Sunday, August 30, 2015

Trending this Fall


The Butterknife Bang. No need to leave home, only requirement is 1.) Thinking it's a good idea to give yourself bangs in the middle of doing dishes. 

The Someone Snatched me Bald-headed headband. Available in One Size: only for teens.

The Pink Fleece From 2002 That Still Works. Stainless steel dishwasher--like guacamole--costs extra.

The Mortifying Desperate Buy Stretchy Accommodating Geometric Pattern Dress. Available in-store only if purchased morning of major event when original outfit planned shrunk since last worn at graduation four years earlier.

The Colonial Pantaloon. Available October through April, not a trend as much as Wisconsin wardrobe necessity.

The Jelly Roll. Available in any bakery department. Works well to keep out the bone-chilling cold since, no bones to get chilled.

The Napping Sweater. Eliminates the worry about time or place, makes anywhere the right where when the mood strikes.

And the predicted final fall fashion favorite--

The Ocelot Wear ensemble. Or Zebra, Tiger, Giraffe, Lion, Bear, Raccoon, Leopard. Whatever faux-fur gets you through will be what's trending this fall.

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Thursday, August 27, 2015

What You End Up Saying Instead of I Love You

It would be perfect: I had memorized every word the night before. Actually, more like the early morning of. At 2:19 a.m., I knew exactly what I was going to say and do when we dropped off our oldest son at college the next day.

I would stand before him, like the Virgin Mary. Offering gentle outstretched hands with my head leaning just slightly to the side, I would pull my child in close. Reaching up to smooth his hair, his trusting eyes would search out mine. I would smile with the peaceful restraint of someone who had just been drugged and sigh, "My beautiful baby boy. How proud we are of you, how well you will do this year. We love you so!" Then we would share a brief but meaningful hug with the end goal being lasting just long enough to cement the moment. His arms over mine, I would whisper, "Goodbye, my son!" I would then turn, no looking back, and walk to our minivan, on firm--not Jello--legs. And then, it would be over. Goodbye with a noble chin up like Margaret Thatcher.


Wednesday's college drop-off went like this: Our son walks us to the car. We knew it was the goodbye. My resolve is to gift him with the reassuring calm of our love and wisdom. What sprang forth instead, was:

Use single-ply for toilet paper because double-ply plugs. You have to sleep or you'll start to feel depressed. Make sure you smile back so you look happy to be here. Never put your drinking cups mouth side down on counters because so many germs. Wash your hands because other people wipe their butts and they never wash their hands. I've seen it.

He tried to step away for air as I made his neck into a lifesaver.

Did that stop my brilliance? Nope. I shout directions like I did that night almost two decades ago when we first left him with a babysitter.

Clenching him by his shirt, I start anew:

Don't lend money. Look over your shoulder when you walk home alone at night and do not walk home with earbuds in so you can hear if someone is following you. Eat protein or you'll feel depressed. Always take a shower because it's like a miracle. So is a new shirt, so let me know and I'll send you some. Good posture and a good haircut save many a day.

Then I fall full-face into my son, in the same desperate way that he would try to crawl back up into my arms and out of his small plastic bathtub when he was four months old.

I couldn't stop. My voice muffled by his chest, I continue.

Read labels so you know what you're eating. In your white plastic bin are three bottles of vitamins and calcium each, take them. Change your toothbrush when it's splayed. Drink water. Keep a hat--earmuffs aren't the same--in your backpack. And an umbrella--because chills and rain come out of nowhere in Wisconsin. Move five minutes for every hour of sitting. If you think you need to go to the health clinic, don't think, go.

I force down the lump rising in my throat. I don't know why I am on this mission, but I am. I caw, Purell. Wet socks are bad. Be sure and see some blue and green every day, because scurvy is real.

All the while I am spouting verses that sound like Mother Goose, the real message has yet to happen. My beautifully rehearsed golden college send-off speech that I am determined to carry out.

It's now or never for the final goodbye, so I square my shoulders and step back. I open my mouth to bestow my practiced pearls of love and wisdom upon my son, and I hear a crackled glottal fry worse than a Kardashian fill the air.

Suddenly, streams. No, rivers. Waterfalls. I lunge for my son and a flood of tears that would not stop soak his shirt while I am back to swinging from his neck like a weighted pendulum. I try to break through but the moment swallows me up and I am croaking like a frog.

Never has my voice disappointed me more.

"Mom," my son asks, sounding genuinely puzzled. "Why are you crying?"

He asks me so simply, as if words could answer. I squeeze my eyes and hide my face in his neck. I pull on both his shoulders and want him to know that I just need him to do all these things I've sputtered at him like someone who has five minutes to blow up fifty balloons.

I can't be here anymore to make sure he does everything so I need him to.
I need him to listen to this manual on how to care for himself and all these things I've thrown at him will keep him safe, sound, healthy, happy.
I have taken care of him his entire life, and now, I won't be here to do it.
He has to be the one to make sure he arrives home every night.
Without earbuds in.

Because this beautiful baby boy, the one we are so proud of, the one who is going to do so well, we love him so much.

And if there was a google translator that he could plug in to make sense of my, "Wash your hands because others don't and earmuffs are not the same as a hat," it would tell him with 100 percent accuracy, "Your mama loves you so much it leaves her stupid."

* * *
*Special thanks to my dear friend who is walking this path with me, Peyton Price of Suburban Haiku, for providing the inspiration for this post. Times like this, friends carry us. 

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Lives of Our Own

Whether trying to appear strong and self sufficient, or out of loneliness, turning us into confidantes with a faƧade of stories that reflect them in the best light, we can never really know our parents. It's only when they slip unguarded and share a story that moves too fast to censor, that we witness the person who existed before they were parent.

I write of just such a story, of my mother when she was young, beautiful, and she first met my father.

I am proud to share it today on Purple Clover .

* * *

Monday, August 24, 2015

It's Really Not the Same as Waving a White Flag

Going on Hour 1? Hour 2? It's all a blur

The finish line is almost here, close enough to see its promise in the distance. All we need is just a few more strong strides and we're there, the end of August and HALLELUIA CELEBRATE because summer is now on its way to becoming something soft and fuzzy and in our memories.

But, for today, I still have five days left with a full house and the clues to how it all goes down at home in the last bit of summer are in full force all over my Facebook feed.

It's like the last day at a job, where you sorta do a good job, just enough so that you get a good reference.

One look at my lunches this week of August 24--a sleeve of saltines on a paper plate alongside three cold cuts-- and you know it's the end of August. If you were to see me driving to school to drop off pre-registration papers, it's with my slippers on because I don't care, it's still vacation. And if my signature is needed on all these papers, it's all good. They're not due until August 31, really, and August 31 isn't here... yet.

Way back in June, when I thought of these last days of August, I imagined I would give my kids a one week pre-school practice session of waking up early to acclimate them to hours that occur before 8:00 a.m., but as of this minute, I ask, Would it really kill them if they stay up past 11:00 p.m.? Especially when it makes them sleep until 11:00 a.m. the next day?

I also have a legit excuse to shop till I drop because back to school and all. Shopping will kill at least a day this last week. Three days if I take each child separately. Who doesn't love alone time with mama standing outside Aeropostale's fitting room doors providing jeans feedback?

Same with back to school haircuts. I can knock out a few mornings that way, too. And you know, with three kids no need for all of us to go all at once. Let's consider the stylist, sheesh.

I can Sharpie line through through Thursday morning, afternoon and evening with shoe shopping, x3.

Yeah, I know what I said three months ago about Regular Show being not for kids here, but you know they're going to hear this stuff at school anyway, so might as well let them hear it at home first. If I see them pass out fall asleep on the sofa after last night's Regular Show marathon, do I really have to wake them up to brush their teeth and go to bed? That would be a no. Calcium is at an all time high in children's teeth, they can handle it. And if they fall asleep on the sofa with clothes on? Winner winner chicken dinner, they wake up dressed for the next day of marathon TV watching. They can start as soon as they find the remote.

I know, I know, that in June when I was bright eyed and full of hope and summertime plans, I fool-heartedly planned 30 minutes of screen time at a time, no more--but it's summer's end. Have at it, kids! Just be sure to get off if you begin to see haloes. And don't blame visual disturbances on low blood sugar (what can I say, my hypochondria has made my kids into mini-m.d.s) I've kept your blood sugar up with ice cream sandwiches all day long, so I really don't have to make meals. During this last week of August, it's solely about keeping any one of you from getting dizzy or falling over if you get up too fast.

All of this sounds bad, I am aware, but it's not like the end of August has made me give up, or surrender. It's more like me recognizing that in fact, I can arrive at my destination on just fumes. What matters is that we make it, chugging and sputtering on through to the last gasp of summer.
We may crawl in on a wheeze to get there, our fingertips grazing the white chalk by an inch, but we reach it. The glorious finish line.
Here's to every one of us, who will pass on the baton of care and deliver our children to the front steps of their schools come the last day of August.
Stand proud, my friends, once you catch your breath. And don't we miss them already?
* * *
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Saturday, August 22, 2015

Is There Any Way in the World to Make Back to School Fun?

I don't know, but I try.

I do it, for the children.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

21 Things Kids Worry about on the First Day of School


If a new kid comes in and your friends like them more.

If somebody new is better than you in your special talent and they take your place.

If the new teachers are grumpy.

If your new teacher is strict.

If your new teacher is serious.

If you don't get in a class with your friends.

If you get homework right away the first day.

If the subjects will be too hard.

If your friends are totally going to act different than they were last year.

If your friends changed too much.

If your friend doesn't come back to the same school.

If on the first day you get in trouble for something you didn't do because your teacher doesn't know you.

If the seating arrangements are totally bananas bonkers dumb and I won't like where my desk is.

If you feel too old to hang out on the playground with the little kids.

If you have to play football at recess because everyone else is and so you have to.

If your clothes will be cool.

That my haircut will look too short.

That it will be too hard to sit all day.

That I will be embarrassed if our classroom will look childish to the upper school kids.

That there'll be a mean kid.

That I won't get my secret hope that a new super cool kid will come to our school and we'll be friends.

 *With thanks to the ever amazing eternally brilliant Erma Bombeck for her poem, *"Nothing to Worry About"

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Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Consider It a Brag Sheet

Years and years ago, I learned a trick that I keep in my back pocket. I pull it out to use when I have weeks that feel more like months. The wise dispenser of this universal knowledge was my then therapist--she would listen to me with her chin resting on the heels of both her hands, while she leaned in, like she was trying to hear the words I didn't say that were hidden between the ones that I did. I sat in her office, lulled by trust into feeling it was her living room, and I would tell her about my life.

"... and and and (hic sob) and... i just can't take on any more, you know? (hic)"

"... oh, that just... sounds like SO much. You really are doing so much."

"... i... i... i know. and i'm tired." (topples over mugful of pens on her desk while grabbing for tissue)

She was so smart, this woman. She knew what I needed was to have someone hear my lamentations without offering advice. Her words were like honey poured down a sore throat. I lapped up her syrupy offering by the eager spoonful. "Sounds like you're doing a lot." "My gosh, how do you do it all?" "Is there anything you can't do?" She was music to my ears.

Those were some mighty fine days in the sun with her. Until she developed psychotherapist burnout. Buh-bye Wisconsin and your soul-crushing winters, hello rejuvenating Arizona with your healing rays. She was gone.

But this treasure of a human being gave me something ever eternal: a pearl of wisdom that I now employ daily, and have even passed on to my children.

Behold, Dr. Suzanne's glistening nugget of treasure:

Don't wait for someone to say "good job." YOU tell yourself, good job.

I call this writing up my own brag sheet. This week has been ripe for it. Getting ready to send my son back to college, which will not be easy on the heart, and preparing my middle boy for his senior year of high school, AND preparing the youngest for junior high--It has been a week. One that needs me to reach around and pat my own shoulder blades with a "Good job, Alexandra!!" Double exclamation points!!

I had a lot to do, my friends, so celebrate with me. Read along to this week's brag sheet:

•Hauled off a vanful of toys, shoes, books, games, clothes to Goodwill.

•Cleaned, repaired, pressed, donated, school uniform items for kids that aren't able to buy uniforms.

•Took a meal to a new mom.

• Wrote a stack of long overdue thank you letters.

• Vacuumed and cleaned the minivan!

• Cooked dinner four times this week.

• Said what the heck and laughed in the face of stacked dishes and laundry and went with the three kids to see Minions.

• Took oldest kids back to school shopping and was patient throughout the selection process.

•At 7:30 a.m. on Monday, I went out to our front yard and had at it, pulling weeds like I was mad at somebody. We no longer look like the only Halloween-ready house in the subdivision.

There is still a lot I didn't do that I need to do before August is over BUT I did do some stuff, and doing some stuff is how you one by one knock the items off the stuff to do list.

Am I right? Or am I right?


I know. I know.

It's enough to brag about.
* * *

Sunday, August 16, 2015

But Can You Dance To It?

Put me in a strait jacket when I'm around Haddaway's "What Is Love." It's the only way I won't move. (while I'm at it, I dare you to not do a single head nod just thinking about this song)

My skull needs to be put inside one of those immobilizer helmets, complete with rod inserts into the neck when Madonna's "Like a Prayer" pops on my car radio. That's if you want me to keep driving safely.

And if my ears pick up on anything by Calvin Harris? Oooph. Then place your bets on me embarrassing myself with out of date dance moves because mama don't care, I am dancing.

But when I think of songs impossible to not dance to, I can't help but think back on those moments when 3:27 on the dance floor felt more like 3million:27. My body herkyjerky from songs my brain couldn't decipher what type of beat signal to fire off to my feet neck arms hips, leaving me stiffer than an unoiled Tin Man. Even 10 years with Abby Lee couldn't help you patch together moves.

Like that time Danny Peterson pulled me to the dance floor. It was last call, and last call by a deejay is always a crap shoot. Flaxen-haired Danny came over and took his chances. The song? Gary Wright's "My Love is Alive." Nice thought for a wrap up, on paper slash vinyl, but "My Love is Alive" had the opposite effect.

First, think of that song.

Second, ask yourself, How do you move to a synthesizer that's set to triple twang punctuated with someone kicking over a milk bucket every ten seconds?

Things syntactically fall apart in the time between your mind decoding deciphering downloading and cobbling together a beat. By the time the neurological signal is complete, Gary Wright is off to setting a new bar code for you to scan. There is no way to time that shit.

See for yourself.
The end result is your body giving the All Clear to Shoulder sway right and your feet saying I thought you said Hip twist crouch left. Decades later, I realize the disconnect of music, lyrics, not equaling danceability. Which is why I'm shouting out to the universe for you, sweet blue-eyed Danny Peterson. That night on the dance floor, as if adolescence wasn't clumsy enough, life had to go and throw Gary Wright at you.

Who knows, dear fair-haired suitor, had fate guided the deejay's hands to serendipitously lay down the boogie with Wild Cherry when you pulled me to the dance floor, this post today may have been dedicated to someone else.

But it wasn't as bad as it could get, Danny. By that I mean, at least it wasn't "Dreamweaver."


Friday, August 14, 2015

Things That Make Me Happy

A post inspired by my long-time friend, Jennie, of A Lady in France. Be sure to pay her blog a visit, her writing is always beautiful. 


This T shirt
This kid
This kid
This kid

All these kids!

Finding surprise pictures

Of course.
Just to be sure.
Farmers' markets. Especially ones that sell coffee.
Caught in the act of pissed offness (probably because we were late in getting coffee)
Afternoon movies with my kids
Not having to wear 50 Shades of Fleece because summer is here and I'm pretending 2014 will be the last time we'll have winter in Wisconsin.
Naps. (dreaming about how we will never have winter again)
I will never cease to be amazed at what a difference it makes to clean your glasses. Gets me every single time. 
This dress and how something initially disappointing can surprise you and morph into something joyous like this Luxurious Lady Dress! by Made in China internet purchase that has given me and friends hours of laughter in a twisted but safe way.
Now, I would love to know, what makes you happy?
* * *


Tuesday, August 11, 2015

When You're a Wild One

Sometimes you have to stop waiting and wishing and instead look at what you have before you and be satisfied.

I know I’ll never be the wild one that Sia pines after. Nor the one that looks like she was born to wear a black leather jacket (I mean, who even says *nor* anymore)

And no one's ever going to send me a text that says Shit’s about to get real, y'all. Whuuuuut. *Nor* a text with the word girl in it, with it spelled g-r-r-r-r-l  -- four rr’s no i.

For some more texts I'll never get, it'll be some like these:

Grrrl. You blew it out of the WATER.

Caught that video of you. Crazy!

Everyone’s talkin’ about you. Upstagin’ again.

You are freakin’ kiddin’ me. Don’t do that again. Ev-Er.

Gotta find you. ASAP. Don’t eat all the twizzlers.

Thinking of you. Smiling. Remembering.

If you’re not on board with this, we lose everybody.

Need you for the show. No one else can fill the bill.

It’s all cool. I respect your rap. New side of you. We’ll deal.

No, not on my phone. I've come to peace with that. I’ll just continue walking the wild side over here, with texts like “what time is my ortho appt at?” “get me from swimming at six today” and “can you get me something from mickyd's?”

Although, not to toot my own horn, but there was a time last October when things got a little bit crazy for me. My children's school’s water pipes burst. The parents only had twenty minutes to get their kids before the bathrooms flooded. Guess what kind of messages I had then--

We need you. Come quick.
Everything depends on you.
Get here as soon as possible.
Dire situation. Where ARE you?
Yeeeup. Seems I was inaccessible due to filming a live on air segment on laundry room organization.

Neither FloRida nor Sia had a more smokin' phone than me that day.
* * *

Sunday, August 9, 2015

I'm Just Crabby

Things that make me crabby #78: bags of chips with nothing in them, cans of pringles that are empty, craisins bags filled with air, and a cracker box with three crumbs inside.
I'm stomping, mentally searching for a new mantra. My usual perspective check, that of counting my blessings, reveling in the health of my children and my own, is sadly doing nothing.

Even finding a surprise Hershey's bar that fell in the back of the snack cabinet while I was clearing things out did nothing. (expired so what still chocolate)

I'm so crabby. So crabby I can't even bring myself to be kind back to the cashier at the grocery store who spent TEN YEARS working with Mother Teresa.

How's that for sinking to shame-filled depths.

I'm in a bad mood and people trying to talk to me moves me from crabby to crabbier.

People who don't know things who think they do and so say, "Smile!" are making me crabby.

"Hungry, tired, with a headache and a to-do list that I don't want to do" That's my twitter bio you just read.

I think it was all triggered with football being on every Sunday night from now until January. That's a long time to listen to that in the background. But the match was already lit.

When people say I'm crabby, like I don't know that, that really makes me crabby.

The vagebooking posts that seem to be the thing to do on FB aren't helping any of this at all.

I am feeling why they call it *crabby*--I just want to run up to people and pinch them.

I desperately hoped for self-help so I looked up "What to do when you're crabby", I'll tell you the advice I read from a trained therapist: Discuss your feelings.

So, here goes:

Me: I feel crabby that there's stuff all over the house.

My house: *blink blink*

Me: I don't like how the dishes are always all over the kitchen island and counter.

My house: *blink blink*

Me: Why is there laundry always all over. Why.

My house: *blink blink*

Me: Why am I the only one that sees how the garbage spills out of the garbage can?

My house: *blink blink*

Me: Is there a reason, any reason, why the snack cabinet is filled with empty bags and boxes?

My house: *blink blink*

Me: One last question, why would there be scissors and two sharpies sitting in front of the front door? Anyone?

My house: *blink blink*

I walked around discussing my feelings with all offenders and well... shazaam. It worked. I talked to the coffee table, the laundry in the hallway upstairs, the dishes that sat not put away on the kitchen counters. I shouted Good and Loud at every single thing making me crabby in this house.

Some magic spell took hold by me yelling at objects at a level loud enough to shake tablets out of people's hands. This exercise worked like a charm. Kid #1, 2, and 3 jumped up and put everything somewhere I don't care.

This house is now filled with peace and serenity, like the minutes after a summer storm. A lot of lightning and thunderous banging, and what do you know.

Mama bird is back to chirping gaily in her nest once more.

* * *
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Wednesday, August 5, 2015

The Mind Works to Forget

Just two years ago today, my mother died.

And along with her going, she took culture, my history, my stories, and memories. Her passing also made me no one's child any more.

Today was a struggle, and I couldn't find the steam to operate the basics.

I tried to do all that I usually do in my days. The run to the supermarket, the back to school errands, some time out for fun with my kids. But from the time my eyes popped open surprisingly early at 6:45 AM, I have felt foggy, slow, unable to hear right or see right. And vulnerable.

It's so much like a day back in 7th grade when a boy knocked me down with a push to my chest. I flew, landing on my elbows but my head falling back and smacking on ice. I heard a deep clonking thud. Stunned, I looked up to find a faceful of kids around me. I knew, but still tried to understand what had happened.

Last night before I went to bed, I prepped myself. I knew that I would wake up to this being the two year mark of my mother's death. I closed my eyes and gave myself a pep talk. I would brace myself and make it through August 5. I had survived the first year of firsts, surely, year #2 couldn't be any harder.

I made plans to visit my mother's grave with my children in the morning. We would take the roses she wrote she wanted to have close by, always. One by one, we would place the flowers and say a prayer and then it would be back home to roll up my sleeves and dig into the day.

But as my friend, Christy, told me last month, the body remembers what the mind works hard to forget. I gave in at 3:00 PM today. I told my kids I was going to go upstairs and to not worry, I was going to take a long hot shower. Beyond the daily six minutes of hot water use we allow for each of the five in our house. I held my face up to the warm water and it felt like noonday sun. I lifted my hands to scrub my hair when I hit upon a tender spot on my scalp. I stopped and slowly felt the bump on the back of my head. I had forgotten about it.

It was from this morning. It was early, but I had been half awake for most of the night so I thought I could get up but my arms felt too heavy. I changed my mind and let myself lean back against the bed. In the darkness, the back of my head fell hard against the headboard. As soon as I heard the dull whack of skull against surface, I recognized the sound. It was that same shock of a thud from so many years ago. I looked out, confused, knowing but still trying to understand what it was that happened.

"The body remembers, even when the mind works not to.”
* * *

Monday, August 3, 2015

The Clarity of a Red Pepper

"Why is it that we have to wait until we are 50 years old, before we see just how beautiful a red pepper is?," Sandy Dennis says this to Alan Alda in the 1981 movie The Four Seasons.  I say “say” because she wasn't asking. She already knows.

It's not really the red pepper she's talking about. It's the clarity of appreciation for the world that we live in. Looking at things with the wonder that makes everything new, a rebirth of our senses. This year, I feel myself growing into this fresh vision, when I look up at the sky, its expanse, and am overwhelmed. When I stand ankle-deep in summer lake water, my toes sinking into the accepting sand, I am bewitched by the way you can almost smell its coolness. 

This is a new way of living for me. I have lived life in a blur, crossing things off my list of what needed to be done, and diving into the next sheet of must-dos and to-dos. Even when moments of gratitude screamed so loud I couldn't ignore them, I still only spared 60 seconds in whispered thanks. And usually while doing something else at the same time.

It's summer, and my three children are along with me on this turn in my life. What I feel, they hear about. What has now become my extraordinary from the ordinary, spills over into their existence. It's like the walks we used to take, my hand with a smaller hand inside. 

Their sentences were three words then. But what more do you need beyond three words when your heart does the talking for you? I remember my own thinking in those heady days, as I felt their palms press so close to mine, hand-soft-son. My children would speak in the same language, “Mama, look, bird!” We would walk, stopping, squatting to inspect whatever pulled our attention. Flowers, and the petals in each. The sky, its blueness or not. They would see nothing unusual in soaking up the world without any other thoughts but this.

Running on all cylinders, like a machine, multitasking my way through the day, has been my method for decades now. Needing to get as much done in the 24 hours that I had, as I could. And my children have been hanging on as I tear through the minutes with them.

But now, something has flipped a switch. Life has become real, visible, magical. The air I breathe feels like a golden ticket. I find myself wanting to spend the life ahead of me in admiration. I don't want to hurry through anything, not the sadness, misunderstandings, missed opportunities, or the heartbounding joy. I know now that each day is gone at sunset.

Today, it was the local farmer's market that became the source of beauty. There with my children, we walked past crates of purple eggplant, yellow wax beans, red raspberries. I lingered at one stand especially, it was a farmer who had the brightest red peppers I've seen this year. I picked one up and, turning it over in my hand, I passed it to my children. The youngest one took it from me, and as I opened my mouth, he began my sentence for me, “Yes, mom, we know, 'Have you ever seen such a beautiful red pepper?' "

They are right. I do ask them that. But it's only because somehow I've never seen before just how beautiful a red pepper is. 
* * *


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