Thursday, August 31, 2006

Hey! Those Are Fighter Planes Outside My Window!

Every Labor Day weekend, Cleveland throws an air show. The pilots practice for the big show on the Thursday and Friday beforehand. So, outside my 15th floor window, I can watch fighter planes zoom around over the city.

It's a bit of a treat, if an unsettling one. These boys are LOUD. And I get a flavor of what it must be like to live in a war-torn region these days. It's freaking me out a little bit.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

We're Number 1!

At last, Cleveland is the national champion. Sadly, it's for being the poorest big city in the U.S. ...for the second time in three years.

The picture below, by Joshua Gunter of The Plain Dealer depicts a mural at the West Side Catholic Center of people eating a free meal there. By the way, that's Jesus portrayed in the mural, not Peter Frampton.

It's heartbreaking. What can we do about it? Regina Brett has some interesting ideas in her article "Poverty fight needs to get real". Check it out; it is stirring.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Flannery's Health and Beauty Tip

When I went to Boston earlier this month, my bottle of moisturizer broke in transit and I have yet to replace it. In the meantime, I've been trying to find something around the house that would do the trick and keep my face looking youthful and fresh. Why not baby lotion? It's gentle and appropriate for use on such sensitive skin as I have! So, I tried it for a week or so. It did keep my face moist and would do in a pinch except for the fact that it was bedtime lavender baby lotion. I couldn't figure out why I was so sleepy on my hour-long commute. I was getting my rest. I had showered every morning. I drank my share (and your share) of caffiene. What the heck was going on?
It finally dawned on me. Lavender is a sleep aid. I remembered that fact from when I was working for a soap company and I had to write a training program for the use of essential oils and their properties. I nearly crashed my car from sleepiness after a day of demonstrating that stuff.
So here's my tip: If you're trying to keep your face moist and get some rest, I recommend the above lotion right before bedtime. If you just want your face moisturized so you can slap your make up on in the morning before heading out to work, don't be a cheap bastard (like me); splurge on the appropriate Cover Girl product.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Self-Improvement Goal 2: Test My Limits

One Saturday evening a month or two ago, I was talking to my good friend, Eoin, about how I should probably get to bed at a decent hour so that I could be rested and fresh for the girls when they woke up early the next morning. He was up visiting us and Madame E and the two of them usually come over late Saturday afternoon and stay til Sunday afternoon.

"I try to save my strength so that I'm not a mess when the girls want breakfast," I explained.

"Well, I don't like to save my strength," he replied casually, "I like to test my limits."

A little bell went off in my head. This is a new perspective. I used to be the kind of girl who would burn the candle at both ends and, for the most part, be able to keep my committments and work at an above average level of quality and efficiency. Ever since I had my babies, though, I've taken another approach to life, as I probably should.

When the doctor was completing my last check and filling out my release paperwork after I gave birth to Riley via c-section, she advised me that I should sleep when the baby slept and that I should preserve my strength. Of course, the first few weeks home were really tough: the most pain I'd ever lived through, layered over nicely with a frosting of post-partem, hormone induced depression. I started needing people. I started protecting myself and my inner resources. Not bad things, generally, but they began to cause me to fence myself in.

Four years later, with all my scars healed and the depression kept at bay (for the most part), I'm still trying to conserve my energy. I'm cutting short my leisure activities so that I can get rest that may or may not come, insomnia being a regular guest at my house. While it is true, that I need to get my required rest, being the one person in the family who has to bring home the bacon, I also have discovered that always doing "what's best for me" isn't always best for me.

As much as I need to be there for my kids and "bring it" at work, I also need to let my hair down and relax. All work and no play make Flannery a raging bitch on wheels. This is something I've discovered slowly, but not really the point of this post.

In other words, I've told you that so I can tell you this: Last night I tested my limits. We were celebrating the August birthdays last night at my parent's house. They had supplied some tasty chicken and fixin's from Belgrade Gardens, home of the best broasted chicken in the my world. As is our tradition, we settled in to play a no-limit Texas Hold'em tournament. The players included me, my Dad, my Uncle Charlie, my Mom, my Grandma and Quinn, my cousin's 12 year-old son.

The tournament was held in the dining room of my parent's contemporary home. Rachel, Quinn's mom sat down at one end of the table to complete a pile of paperwork required for her daughter, Bailey, to return to school. Doc, opting out of this tournament, was watching From Russia With Love in the living room and Riley, Lucy and Bailey were playing together.

My parent's house has a very open floor plan. You can walk from the kitchen moving counter-clockwise, past the front door on your left, the stairs to the second floor on your right, turn right and walk past a sunken family room and then the living room on the left. Then you turn right and walk through a wide corridor containing a piano into the dining room. With one more right turn, you'll find yourself back in kitchen. It's important to know this layout because it is the flight path of Riley and Bailey as they chased each other around the house.

As you may have gathered, this was not a nice, quiet game of poker. We had James Bond blowing things up in the living room, Lucy playing the piano, Riley and Bailey chasing each other and screaming like girls, Rachel doing her paperwork out loud and getting progressively aggravated, and we the players: laughing, joking, calling each other names.

After about an hour of play, my Grandma and my Uncle were out. It was just me, my Mom and Dad, and Quinn. I could tell my Mom was getting to her breaking point as was I. The noise coupled with Quinn's exhuberant style of play were starting to break us down. At one point I thought I'd just throw all my chips in against whatever I drew next and be done with this damn game. Chaos is such an enemy of concentration, an essential part of winning at poker. I just wanted to throw in the towel and go for a walk while taking deep draughts from a hip flask full of scotch.

But, I remembered what my good friend Eoin had said: I like to test my limits. I had just reached a limit. I knew my Mom was standing on the brink right next to me. I took a deep breath, laid both of my hands flat on the table, closed my eyes, exhaled and pushed the chaos away from me. Hell, I'd been through worse; I used to work retail during the holidays.

Wouldn't you know it? The next hand after my mini medidation, my Mom threw all her chips in on a hand that could be better described as a foot. She'd cracked and I'd held it together. I had tested my limit and found that I didn't crumble. So I pressed on.

It wasn't all easy going after that. We kept going back and forth. My Dad had the chip lead and I was trailing Quinn. I was so far behind because my Dad landed himself a straight royal flush; a very rare hand that I was honored to be defeated by. But I perservered. Quinn is a very good player, but he is also a bit inexperienced. Therefore, it is a challenge to play him because, while he can be easy to read, he is also very unpredictable. But I chiseled away at his chips with solid play until I finally beat his spade flush with a higher spade flush and he was out of the game.

I didn't exactly feel exhilarated by beating a twelve-year old at poker at his own birthday party. Actually, I felt like kind of heel about that. But I did feel stronger. So, flush with that kind of inner victory, I take the next bold steps into my late thirties knowing I can be all I can be and then some. Thank you, Eoin, for giving me a push in the right direction.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

What's With China?

It seems very trendy, thanks to Tom Friedman and his tome of the century The World Is Flat, to talk about China, to go to China, to have Chinese people come here to visit us, and to consult with Chinese people to see how they have become such a success. Don't get me wrong, I'm a fan of China. I love reading about Chinese culture. Some of my favorite authors include Amy Tan and Pearl S. Buck. I wouldn't consider myself a student of China, but I am familiar with the land and its people.

What bugs me is this sudden frenzy by everyone in my industry to worship at the feet of the Chinese. They seem to be poised to be the next superpower and everyone is doing some pre-emptive ass-kissing. I think some interesting things are going to be happening in the next few years with regard to China, but I'm not prepared to hand the Chinese people the key to the city just because they seem to know how to make money and get things done.

In my experience, much of success is planned for; I'd say about 37%. The rest is luck and circumstance. I just wish that people could understand that just because a system, process, or way of life works like crazy in one place, doesn't mean it will work everywhere.

And, God, am I tired of hearing about China.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Kids Say The Darndest Things...

The other night, my daughter Riley and I were watching TV. She got up and said, "Let's turn off the TV."

"Okay," I said.

"So," Riley said, settling down on the couch, "Tell me about your childhood."

I fought to manage my facial expressions; Riley does not like being laughed at for being cute. She wants to be taken seriously. She's four, for God's sake.

"Well," I replied, "I spent a lot of time during the summers at Clearwater Park; my uncle camped there over the summers and I hung out with him and my cousins, while my mom and dad worked during the day."

"I already know that," she said, exasperated.

"Sorry, but it was a significant part of my childhood. Why don't you tell me about your childhood?" I put the ball back in her court.

"Mom," she tweened at me, "I'm still in my childhood."

My goodness! That's a very interesting thing for a pre-schooler to say. I continued my questioning...

"Well, then, what has been your favorite part of childhood so far?"

"Um," she thought, "I really like going to Clearwater too."

The other night, Madame E and the Big E were over. We had put the kids to bed and were hanging out in the living room. We worried that we might be talking too loudly and wake the children. Well, speak of the devil: we heard this chant from Lucy:
"I wanna watch television!...Momma...Daddy...I wanna watch television!"
Not TV. Television.
Eventually she calmed down and we made our way to the Lodge, where we could talk and not wake the kids.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Pimpin' Ain't Easy But It's Necessary

Those are gold teeth up in his grill. Sebastian!

Drunken Post

I've had a few. Some Bud. Some St. Pauli's Girl. I've offended mein herr by saying "God Dammit". I guess I should go to bed, but I want to do some karaoke.

Don't your worry about a thing baby, cause you know you got me by a string baby.

You be Bobby and I'll be Whitney.

I think I'm going to be sick.

Peace out, homes.

Friday, August 18, 2006

An Open Apology to Big Orange

I tried, dude. I tried to read Oryx and Crake. I got the audio book and jammed tape one in the tape deck yesterday morning on my way to work. It was very poetic. And poetry makes my eyes glaze over. I forced myself to concentrate and imagine the world I was hearing about. I do feel like I was able to visualize the story; it wasn't too foreign. I did that for you. I stretched my shallow brain just a bit, because you insisted.

But my spirit couldn't stand tall. It was very depressing. Presently, I'm hanging onto my sanity by my fingernails and I felt Campbell Scott's dulcet tones pulling my fingers back one by one. I just couldn't take it. It bummed me out in a major way. So, last night on the way home, I plucked the tape out of the tape deck and listened to the news and began to cheer up noticably.

Questionable Work Ethic

My friend M captured a co-workers modus operandi very succinctly:

"Let's think about the future today and worry about the present tomorrow. Who cares about yesterday!"

I like to call it reverse procrastination.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Tongue Tongs

My girls love to play with tongs. We've gone through a couple of sets of tongs since we had children. We've had to purchase at least one set a year, as a matter of fact. Last night, when I got home from work, they were fighting over our one, lone pair of tongs. Lucy ended up hanging on to them. I tried to console Riley with a whisk of her very own, but a whisk, sadly, does not hold the magic of a pair of tongs.

Lucy hung on to that pair of tongs all night long. And know this: Lucy is only two and a half years old; she has the attention span of a humming bird. But those were her tongs, and by God, they were not going to fall into the wrong hands (i.e. Riley's)! Sibling rivalry drives these children in mysterious ways, I'm finding. This is new for me, being an only child.

Eventually, we settled down in our bedroom to watch some cartoons and Lucy started a game with me. She told me to stick out my toungue, and when I did, she'd try to clamp it down with the tongs. I'd pull my toungue out of the way at the last minute, but I'd still cry out like it hurt. For some reason, this was hilarious to Lucy. She kept prompting me to do it again and again. She was beside herself with giggles.

I'm amazed at what my girls find funny. They find comedy in the most interesting places.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

A Victory For Globalization

Apparently, Freedom Fries are officially over. Those good men and women who love freedom and serve us as congress-folk have come to their senses and in a francophilic fit of conscience: They renamed Freedom Fries to French Fries in the House restaurants. Why this is important to me is, my friend Big Orange has, upon occaision, bemoaned to me: "What ever happened to Freedom Fries?!? Does no one care about that anymore?!?" I'd sigh and let him rant about rampant stupidity in the world and then we'd move on. Don't get me wrong, I love his rants; I'd consider myself a connoiseur of them. But this particular dead horse had seen its day, in my opinion. So when I saw this news, I rubbed my hands together in anticipation of dropping it on him. Here's how it happened.


From: Big Orange
Sent: Tue 8/15/2006 3:09 PM
To: Flannery Alden
Re: groovy...

8/15/69: anniversary o' woodie-stock! Rock on, baby!


From: Flannery Alden
Sent: Tue 8/15/2006 3:17 PM
To: Big Orange
Subject: Re: groovy

...Freedom Fries are officially over


From: Big Orange
Sent: Tue 8/15/2006 4:09 PM
To: Flannery Alden
Re: groovy...

...such ponderous silliness is NEVER over for ME.


And that is why I love him.

Earworm Infestation

Thanks to Chris over at Some Guy's Blog for planting an earworm and starting an infestation in my head. I won't tell you what the earworm is; click the link, if you dare. I'm back to work after a week and am slogging through emails. I can't entirely blame him for my mental state. The work I'm doing is tedious and dull; my mind is fertile ground for the little buggers. Even though I've got iTunes running, I still find such horrors crawling around in my head such as:

  • Bus Stop, by the Hollies.
    Bus stop, wet day, she's there, I say
    Please share my umbrella
    Bus stop, bus goes, she stays, love grows
    Under my umbrella

  • Johnny McEldoo, by the Clancy Brothers
    There was Johnny McEldoo and McGhee and me,
    and a couple or two or three went on a spree one day
    We had a bob or two which we knew how to blew,
    and the beer and whiskey flew and we all felt gay

  • I'm My Own Grandpa, by Lonzo and Oscar
    I'm my own grandpa.
    I'm my own grandpa.
    It sounds funny, I know,
    But it really is so,
    Oh, I'm my own grandpa.

  • Piccolo Solo from You Can Call Me Al, by Paul Simon
    If you'll be my bodyguard,
    I can be your long lost pal!
    I can call you Betty,
    And Betty, when you call me,
    You can call me Al!

  • We Built This City, by Starship
    We built this city, we built this city on rock and roll
    Built this city, we built this city on rock and roll

  • Hurdy Gurdy Man, by Donovan
    Hurdy gurdy, hurdy gurdy, hurdy gurdy, gurdy he sang.
    Hurdy gurdy, hurdy gurdy, hurdy gurdy, gurdy he sang.
    Hurdy gurdy, hurdy gurdy, hurdy gurdy, gurdy he sang.

One could study my earworms and see a pattern developing. If a song is annoying and repetitive and the grammar is poor, it sticks to my brain like a nettle. And it won't go away...that is until I pour earworm repellent on it. What's earworm repellent, you ask? I'll tell you: Any Oompa Loompa song from the original Willie Wonka movie. Trust me it kills earworms dead.

Oompa, Loompa, doom-pa-dee-do
I have a perfect puzzle for you
Oompa, Loompa, doom-pa-dee-dee
If you are wise, you'll listen to me...

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Celebrities Who Have Appeared In My Dreams, Episode 102

I was driving in my car at the end of a caper dream and I pulled up to the corner of Raff Road and West Tuscarawas. I was talking to Madame E, who was riding in the passenger seat, and I pulled too far forward into the crosswalk. I was given dirty looks by Ted Henry and Robin Swoboda, local news casters who were trying to cross the street. They both gave me dirty looks as they made their way to the bus stop, obviously hot on the beat. I shrugged at them sheepishly and drove off as they scowled at me.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Back In Boston Again

I'm sitting here in my plush room at the Inn at Harvard in Cambridge. It's dark in my room except for the glow of the computer and the wide screen, flat screen TV, which is playing the men's wake board competition. It's just noise to keep me company. I've taken a Benedryl and I should be drooling on my pillow very soon.

Madame E and I have been commenting each other and I've talked to Doc and Big Orange. I'm looking forward to a clam bake in Marblehead tomorrow, the Freedom Trail on Sunday and some free time on the streets of the People's Republic of Cambridge. But the best thing that will happen is watching adult learners get their minds blown. It's quite a treat.

I'll keep you posted.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

But Anyway

Last night, Doc and I engaged a babysitter, my cousin's daughter, and took off to enjoy what the Pro Football Hall of Fame Festival had to offer. In the past, I usually tried to be out of town when the festivities hit, but this year, I was compelled to join the revelry. Blues Traveler was playing at the Stark County Fairgrounds and the price of admission was "free".

We arrived at the fairgrounds at about 7:45 for an 8:00 approximate start time. We paid five bucks to park in a lumpy field about a mile from the stage and hiked through the heat and over dusty trails to the grandstand area. We reminisced as the fairgrounds smells threw us back in time to our country living days; the now empty swine exhibits are still haunted with the aroma of long-gone inhabitants.

When we arrived at the entrance, we debated whether or not to buy grandstand tickets at seven bucks a pop. We decided against it because standing in the groundlings section gave us much closer proximity to the stage. We made our way into the fenced in pens for the "standing room" viewing area. Doc directed me over to the beer tent where we bought two plastic cups Molson for seven bucks. It was money much better spent than on those distant, hard seats in the grandstand.

We wandered over to the audience corral and sipped our beer. The sun was low in the sky and the smell of bacon surrounded us. The ribs burn-off was happening in the fairgrounds somewhere, but for some reason, all we could smell was bacon. By 8:15, the air started to cool and a nice breeze brushed through the crowd. I was starting in on my second beer and beginning to get cranky.

I had begun my mullet count (three so far). I began to wish I'd worn my Doc Martins; I was feeling like stomping someone's ass. At around 8:30, the morning, lunch and drive time dorks from WHBC, the host of the concert, came out on stage. They each had a turn at the mic and plugged their shows. John Tesh, a frequent jock on this station was conspicuously absent.

"Where's John Tesh?!?" I shouted, to Doc's horror. "We want John Tesh!"

"Where is he?" I turned to Doc and asked.

"He was probably too busy to come to this little show," Doc explained.

"Was he called back to the mothership?" I asked.

"Yeah, I think he was due for a probe."

So, thinking these dorks, minus the King of the Dorks, where there to introduce Blues traveler, the audience were a little dumsquizzled by the fact that Morning Dork ended his speech with "...Blues Traveler!!!" and nothing happened. Being a social drunk and being bored, I turned to the three young guys behind us and struck up a conversation. This is what I found out:

  • They had never seen Blues Traveler before.
  • They didn't pay for parking; they found a spot on the street and hiked probably less distance than we did.
  • Two of the three of them were not quite 21, the one who was 21 was buying the beer.
  • The one guy was studying to be a doctor (psychiatrist).
  • This summer, they had seen Wish You Were Here, a Pink Floyd (gag) cover band. They were planning on seeing Tool
This got me thinking about the bands I had seen in my lifetime. I turned to Doc and started listing them:

  • Mama's and the Papa's
  • Anne Murray
  • Air Supply (twice)
  • Adam Ant
  • Depeche Mode (twice)
  • Violent Femmes
  • They Might Be Giants
  • Lou Rawls
  • The Monkees (twice)
  • Huey Lewis
  • Billy Joel
  • Barry Manilow
  • Randy Travis/Alan Jackson
  • Dizzy Gillespie
  • Santana
  • Mel Torme
  • The Further Festival including: Warren Zevon, Los Lobos, Mickey Hart, What's left of the Grateful Dead (I don't get the Dead, but everyone else was fun)
  • Jimmy Buffet
  • Woody Herman Orchestra
By this time, the crowd was getting cranky. We all stood around craning our necks looking for the band. Shouting, "Where's Popper?" About fifteen minutes later, we saw his black hat and cherubic face peeking out from behind the stage. A roadie was holding him at bay, for some reason.

After a few more minutes, the speakers stopped playing the random warm-up music and began to blare "America, Fuck Yeah!" from Team America World Police (one of my all time favorite movies). I started screaming and singing along. As soon as the Travelers took their places, they started to jam. It was loud and pounding. Being so close to the stage, I could feel the music better than I could hear it. We kept pressing closer to the stage.

The sun had set and the moon was out. The Travelers were playing songs one after another, none of which I recognized. Eventually, they took a break and John Popper talked to the crowd. He had a Drew Carey thing going on with his delivery. When he finished drinking his drink and smoking his cigarette, the band jumped right back in with "The Devil Went Down to Georgia", only they replaced Georgia with Canton, the name of my hometown. Everybody roared and sang along. It was amazing. The whole show was.

Eventually, we got about 15 feet from the stage and white lights were shining down on John Popper as he wailed on the harmonica. I turned to Doc and said, "He looks like God!"

"Well, I hear God plays a mean harp," he quipped.

Eventually, the beer and the loudness (we're old) got to us. Doc took off to find a bathroom and I moved to the open area at the back of the corral. I danced along with the dead heads until Doc came back. He returned just in time to hear "But Anyway." By this time the half moon was shining in the sky. We were sweaty and dusty. The travelers began to play a slow song about mountains that I recognized but couldn't name and we swayed together under the moonlight.

The next song they played was their biggest hit "Run Around". You know the one about liking coffee and tea and drinking it and always being full? We pressed forward again and began to dance with the other drunken old people. It was delightful. The band finished the song and left the stage. We stayed to cheer for an encore. The band came back and I looked at Doc and signaled that we should go. He agreed.

"You never want to be the last one at the party," I said. "It's better to leave when things are in full swing than stay till everything dies down. Leave them wanting more, leave wanting more."

"Really? I always thought you do want to be the last one at the party; that means you probably get breakfast." he countered.

Struck by this revelation of our fundamentally different partying philosophies, we made our way over the river and through the woods to our jeep.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Stella In Memoriam

Ladies and gentlemen, family and friends. We are gathered here today to remember the life of Stella, my faithful steed for 4 loyal years. Perhaps some day, through the miracle of science and my Dad's impending retirement, she may regain life and rejoin us. For now, let us celebrate her life as she passes on to greener pastures.

Stella was born in 1993, constructed by the crafty robots employed by the Honda corporation. She was of the short-lived breed of Del Sol's; sassy two-seaters with removeable tops. My Stella had a manual transmission. She was black with faded, white spots. She had a very spacious trunk that contained a six-disc CD player and a rack on which to place her roof whenever I wanted to feel the wind in my hair.

Her interior contained black velour bucket seats, which smelled of the previous owner's dog whenever it rained. The bucket seats had Del Sol embroidered in them at about shoulder level. There was the standard speedometer and tachometer and a little red oil light that flashed on and off if she didn't receive a quart of oil every three or four days. There was a nice-sized glove compartment and storage bins behind each seat. Stella had a console that doubled as a drink holder and general storage space. It was inconveniently located; I had to reach behind my back to get to my can of Diet Coke, a tricky maneuver while driving and using the stick shifter.

I loved Stella. She made me feel like a true hitchhiker of the galaxy; she made sure I knew where my towel was at all times. The driver's side window seal leaked and, if it rained, I'd soak my ass without that towel close to hand. I felt like I was travelling through space in a small, agile shuttle craft. It was a rickety space craft; Doc always complained about noises and rattles, whenever he travelled with me or drove Stella himself. He'd busy himself looking for the source of the noise. I'd show him how to fix it by turning up the stereo.

Ah, the stereo. A Kenwood. It played the radio and tapes. It was attached to the Kenwood CD player in the trunk, which held six CD's. I never really used the CD player much once I got my iPod. The speakers were nesteled behind the headrests and built into the doors. I was able to drive to the beat of my own drummer on my many mile commute. I was also able to enjoy many books on tape. All of the Harry Potter stories, Most of the Agatha Raisin Mysteries, to name a few.

I loved Stella the moment I drove her home. I've loved her every day since. She asked very little and gave me so much in return: The stories, the songs, the landscapes zipping by, the near misses, the noises, the smells, the dust, the dust bunnies, the unquenchable thirst for oil, the ridiculously great gas mileage (35 miles to the gallon), the inconspicuousness, the feeling of the wind in my hair, the music, the agility, the rattles and hums. She is the first car I've owned that died in my arms. She will always be special to me: she was paid for, she was cool, she made me look good, but not too good that someone would want to take her from me. I will miss her and I shall not soon forget her.