Monday, July 30, 2007

How Shall Beauty Be Named?

With my own eyes I saw the results of cosmetic surgery.

Right there in the toilet paper aisle, pushing a wobbly cart she stepped toward me, lots of chunky jewelry, long bleached blond hair, tiny animal print shoes with tall spiked heals, and too tight jeans as her adornments. Her attire caught my eye right away, but as she wheeled closer I saw her tightly-pulled, smooth-as-plastic face, her sad, upwards slanting, darting eyes, and.......her lips.

"She looks like a catfish," were the first words to dash cross my ever-too-critical mind.

But she did.

Impregnated with magical, lip-bloating collagen, her mouth resembled a catfish's wide, fat-lipped mouth, and it wasn't pretty at all.

After the critical Me had her say, the more compassionate Me noticed that this woman's eyes seemed to be the pleading eyes of an imprisoned soul, trapped underneath this Joker-esque mask of pulled and plumped, smoothed and re-situated skin. I felt sorrowful, especially when, after brief eye contact, her eyes shifted downward and her head bowed low as she passed. Surprisingly she seemed ashamed.

I felt very very sad.

Sad for her.

And sad for women in general that we believe these lies about what is valuable and beautiful in a woman. Lies, lies, lies, which distort our self-images causing us to do unspeakable things to our bodies in order to be 'approved.'

Life has been stolen from women in many ways, life and power and joy and rest.

Wandering Coyote introduced me to Naomi Wolf's book, The Beauty Myth, and it has affirmed what I've long surmised: We are not in Kansas anymore, and the Wizard is a fraud.

"Whatever the future threatens, we can be fairly sure of this: Women in our 'raw' or 'natural' state will continue to be shifted from category 'woman' to category 'ugly,' and shamed into an assembly-line physical identity. As each woman responds to the pressure, it will grow so intense that it will become obligatory, until no self-respecting woman will venture outdoors with a surgically unaltered face. The free market will compete to cut up women's bodies more cheaply, if more sloppily, with no-frills surgery in bargain basement clinics." ~~~ Naomi Wolf

I dare say the day has already come that 'no self-respecting woman' will venture out without make-up. Except for me. I get lingering, face-scanning looks from women all the time as if they are thinking, "Is she wearing make-up or not?" as in, "If she's not, she's wrong!" My Mediterranean heritage gives me a bit of an advantage, with olive skin and dark hair. Still, who cares? Why does anyone give a darn? Stumps me.

I particularly like Naomi's phrase, assembly-line physical identity. It's true, from clothing styles and sizes, to make-up, nails, hair, purses, sunglasses, even cars and boyfriends. It's copy copy copy and it makes me ill.

This, I like:

"You could see the signs of female aging as diseased, especially if you had a vested interest in making women to see them your way. Or you could see that if a woman is healthy she lives to grow old; as she thrives, she reacts and speaks and shows emotion, and grows in her face. Lines trace her thought and radiate from the corners of her eyes after decades of laughter, closing together like fans as she smiles. You could call the lines a network of 'serious lesions,' or you could see that in a precise calligraphy, thought has etched marks of concentration between her brows, and drawn across her forehead the horizontal creases of surprise, delight, compassion, and good talk. A lifetime of kissing, of speaking and weeping, shows expressively around a mouth scored like a leaf in motion. The skin loosens on her face and throat, giving her features a setting of sensual dignity; her features grow stronger as she does. She has looked around in her life, and it shows. When gray and white reflect in her hair, you could call it a dirty secret or you could call it silver and moonlight. Her body fills into itself, taking on gravity like a bather breasting water, growing generous with the rest of her. The darkening under her eyes, the weight of her lids, their minute cross-hatching, reveal that what she has been part of has left in her its complexity and richness. She is darker, stronger, looser, tougher, sexier. The maturing of a woman who has continued to grow is a beautiful thing to behold.

Or, if your ad revenue or your seven-figure salary or your privileged sexual status depend on it, it is an operable condition." ~~~ Naomi Wolf

I'm just going to stop here and let myself and everyone who reads this take a pause to decide just how manipulated we are willing to be in this life, and whether we have the courage to stand up to what is false, pull the curtain down, expose the Wizard, and go home to Kansas, where a woman is a woman, and a catfish doesn't buy toilet paper.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Walk a Mile

I read a comment on Ann's Blog this morning from Carol D. O'Dell, author of Mothering Mother. Her words refer to her caregiving of her mom and the voluminous writing triggered by the emotions from that experience.

She wrote one sentence that clanged a loud, long-ringing bell of uh-huhs from me. "It took me, my husband, our family, her neighbors, relatives, and church community for her to maintain that 'independence."'

Such is the case with a mom I know. If her kids weren't so busy dealing with her and her issues, it would be pretty funny, you know, the 'I'm enjoying maintaining my level of independence' proclamations in her speech and letters, even while she is stewing because Lectured Yard Boy hasn't mowed the lawn, Hen-pecked Neighbor hasn't repaired the wood shed, Church Man She Can't Stand Who Drives Her to Church During Stormy Winter Months drives too fast, and Son Who Lives 200 Miles Away And Has a Job and Family of His Own doesn't visit enough i.e. walk in the door to be handed a long To-Do List from an 'independent mother'.

Independence bought and carried at the cost of others' independence.

I tell the kids, "If I ever get like that, slap me upside the head." They only nod slightly, give each other a look, and smirk.

I know I know, walk a mile in her orthopedic shoes.

It's part of life, the caring for elderly parents. Ann is an example I look up to of gracious care-giving, even through the exasperation, frustration, and melancholy. To achieve her level of patient loving-kindness is my goal. As you can tell I am far from it.

Kudos and props, Ann.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Mysterious Heart of a Good Man

Up at 5:00 a.m., to work by 6:00. He works hard all day for his employer, swamped with jobs. For weeks now.

This evening he arrives home at 8:30, and before he even enters the house he begins pulling out materials to work on our remodel project, something that has to be done by morning when our professionals will arrive ready to work.


How I miss him.

I hurry outside, some youthful spring in my step - "Where'd THAT come from?" - and give him a tender hug and a long kiss. Right there in the front yard. "You must come in and eat something. We'll get it done, don't worry. But you need to eat."

"Okay," he agrees, trying to hide fatigue behind a weary smile. Doesn't fool me.

While he eats I round up the gloves, the kids, and the tools. 15 minutes and we are all outside ready to go.

Half an hour later Tom says, "Oh no....." My stomach does a flip flop for an 'oh no' from Tom usually means *&#$@!*%*! and that something is terribly wrong.

I say ever so softly, really not wanting an answer, but needing to know, "What?"

"Oh...uh...never mind. Just something I forgot to do at work. It's nothing. Don't worry."


And back to work. Another half hour passes and we are done. I do the clean up so the kids can get ready for bed. Tom says he's going to move the cars around back. My clean-up is done. I desperately want a shower and my pj's but am determined that Tom gets that glory first.

"Where's Daddy?" I ask the girls. Two sets of shoulders shrug. "Is he with Joe?"

"No, I was just out there," Cassie answers. Caroline volunteers to search the entire property for the missing man, and does to no avail. He's MIA.

Fearing the worst, it's what we wives tend to do, I imagine him keeled over somewhere clutching his heart, straining to call my name, exhausted from all the work he's been doing non-stop for weeks. I talk rationally to myself...."Fear - Fantasy Experienced As Reality".....and I calm down.

Just about then, in he walks and plops a beautiful bouquet of flowers across my arms, big smile on his face, love and kindness in his gray eyes. I am stumped.

"For me? But .....what'd I do? You are the one who's working so har......"

"Because you have been taking care of everything without me while I've been working overtime and while I've been working on the house. I want you to know I appreciate all that you do."

"Are these flowers your 'something I forgot to do at work'?" He's nodding before I get all the words out.

Cry. What else can I do? He's working himself constantly, no playtime, no rest but a short night's sleep at the end of each day, and I get the flowers?

This is why I love him. Because even in the midst of exhaustion, with many months of labor behind and ahead, he stops, in the deep inky blue of twilight, drives to Safeway, and buys nothing but a bouquet of flowers for me.

Tears are dribbling......his thoughtful gesture lifts me and carries me still.......enjoy the photos.

Monday, July 23, 2007

"Get Over It"

"I turn on the tube and what do I see
A whole lotta people cryin' 'Don't blame me'
They point their crooked little fingers at everybody else
Spend all their time feelin' sorry for themselves
Victim of this, victim of that
Your momma's too thin; your daddy's too fat

Get over it
Get over it
All this whinin' and cryin' and pitchin' a fit
Get over it, get over it

You say you haven't been the same since you had your little crash
But you might feel better if I gave you some cash
The more I think about it, Old Billy was right
Let's kill all the lawyers, kill 'em tonight
You don't want to work, you want to live like a king
But the big, bad world doesn't owe you a thing

Get over it
Get over it
If you don't want to play, then you might as well split
Get over it, Get over it

It's like going to confession every time I hear you speak
You're makin' the most of your losin' streak
Some call it sick, but I call it weak

You drag it around like a ball and chain
You wallow in the guilt; you wallow in the pain
You wave it like a flag, you wear it like a crown
Got your mind in the gutter, bringin' everybody down
Bitchin' about the present and blame it on the past
I'd like to find your inner child and kick its little ass

Get over it
Get over it
All this bitchin' and moanin' and pitchin' a fit
Get over it, get over it

Get over it
Get over it
It's gotta stop sometime, so why don't you quit
Get over it, get over it"

~~ The Eagles

'Nuf said..........

I couldn't get to a rock concert, so one came to me, via Tom and Hollywood Video. The Eagles, "Hell Freezes Over". Pretty mellow music for the most part, but there was some good rock in it as well.

This 'Get Over It' song was particularly fun - and oh so true. All in all, with the kids in bed, the sky black and sorta starry, the work for the weekend done, bellies full and minds blown, The Eagles came through just fine for Tom and me.

And now it's Monday, and it all goes around again. Who knows what will happen this week, this day, this hour? Exciting to think about, scary, too, this life, this uncertainty, this learning adventure.

Jumping in feet first!

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Rock On!

My good friend tshs has bestowed upon me this award:

How cool is that!

I shall add to this post names of bloggy people I wish to pass this on to when I get a minute. Right now, it's Saturday and there is much to do.

But first, THANKS TISH!!

Tuesday, July 17, 2007


"I feel like I'm in a Seinfeld episode.....," I thought to myself.

Great clarity, yes, WWJD? What would Jerry do?

You know that odd couple that you USED to know a dozen years ago, the ones you managed to wriggle free from way back when, the ones you barely even recall? The ones you don't want to get fly-papered to again because it was so difficult to free yourself the first time?

Well, the dreaded moment happened. They found us! Innocently checking out at the counter were Tom and I, when I noticed them standing shoulder to shoulder next to me, checking out, too.

My mind began to plot, "Don't look. Don't look. Tom, talk quieter, egads, you are talking too loud, Tom, too much......Cherie, don't look at them, focus on the checker, on the CHECKER. Yeah, hold your breath, THAT'll help!"

"Helloooooo!!!" came that familiar nasally voice, with our name attached, horribly mispronounced.

"Oh HI!!" I gushed, fake smile hiding my desperation.

My little voice counseled, "Be nice, Cherie. Act genuine. Huh? ACT...GENUINE? I'm losing it....really losing it.....oh noooooo....not these two....think of an escape plan....come on......mental whack upside the head...THINK!"

But still, they followed us outside and talked. Just like old times. Yep, they talked, and talked, and talked, and told us all about their ungrateful, mixed-up kids, their dead relatives, their illnesses and aches and pains, all about their business, and their spiritual beliefs - that one went all over the place - and on and on.

I knew it was going to be bad when they divided and conquered us. The man manipulated Tom off to the side. The woman, close-talked me into a corner, quite literally. There was an 8 foot tall shrub brushing against my left arm, and my right shoulder was jammed into a wall. I was cornered like an animal, but I couldn't snarl. That wouldn't be polite.

So I listened, peppering her monologue with insincere uh-huhs, thinking to myself, "A close-talker. And she sounds like a stuck pig when she laughs, that high-pitched squeal followed by that throaty huh huh huh huh. I'm scared! I wonder how long it will be before she asks me a question, any question, about me, my life, my family? This will be interesting. Man, that shrub is prickly. I want to get out of here! Are my eyes bulging with fear? It feels like they are. My back is against this hard building. It's cold. How's Tom doing? Oh no, he has his hand over his mouth, his head is down, he is listening, too. We are weak......"

When I'd lean to the right to try to get out of the corner, she'd lunge in at me, her faded, wrinkled, threatening eyes popping, snaggly teeth grinning through overly stretched lips, her face just three inches away from mine, then she'd squeal that pig squeal. Still cornered!

Finally, she asked, "So, how are your kids?" I figured she didn't really want to know because she'd gone on about how awful her kids were, the sad situations of their lives, and how her family had been fractured. She was hoping my family would be equally torn and heartbroken.

I let her down easily. "They are all fine. I still have two kids at home, you remember."

She rolled her eyes as she muttered how that was too bad.

"Cassie is learning to drive and is ......."

"Oh no!! I'll avoid her when I'm on the road!!" Squeal, huh huh huh huh.

"...really a very capable driver, better than a lot of adults I know."

Rolling eyes. "Oh surrrrre!"

This continued with each tidbit I gave her about the kids, so I just stopped and smiled one of those close-mouthed, tight-lipped smiles, and glanced over at Tom to see how he was faring. Not much better. Piggy's husband had both hands in the side pockets of his little, khaki shorts, his chest was puffed up so high that his head was knocked back, nose in the air, and his mouth was wide-grinning to the point that his eyes were only slits. Tom? Still looking at his feet and nodding.

My glance away caused her to look away as well. Aha! My chance. I was able to slide my way out of the corner, walk over to Tom, mention that the girls would be wondering where we were, and we'd better get going.

"Okay. Well, good to see you again," said the man. "You look the same. Well, older, more wrinkles and more gray hair. " At this Piggy squealed and leaned forward.

"Are you still in the book?" she asked. "I'll call you. We have GOT to get together! I'll call you this week. Don't worry, I won't forget! It's just been TOO long."

Not long enough. Not at all long enough.

Gotta love caller I.D.

Friday, July 13, 2007

'Need a Big Weekend'

I need a rock concert or some other such rowdy thing. I need to jump into the ocean, cold, ruthless waves knocking me around a little bit. Or maybe to spend the afternoon sweating, chasing a wily cow up and down Dad's oak and madrone covered, tick-infested hill back into the fenced pasture. Something wild and breath stealing. If Tom and I could just go back to the Rocky Mountains for twenty-four hours.........

We've been working hard around here, non-stop. Physically and mentally. Sweating and straining our brains and backs and biceps. Awakening with the first color of sunrise. Asleep before head hits pillow. My soul cries out for some attention. My heart says, "Hey. What about me?"

I'm one of those sensitive, intuitive types who need truckloads of inspirational, alone time and yet, I survive on the occasional mugful. Adapt I must and have, but it hasn't been easy. Patience was never my best friend, a hair-trigger temper was. But patience, being her sweet self, taught me to employ her, to love her, to ride her.

Temper, ick, she still shoots out now and again, hurting, yelling, frustratedly making her stupid self known. She rides me. And it usually feels good, until the ride is over and I see my loves hurt and twitching at my feet. Cruddy feeling.

Fortunately I am surrounded by complicated people here in this household. They give me space, and they cramp my style so much that I have to change. Perfect combination.

But what do I do for them? No clue. They all seem healthy, able to communicate what's going on inside, good listeners.

Music is shared and gets us all on the same page when we find ourselves cracking under the pressures of life.

The screaming, singing, swaying release of a wild rock concert. That would help. Ain't gonna happen anytime soon.

But, look out! The stereo is going to be playing loud, all weekend long, and we are going to do our heavy work while rocking out. Knowing us, there will be gyrating hips, quick stepping feet, spontaneous dancing in the front room or front yard, head banging with the hammer in hand, and smiles. Lot of smiles.

We are weird.

Weird works here.

"I need a big weekend,
Kick up the dust!
Need a big weekend,
If you don't run you rust."

~~Tom Petty

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Cool Places, Shady Spaces

Our weatherman predicts 100 degrees today, that's what, about 38 C. It's not reached 70 yet this morning. The shade and cool of the backyard beckoned me early. My juicy nectarines were enjoyed, and a few photos snapped, during the coolness of the morning.

When my shirt begins to cling to my back, when trickles run their courses through the jungle of my hair, when my lungs breathe heat both in and out, and when the sidewalk burns my little tootsies, these images will remind that relief comes in the morning.

Not uncommon to find one of us settled into one of these welcoming crannies of Mother Nature's fingers, with a book in hand, soon lowered, head tilted back, eyes scanning the lush maple's greenery for flicking squirrel tails, and perching songbirds.

Suppose there will tree swings in heaven?

See the little squirrel silhouetted up on the fence? Sammy spied him there, too. Imagine the moment right after I photographed the hound and the rodent. Sammy stiffened and bayed, the squirrel bounced up into the tree, Sammy dove for the massive tree trunk and let loose his warning to the little fellow, who chittered his mocking cheets down from the swaying, leafy branches. And thus the morning took on new energy including my reluctant, "Hush, Sammy, hush. Too early for all of this."

Rocking in the log rocker, eating breakfast, drinking jasmine tea, the simple scent of this lavender relaxes muscles, opens the senses to an infant day, and God offering ripe grace to get it righter.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Find Me a Pillow, Quick...

I've overdosed on extended family, I think. Got some sort of mystical hangover that's got me tired, muddled, no appetite, and kind of dazed.

We had a houseguest last week, the hard kind, the draining kind, the kind you try to please but for the life of you cannot. Like bad bratwurst, it leaves a nasty, burpy hot-taste in the inner person, one that takes a while to belch away. Sleep it off, yeah, that would be great, but wait, there's more.

Add a day trip reunion to the other side of Extended Family Avenue which was illuminating in many ways, and even enjoyable in parts. The babies and toddlers easily conquered the adults, ruling with chubby iron fists. Let's put it this way, 'grown-up' conversation never showed up. Oh well. It's just a phase.

Family can be easy, it can be hard, but it always teaches. About life. About others. About ourselves. It's worth the time to participate now and then.

As far as Bratwurst? One last, deep belch and it's so over.

Roll on, July!

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Bonsai Children

Together India Opal and Gloria Dump began planting a tiny three-leafed tree into the ground, species unknown. Opal asks Gloria what type of tree it will be when it grows up, what will it look like?

"It's a Wait and See Tree," explains Gloria. "We won't know what it is until it's all grown up." With that, they pat the soil firmly around their baby tree, sit back on their knees, and smile patient, contented smiles. Just have to wait and see.

When a child is born, it's like a Wait and See Tree from the pages of "Because of Winn-Dixie." Character, talents, abilities, looks, all are unknown until the child grows for several years. Some remain unknown until a full-fledged adult is realized. The wise parent, while giving all the wisdom, opportunity, and love they can, will take a wait and see attitude, rather than place expectations upon the child.

Some parents, however, can't stand the wait. Impatiently they begin the process of making a tightly-potted bonsai tree out of what is meant to be a giant, freely-growing redwood, or mighty oak, or white-barked aspen. Expectations are placed on the child, attempts are furiously made to form the child into a teeny replica of themselves, their fantasy selves, or into someone they believe typifies success. While still merely eating, sleeping, and needing fresh diapers, the child's life is planned, arranged, and forced. From the clothing chosen, to school registration, to lessons, hobbies, and activities expectations begin early.

I've known three-feet high children pressured to play what looked like toy violins, until they 'graduated' to full-sized instruments after years of torturous lessons. I've been told they loathed the lessons and resultant practice, that they missed riding bikes and playing street hockey with their friends, or reading, or exploring the garden. Rather than wait and see, the parents of these children chose to see in their children what they wanted to see, and wait for the youngsters to develop according to a pre-conceived vision. The vision never came to fruition. The violin was tossed as soon as the child, after over ten years of enforced lessons, had the gumption to stand up for himself and declare that he really hated violin, and wasn't too fond of music anymore either.

I've known newly-standing, teetering toddlers who were continually dressed in clothes representing daddy's favorite team or sport. At four and five they were loaded down with unwieldy equipment, expected to learn to throw and catch, skate and whack, kick and carry them proficiently, often taught by parents who are either quite good at the sport, or disappointedly incompetent, living vicariously through their miniscule offspring. While young, these kids gleefully pranced around pretending to be the BEST at whichever sport they were saddled with in order to watch their parent smile in delight. The parents saw what they wanted to see, a child headed for greatness and fame, when the reality was a child afraid to upset his folks, a child trying to please his parents, a child striving to keep the status quo because to upset it, would be to upset their entire world.

But oh, the sadness when the ability does not match the vision. Upside-down world. Frustration. Red, shaking faces. Hot tears streaking through dust. The final deadening blow? The dreaded.........disappointment.

I know adults who practically go into spasms at the mention of certain sports because of the sort of trauma just described. I know adults who hate to read, actually have not read anything for pleasure since they left their parents' control, because they were forced by parents to read and report on books they hated, the ancient, long, detailed, dry, dusty sort which have a particular audience.

I know adults who honestly feel like failures simply because they don't meet the expectations of their parents. Life is lived with a specter riding their shoulders, telling them that no matter how much joy they may derive from their personal choices, they are never good enough because Mommy or Daddy wanted them to be a baseball star, an accountant, a doctor, lawyer, preacher, fireman, model, engineer, corporate big-wig, or enter the family business.

On the flip-side are those who DID follow the life-plan created and chipped into stone while they were still toothless and hairless. The specter to these grown children tauntingly whispers the could-have-beens, the should-have-beens, the precious, personal hopes and desires starved and boxed up, set aside so that a parent's aspirations could be realized instead. Realized, yes, and resented. For the one who is sold another's dream, never holds his own.

For me, as a parent, sure, I momentarily dipped my toe into those expecting waters. But all it took for me to step back and take the wait and see position was viewing my child's normally wide-eyed face contorted and clouded. It was quite apparent that my plans were not matching his nature.

When opportunities are given gently without coercion, a child naturally becomes what he is meant to be, roots spreading deep and wide, freely wandering and drinking up life. When forced, they become potted bonsais, their shape and care dependent on mommy and daddy's expectations and constant coddling, for they know not who they are, or from what they have been restrained.

Dependence breeds dependence. Independence breeds freedom.

Better for the growth of a child to Wait and See.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Simply My Opinion

There's just something about a guy who knows how to use his hands. What is it? I don't really know, but when I see the labor-strengthened arms and back of a knowledgeable man expertly wielding power or manual tools while fixing a car, truck, or fire engine, or a quietly confident man, seasoned tool belt slung just right on his hips, nails between his lips, rhythmically setting nails into wood with a perfectly weighted hammer, I get a shivery thrill.

Experience is worn in the posture, the gait, the expression. With nothing to prove, there is no preening, no awareness of whether anyone is observing him or not. Who cares? He knows what he's about. He knows what he wants. There's a job to do, a pattern to follow, know-how to practice. Similar to a musician, a man who adeptly uses his hands finds all such work practice. It's what separates bona fide men from weekend wannabes.

When Tom is working on a car he becomes one with it, no barrier, no worry about his clothes, his skin, his hair. I've seen him climb right on top of the engine, worming his way down between hoses and belts for a better look, a hands on feel. He pulls out precision tools which look as if they should be in a doctor's black bag, with fancy gauges and tubes. He bangs to loosen and pulls to move with terrific strength. Focused and determined, he works the vehicle the way I knead bread, subconsciously applying skill, method, and intuition toward the task. It's a beautiful thing.

The same holds true when Tom builds. The sight of him shirtless, tan, his well-formed, lean muscles taut while he easily carries lumber or bags of cement mix on his shoulder causes my breathing to quicken. The speed at which he works, not hasty, not slow, just a well-paced rhythm which gets the job done. Gravity doesn't seem to have the same pull on him as it does on me. He will hoist himself up onto the roof so quickly that I am left to wonder how he did it. Where'd he put his feet? His hands? Hmmm. He seems to just bounce right up!

Today I saw a lean, strong, tanned young man walking out of the building supply store. Wearing a simple navy tee-shirt tucked into leather-belted jeans, along with work boots, and a dark, faded billed cap, he carried his purchases in a brown, thick-papered bag in one hand with an icy bottle of Coke wedged between two work-stained fingers, arm swinging, relaxed. His other hand separated his truck keys making ready to unlock the door. He walked the way I imagine he worked, not hurriedly, not sluggishly, but with measured steps. Not at all self-conscious, he seemed to be doing what I do when I bake, what Tom does when he fixes or builds, he was thinking, planning, getting his stuff together in his head. I wondered if there was an appreciative young woman waiting for him at the end of his long day. And maybe even a baby who would snuggle into the crook of his gentle arm.

It was the observance of this young guy which clarified for me that it is gentle, kind, skilled, physically working men who are at the top of my Authentic Man List. Not red-necks. Not posers in big double-trucks (the kind with the second bench-seat in the cab "for the family"). Not grungy, smelly, dirty-minded, uncouth fellows who really don't know how to do anything well. Not lazy men, no no. Not the big-bellied, smooth-faced, pretty-smelling, perfectly coifed, bit-a-facial-hair type ("I'm sorta baad!"), the tidy dressers who can put together a book shelf from Wal-Mart. Definitely not peacock corporate suit-wearing types. No, I like a genuine man as nature intended.

Tom is perfect that way.

Ben says Tom is the smartest man he knows.

Joe says he's the hardest-working, and 'does only quality work.'

The girls know him as, "Daddeeee. Will you help me? Will you play with me. I love you!" They bring out his gentleness, and he loves it.

Me? I still find myself all aflutter when I see him use his body and mind to work. It puts me right in my place, for I cannot begin to know or do what he does. Awe for him conquers me.

One word describes my husband just fine. Man.