Life Among the Never-Winged

Once upon a time I was writing a book called, "Just Another Love Letter", about angels behaving badly. Now I just quietly ask myself each day, "What the hell am I doing?"

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Location: The Rocky Mountain Empire, United States

My friends always knew I was going to hell. My only hope is that God likes good jokes and bad redheads.

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  • Wednesday, January 31, 2007

    Raise your hand

    if you are ready for January and all it entails to end.

    Raise your hand if you are ready to kick January to the curb, go back inside, and hurl all of January's belongings onto the (snow-covered) lawn, and this time you MEAN it.

    Who's for buying January a one-way bus ticket to anywhere?

    Raise your hand.

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    Sunday, January 28, 2007

    Filters, Or n1 / sin (θ1) = n2 / sin(θ2)

    Rainbows do not actually exist, but are optical illusions dependent entirely on an observer's relative position to light and water.

    For example. An observer is standing on a ship at sea; the source of light is the setting sun and the water is the last of a sudden storm that the ship is passing through.

    The observer is not alone, but surrounded by relatives at a reunion who have all gathered for a photograph (another creature of optics and illusion) in front of a large picture window overlooking the prow of the ship. The photo is taken, the groups turns, the rainbow appears.

    A rainbow is the result of light undergoing total internal reflection in myriad water droplets.

    Everyone smiles, and one observer voices the single thought of the group – a woman's name, a pronouncement of presence signified by a beautiful thing that does not really exist, but that everyone gathered in that particular, that singular place out at sea nonetheless can observe.

    In other words, it all depends on where you stand, and where you look.


    “You should have seen it. Everybody just smiled and someone said, “There's Liz. And it was.”


    Once upon a time, a ship passed through a storm at sunset and a rainbow appeared. A common sight.

    Once upon a time, a family gathered for a photograph at a reunion arranged by a woman who died two years previously. Just after the photo was taken, a rainbow appeared, and everyone knew she was there.

    Once upon a time, a food Nazi took her boyos to the grocery store and in a moment of indulgence, let one of them grab a box of rainbow fish crackers. Instead of putting it in the cupboard, she stared at the box on the counter for a couple of days, never realizing it was a punchline.




    (The first part of this story is here.)

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    Friday, January 26, 2007

    I'm Lost

    What do you do when one of your characters scares the ever-lovin' crap out of you?

    (I LOVE these comments! Keep 'em coming! You guys are great! *MWAAHH*)

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    Thursday, January 25, 2007


    And welcome to the Vomitorium.

    Do not breathe deeply while you are here. Please clean and sanitize your keyboards. You don't want this shit.

    Even the dog is sick.

    Going back to bed now.


    Schmoop's word verification: (See? The magic spreads!)

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    Monday, January 22, 2007

    Adagio for String Theory

    It is of course snowing again.

    The thought that keeps me going is that the spring will be extra green for it. If there is ever a spring.

    But that's not what I want to talk about.

    No. Instead let me tell you about an amazing person. My second-cousin-and-Godmother.

    The family historian. The genealogist. Full of life, full of love for her family and friends. Boundless acceptance of me for who I am. A fellow heathen, even. My Godmother. Elizabeth. Liz.

    Because of her, 92 of my mother's relations and their families and friends are sailing off the coast of Miami right now. Almost my entire maternal family.

    I still remember how Liz told me about her plans for this family reunion almost five years ago, the night before her son's wedding. She was laughing, putting her arms around me, talking about how the ship was still under construction, how it was going to be the largest passenger vessel in the world, and that even though it wouldn't be ready for another four years and who knows what can happen in that time, she said, her hands on my pregnant belly, we should plan for it now – her travel agent could already start booking us all on a voyage from Miami in '07.

    My mom called me earlier today from her room's balcony before her cell phone signal faded.

    Here's the ship's emergency number, she said. Your father and I are going to go look for something to eat now. The reunion is underway. I wish you were here.

    I do too.

    Liz and my mom are the Namesake cousins. Their mothers were sisters, close, and each named their first-born daughter after the other. Even after my grandmother moved from Fairfield, Iowa to Illinois, she sent my mom back, alone on the train, to spend her summers with them.

    The last time I was in Fairfield I was with Liz and her younger sister Margaret, and my mom. It was a Bradbury-esque, Dandelion Wine meets Steel Magnolias sort of weekend. Between quilt shops, Liz and I were the only ones brave enough to leave the convertible and explore the Maharishi grounds, M&M watching us and cowering in the car, sure they were about to be kidnapped and brainwashed.

    Now what? I asked, laughing and winded from running back to the car.

    You guys! my mother rolled her eyes.

    To the graveyard! shouted Liz.

    Margaret drove.

    Their stones were covered with vines, so we pulled them off. I knew the names but not the stories. Liz told one after the other as we tended the family graves.

    Remember them, she told me. This is your family. Bring the boyos here someday. But bring them on the cruise first! There's still time to book.

    Maybe they'll have little cousins to play with by then, I said.

    It was Liz's turn to roll her eyes. I doubt it, she said. Though I wish they would.

    The next summer, in '05, I was in DizneeWhirled with Des Moines Girl on a business (ha!) trip. I was standing on the balcony that time, in the midst of Tropical Storm Elaine, talking to my mom. She told me the latest news about Liz's sudden illness, how her doctor still didn't know what was wrong, and she wouldn't be leaving the hospital anytime soon. I bought my Godmother a Fairy Godmother pin, planned to send it to my mom who was getting ready to visit Liz in Des Moines.

    She rallied. We knew she'd make it. It was Liz, after all.

    Then one day I was cleaning out the nightstands in anticipation of our new furniture, and I found the only letter my grandmother Elizabeth ever sent me after I was married. I looked at the bluebird on the front of the card. And I knew. Liz wasn't going to make it. And this was my grandmother's way of telling me that she was near, ready to help Liz when the time came. Because she was the Namesake.

    I stood in the bedroom, holding that card, crying, wondering how I was supposed to tell my mom. And wondering if the bluebird was my grandmother's, or Liz's, bird.

    I didn't tell her. I couldn't. I told O instead.

    It wasn't long after. A few days. My mom called in shock, and said it was only a matter of time. The phone rang again. Something called The Dove Foundation came up on caller ID. We didn't answer it. And a minute later, the third call. The news.

    Two days later I was in Des Moines. I slipped the Fairy Godmother pin into Liz's coffin. And I promised I'd tend her grave, and remember her stories.

    Des Moines Girl picked me up from the hotel the next morning and made life bearable until I flew home the following day. (Thank you, my dear, for helping me across the ice.)

    I'll go to bed soon, both crying and smiling, and here is why.

    Had we gone on the cruise, the boyos would not have had little cousins to play with. But they will. I just got the news. Liz's daughter is pregnant. Her due date? July 20th. More importantly, the day before Liz's death.

    And Des Moines Girl is due around then too. Go congratulate her.

    I don't know what it means, all of it. If it's predestination, if it's poetic chance, or if it's those universal dancing partners, chaos and order, falling into each other forever, leaving their fractal footprints for us to decipher.

    But it's beautiful, isn't it? Even through tears, it's all beautiful.

    Friday, January 19, 2007

    I've Waited for This!!

    Yes! It finally happened!

    According to the good people at Home Depot, I AM Nancy Dancehall!

    Does this mean I can skip all that pesky legal paperwork?

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    Wednesday, January 17, 2007

    Stella's Tarantella

    I wrote this a few days ago, and didn't feel like posting it, because I hate doing two downers in a row. But...well, I got nothing else.

    Hell. It's January.

    He's going in late tomorrow, so I can afford to do this. I can sit on the couch at midnight and listen to the music on my iriver. I can sit and stare at a wall and watch the songs uncurl there. It's how I get out. I can let my heart float close to the surface. I can remember. I can do more than that. I can go backwards and forwards with each song played.

    A hot wind shimmers across the wall, and a synthesized chorus sings, “Stranger...” until Billy Idol growls his way in, and I'm eleven years old, curled up in a rocking chair in the middle of a sticky Illinois summer. It's a Saturday, and my dad is making the only thing he knows how to cook – chili. It's just beginning to burn, I can tell by the smell, but I'm too involved in trying to escape from the incomprehensible and ever-present tension in the house to try and tell him that he should take it off the heat. Instead I fall deeper into the book of short stories on my lap. It's far more comfortable to live inside Stephen King's Night Shift, a grown-up book I'm smart enough to read and too young to comprehend, like most of my life up to this point. Oh, the story with the boogyman in the closet scares me, and I'll never forget how horrible it is to read that as he turned into a grey ooze, a boy's father thought it 'felt kinda nice.' Perhaps I understand more than I think I do.

    The chili is definitely burning as Billy Idol sings that it's hot in the city, and it's just as hot here in the country, I can tell him. The childish voices echoing 'Hot!' will be forever entwined in my haunted head with the children of the corn and their fiery midsummer rituals.

    To remove the pot of chili from the burner myself is unthinkable. Nothing moves in this heat, and anyway, I've never cooked a thing. I wouldn't know what I was doing. Besides, my dad will get it. To move the pot might be a criticism, might show that I know better,when I don't. Worse, it might hurt my dad's feelings. I could never be sure.

    My mom isn't home from work yet. It's just me, my dad and my brother. I don't know where my dad is exactly; probably out front watering or mowing the lawn. My brother is on the loveseat, where he always is, propped up on pillows, looking at nothing. I don't give it much thought. He's been this way all his life, all my life. His petit mal seizures are so common, I don't pay much attention. I don't have enough experience to understand I'm callous. But not completely; I rub his head from time to time, thinking he might like it.

    We don't hug a lot, my family. We don't say, 'I love you.' It's too much, too thick, like the heat. We let music and books do a lot of the talking. My dad and I almost have a second language that plays through the radio. I wonder if he has his little transistor radio out front with him, and I know that if he does, he's listening to the same station I am. Maybe Billy will remind him about the chili for me. There's a newspaper clipping with his photo taped to my bedroom door, his angelic face, his diabolical smile. He might remind my dad, he might not.

    What does happen is that the chili burns. My dad eventually comes in and turns off the stove. He swears and stirs, serves up two bowls and apologizes to me. I tell him it's fine, it tastes good, really. Kinda nice.

    My dad asks how far I am in Night Shift. I tell him I'm skipping around, reading the shortest stories first. I thought they'd all be scary, but they aren't. Really? he asks, chuckling and covering his mouth. Which ones don't scare you?

    I Know What You Need didn't scare me. I felt sorry for the guy.

    Oh yeah, my dad laughs. Wasn't he a demon or something?

    It doesn't really say.

    Did you read The Boogeyman?

    Yeah. That was scary.

    I had to close the closet doors before I went to bed, after that one.

    Me too.

    My mom gets home. She takes one whiff of the air, asks, What's burning?

    I made chili, my dad says.

    Why would you make chili on such a hot day? She laughs, looking at me, trying to rope me into the joke. I just look back down at the browner-than-red stuff in my bowl.

    You're not actually eating it are you?

    I shrug. Yeah.

    It smells awful, she says, walking in the bedroom to change. My dad doesn't look at me, just gets up and pours the rest into the trash.

    I can't move.

    It's midnight, O mouths to me, since I can't hear him over the earbuds. I wipe my eyes before he can see, and turn down the volume. I'm going to bed, he says. I smile at him. He smiles back, glad that I'm enjoying my Christmas gift.

    And I do. More songs play. They are better than heroin, better than LSD. I can drift. I can stretch out and feel all the stories...

    Anyway. It's just past noon now. It's snowing again. No, it's still snowing, it's never stopped snowing. It's Narnia out there, and I keep waiting for a red-scarfed faun to traipse past. But how is that different from any other day since I was eleven?

    I think I need some green. Now.

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    Friday, January 12, 2007

    I should be

    cleaning. I should be doing dishes. Sweeping. Vacuuming.

    I should be dressed. I should be finishing the book. Or writing a sestina about the universe called Breath, and using the words: feather, falling, word, void, love and laundry. I should be playing with the boyos and their new toys, I should be dressing them, I should be supervising as they pick up blocks. (I did feed them; food is love.) I should be blogging the continuing Frango story now that my mom left this morning. I should be leaving my fortune cookie witticisms on ya'll's blogs. I should be answering your wonderful comments on my own blog (one-way conversations are only half-fun). I should read my email, I should be writing thank-you notes.

    But, I'm napping. More or less. I'm putting these words together in my head, to type in later. I should be sleeping. I should give up. I should call Dr. S., make my follow-up appointment, ask him if it was only a hallucination that I heard – his voice solid and real floating over my dreams, pulling me up and out of the dark; She may want to have that ovary removed.” He wasn't there when I opened my eyes, just the nurses and Fiji. I should have asked right then. I think I tried. No one said anything about it to O.

    This was before I had visitors: There were pictures. I saw them; someone flipped through them quickly in front of my eyes, and then they were gone. I remember seeing something that wasn't supposed to be there, and then it was gone in the next picture. Then the pictures themselves were gone. I wonder if I'll see them again in a textbook.

    Everyone wanted me to tell them how I felt in numbers. God's own language, I thought. A nurse told me I shouldn't feel worse than a six. I told her I was around a five. She put something in my IV that took me to a two, for about two minutes. After that, 3.5 sounded good. I wanted to say pi, but I didn't want them to think I was delusional. Or hungry.

    Then the girl who sat in front of me in 9th grade biology took me to the bathroom. Seriously. Ask her. Life's so absurd.

    I should be thanking God for Vicadin. I should be set for the next migraine. I should be knocking on wood.

    I shouldn't be telling you about the second night. I should leave a happy story be. I shouldn't have laid down alone. My diaphragm borrowed the nerves in my shoulder, having none of its own. It came on quickly, the pain. It wisely ignored the Vicadin, sending red pressure into my shoulder, where the closest nerves screamed a warning about my diaphragm; leftover co2 compressed it, and I couldn't breathe. But the pain was so intense, I couldn't move, either. I lay gasping like a fish in the middle of the bed, pain level as close to a ten as one can get without passing out. Pi cubed.

    My mom heard me, heard that tiny, crucial sound. She called O in. They propped me up and I tried to breathe. My exhales were tight-fisted screams. “If you can do that, you can breathe!” O screamed back, trying to pull me out of the panic. I closed my eyes and when I did, I saw flowers bloom. Little five-petaled flowers bursting open.

    The bubble moved. I breathed. I didn't sleep well after that.

    I got better. I am better. I'll stop slacking after today. After I post this. After I think about napping again. After I decide not to.

    Tuesday, January 09, 2007


    I blame you all.
    You and your Steely Dan mantras and mp3 prayerwheels. You good prayers, thoughts, wishes, vibes and of course the WoohooHOO mojo.

    I had a wonderful recovery. SO much easier than last time. I came out of the anestheia discussing the latest coup in Fiji with two of the nurses. One was going to book a cruise there. I suggested she not, and to avoid Thailand for the same reaon. Thanks, D-Man, for making me look all smart and stuff.

    The good news. Dr. S. found no endo. It hasn't come back. I guess the healthy diet's paying off.
    But what he did find was a cyst the size of my fist. Granted, my hands are small (I know, but they're not yours, they are my own...huh? Oh...sorry.), but, um. Ouch. It was pretty big. I rememer seeing pictures, shortly after dicussing Fiji. I don't really remember them all that well, and I guess Dr. S. took them with him.

    Ok. I'm partying with Prince Vicadin. And blogging behind my mom's back. Remind me to tell you the continuing story of the Frangos. I might come out looking like a hero! Hee!

    Love to you all.

    Monday, January 08, 2007

    The Other Side

    O here with a brief update on Ms Dancehall. Surgery went well and she was home by 10:30 am and is resting well. I'll leave revealing all the gory details of her condition to her.
    Thanks to everyone for the good juju.

    Well, Kids

    See you on the other side!


    Saturday, January 06, 2007

    It's Your Favorite Foreign Movie

    We all have our lucky socks or winning rituals that get us through a challenge.

    Mine's Steely Dan. Nothing bad can happen while Steely Dan is playing.

    Don't ask me how I came to this. I don't know. I like the music. It puts me at ease.

    So, if you happen to be awake between 7:30 and 9:30 am Mountain time, Monday the 8th, (That's actually like, 1:58 pm on Saturday the 23rd in New Zealand) I'd appreciate it if you'd throw on a little Kid Charlemagne, or Rikki Don't Lose That Number, or The Royal Scam. If you're so inclined, of course.

    What is your lucky charm? And why?

    Thursday, January 04, 2007

    I Am Sooooo Fucked....

    I think I did a bad thing. But it felt good at the time...

    I'm impulsive by nature. But over time I've learned to control my impulses like a Vulcan controls his emotions. Because when I don't, I do some really stupid things.

    This is one of them.

    The boxes of gifts arrived two weeks before Christmas. My mom called the same day.

    “Did you get them?” she asked.

    “Yup. Both boxes.”

    “Oh good. Ok, now when you open them, you'll see a couple of baskets with Frango mint stuff. One's for O's parents and one's for J.”

    I gave her back a little silence.

    “So you make sure you get those to them, Ok?” she continued.


    Now, you need to understand two things.

    The first is that J. is my dreaded sister-in-law. She is a vituperative bitch. (See meno? I told you I was stealing that bonbon of a word). I haven't spoken to J. since last January, when she screamed my faults – both real and imagined – into the phone and then hung up. I could go into the nitty-gritty details about the ongoing fight, but it slows down the story, so, I've footnoted it.*

    The other thing is that my mother is a wonderful woman, but she has NEVER had my back in a fight. My mom's life ambition is to make sure every single person on the face of the earth likes her. A Catholic thing? A Midwest thing? I don't know. Anyway, not only does she make sure she's gotten a gift for J., but she wants me to deliver it.

    Now, that's fine. I can set it on the old family caravan; pass it on to O, who can pass it on to his mom who can pass it on to J. Worked just fine last year. But what started to eat at me were the daily calls:

    Ring ring

    Hey mom, how's it going?

    Fine. Have you gotten those Frangos to them yet?


    Well, you'd better do it!

    Ring ring


    Hi there. Heard you got some snow!

    Two and a half feet.

    Wow. Did you get those Frangos to J. yet?

    Uh. Not yet. Kinda buried right now.

    Ring ring


    More snow?




    And so on.


    Mom, you do realize she hates us, right? And that getting the Frangos to her is not my top priority?

    Well! I don't want her to hate me! Tee hee!

    (My was dad in the background saying, Well I hate her. Yay dad!)

    And then she added:

    Now, dear, if O wants to reconcile with J. You shouldn't stand in the way...

    After which I told my mother the two-word expletive O uses when speaking of his sister, and that I was standing in the way of nothing. Except Frangos and their rightful owners, I guess.

    I hung up, seething, so hot I could have melted the snow just by stepping outside. Which would have come in handy, and kept me out of this mess.

    Because about that time, a plow actually came through our neighborhood, with the effect of throwing a three-foot wall of snow across the entrance to everyone's driveway. O had taken the shovels to work with him, so I ran across the street to B.'s house to borrow hers.

    B. is the best neighbor anybody could hope to have. Widowed, about my mom's age, spunky, grew up on a farm; I adore this woman. She came to our house for Thanksgiving. 'Nuff said.

    She met me at the door.

    Oh! I was just coming over! I have a little something for the boys, she said, and handed me two little Christmas bags and a couple containers of cookies. And she had a shovel I could borrow, and offered to help me shovel, which I declined.

    Every year for Christmas I give her a box of Colorado-made toffee. Heavenly. This year, the blizzards prevented me from getting out and purchasing boxes of said toffee on time.

    I ran into the house to drop off the gifts. The boyos pounced on them immediately. B. had knitted slippers for them. Made them something. And there were a couple little toys in there too.

    You know what's coming, right?


    In a moment of sheer guilt for not having anything for B., in a moment of sheer anger toward my mom, in a moment of sheer wickedness, in a moment of sheer, uncontrolled impulse, I grabbed the Frangos that were destined for J., tore off the gift tag, and raced back out the door.

    My heart sang all the way back across the street.

    B! Merry Christmas!

    It felt so good. It felt so right! A gift for a woman who deserved it, who made something for my little boyos. Who was always nice to me.

    Yeah. It felt good. Until I got hit with overwhelming guilt. I went around and around, trying to justify what I did, and I kept coming back to, 'They weren't mine to give.' (Ok, but in my defense, O had also made a statement the night before to the effect of, “Fuck her. We'll eat them!” AND, my mom is coming out to watch my boyos while I'm recovering from surgery.

    Guilt guilt guilt guilt. Guilt guilt guilt guilt.

    So, I tried to make amends, while trying to cover my ass. Frangos are not widely available outside of Chicago. I got online and looked. There were no baskets that matched exactly, so I ordered something that probably cost twice as much, and had it shipped to the bookstore as a precaution.

    In 13 years, J.'s only sent my mom one thank you, she wouldn't DARE call my mom while she was out here (ok, she MIGHT), but chances were, my mom would never be the wiser.

    A Pretty Good Plan, don't you think?

    Well, the universe, which I've found is NOT governed necessarily by the laws of morality – good vs bad – but by whatever event will produce the best punchline, has decided to strand the replacement basket in a town in Illinois that bears my (real) last name.

    Adverse weather conditions, the tracking says. It's been sitting there for a week. It's STILL there. It aint budging.

    And my mom gets here Saturday.

    Now, remember that I had the foresight to send the Frangos to the bookstore? Well, knowing the universe as I do, it will arrive on Monday, when O is at the hospital with me, and his parents are watching the store.

    I have the WORST postal luck. And I am soooo fucked.

    Yup. The universe has a sense of humor as abstruse as the ocean. And I'm just Dory swimming through it and chanting, “Just keep laugh-ing, just keep laugh-ing...”

    *Can I just say that one of my real 'faults' was not picking up the phone every time J. called me? (Mainly to avoid incriminating myself with loaded statements like, “How's it going?”)

    The catalyst to the fight was a phone call several months previous to that, prefaced with a “Feel free to say no.” J. wanted me to watch her three boys twice a week for two to three hours at a time while she went to a kickboxing class. I apologized and told her I was overwhelmed with my boyos alone, and that I didn't think I'd do a good job of watching five boys under the age of seven. She told me she understood, and hung up real quick-like.

    By the next day, the story she was telling people was that I hated her children. So, yeah, I started avoiding her calls after that.

    Another of my sins was feeding my boyos organic food. And limiting their television. And having a clean house. And losing weight. These things threatened her self-esteem, apparently.

    My imagined fault was 'never doing anything for her.' She conveniently forgot the quilt I made from scratch and by hand for her second baby during the summer and fall when I was told I couldn't have children of my own. She overlooked the hundreds of dollars we spent on gifts from Ireland. No mention of the weeks' worth of food I bought and cooked for her family – preparing all her favorite dishes – when her second-born had RSV, nor that I did it second time while she had surgery. Listened to her on the phone gripe that she was pregnant a third time, while I was still mourning a miscarriage. Forget all the little things besides these.

    So. She's not exactly my favorite person these days.

    Tuesday, January 02, 2007

    Slightly Dead

    Who Knows? - Marvin Hill

    Just got back from the hospital, and all systems are go for surgery next Monday.

    I was fine with that, before today. But now I'm nervous too. When the surgery was initially scheduled, I was actually looking forward to it, if you can believe that.

    See, the thing I fear the most is the oblivion that may or may not follow death. Going into the dark under anesthesia, well, it feels like a dress rehearsal. My heart will be monitored. I won't be breathing on my own. That's...slightly dead...isn't it?

    I've been thinking about it, trying to understand my own mixed excitement and fear. And I think it is this. I will be placed into the hands of the thing I dread – for safekeeping – and then pulled back out again, like a rabbit from a hat.

    There is an erotic component to it, I'll not deny. But isn't that the natural reaction to death? Fuck or be lost forever. Nature's life insurance policy.

    Anyway, I have a little hole in my arm where the phlebot found an unscarred patch of vein. I have my paperwork, I have the continuing reassurance that it's Dr. S. who's performing the procedure (even the pre-admission RN's eyes glazed over for a minute when she read his name, and we exchanged that little smile. She was under his care too before he went strictly into infertility. And to pull your mind back out of the gutter I put it into, he's very professional, and at the same time very warm and caring Makes a girl feel safe).

    So. My mom gets here next Saturday. And I might be in a little trouble with her, if something doesn't happen the way it should. I'll tell you about it next time. I think you'll laugh. I did, just before the overwhelming guilt kicked in...