. Mostly I just want to say, who do you think you are? Telling Neighbor Three that I stole your sitter? Really, when were you planning on telling the sitter you needed her that evening? After you failed to come home at the time you’d originally agreed to?

By the way, you don’t pay her nearly enough to watch your kids.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Dear Neighbor Three,

Don’t believe anything Neighbor Two told you about me stealing her sitter. It’s not true.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Dear Neighbor Four,

Hello! I live right next door to you. You can acknowledge me when you see me. You don’t have to pretend I’m invisible. In fact, when I am standing and talking with a group of neighbors, it’s NOT appropriate to ask them as you point to me “What did she say?” You can ask me directly. I speak English.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Dear Neighbor Five,

Please keep an eye on your children. Your three-year old should not have been found all by herself half a mile from your house. I find it disturbing that you had no idea she was gone in the first place.

Your five year old is a cute kid, but he’s legally blind, and therefore should not be riding his bike in the street without supervision. By law, the three year old does not count as supervision. And Neighbor Four isn’t much better as I’ve seen her instruct your kids to cross the street as fast moving cars are approaching.  

Don’t feel too bad about that though.  I don’t think she likes me either.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Dear Neighborhood,

Seriously? What the hell?


Filed under neighbors

Everyday Math

So the new school year has started (Hello Second Grade!) and along with it, homework.  Every night.  Homework.  And it’s really no big deal, this homework.  Except… EVERYDAY MATH.  It’s a math curriculum that was supposedly developed by the University of Chicago School Mathematics Project.  From what I can tell, the University of Chicago is a place where they apparently don’t know shit about math, or how normal people use math in everyday situations.

Case in point, my son’s most recent math homework: a review test to cover the topics that he learned in EVERYDAY MATH back in First Grade.  Topics like telling time, and using hatch marks to count, and filling out number grids, and counting by 2’s and by 5’s, a little bit about money, and simple addition and subtraction.

Here’s the rub.  The simple addition and subtraction problems?  Each one is accompanied by a drawing of a domino with a corresponding number of dots on it.  So 5 + 3 = fill in the blank, has a picture of a domino with 8 dots on it.  Too dumb to memorize or add in your head or count on your fingers, well, search your house for a domino and add up the dots to get your answer.  Because, yeah, that’s how normal people do math everyday, right?  Calculator’s be damned!  But if you can’t find a domino, don’t worry, your math test will have a picture of one on it and you can simply count the dots to get your answer. 

When I was in school, they didn’t put the answer right on the test like that.  If they did, that would have probably been called CHEATING.

But perhaps I’m wrong.  Maybe that’s how you do your taxes every year?  You swipe your child’s train game domino set and start counting the dots while they are wailing in the background about the unfairness of it all?

I say this: you want to teach a child real math?  Math they can use?  Math they can use every day?  Teach them to count on their fingers or give them a calculator.  Both are easier and more portable than a set of dominoes.  Did they not sell calculators in Chicago when they developed this program? Had the creators of the program lost their fingers in some grisly accident?  If so, how did they pick up their dominoes?

And the number grids?  They look like a chunk removed from a blank crossword puzzle, with one number filled in somewhere along all the empty boxes.  Somehow, don’t ask ME how, my son knows that you fill in the horizontal boxes by increasing the numbers by 2 or 5 or something, and the vertical boxes by increasing or decreasing the numbers by 1 or something.  Or maybe I’ve got it reversed.  Or totally wrong.  I don’t do this everyday, so what do I know?  I just know that NEVER IN MY LIFE have I been told to fill out a funky grid like that.

A giant plain number grid that looks like empty graph paper is to be filled in by columns, rather than rows.  It teaches the children to look for patterns.  I contend it’s far easier to count by ones and just go ahead and write: 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10,11,12….  My son insists THAT TAKES TOO LONG, and instead spends precious minutes (hurry up and finish your homework it’s dinner time and then you’ve got swimming practice!) calculating the number directly under each number.  So the number under 10 will be 20, and directly under that will be 30.  The number under 8 will be 18, then 28, and so on and so forth until he’s filled out each column. OMG THE INSANITY!  My friend’s son, who also contends it takes too long to count by ones, fills out each square several times.  If the number grid goes from 100 to 199, he writes a 1 in each square, then goes back and writes the 2nd  digit in each square, and then finally gets around to writing the 3rd digit in each square.  To that I say, what the hell? and how is that faster? 

Oddly enough, they seem to be teaching the children how to tell time on a clock the normal way, by looking at the hands of the clock.  I’m not sure why they aren’t using sundials or a pendulum clock for this exercise, but it wouldn’t surprise me if they did.

And money?  They’ve taught the kids to represent money by drawing circles with letters in them.  A penny is represented on paper with a circle with a P in it. Or sometimes, just the letter P.  A dime, a circle with a D in it, or sometimes, just the letter D.  Learn this, because if it’s truly EVERYDAY MATH, then I suspect the next time you venture into a Walmart, that little smiley face on the blue sign is going to tell you that the dominoes you’ve come to purchase to help you with your child’s math homework cost QQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQDDPPPP, and not $7.99 as you’ve come to expect.


Filed under homework, learning, math


I’m in the shower, all soaped up when suddenly there’s banging on the bathroom door. I see the door handle rattle back and forth in vain against the lock.  If I don’t shut and lock the bathroom door I don’t get a moment’s worth of peace.  There’s always someone wanting to get in, demanding my attention. If it’s not my husband (no, you can’t hop into my shower) then it’s my son, the dog, or in the case of one day last year, a partially deflated mylar Darth Vader balloon that caught some current in the air and floated, eye level to me, into the bathroom while I watched in horror and tried to suppress a scream (calm down. it’s just an air current, not a ghost. there are no ghosts. how would you know?  you can’t see them…maybe it IS a ghost dragging that balloon… if it gets any closer, then surely it’s ghost…. RUN!).

And so I lock the bathroom door.

But that doesn’t stop people from banging on it.

“What?” I demand.

Muffled sounds come from the other side.  The fan is running, the water is streaming down my face.  I can’t make out what he wants.

“WHAT?” I holler again.

But again, I can’t make out the words on the other side of the door.

Soapy and perturbed I shut off the water.

“What do you want? I can’t hear you.  I’m in the SHOWER!”

“MOM.  HOW OLD WERE YOU IN 1902?” Snags scream-asks.

Now I’m really annoyed.  This wasn’t an emergency.  And REALLY!?!

“I wasn’t even BORN yet,” I holler.  “I wasn’t born until 1968!”

“Oh yeah!  I forgot!” Snags yells back.  “I was thinking you were born in 1868!”

I roll my eyes and turn the water back on.  I’m careful rinsing.  I don’t want my rotting flesh and bones to disintegrate in the stream of the shower and clog up the plumbing.  I thought that Darth Vader balloon was kind of scary.  I can only imagine the horror a plumber would feel upon finding zombie parts in the shower drain.


Filed under ghosts, humor, motherhood, parenting, zombies


Can an item, an object, a rather meaningless piece of metal and rock, formed into a piece of jewelry, be a source of bad luck?  History would seem to suggest it’s possible. There’s the curse of the Hope Diamond. And the legend that surrounds October’s birthstone, the opal, and which my mother told me when I was young: Opals bring bad luck to those who wear them if they aren’t your actual birthstone. 

Is it true? 

When I was five I begged, Begged, BEGGED my mother to let me wear her opal earrings to school one day. She relented, and of course, I lost one of them. Was that because I was born in June and so should have been wearing pearls instead?  Or was it because I was only five and probably shouldn’t have been trusted with a pair of nice earrings?

And how about the bad luck that fell upon the Brady Brunch after Bobby found that Tiki idol on the construction site in Hawaii?  Greg almost drowned while wearing the thing, a spider crawled into Jan’s bag while she was carrying the idol, and Alice threw her back out when she had it hanging around her neck.

I’m thinking of all of these things because of a ring I bought.  It’s a rustic looking ring, hand made by an artist who sells his wares on the internet.  It’s copper with a green stone of Seraphinite, all coils and beads, and my husband says it reminds him of Star Wars.  It reminds me of a clock’s works.  I won’t say where I purchased it because I don’t want to be accused of suggesting the artist is selling cursed jewelry in any sort of way, but I need to document the events that have occurred since the ring arrived in the mail:

1. My husband wrecked my car.  My still new car, the one we had just bought back in the fall.

I had JUST checked the mail and was rather excited to see the package with my ring had arrived when I looked up to see my husband backing my car out of the garage.  A split second later I heard an awful crunching sort of sound, and then I saw him stop the car, half in and also half out of the garage, while the garage door came down upon the car’s roof. And then I watched as my husband started to inch the car forward, back into the garage, with the garage door upon the roof of the car, scraping the paint off the roof as he went along.

“STOP!  STOP!” I screamed.  “What are you doing? STOPPPPPPPP!”

He stopped.  But by then the damage was done.  The passenger door mirror was broken off the side of the car and the roof looked like Freddy Krueger had been giving it a good back scratch.

Afterward, my husband said that I must not have pulled the car into the garage very straight. Which explains why, if the car isn’t straight, you’d back it out straight to correct the problem, ripping side view mirrors off in the process, no? And then, for added insult, you’d go ahead and close the garage door onto the top of the car.  Perhaps trying to hide the fact that the mirror damage came first?  Was this my fault for parking slightly crooked?  The garage door’s fault?  My husband’s fault? 

Or maybe, just maybe, this new ring is bad luck…

2. I nearly broke my toe off on a chair leg.  I walk past this particular chair 20 times a day and it’s never grabbed my toe before, but this time, it made a special exception.  This was minutes after my husband broke my car.  By this time I was wearing the ring.

3.  Still wearing the ring, because apparently I never learn, I smacked my son in the face as I was talking with my hands.  The ringed hand didn’t get him, but still, I left a nice red mark near his eye.  Why did he sneak up behind me like that?  Did the ring CALL to him?

Those are the things that happened soon after the ring arrived in the mail and I put it on.  I haven’t had the nerve to wear the ring since, but it’s still in the house and since then:

4. The printer ink cartridge exploded all over my son’s hands in a rainbow of colors and it took many washings and half a bottle of rubbing alcohol to get the ink off.

5. A button popped off the top of our brand new leather ottoman coffee table and I can’t figure out how to get it back on.

6. Five of the new fish we bought have died.

7. I got a terrible sunburn.

8. There’s a nest of stinging flying insects hiding in our bushes.

9. A giant black spider crawled across the computer desk right in front of me.  So I’m ending this here because SPIDER!!!!!, and Jan Brady … and hell, I’m not THAT slow.  I know what I need to do next. I have to go get the ring and return it to the ancient burial ground in Hawaii…


Filed under Uncategorized

Blame it on the Mail Man

So, Mother’s Day is coming.  This Sunday, to be exact.  It snuck up on me this year, it truly did.  I ran out and bought cards at noon today, thinking I was still brilliant because the mail man doesn’t show up until two o’clock p.m. around these parts.  I’d mail the cards, they’d arrive no later than Friday, maybe Saturday, and be just in time for Mother’s Day, and nobody would be the wiser.

Of course, TODAY the mail man came by early.  I missed him.  Now I have to drive to the post office. Earlier today I had to drive the dog to the vet. Then I had to drive to the store to buy Mother’s Day cards.  Now I have to go out AGAIN to the post office.  All because of the mail man who can’t keep to his normal routine. And yes, I’ll just go ahead and blame the trip to the vet on the mail man too at this point.  Because you know that if I was anxiously awaiting delivery of some important piece of mail or a package, the mail man would conveniently show up late.  It’s the way of the universe, and so everything will be the mail man’s fault today.

Speaking of package delivery… yesterday FedEx delivered a package. They left it at my front door. They also left a door tag ON my front door saying “We left your package at front door.” I’m wondering, was that really necessary?  Do people truly miss the obvious? I bet their lawyers made them add the door tags after someone left a box sitting on their front porch for weeks, all the while calling FedEx demanding to know where their package was.

My husband is expecting a package to be delivered as well.  I think it’s a Mother’s Day gift for me.  He asked me if it had arrived today.  I told him no, it hadn’t come yet.  But now that I think about it, I ought to go outside and check around the perimeter of the property.  It’s entirely possible that FedEx delivered it and stuck it in the bushes, with a note attached to the bushes, saying “We left your package in the bushes.”  I’ll take a look when I get back from the post office.

And finally, this… I saw a car the other day with a license plate that said “SMALL PKG”.  I felt sorry for the driver.  I felt even worse that he thought that was something he ought to advertise. If there is any bonus to the fact that he had a small package, I guess it’s this: If it’s small, it’s probably easy for him to hide it in the bushes.


Filed under FedEx, Mail, Mother's Day, pacakge delivery

Spanish Guy

Four score and seven years ago….  Eighteen years and four days ago a woman asked me out on a date and I said YES. And before you get all excited thinking I’m sharing a bit of sordid history here, you should know the woman was a graduate school friend of mine, and she wasn’t asking me to go on a date with HER because she was already married, to a guy. Rather, she was trying to nudge another classmate of mine, a young, hot Spanish Guy (only it turns out he wasn’t really Spanish), into asking me out.

Spanish Guy had tickets to a baseball game. There we were, this gang of friends and classmates, hanging out in the Ratskeller, having drinks and talking after class and Spanish Guy happens to mention these baseball tickets. He had an extra ticket, did anyone want to go to the game with him?

I do! I do! Pick me. PULEEEEESE PICK ME, PICK ME PICK ME PICK ME PICK ME, I screamed in my head. But it felt like middle school gym class all over again. Who, out of the group of us sitting around that table, would be chosen to be on Spanish Guy’s team, to get to go that baseball game with him?

I held my breath, the wait was excruciating. It was baseball, after all, a guy’s sport. Mark expressed interest in the tickets. I was certain he was going to pick Mark, I wouldn’t even be given a second thought. Damn you, Mark, I thought.

Because, you see, I had a thing for Spanish Guy. A crush, I guess you’d say. But I had it bad. I’d had it since the very first day of my very first class in graduate school, from the very first moment I laid eyes on him. I about broke my face smiling at him whenever I saw him, but trying not to smile too much, lest I seem like some kind of smiling freak. But up until that night at the Rat, Spanish Guy seemed rather nonchalant, like it didn’t matter to him if I was around or not.

But then Karen intervened. She told Spanish Guy to take me to the game. Or she told me that I should go to the game with Spanish Guy. She told Mark to buy his own damn tickets if he wanted to go to a baseball game. Honestly, it’s been 18 years, my memory is a little fuzzy on some of the details. But to make a long story short, in the end, IT WAS ME! I GOT PICKED! I was the CHOSEN ONE! I was on the team!

A few days later Spanish Guy came by my house and picked me up for our date. I was sporting new clothes, having labored over my wardrobe, nervously hoping to look my best. Hoping with all my might to pass some sort of worthiness test. Spanish Guy’s brother, and his friends, and his brother’s friends would be at the game, and I really wanted them to like me. To think that I, a GIRL, was worthy of sitting in that stadium seat next to Spanish Guy.

I don’t remember which major league team won that particular game. But if you’re keeping score, you should know that I won. That baseball game was the first date of many, which eventually gave way to that old childhood song: Belle and Spanish Guy, sitting in a parking garage at graduate school, K.I.S.S.I.N.G, first comes love, then comes marriage, then comes baby in a baby carriage. It’s been 18 years since that first date, baby, almost 8 years since the baby carriage, and yes, I’d do it all again. I honestly wouldn’t change a thing. Even though I learned that you weren’t really Spanish after all.

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Filed under anniversary, first date, life, marriage, memory

Memory Lane. With Shadows.

“Memory,” as the Barenaked Ladies sing, “is a strange thing.” In the last 24 hours I’ve found that to be very true, indeed.

Like millions of other people, I’m on Facebook. I’ve enjoyed catching up with old friends, sharing stories, sharing memories, and looking at photos, both old and new.

One of my friends recently posted some photos from our high school days on Facebook. I remarked that somewhere around this house, I had a box with similar photos. I vowed to dig it up and scan the images for the world to see.

Last night was that night. I checked all the places I thought the box would be: the spare room closet, under the bed, the dark recesses of the upper reaches of my own closet. But the box wasn’t there. Eventually, after much digging, I found it in the basement, buried under a mass of other boxes. It was old, and dusty, and it made me sneeze.

My son watched with curiosity as I opened the box and pulled out items: A Senior Memory book, corsages from homecomings and prom, old autograph books from 5th through 8th grade, certificates and test results and lots and lots of old photos.

The autograph books were a sight to behold. I didn’t even know I still had them. I didn’t remember EVER having had them. But here they are, solid, proof.

“Never kiss at the garden gate. Love is blind but neighbors ain’t.” Noelle wrote that at the end of 5th grade. What’s all this about kissing? I wondered as I read it. Kissing in 5th grade? It wasn’t until 6th or 7th grade when my friends secretly passed around Judy Blume’s book Forever, that I learned much about kissing. I read those passages with wide eyes. Kisses indeed!

Kathy, my best friend, whom I’ve kept in touch with all these years wrote simply, “Have a nice summer. It was nice nowing (sic) ya!” As if our friendship was over. Ha!

I don’t remember what Ermis did to me, but he wrote, “To Belle, The person I got good on her birthday.”

Alyson simply told me to have a fun summer and “don’t drown while swimming.” I must have taken her advice. I’m still here.

Susan told me to “Stay Cool and Stay High.” If I recall correctly, she had a slew of older sisters. This was the late 70s. I bet they smoked pot.

Shawn wrote: “I really enjoyed being your friend this year. I will always remember you. You have been a close friend and I don’t care what other people say, but I say you’re the best.” What DID other people say about me? I had no idea. The way I remember things with Shawn, well, we rode the bus together, and we had the same 5th grade teacher. One day Shawn had a necklace. It was imitation gold with crystals glued into it to look like diamonds. He was going to give it to his mother for mother’s day, or perhaps her birthday. Somehow, I convinced Shawn to give that necklace to ME instead. Maybe other people thought I was manipulative. How horrible was I? Oh my God, Shawn, I am so sorry. I’m glad you still thought of me as a friend, and for what it’s worth now, some 30 years later, I STILL HAVE THAT NECKLACE! It’s in mint condition, as I could never really bring myself to wear it. That’s how guilty I felt about talking you into giving it to me.

A turn through the pages of my autograph book from my middle school years left my husband asking “What did you DO to those kids?!” Sadly, this is where my memory begins to fail. “I don’t know,” I said. “I don’t remember.”

But maybe it gives me a glimpse into what THEY thought of ME.

Somebody who signed their name as “Tuna Fish” wrote “I don’t mean to be mean but you need Listerine, not a sip not a swallow, but the whole damn bottle.”

Andy said I was NOT a goodie goodie. And then he wrote that Damon said I had a big butt. Somebody, be it Andy, or Damon, or perhaps I myself, scratched that last part out with pen, but not so well that I couldn’t make it out.

Mark always thought I was mean. Melissa thought I was weird. Jon thought I was all right, and that must have been what kept me going after more autographs.

Eric “The Great”, David, and Jon, were all in love it with me. “It’s true, honest” someone wrote.

Shelley must have read Forever before me. She wrote “Two in a car, two little kisses, one second later, Mr. and Mrs.”

Linda offered “May your life be as long as Dolly Parton’s bra strap.”

Laura said I had a lumpy head!

Faye said I was conceited, and a few pages later Vivian backs her up with “To Belle, an ugly stupid, dumb, conceited pig!!! Just Kidding!! Your lovely, beautiful great, talented, sweet, friendly, friend. I’ve had a wonderful year with you. (I lie). Vivian.” And still, she wrote down her phone number and asked me to call her.

Andrea said she’s really sorry she met me, and Shannon said I was a wonderful person then wrote “signed, A Just Kidding Person. Shannon.” She’s on Facebook too. Hi Shannon!

By the end of our 8th grade year, Jon wrote that I should “Drop Dead”, and Ted simply wrote: “Fuck You!” (Thanks, Ted, I loved you too!)

But it wasn’t ALL bad. There were plenty of nice things written about me too. In fact, Sandy, whom I’m sad to say I don’t remember AT.ALL. wrote that I was her BEST FRIEND EVER. And my teachers all had good impressions of me. They wrote glowing statements telling me I was “one of the good folks”; one of the “best students ever”; “smart and intelligent”; their “favorite student”.


But I wasn’t perfect, not so perfect as to elicit such mean comments in my autograph book. The statement goes on to say: SHE MAY NEED TO REVIEW SPELLING CONSONANT SOUNDS, SPELLING ALL SOUNDS IN A WORD, SPELLING VOWEL SOUNDS, USING PRONOUNS. Personally, I think the CAT needed to review the use of CAPITILZATION.  And THANK GOD for spell check.

As I scanned photos into the computer to post on Facebook, I marveled at the things I’d glued into my Senior Year Memory book. Ticket stubs from concerts I don’t remember attending: Chicago, Adam Ant, BARRY MANILOW???!!!; from dances I don’t remember dancing at; playbills from school plays I don’t recall, yearbook seminar’s I hardly remember.

Gas was 89 cents a gallon when I graduated from High School in May of 1986. Movie tickets cost $4.50, unless you went to a matinee for $2.00.

I kept a list of the guys I dated (Why?!), and when and how long I dated them. The lengths of time seem off, much shorter than how I remember those days. Marty, 9th grade, 2 months. Brian, 10th grade, 6 months. Mike and Darryl, in turn, 2 months and 3 months respectively in the 11th grade. Lee, 2 months in 12th grade. I remember those days, those guys. But then I come to another name, Steve. Someone I supposedly dated the summer before and through the beginning of my senior year in high school. And I don’t remember him. AT.ALL. A face comes fuzzily to my mind, if I search hard enough. But is it Steve’s face, or is it simply someone I saw on a television commercial? I have no idea. The guys I list after Steve, I remember them. But Steve escapes me. Who was he? Where did we meet? What happened to us?

Memory. It’s a strange thing.

My brother has a great memory. He was able to confirm for me that yes, he remembers that I went to a Chicago concert. And Adam Ant concert. The name Steve, he says, is familiar, but no, he doesn’t remember him.

I had a story published in a magazine.  I didn’t remember this.  I opened the magazine wondering why I had kept it.  I flipped the pages and read poems and stories from other classmates, and then I saw my name.  The story I wrote.  When did I write it?  And who submitted it to the school magazine?

And so I’m left sorting through the stuff that fills this old box in front of me, turning the pages of a memory book. Left feeling like I’m sorting through the memories of someone else’s life. Trying to remember who the hell Steve was. And how the hell did I get to that Adam Ant concert?

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Filed under life, memories, middle school, nostalgia, old times, Steve