Inspired by Chesapeake Bay Woman's hilarity as she looks back at old diaries and provides a glimpse into the life of Chesapeake Bay Child, and piggybacking on Bejewell's recent confessions of having killed countless lovely hardbound journals in her time, I have gone on a quest to explore my own history of keeping a diary.
The thing that struck me most about Bejewell's post was the sense of good intentions going astray. I, too, have purchased many a gorgeous-covered blank book, intending to start a journal that would chronicle some passage of time. I was actually very good at this in the year that I lived in England during college. I would write about my day sometimes for upwards of an hour, every single night. Those entries are peppered with "quotes of the day" and all sorts of funny anecdotes that bring back memories I would never have otherwise been able to dredge up. They make it clear just why writing daily is so much fun for the you who comes back 20 years after the fact to read those words.
But most of the time, the journals I start devolve from entries every day to "catch-up" entries every few days to entries once a fortnight, which is just the guilty beginning of the end. The last entries are never interesting or immediate, only obligatory and deadly dull. In one book, a year or so after the last entry, I turned the thing upside down and started writing from what was once the back of the book, hating to waste so many blank pages in such a beautiful book. But, of course, I did not make it far enough into the year to have those two efforts at journaling meet in the middle.
I have a whole shelf of old journals in my study. Some are completely full. Others, half empty because the inspiration to start writing again has always occasioned in me a need for a new book, a clean fresh page, a lovely new cover.
The start I am most saddened about not continuing is the luscious leather-bound journal with the thick, creamy pages that I bought in the central market in Florence, Italy. I was pregnant with Son at the time. The initial entry is a long letter to my unborn child, detailing all my hopes and dreams for him. I wrote it while sitting on the deck of the overnight ship to Greece, watching the stars come out, and imagining the travels he would someday take in his lifetime. I intended to write in the journal once a week throughout the remainder of the pregnancy and his childhood -- and I had all sorts of romantic dreams of reading excerpts out of it at his wedding or something like that. I managed another entry while pregnant, a few in his first six months, and one two-page spread of a list of all his milestones (dates of first laugh, first steps, etc.). Then, nothing. He has photo albums and other records, but no consistent telling of stories.
In thinking about this tendency and wondering why it is that at some points in my life, I have been such a good chronicler, while at other times I've been awful, I went yesterday to pull down old journals and browse through them. For a lark, I started with my very first one -- a diary given to me shortly before my birthday the year I turned seven (1977). This is the first entry it ever contained (I've kept intact the spelling prowess of my six-year-old self):
April 10, 1977
Today I looked for my easter bastet. When I found it. I saw a cute bunny. I named her SnowBall. I love SnowBall. She is White with pink eras and brown eyes. I brought her to church. She stayed in the car. SnowBall has a pink saten bow. She is very cute and furry. She likes carrots ledes [lettuce] celry and Easter!
Isn't it a good thing that this diary locked? Wouldn't want a little sister spying on secrets like those.
I have realized something very important from this book, apart from how funny our childhood handwriting is: I have been destined to be a writer and reviser, a never-quite-finished-with-it author since at least age seven. Here is the frontispiece of this, my very first diary.
You may notice that here on the left, the publisher has kindly provided a prompt in the form of blank spaces to fill in the years this one year diary will span. And I, in my childish hand, have filled in 1977 to 1978. And then added "to 1979." And, in pencil so faded that it hardly shows up here, you will find faint tracings that cross the margin of the book that add again "to 1980." Yes, it's true. At the tender ages of seven through ten, I turned my one year diary into a three year diary because despite my best intentions, I hadn't written enough in it after one year to consider it respectably full. There are pages that have horizontal lines across them, with entries for different years above and below the line. But even after three years of writing, there are many more pages empty than full--which may be a testament to my lack of originality, or the uneventfulness of my childhood. There is, however, a fascinating progression of handwriting from awkward print in pencil, to bold use of pen (a verboten writing utensil in school), to lovely cursive in hot pink ink putting down my 5th and 6th grade girlish dreams.
Here is a sampling of the fabulosity within that garish-covered little book.
April 28, 1977
[Original entry in bright orange felt tip pen]
Today I went out to my birthday dinner. It was a lot of fun.
[added content in pencil, in a handwriting that suggests revision two or three years later]
I had a whole NY Steak, 2 Shirly Temples, an artichoke, green salad, and mashed potatoes. It was at the Sandpiper. For about 4 weeks after that I couldn't look at or eat another steak.
And thus we have proof that I was an inveterate editor of my own prose before my age hit double digits (and also that I had a shocking appetite as a child). Not that what I was writing was particularly good, mind you. Only that apparently, the desire to be more thorough in print was somehow deeply ingrained. And that my own quest after the substance of a story had matured slightly from "a lot of fun" (which is a phrase occurring with mind-numbing frequency in the entries from 1977 and 1978) to an inclusion of much more specific detail.
May 24, 1979
Today I had to clean my room! It was very boring after that I looked at my 5,000 puzzles, games and jokes boook. That was alot of fun. I wonder weather my parents will ever get married again. I hope they do.
And there we have it. The only sentence in the entry that merits an exclamation point is that I had to clean my room. (I still feel that way about cleaning; it's always an event when it's successful.) The nonsequitur from what I did to what I wondered is certainly surprising, but when I read this, I do not really feel pity for nine-year-old me. I only feel a slight sadness at my inability to tell weather from whether at that age. (Lest you think I am either heartless or astonishingly repressed, I will admit that I felt like someone punched me in the gut when I came to the end of the book and found that the only entry in the address book section was for "Daddy.")
I don't know what else happened that summer besides one room cleaning and a bit of idle speculation. A much bigger event was at the end of the summer:
August 27, 1979
[the following is written in large cursive letters with excessive flourishes on all the capitals, and words so large that the entry fills the whole page with its giddy frillyness]
Today I started 5th grade. I got the best 5th grade teacher. Her name is Mrs. Stewart.
[in very tiny print, squeezed in at the bottom]
(P.S. It is now March 1980 and I found out she isn't the best)
I think that P.S. says it all. I honestly don't remember Mrs. Stewart. But I'm not sure that if I did, there would be more worth saying than that pithy observation recorded a long three months before the end of the school year.
May 10, 1980
I have a boyfriend his name is Matt K--. He likes me. I have known him since before the 1st of Jan. He is very nice. He has brown eyes and dark hair in small wings. He also has some freckles on his face and neck. He is quiet but when you know him he's fun.
November 12, 1980
Today we played Mrs. Strickland's class at Nucumb (noo cum). Matt's in her class. A couple of times I think he tried to throw the ball to me but every time Geoff would jump in front of me and grab the ball! It made me so mad! I hope Matt asks me. I like him alot.
P.S. He waved to me when we were going out to P.E. But I think he tried to make it look like he was waving to a boy.
And thus we have the history of a childhood in a few easy entries: an astonishingly large restaurant meal for a 7th birthday, a parents' divorce--mentioned throughout the whole book only obliquely in two entries about staying with Dad for the weekend, one sentence longing for a remarriage, and an old address--and nearly countless posts about the beautiful, elusive, quiet, mysterious, fascinating Matt K-- who asked me to be his campaign manager for a school election, whom I referred to as my "boyfriend," and who yet didn't talk to me but only waved with such secretiveness that it could easily "look like he was waving to a boy." In case you're wondering: he lost the election and I cried and wondered if he felt like crying; he did NOT "ask me" (to do what, I have no idea); he "asked Kristen A--" much to my ten-year-old shock and outrage and confusion.
And there, in the fall of 6th grade, is quietly recorded my first heartbreak, complete with some amazement that after a whole week of nothing going right, all one had to do was tell all to one's mother, and suddenly, nothing was going wrong any more.
At some point in the last year of keeping this diary, I went through and added details, including putting years at the top of all of the entries for clarification, annotating what really happened subsequent to the events recorded, and fixing spelling errors in the early entries with a vehemence of crossing out that indicates a certain level of disgust with my younger self.
The consistent repackaging of diary entries written by an eight-year-old to bring them up to the standards of a ten-year-old is for me the most interesting part of this whole book. I have, apparently, been interested in crafting sentences ever since I knew what a sentence was. I've also always been a judgmental Bossy Boots when it comes to my own writing. I've long felt the value of re-reading, revision, rethinking the focus of, augmenting, ruthless self-editing. Perhaps this explains why it takes me so long to write anything now.
At the very least, it proves that I come by my love of crazy colored revision inks honestly.
And that I have forever been a sucker for the quiet dark-haired boy whose advances I have to interpret.
Thursday, July 31, 2008
Inspired by Chesapeake Bay Woman's hilarity as she looks back at old diaries and provides a glimpse into the life of Chesapeake Bay Child, and piggybacking on Bejewell's recent confessions of having killed countless lovely hardbound journals in her time, I have gone on a quest to explore my own history of keeping a diary.
Wednesday, July 30, 2008
Remember that post full of the adorableness of this past weekend? Yeah, well, they did a pretty good job last night of making up for that.
For reasons I cannot explain, Son lost his little mind at dinner and started playing with his food. He purposefully dropped dishes, played Spin the Fork, and then threw green beans at his sister. I warned him at the bean incident that one more misbehavior with food, and he would be removed from the table and put in his room.
"You won't do anything else tonight," I said sternly. "No TV, no playing with Daddy when he gets home, no nothing. You will just be in your room by yourself. We do NOT play with our food in this house."
Trust me when I say that up to this point, his shenanigans had been waaaay above and beyond the occasional funny "my toast looks like a racecar! vrooooom" comment.
So what did he do after the warning? Looked at me out of the corner of his eyes to see if I meant it (and if I was watching him) and then start spitting bits of chewed up carrot across the table at Daughter. The first pfffft I wasn't sure about; it was pretty subtle. I heard but didn't see the second volley. The third time (all in the space of a few seconds, mind you), I watched him look a little defiantly at me and then quite deliberately spit carrot pieces in her general direction.
"Okay, that's it," I said, picking him up out of his chair. "You are done with dinner."
"Nooooooo," he wailed, as I carried him up to his room.
"I'm sorry, but this is what I said would happen. If you can't behave properly at the table and eat your dinner nicely, then you lose dinner." And I put him in his room. I took the door-handle cover (the kind made to keep children out of rooms full of dangerous things, or off the steep stairs to the basement) off Daddy's office door and put it on the inside of Son's bedroom door so he couldn't open it.
Then the real fun began.
Tears. Lamentations. Pounding on the door. Shrieking at the top of his lungs whole sentences that I couldn't fully understand because they were shrieked but that seemed to involve something about "can't find Duck at the Door" (one of his favorite books).
Daughter immediately took pity on him and hopped up from the dinner table about 30 seconds after I came downstairs. "I check on Bruh-er," she said. Tripping happily up the stairs, she sprung the inmate from his room about 2 minutes after he'd first been put there. "What you doing, Bruh-er?" she asked.
He was crying. Big heaving sobs that involved his whole chest and shoulders.
I had followed her up. "Do you have to use the potty?" My tone was not very kind.
"No," he whimpered.
"Then what's the matter?"
"I can't find Duck at the Door."
"Well, it's probably on your bookshelf," I said. "You'll have to look for it. If you can't find it, you'll have to figure out something else to do." And I closed the door again.
I know. Cruel. But everything is lost if you don't follow through with a punishment you've promised, right? So this was me, following through.
I took the handle cover off the laundry room door, and added that to the outside of his door, to keep his little accomplice from busting him out again, and then Daughter and I went back downstairs.
I got some perverse pleasure, I will admit, from playing with Daughter, tickling her while getting her ready for bed, and otherwise making having-fun noises, so that Son would understand what he was missing through his own naughtiness.
(craaaack went the Mother of the Year award, quietly splintering)*
Back downstairs, Daughter decided she wanted a granola bar. She helped herself to two, all the time talking to herself. "I get bar. One for Self. One for Bruh-er. I take it Bruh-er." And then she trotted up the stairs, two bars in hand.
But, of course, now she couldn't open the door to his room. So the shouting commenced. "Bruh-er, open! the! door! I got bar. I got bar for you. I can't open it. Open the door." (sounds of knocking on her part)
"I can't open it," says Son. "You have to open it."
"I can't do it," shouts Daughter. "I got bar. You want bar? I got bar for you. OPEN. THE. DOOR!" Then, turning and shouting down the staircase, she adds, "Mama! I can't open it. You open Bruh-er door. He want bar. I got bar. You open door. I can't do it."
She came back downstairs to repeat her request in person, at a lower decibel level. "I'm sorry," I told her. "Brother was too naughty at dinner, so he can't have any more food."
"Oh, I see," she said. She climbed up into a chair. "You eat it." And she handed me his bar. We happily ate them.
(craaaaack creeeeak splinter)
After an hour or so, we went upstairs to tuck her in. Son had been quiet for a while, but spoke up when he heard us coming up the steps. "Mama, mama," he said through the door. "I have to show you something."
I opened the door, and he handed me a large picture he'd drawn. "I made this for you and Daddy," he said. "It's a sea monster, and jellyfish, and the sea." It was a very complex and lovely picture. He began to cry again. "Can I come out now?"
"No, I don't think so," I said. "I'm sorry. But children with such terrible manners can't play with other people. Those bad manners need to stay alone in your room. I'll be back to help you get ready for bed in a few minutes." And I closed the door again
(smash! went the statue into unrecognizable obscurity)
Things were super-hairy around bedtime. He had to go potty, and he cried and cried and cried that he was still hungry and held onto his belly. Daughter pitched a fit and screamed from her crib. Son cried, big tears rolling slowly down his cheeks, as he ate his way through the only food I would allow him to have--the remainder of what was on his dinner plate. He was none too happy that the good stuff was all gone, already eaten before the infractions had begun. "All I get is vegetables," he sobbed, chewing on cold steamed green beans and crunchy carrots. Really, you would have thought I was feeding him dirt and bugs
But he must truly have been hungry because he ate the whole big helping of both beans and carrots and drank a big glass of milk.
He cried some more when I wouldn't let him play any computer games. "I don't get to do anything."
"Well," I said. "Perhaps this will help you remember tomorrow that we don't play with our food and have bad manners at the table."
It wasn't pretty. It took ages to put both kids to bed (of course, last night was a night that Husband had a work function that would keep him late, so I was all on my own).
I was more than a little thankful when Husband walked in about 8:15. It was an hour past when Daughter normally falls asleep, and she was still fretfully awake in my lap in the rocking chair. Son was tucked in but sad, since I hadn't had a chance to read him a story yet (I don't believe in withholding books as a punishment for anything). Husband took over with Daughter; I read one story to Son.
And at 8:30, I poured myself a margarita. I sat dully on the couch, feeling like I'd just finished a marathon.
Please, someone, tell me your kids have moments like this. It's not just mine who pull a Jekyll and Hyde periodically, is it?
* with thanks to Mrs F, who reminded me of this fact last night when I told her this story
Tuesday, July 29, 2008
Academic publishing, at least in the Humanities, is a process slower than watching redwood trees mature. Let's say you write an article -- which you'd better if you want to get tenure. You send it to a journal to see if they might want to publish it. They send it to three reviewers who are experts in the field. It takes the reviewers three months if you are lucky, six if you're not, to read the thing and make comments. Let's say they like it and recommend publication, but with a few revisions. So the journal sends you back the article with all their comments, and you spend three months working on the changes. You send back the revision. The editors of the journal read it, and invariably give you just a few more comments (which takes several months). So you take THOSE notes and tinker again, and send it back. And they like it! They will publish it!
In their Fall 2010 issue.
So you wait a year, and then they send you page proofs, and you go through the detailed editing phase, and FINALLY the article comes out. At which point it's been two years since you initially "finished" it, and sent it off for their consideration...which means you darn well better have been working on some things in the mean time, or you will never have the job security of tenure.
Because the process is so slow (and this doesn't even include what if the journal says "No" at some point in all these revisions--which they DO--and then you have to start the submission process all over again at another journal), we are all working on multiple writing projects at once.
EXCEPT. Except if we're working on a book.
I've been working on a book, and while I've published two articles based on some of the material for the book, the book itself has been my main focus for far longer than I'd like to admit. I've sent proposals for consideration to a number of publishers. Some have said "no," while others have asked to read the whole manuscript, hung onto it for six months or a year, and then said "no." The comments I've gotten back from the readings have been helpful, and I've been revising the manuscript all along, so that now I think it is a far better book than it was when I sent out that first proposal. So, now I'm sending it out again -- proposal and sample chapters -- to two publishers with extraordinarily high standards, and holding my breath to see what will happen. The packages go out today.
The manuscript is complete. Those gnawing voices at the back of my mind, the ones that say, "well, but you should really do this" or "you could tighten up that" or "read this giant stack of books to be sure you haven't missed anything important" -- those voices are all silent. I think the book is actually done. If either of these publishers ask to read the manuscript, I will send it to them, and wait for the comments that will inevitably come, suggesting changes, but at this particular moment, there are no changes that I can already think of that need to be made.
Which means that as I have just dropped my kids off at daycare, and I am nearing the end of writing this post, I have over six hours stretching in front of me that I need to figure out how to fill. I refuse to scrub the kitchen floor (though it needs it) on the grounds of my Daycare Policy -- which is that, if I'm going to pay someone to watch my kids, I need to spend the time doing something that no one else could do for me. If I'm going to clean while the kids are at daycare, I might as well just pay a cleaning person and take the kids to the lake for the day -- same money spent, more fun for us as a family.
I have a giant stack of material for my next book waiting in my study. "Stack" is actually a misnomer. It fills several shelves on the wall-o-bookcases in that room. So, I think I will start reading for the next book.
But it seems so strange, so anticlimactic. The first one isn't DONE. Not really. I don't know what else to do to it, but I don't have a contract for it. It's on pause in my brain. So I need to turn my attention elsewhere. I am sure 19th century travels in Japan and India and Egypt will be fascinating, and I have been champing at the bit to get to this new reading (actual guidebooks and travelogues written back then). But now that the moment is finally here, I feel like I need a little flourish.
Enter trumpets. Fanfare.
Or something to mark the occasion of changing tracks. This rambling post will have to be that. My mile marker. The moment that indicates the end of one thing and the beginning of another.
The King is dead. Long live the King.
So that at least I will know that the difference between the cup of coffee I just drank while writing this post, and the one I am about to pour for myself to drink while opening a wonderful firsthand account of traveling through Japan in the 1880s...the difference between those two cups of coffee is everything.
Today, my second cup of coffee means: I am starting to write a new book.
Monday, July 28, 2008
* * At the Zoo * *
Darling Visitor (reaching out and grasping Son's hand, as they're walking along): Hold my hand. You're so strong.
Son: Don't you want to hold your grandma's hand?
Darling Visitor: No, I want to hold yours.
Son: How come you love me so much more than your grandma?
Darling Visitor (with a little wonder in her voice): I don't know.
* * In the Backyard * *
Son, dressed in a cape, visor, and "super bracelets" standing with legs wide apart, arms akimbo, commands, "WALK the PLANK!!"
* * In the Morning, while Getting Dressed * *
Daughter: I got pretties [holding out little pony-tail holders, with colored ribbons attached]. See.
Darling Visitor: I want one. I want the pink one. Oh, the pink one!
Daughter, closing her hands, hugging the "pretties" tight and out of sight, demands: Say "Please!"
* * At the Playground * *
A hanging upside-down contest. "Let's pretend we're sloths. Whoever lets go first loses."
* * At the Beach * *
Son (pretending to be a shark, while Darling Visitor is a small fish): nom nom nom nom nom nom nom... *pauses, looks up from Darling Visitor's belly that he's been noshing* ... mmmmm.... tastes like chicken
And that pretty much sums up their relationship. Immediately in love with each other, Son and Darling Visitor (age 3), alternately played wonderful games involving superhero and knight costumes, wrestled, hugged, squabbled over who got the ball, rode with her on his lap in the single stroller when they got too tired. He wanted her to see all of his toys, to play a part in all of his games. Like big brother and little sister, they also went through phases of competition and "he said, she said." But saying goodbye this afternoon, the last day of their visit, she hugged and kissed him at the exit of the zoo. He hugged her tightly back and then as soon as she kissed him, he began to pout extensively, and emphatically wiped her kisses off his cheek.
Which I think is the definition of preschoolers in love.
Saturday, July 26, 2008
As you might have picked up, my best friend for the last 26 years is in from out of town for the weekend. Our kids clicked instantly.
Last night, within 15 minutes of their walking into the house, Son and Darling Visitor were deep in the costume box. Supercape, t-rex, pirate, you name it, they tried it on, experimenting with growls, swordfighting, and other posturing. Eventually, they moved on to props. Son chose the "periscope" made out of a paper towel tube with two toilet paper tubes for handles -- and promptly began using it as a machine gun. Charming. *pftt-ftt-ftt-ftt-ftt* he spluttered, as he rat-a-tat-tatted his gatlin gun at us in the kitchen. Darling Visitor (age 3), chose the kid-sized accordion as her weapon. They'd dash past the kitchen door, pausing in the hall to rat-a-tat-tat and squee-huhhh-squeee-huhhh with severe looks on their faces before dashing off again.
About the third time it happened, I found myself nearly snorting margarita out my nose. It was clear that, without knowing what they were doing, they were writing a script for "Bonnie and Clyde, the Musical."
Maybe you had to be there. Anyway. It was very funny.
In case it's not obvious by my endless prattlings about coffee and my oblique mentions of teaching, I've just had an exhausting week of teaching a graduate-level class without enough preparation before-the-fact. Between that and my lovely visitors, I'm not going to be doing a lot of blogging this weekend. But I did want to say: There have been so many new commenters here this week. *waves* Hi, new commenters! I love you and love your comments. Thank you so much for your visits, and I promise to reciprocate early next week when I no longer have house guests.
Have a great weekend everyone!
Friday, July 25, 2008
The other night, Son looked curiously at me and asked, "Mama, why are you wearing your glasses?"
"Because my eyes were feeling very tired, so I had to take out my contacts," I replied. (I'd only slept about four hours the night before, and I was too exhausted to give the more detailed type of explanation he usually craves.)
"We-elll..." he paused. "But you look like Grandma." He nodded, pleased with his own assessment. "You look like a old old old old old old old old old OLD old OLD grandma."
I opened my mouth to reply, but before I could get any words out, he tilted his head to one side, looked fully into my face, and quickly reassessing, said, "Actually, you look like a NEW grandma."
* * *
Just before bedtime, we will let Son watch a short something on television if it's otherwise been a no-TV day. We typically choose something from the OnDemand menu, since the episodes of shows like "Max and Ruby" are about 23 minutes long, and perfect for that little bit of winding down between dinner and the bedtime ritual. He knows we don't start movies at this time of day, since they are far too long.
He and I snuggled up on the couch a few nights ago, and I asked him what program he would like to watch.
His eyes sparkled as he pressed himself up against me. "How about Cheeto-Trax?" he asked. The "Cheeto-Trax" DVD came with the Geo-Trax set he got for Christmas. (Don't ask me to explain his pronunciation of Geo-Trax. He calls Cheetos, the food, CheetAHs, so there's no logic anywhere discernible.)
He loves this Geo-Trax short, which features the train he has. "That would be fine," I replied.
"But you know, technically," he said, drawing out the long word and savoring it on his tongue, "technically, Cheeto-Trax is a movie." He's right: even though it is short, it is not an episode of anything. Somehow, my Son has learned to appreciate technicalities.
Even if he doesn't always get the point about when to deploy them. Because while technically, I suppose I am old enough to be a grandma, I don't much appreciate being reminded of that fact when my oldest child is only four-and-a-half.
Thursday, July 24, 2008
[Yes, it's another post about coffee. Can you tell I'm staying up inordinately late every night, getting ready for the marathon six-hour classes I'm teaching? Though I ADORE this group of students, I won't be sorry when the class meetings are over this Friday afternoon. Mama needs a little sleep...]
So I walk into my favorite coffee shop ( a locally-owned joint called Bigby's, if you're wondering), and I order my standard: grande caffe au lait with half-decaf hazelnut coffee. Laugh all you want about the decaf thing, but having spent four years of my life either pregnant or nursing, my caffeine tolerance has sorely plummeted, even though my taste for coffee has not. So, when I'm writing or reading and want to drink vats of the good stuff, I have to opt for the unleaded version. ANYway... I order my drink, and I turn on my computer, and the barista calls out my drink, and I go to the bar to pick it up -- and immediately it flashes through my head that it's a little odd that there's no cup holder sleeve thingy on the cup. But I pick up the cup, and don't burn my fingers, and then, suspiciously, raise the not-steaming cup to my lips, and take a sip, and find: a drink that can only be described as tepid.
"Um, excuse me," I say to the girl behind the counter, "I'm sorry, but this drink it totally cold."
"Cold?" she sounds confused and tilts her head to the side.
"Well, not as colds as if it were over ice," I find myself explaining (much to her visible relief, since there are no ice cubes in my drink), "but it's not even close to hot."
"Hmmm..." she says, and takes the cup away. And then I hear her quietly ask the girl beside her, "Did you steam the milk for this?"
"No," says what is obviously New Girl.
So they remake my drink, and it is steaming hot and good, and I am smiling and all "Oh, no harm done" when they apologize for the mistake. But as I am happily typing away, it occurs to me: the poor dear doesn't know that a cafe au lait requires steamed milk? Is there any coffee drink on the planet in which coffee is mixed with milk, but ice cubes are at no point a part of the recipe, that does NOT require steaming the milk? Can you imagine any drink that involves 8 oz of hot coffee mixed with 8 oz of cold milk tasting good? Unless you are a preschooler who cannot stand to drink hot things? And then, honestly, shouldn't coffee not be part of the drink? And, even if you didn't know this because you weren't a coffee drinker yourself, isn't this pretty much Barista 101? It's not even a recipe to memorize, for pete's sake. There are no shots of any flavor. Not even any shots of espresso. Just fresh coffee mixed with hot milk. Easy peasy.
Except for the hot part, apparently.
I have no real point here, except: HUH? and *raises eyebrows, tilts head to one side* WHAAAT? and Am I wrong to find this totally bizarre?
Wednesday, July 23, 2008
I have so many things to be happy about and thankful for right now that I walked around all day yesterday smiling. Interestingly, there seemed to be less whining and more cooperating from the kids yesterday than usual. It's a bit chicken-and-egg to ask whether my good mood influenced theirs or the reverse, but either way, it was quite lovely. Here are the other happy things on my plate lately:
* I ran a mile in under 9 minutes yesterday for the first time in years. So what if it was 8:58? I am delighted. At the beginning of the summer, I couldn’t run a mile without stopping to walk a few times, and now I can run a mile in under 9 minutes in the second half of my treadmill workout. Woot! Woot! for progress.
* My best friend in the world, who has known me since before I cut off all my hair to become a “sophisticated” eighth grader, who polkaed with me at our Senior Prom, who I can see once a year or not talk to on the phone for months and who will just pick up right where we left off…that best friend is coming to visit this weekend from Atlanta with her adorable daughter. We’re taking the kids for day trips to the beach and the woods, for ice cream cones in the downtown park, for every kind of fun summer thing you can imagine. And then we’re staying up till all hours drinking icy margaritas and catching up on each other’s lives. Bliss.
* I WON Casey and Sarah’s fabulous hairstraveganza contest, and I couldn’t be more excited!! If you missed the saga of my hair, it’s here. And, yes, oh yes, there will be photos of the before and after in all its transformational glory. Don’t you worry your pretty little heads about that. I can hardly wait for the wonder that will be my new hair come the start of fall term. Thank you thank you thank you to Casey for her generosity and to Sarah for offering the advice that will surely change my life.
* My first bloggy crush, and West Coast cause of many a late night on Google chat, LatteMommy loves me this much.
She is one of those people who makes me simultaneously bless and curse the internet, without which I could never have met her but because of which I now have a longing sadness to be closer to yet another really truly friend who does not live in my town. Yet, in waxing lyrical about the power of blogging to forge real connections, let us not forget the great good fortune that is becoming friends with people in other time zones who will still be awake when we are suffering from insomnia.
Though I jest (sort of) about the time zone thing, truly, LatteMommy is among a handful of women whom I feel incredibly lucky to have met online. I want to pass this award on to five of them who are particularly wonderful writers, all of whom I would love to get to know better, to meet in real life one day, to share a drink and a chat with, to hug for real, to laugh with, and to be able to count amongst my friends. It is women like these who make the internet such a powerful wonderful thing.
Angie, at All Adither for her bravery in putting her fiction out there for feedback
Jozet at Halushki for her incredible humor and wit
Auds at Barking Mad for her honesty, even about things painful and personal
Deb at San Diego Momma for her devotion to thinking of her commenters as writers too
Megan at Velveteen Mind for her incredible energy, gorgeous prose, and endless work creating the community at Blog Nosh
If you don't know them, each so different from the other, each so fantastic, I urge you to check them out. I suspect you will fall in love too.
And so, even though I have 18 hours of teaching in front of me in the next three days, I am a giant hug worth of happy. And you?
Tuesday, July 22, 2008
The biggest waste of time I've perpetrated recently under the guise of Thrift Meets Creativity was these crayon circles. Oh, sure, they look good. And the idea seems sound: take all the broken bits and ends of sad crayons at the bottom of the crayon box, peel the papers off, and sort them by color family into the wells in a muffin pan. Then, melt them over a pot of boiling water, so that you make one giant crayon of each color out of all the otherwise wasted ends.
It's so much fun to have circular crayons! And so economical! And such a great way to teach the kids about recycling, and creative use of art materials, and using up all of what they have! Plus, it's a fun project!
Yeah. Right. Here's why you should definitely NOT try this at home.
First, crayon companies apparently use super glue to affix the paper to their crayons. It took what felt like HOURS to remove the paper in little teeny tiny scraps from these crayons. Trust me when I say that I was having flashbacks of bouts of stubborn wallpaper removal, both of which ended particularly badly. But my children were at the table with me, so I had to smile brightly and insist we were having fun. Then I had to sweep the entire kitchen, which was covered with the smallest imaginable shards of crayon paper. With that much patience, I could have built an entire house out of origami.
Second, double-boilers are conveniently sized so that the top pan fits tightly on the bottom one. A muffin pan is NOT the same shape or size as any pot you will use to fill with water as the bottom half of your crayon double-boiler. Hence, you will have to tend the slooooooooowly melting crayons vigilantly to ensure that the pan doesn't tip and spill hot wax everywhere. You will get an excellent steam facial as you do this, which marginally makes up for the fourteen hours it took to peel paper off the crayon scraps. But the scalded fingers make this a somewhat bitter consolation prize.
Third, your small, dangerous, fearless, curious children WILL want to climb up on barstools to watch the crayons melt. This is about as interesting as watching grass grow. Only slower. And with more fire. So they will squirm a lot on the stools, waiting for something exciting to happen, and you will have visions of something exciting including calls to 911 and explanations for why your child's hair has solidified into a rainbow of waxy goodness suitable for Jackson Pollack-esque doodles.
And, finally, once the crayons have taken their ever-loving sweet time to melt completely, and you have stirred them with toothpicks to the detriment of your knuckles, you will have to let them cool for an equal eternity before your by now impatient children can use them to make a picture for Daddy. And on the first use, at least two of the amazingly fascinating crayon circles will snap into several pieces, mocking your efforts through their own inanimate will to return to their earlier nubbin-like forms.
So take it from me. While these look cool and sure to win you that Mother of the Year tiara, Just Say No. Spring for that new-crayon smell, and use the half day you save to go get a real facial instead.
Monday, July 21, 2008
I recently came from Target where I very nearly failed to purchase the item that is going to change my life. A failure that would have been entirely due to the most inane Target corporate policy you have ever heard.
But before I get ahead of myself, here is the product:
Yes, Ped Egg, not available in stores (except it is; it's just hidden). The ultimate gross-but-useful beauty secret. You use what is essentially a very fine box grater to scrape the hard callous-like skin off your heels. Then you empty the savings into the trash. Charming. But, let me tell you, if you can stand the slightly unsavory nature of the process, laws-a-mercy you will have the smoothest, the silkiest, the loveliest feet this side of six-months-old you ever saw. Ever. EV-ER. EVER. It will seriously be the best $9.95 you ever spent. EV-ER. Your feet will be gleaming, and smooth, and feel more shapely, and slide along the sheets as you get into bed, and become accessories for your most expensive shoes instead of the other way around, and everything. Smooth. Smooth. Smooth. That's what I'm talking.
I know this because my sister let me use hers once. And ever since, I've been coveting one of my own and taking a quick gander in the pedicure section at Target for one every time I'm there. But they never have one in stock, or even an empty rack to indicate that the whole world already knows this little beauty secret and has just been buying them out from under me. Unfortunately, I only ever have approximately 37 seconds to discern this, since I'm always in Target with two fractious children in tow, who are either begging to leave, or tossing unnecessary things into the cart, or running off and hiding under the clothing racks as if that doesn't give me a heart attack of nervousness that someone will kidnap them before I can haul my way over to them with my oversized cart-with-the-bucket-seats-on-the-front-that-the-kids-refuse-to-sit-in-anyway that is full of heavy things like 3 gallon jugs of laundry soap and mega-sized boxes of diapers. So there's not a lot of hunting for frivolous movie star items on my usual Target trips.
But on Friday I was in Target alone. And rather than walk slowly down every aisle, savoring the air conditioning and the lack of
encumbrances company, I was trying to get in and out as quickly as possible so that I could go sit in a coffee shop and write for an hour. Having scoured the mani/pedi section thoroughly, I did the unheard of and picked up a customer service phone to ask where I might find the Ped Eggs. The nice voice on the other end of the phone made a few enquiries and told me "Aisle 32B, on the end cap." I spent a full five minutes wandering up and down Aisle 32A in the beauty products section, trying to figure out which end of it was labeled "B" before I discovered that the "B" aisles were the next whole section of the store, across one of those main thoroughfare lanes that you have to cross with as much care as a busy street.
And do you know what that section is? More beauty products? Oh no. THAT section is the KITCHEN section. Yes, folks, it's true. Target shelves the Ped Egg on the end cap of an aisle that contains henkle kitchen knives, box cheese graters, mandolins, and other slicer-dicer products.
Chuckling all the way to the checkout over the ignorance of some stock boy who saw "egg" on the product name and a grater in the packaging, and shelved this among kitchen items, I decided to do my good deed for the day and tell the Customer Service counter that they had a shelving snafu -- and that perhaps they would sell more Ped Eggs to harried mothers of ill-behaved children (who I am quite sure are the primary demographic in Ped Egg's advertising portfolio) if the products were located with the other files, buffers, scrubbers, polishes, and foot lotions.
The lady in Customer Service was very nice. She laughed with me over the whole thing. And then she said I was completely right, but that Corporate decided where things were shelved, and this item is technically NOT shelved in the kitchen section but on the end cap devoted to "As Seen on TV" products. So, even though there is a giant horizontal wall of the rubber handled KitchenAid tools that fill your kitchen drawers facing the end cap of this aisle of knives and slicers that is directly under the red "KITCHEN" sign in my Target, this little end cap does not count as the kitchen section. It counts as the "Products for TV Suckers" section.
This is precisely why all the Ped Egg websites brag that their product is "not sold in stores." I bet I'm the very first person who has ever bought a Ped Egg in Target. Because, seriously, who looks in the kitchen section for a product with giant silhouettes of feet on the packaging? I don't know about you, but I like to keep my foot hygiene practices and my cooking pretty well separated by the entire length of my body whenever possible. I won't be storing my Ped Egg in my kitchen drawers. And I'm guessing anyone shopping for knives or cheese graters really doesn't care to imagine doing serious culinary work with a device designed to shave heels.
Though I can't help but wonder if (and secretly hope that) some dumb college kid, eager to replicate his mother's deviled eggs and feel a bit closer to home, has purchased a Ped Egg and raved to his friends about the creamy texture it produced when he shaves those boiled yolks and then mixes them with mayo, mustard and paprika. Yummmmm.
Saturday, July 19, 2008
You might have noticed the new(ish) widget in my sidebar -- that "From the Blogosphere" list of linkable posts. Supposedly, Blog Rush (see the logo at the bottom of the widget?) is this great new way to draw interested new readers to your blog, as well as to explore new blogs of interest to you. It's completely free to register your blog. All you have to do is put in the basics of your url and user name, and then copy and paste the unique code they create onto your blog to produce the widget you see here.
The user-friendly part is that you choose a category in which to register your blog, so that the links that show up in your widget are for blogs related to your content choice (in my case, I chose parenting and family blogs). And, every time someone visits your blog, you get a "credit" with Blog Rush for a post of yours to appear in a widget on someone else's blog in the same category. They also seem to be pretty generous with the "bonus" credits to up the number times you'll show up on other blogs.
It sounds like a great idea. And it's compounded by a sort of pyramid scheme that they have going where if Person B clicks on your widget to get to the Blog Rush site, and then actually registers with Blog Rush, every time Person B gets a reader on her blog, YOU get a credit along with Person B getting one.
So, in theory, if all of you registered for Blog Rush by clicking on my widget, and then all of your readers registered for Blog Rush through your widget, and so on and so on and so on, we'd all get gazillions of credits for our posts to appear all over the Internet all the darn time. Sa-WEET!
But here's the thing: I've had this widget for nearly two weeks now, and what with the actual number of visitors I get, and the vast number of extra credit credits they offer, I've had my post titles appear on someone's page widget thousands of times, and this had netted me exactly ONE hit. One. measly. hit. (Blog Rush actually tracks this, so it's easy to tell.)
So now I'm wondering: do you basically have to be the Successful Amway Purveyor of Blog Rush in order to have enough credits to get your posts to appear often enough that you actually get readers? Or is it that my titles suck? Or is it that no one actually BELONGS to Blog Rush, so no one is clicking, and my titles have appeared 6000 times on the same three blogs whose authors are all, "Holy Tomato! If that MommyTime doesn't stop writing that drivel and getting her post titles linked in my widget, I'm going to poke out my own eyes!!"
Do you Blog Rush? If so, what has been the response for you?
If you don't currently have this little widget, and you're up for an experiment, let's try this: register for Blog Rush using my widget. (Just click the bit that says "Add your blog posts - Free" and follow the directions to create an account.) Then put up a post asking your readers if they'd be willing to do the same through YOUR widget, and asking them to ask their readers to do the same, and so on. Let's see if we can VASTLY swell the rolls of people using Blog Rush and if this makes a difference. Then, check in on your stats through Blog Rush occasionally (they'll give you the directions for how to do this when you register; it's very easy.) I'll put up a post in two weeks where we can all reconvene and decide whether this thing is any good or not. And if we decide *meh* we'd rather use our sidebar space for something more interesting, we'll just unsubscribe. What do you think? Up for a little experiment in whether we can make viral happen all on our very own selves? Feedback please!
Friday, July 18, 2008
For many of us, blogging appeals because we can do it in short bursts -- read a post while the oatmeal cooks, leave a comment while the baby tries to feed herself applesauce, catch up on a few favorites during lunch hour. But while this works for reading, it doesn't work too well for writing. Writing often requires longer stretches of at least half an hour, and finding the time to keep up with the writing can be difficult. At least, it can if you're not willing to "forget" that you ran errands on a day that the kids don't have daycare, and therefore you should not be getting into the car alone with all those diapers and wipes, and that giant Toblerone bar. *ahem*
So, what's a blogger to do? Here's my countdown of excellent ways to carve our better writing time without anything even resembling negligence being part of the equation.
5. Get less sleep. Granted, this is not the most appealing-sounding option, particularly if your children are under 5, and you're barely sleeping enough as it is. But when all else fails, an occasional late night of blogging can make a big difference in your writing, both in terms of quality and quantity. In the quiet of the house, late at night, it's easier to concentrate, and with the added incentive of the bed calling your name, you'd be amazed at how much more efficient and productive it is possible to be. Especially if you also...
4. Use a focused, larger chunk of time to do nothing but writing. It's so much fun to read other blogs, dip into this life and that story, leave comments, enter conversations. But as we all know, it can be incredibly easy to settle down for an "bit" of blogging and find that three hours have passed effortlessly, what with reading and the laughing and the sense of community... all without writing a single word of your own post. I recommend setting aside one evening, or morning, or coffee hour, or Saturday when a spouse or friend takes the kids to the park, or whatever block of time you can get that is at least two hours long--even if you have to stay up later than normal to get that time--and writing several posts at once. Although you may worry that this will kill your spontaneity, trust me, it won't. If you have some posts in reserve, then on a day when you just don't have time to do anything at all, you can toss up a post that's waiting in the wings. You can always defer posting the pre-written ones if something really funny happens that needs to go up right away -- like, say, the guy at your gym makes you laugh so hard you almost fall off your treadmill, or your daughter covers the freshly-cleaned kitchen with cereal while she's hunting for raisins.
3. The longer writing sessions will go even better if you take advantage of the mental down-time in your day to draft posts in your head. I, for example, wrote nearly all of this post in my head this morning while I was showering, shaving, getting dressed, and commuting to work. That was nearly a full hour of time that I had where I couldn't be doing anything else: multi-tasking while immersed under running water or piloting a vehicle at 70mph down the highway is never a good idea, unless task #2 is going on inside your brain. I plan out posts: where I'll start, how they'll end, what anecdotes they might contain, and I've even been known to write whole sentences or sections in my head, thinking about turns of phrase I particularly like, or even trying sentences out loud to get a feel for them. Occasionally, I'll jot down on real paper a phrase or two that I want to remember, but mostly, I think through the post in really concrete detail, and then make a little mental list or outline for myself of the key points that I need to recall. Though it's been 14 hours since my planning session, and I'm just now finding the time to sit down and write this out, the writing part has been very quick since the thinking work is all done.
Best times to do this kind of planning: while exercising, cooking, commuting, folding laundry, vacuuming, weeding the garden, or sitting through an unbearably dull and not pertinent to you meeting at work that you nonetheless have to attend. The added bonus of doing this is that not only do you get the next day's post planned out, but the mental activity makes the otherwise very boring 40 minutes on the treadmill fly by.
2. Schedule posts ahead of time. I almost never write something and post it immediately. I very rarely have time during the days to write, while my evenings are freer. So in addition to planning posts when my brain is free to focus, and writing multiple ones if I have the time, I also schedule things the night before to post the following morning, or even two days out if I know I have a particularly busy couple of days ahead of me.
1. Choose a physical activity you really enjoy doing, and do that instead. I know this sounds counter-productive, but hear me out. When I was a sophomore in college, I remember being very stressed about work and trying to juggle all the assignments I had due. I got so overwhelmed that I just sat at my desk stressing and staring at the blank paper. Finally I couldn't stand it anymore, so I bundled up, picked up my ice skates, and walked the 1/2 mile to the section of pond that I'd cleared for myself as a private ice rink (golf course adjacent to the campus; meal tray borrowed from the cafeteria used as a shovel). I skated for an hour or more, and then, refreshed and happy, came back to my work much more focused. Even though I'd "wasted" close to two hours, I got everything done with time to spare. Sometimes, to get your mind working, your body needs to recharge. Go for a run, walk in the woods, take the dog to the park, run through the sprinkler with the kids -- it doesn't matter what you do as long as you get the blood flowing and the wind rushing past your ears a little.
Oh, and here's a little bonus idea: if you don't fly to San Francisco for a long weekend away from your family, just think about all the many many hours you will have available to you for blogging, hours that you would otherwise be spending in airports, buses, lunch lines, and other awful aspects of travel. Muchas Gracias! MommyPie and Foolery, for buying me HOURS of time this weekend to spend blogging. I can't wait for my Friday workday to end, so I can BlogHerNot with my BlogHus all night long!!
Thursday, July 17, 2008
I know your logo is licensed, and your company is enormous, and you have market share on every street corner in America, and in most office buildings, and in sports stadiums, and even inside some large public restrooms. I know your beans are the strongest, darkest, most black-hole-coffee producing beans ever ground for beverages, and that your consumers probably go through twice the half-n-half of those at any other coffee shop (ARE there any other coffee shops?) due to the acidity levels in your coffees. I know that you are the richest, most successful coffee chain in the US, and that you are probably extremely proud of the fact that your consumers have a higher stomach acid content than any other consumers of any other beverage (ARE there any other beverages?) in this country.
And with all of this success, I am sure that you are not that concerned about what happens at one little coffee counter, in one little academic building, on one little college campus in the lower 48.
Nonetheless, I am writing to inform you that the coffee sold on the second floor of my office building, dispensed out of vats boldly labeled "We Proudly Sell Starbucks Coffee" and into cups bearing your logo, this coffee that bears your name is coffee you would be mortified to claim as your own and actually repulsed if you tasted it. It is the worst coffee on the planet. It is as bitter as coffee brewed too strong, as flat as Folgers, as biting as coffee that has sat too long in a house-sized pot on a burner. It is so inky that it requires six little pots of coffemate creamer just to turn the color of rich midwestern mud.
I cannot bear to drink this coffee, although I periodically forget this fact. In moments of weakness, occasioned by teaching, grading, and meeting with students for eight hours straight, I sometimes go down to the coffee counter and buy a cup. After one sip, I always remember why I haven't purchased this coffee in weeks. I have tried cutting it with the cloyingly sweet mixture that passes for hot chocolate down there, thinking that the overly sweet and overly bitter might somehow meld into just the right level of sweet-plus-bite. But the result is instead a torturous experience of wan chocolate and coffee so awful that I can feel my teeth enamel dissolving as I drink.
While this coffee counter may be proud to sport your logo, you would be horrified to know what they are doing to your coffee. It is as if they take your perfectly roasted beans and brew them with the water left over from experiments conducted in the nearby Chemistry building. Or that they brew a week's worth of coffee on Sunday night and keep it in a giant vat somewhere on "warm" to dole out all week. Frankly, if I knew what they were doing wrong, I would jump over the counter myself and fix it.
But since I don't, I am writing to this letter in the hopes that you might take pity on the thousands of students and hundred of professors who pass through the halls of my building every day and who are subject to toxic sludge under the guise of Starbucks. Even if you don't care about our individual taste buds slowly dying in our mouths, perhaps your concern for quality control of the Starbucks brand will entice you to investigate the matter. Please, for the love of all that is espresso: teach this staff how to brew coffee before someone gets hurt.
The Undercaffienated Professor on the 6th Floor
Wednesday, July 16, 2008
When I was about six or seven, my parents were tarring the basement walls to waterproof them in preparation for making a playspace for us. My mother accidentally kicked over the little burner they were using to keep the tar soft, and the whole wall went up in flames. (Don't ask me why they chose tar instead of some kind of water-barrier paint, or why they were handling such hazardous materials themselves; this was the 1970s.) Long story short, although I refused to believe taunting Tommy Lewis when he sing-songed that the fire engines were at my house and my house was on fire, he turned out to be right.
Everything was fine. But shortly after that, our parents sat us down and asked us to think very carefully about what we would grab to take out of the house with us if we were ever caught inside during a fire. The rule was that we could only pick ONE thing. We had to decide what it was, and tell what it was, and promise that if there were ever a fire, we would grab that ONE thing, and then get out of the house as fast as possible.
In retrospect, I think this is quite a brilliant idea of my parents'. The panic of trying to save everything has no doubt trapped some people in burning buildings before.
And so, every time I move to a new place, I find myself thinking about what exactly I would save, where that thing is, and how I would get it out. Normally this train of thought occurs to me just as I'm trying to fall asleep but can't, and I lie awake planning escape routes that include the shortest distance between all the things I MUST save. At one time or another in my life, the things I would rescue have included the box of letters from my English boyfriend, the disks/laptop containing my dissertation, or the photo albums of my childhood.
Now that I have kids, it's a no-brainer, of course, that my first priority would be getting them out. After them (I'm assuming Husband is able to get himself out), the next priority is Dog. And since she weighs 80 pounds, this is no small feat. Trust me when I say that I have already figured out the complex harness made of bed sheets that I would rig up to winch her out the second-story window, were that necessary. (Yes, again, I am always in bed while planning these things, and hence hatching nighttime escape routes as well.)
BUT assuming that I was home alone, or all the humans and pets were already safe, there's always lingering in the back of my mind: what STUFF would I save? I need to know the answer to this because it was impressed upon me as such a serious question for such a long time. Here's what I'd grab:
* My great-grandmother's filigree ring. It's a lovely piece that has been worn by four generations of women in my family (including me), and that I will someday give to Daughter. Though I have seen similar ones in many an antique shop, I would be crushed to lose it due to the memories it holds. I wear it whenever I'm facing a particularly difficult task, as a sort of good luck talisman, and I always wear it on the first day of school each term, as a personal charm for a good semester. (Note to potential thieves: it's not worth a lot of money, just has sentimental value, so don't bother.)
* The quilt Husband and I received for our wedding. MIQuilter (my middle sister, quilter extraordinnaire) had the brilliant idea to send everyone who had been invited to the wedding a pattern and directions for making a quilt square in the Wedding Ring pattern. Those who chose to participate made one square each and sent them to our mother, who assembled the whole quilt, added necessary interspersing pieces, and had it quilted. They surprised Husband and I with the quilt the night before our wedding. Everyone signed their square of the quilt, and every time I look at it, I think of the love that surrounded us on that day when we took our vows in a little room filled with all the people to whom we felt closest in the world.
* Boring alert: my laptop. I do my best to back things up, but I don't do it often enough. My research, book manuscript, photos, so many things are on that hard-drive. But since this is a lot of things to grab, and since many other things besides fire can destroy a laptop, I have to learn to be better at the whole backing up thing.
Now, here's the part in the post where I would normally just ask you what you would grab, curious as I am about the things people value most in their lives. But, freaky alert!, although I started writing this post last Friday, MommyPie posted this exact question on her blog Saturday morning. Exactly. She asked her Doogs what TWO things (she's more generous than my parents were) people would save when exiting their homes during a fire. She was curious. Apparently, MommyPie and I are currently sharing a brain. Because, seriously, I'd already written the whole "my parents tarred the basement..." bit by the time I'd read her post. But because she is an incredibly generous soul, she chose to believe me when I told her that. And she was classy enough to email me to say that she really wouldn't mind if I put up my post with the exact same question in it that she'd just asked her readers. And she even told me that she sort of believes in ESP. Which? SO. DO. I. This would prove that we have the same brain, if only she weren't so much funnier than I am.
So, anyway, here I am with my post that totally looks like a copycat post, even though I promise it isn't, wondering: if you have only ONE pass through the house to grab something(s) important before you bolt out the door, and your children and other loved ones are already safe outside. What would you fill your arms with? And why? And just to make this fun: let's assume that for reasons unexplainable, your laptop/hard drive is already safe because we all know that we're a computer-reliant lot. What else REALLY matters to you?
Tuesday, July 15, 2008
Here are two lists for you to consider. Read carefully. At the end, you'll actually have to think about them momentarily. (I promise, it won't hurt.)
Reasons Winter is Better than Summer
* You can always put on more clothes if you are too cold, but at a certain point, there are no more clothes to take off if you are too hot.
* Kids in snowsuits = adorable.
* Hot chocolate, popcorn, and old movies: need I say more?
* No bug bites (in our house this actually equals saving money, as I've now been to the pediatrician twice for enormous swellings on my children -- one on Daughter's eye; don't mess with that; and one on Son's leg that was suspiciously bullseye shaped; don't mess with that either -- that both turned out to be treatable with benadryl.)
* When you forget to put the laundry from washer into dryer, you have a 24-hour grace period before the stuff turns all smelly-gym-bag nasty and has to be rewashed; in summer, the window is 24 seconds.
Reasons Summer is Better than Winter
* The lovely, airy feeling of walking around in sundresses, smooth-shaven legs, and sandals instead of as some incarnation of the Stay Puff Marshmallow Man.
* Getting kids into snowsuits (and hats, boots, gloves, scarves) = torture.
* Picnics, playgrounds, water-spray parks: need I say more?
* No frost bite. The End.
* Two fewer loads of laundry per week, since everyone is wearing fewer clothes.
Now for the question: Which of the statements below most accurately describes your view on these lists?
(A) In Winter, I think Winter's better, and in Summer, I think Summer's better.
(B) In Winter, I think Summer's better, and in Summer, I think Winter's better.
(C) No matter the season, I'm consistent in my preference: I always think Winter's better OR I always think Summer's better.
(D) Both of these lists make so much sense that I think they're both right, and I can hardly remember what season it is.
If you picked (A) you are an OPTIMIST. You tend to downplay the difficulties of whatever situation you encounter in favor of emphasizing the positives. Have to rewash the laundry? Well, it's just more water run-off for the flower garden. Got frostbite? Use it as an excuse for extra keeping-warm time with your beloved. You have every right to change your name to Pollyanna.
If you picked (B) you are a PESSIMIST. You always think the next best thing is just around the corner while the moment you are living in can't measure up. On the bright side: you never forget to bring sunscreen, since you are always sure you'll burn. On the dark side: you don't believe in bright sides.
If you picked (C) you are a REALIST. You are prepared, balanced, and quite happy to live in the moment. You know what you like, and you can cope with what you don't without losing sight of the fact that trouble is only temporary. You can roll with the punches, make lemonade from lemons, get right back on that horse, and spot a cliche from a mile off. Way to go!
If you picked (D) you are an actual weatherperson for a TV or radio station and have no idea what the weather is really like outside your own window. My advice: stop studying the weather and get out there and enjoy it.
Now that you have learned as much as you could possibly want to know about your personality from this little self-test, courtesy of the Woman Who Had Too Much Time on Her Hands in the Pediatrician's Waiting Room While Waiting for a Diagnosis that Was Not Lyme Disease, tell me this: what is really your favorite season, and why?
Monday, July 14, 2008
Do you know Moosh in Indy? If you don't, you should. Casey is a great writer, wonderful photographer -- fun, thought-provoking, droll, all the things you want in a storyteller. She's also an incredibly generous human being. Having won in quick succession both a TJ Maxx spending spree (through the luck of a random drawing) and a $1000 prize from GE Caulk Singles (through the skill of writing a hilarious post), she has teamed up with Sarah from Whoorl and Hair Thursday to offer a magnificent hair makeover to a lucky reader. I KNOW! The world is filled with good, good people.
Wait, you don't know Sarah?! Hair Thursday is the hair makeover site. Readers submit photos and fill out a questionnaire about their haircare practices (or lack thereof), and Sarah magics around the internet and finds hair choices for them, compiles styling tips, and generally provides the best hairvice you've ever read. Then readers vote on what the lucky featured head of hair should turn into.
I, sadly, discovered Hair Thursday too late (as have you if you're just learning of it now). Sarah had been featuring one lucky reader each week, then bumped it up to two, but the waiting list is still hundreds of people long. And my mad math skills tell me that's somewhere near two years of waiting for a hair makeover. And as you might recall, my hair is sadly in need of a makeover right now. If I wait several years before I see a stylist, I will certainly look like Cousin Itt by the time I arrive at the salon. UNLESS, I win this contest. Because, you see, the prize for winning is that Sarah will bump the winner right to the front of the line at Hair Thursday, and then Casey will fund the winner to actually get the hair fabulosity that Sarah and her readers recommend. And then I will be the happiest woman in the whole Northern Hemisphere. *ahem* If I win, I mean.
And here's what Casey wants for an entry: a little blog post about my hair. The good, the bad, and the
ugly daily. So without further ado, I present you the hairstory of my head.
Once upon a time there was a girl with very long hair, so long that if she tipped her head back just the tiniest bit, she could sit on the ends of her hair. When she became a mature 8th grader, however, she decided that her hair was too juvenile, and so she had it cut short. She was hoping for something stylish, something that said, "I am practically in high school! Take me seriously." What she got was this.
The wings took quite some time to achieve every morning with her brush-tipped curling iron. But certainly not longer than it took for her to don blue eyeshadow, large, dangly, mismatched earrings, sporty perfume, and pink lipgloss.
In an effort to harken back to her curly-headed moppet days (she has the toddler pictures to prove it), she had several home perms in 10th and 11th grades. By the time she was a Senior in highschool, she had come to the realization that long hair simply suited her better -- as is so clearly obvious from this, her yearbook Senior picture.
The pouffy triangle and large bangs are casualties of the 1980s and can neither be helped nor apologized for. They simply are what they are. Bad hair at its very best.
Her hair grew longer and longer in college, and during the year she spent in damp damp England looked the finest it has ever looked on a daily basis, making it clear that her curls and humidity are excellent companions. Sadly, the quality of one's curl can only go so far to make up for utter lack of perception that a head containing two eyes, two ears, two brain hemispheres, and other symmetrical features is perhaps not best suited to asymmetrical hair -- but her penchant for sweeping all of her very long hair to one side of her head can be explained by noting that this was 1990. Her favorite picture of her hair ever taken comes from this period. She is sitting on a London street next to a friend, laughing and eating some kind of pasty, and the corkscrew curls cascading over her shoulders look sublime. Of course this photo, like every other vestige of the bad British boyfriend phase of her life, has disappeared into the sands of time.
And so as representative of good hair, she presents the second best photo ever taken of her head. To be fair, it is taken on the very best hair day of her life. But then again, having paid for a serious professional updo in which to get married, it's only fair that her hair looked good.
For reasons a geneticist might be able to explain, but she cannot, her hair never got straight again after those two high school perms. And since it is now 23 years since her last home permanent, and she has never had her hair chemically curled in that time, she thinks it is fair to call her hair naturally curly. Hence, long curly hair was her preference for close to two decades. It was easy, always looked reasonable, cost almost nothing to maintain (why trim it if you're just growing it and living on a student budget?) -- and so her graduate school days were marked by long locks.
When she finally got a real job, the first thing she did was cut it all off. But, having spent most of her life doing next to nothing to style her hair, she could not bring herself to take the requisite 30-odd minutes every morning to straighten her hair to look like this -- which, anyway, was the blowout achieved by her stylist, and we all know how often that gets replicated. If she let it air dry, it was its usual tousled mess, only shorter.
And so, she has grown it out again. Which is certainly easy. But which means that most days -- what with the exercising, and the kids, and the summer weather, and the general laziness, and the fact that she has now spent 30-odd years of her life not really doing much to her hair every morning except drying it in the winter so that it won't freeze to her head -- it normally looks like this:
(Yes, the sleepy baby and the turquoise sea of Hawaii are included here as general distractors from from unkempt state of the five-second-twist-it-up-into-a-barrette that passes for a hairstyle these days.)
Lest anyone argue that a picture taken three years ago (that baby is Son) does not count as Hair Right Now (a photo of which is one of Casey's requirements for entering this contest), I would like to point out that this hair hasn't actually changed one iota in the last three years except to get longer and hence require larger barrettes to accomplish this messy twist every morning. Heaven forfend that she be disqualified from being able to win the contest that would change her life, however, so here is a very unartistic, unadorned with a cute child, not redeeming in any way photo of the hair right this very second (with apologies for the glare of the morning sun).
As you can see, the hair needs all the help it can get. Sure, it's long and curly. But it's getting an alarming quantity of grey up on top, and the shocking style-less-ness of this much hair is starting to make even the queen of wash-and-wear hair a little queasy. It's so long and heavy that it's flat on top, and while it balances out the hips nicely by giving some added girth to a pea-sized head (can you say, extra-small sized bike helmet with extra pads inside?), something drastic must be done soon to give it some shape. Otherwise, I might just take scissors to it myself, whack off a foot-long ponytail, and donate it to this amazing organization instead. Which won't make the hair look any better, but would at least be a nice thing to do.
So, please help me, Casey and Sarah. I would love to get back in the classroom this fall with hair that isn't an embarrassment.
And, just in case by some miracle of bad luck and cosmic injustice, a different one of the eight bazillion people who have probably entered this contest wins it, would you, my loyal readers, tell me this: should I go for auburn to cover the grey? I've always wanted to be a redhead...
P.S. I'd tell you to enter this contest too, but I don't want you diluting my chances. Unless you REALLY need the makeover more than I do. (If you are Cousin Itt, then enter.) But hurry, contest entry closes today.
Saturday, July 12, 2008
Anybody have tried and true details for how to get crayon (the not washable kind) out of a microfiber, supposedly stain treated armchair? I'll send a prize to the writer of the winning set of instructions that actually works to remove this mess.
3pm Edited to add: ding ding ding!! We have a winner. MR. LADY (who is surprised by this? not me) needs to email me her address so that I can send her a prize. I promise, she'll like it. For those of you too frantic over your own crayon debacle to go paw through all the comments and figure out what worked, I'll tell you: baby wipes. That's it. Simple. Sanitary. Got 'em around anyway. Use 'em for everything, and now for one thing more. The crayon is all gone. Hurray! Thank you, Mr. Lady.
8:45pm Edited again to add: I am a ding-a-ling. Mr. Lady being the go-to-gal for all things toddle-art-on-upholstery related (if you don't know why, click here), it was apparently too easy of me to read through all the comments and miss the modest suggestion of San Diego Momma's that baby wipes had worked for her -- HOURS before they worked for Mr. Lady. So: massive props to San Diego Momma, who deserves a prize not only for the winning suggestion but also for beating Mr. Lady to the punch. Which is never easy to do.
Friday, July 11, 2008
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang is a great children's movie with lots of very catchy tunes and fantastical ideas that children love. But Jeremy and Jemima (the tow-headed sprites, children of the inventor played by Dick Van Dyke) spend an awful lot of time in the movie jumping up and down excitedly and crying out things in unison. Things like "oh, yes, Daddy, please Daddy, oh, yes, a picnic, hurray! a picnic, oh Daddy, really? a picnic, hurray!" And when they do this (approximately once every ten minutes in the two hour movie), they sound like a very large group of tiny mewing kittens, if tiny mewing kittens wore microphones and mewed at a pitch precisely calibrated to drive humans insane.
Even two days old, homemade bread is so much better than store-bought that it's hard to imagine why I'd ever buy a premade loaf again. (Except I will, of course, buy one, since it's not so easy to time the bread-maker's 94 hour cycle so that I'm home at the precise moment it beeps to remove the finished loaf.)
When your toddler spends two HOURS shrieking at the top of her lungs in the middle of the night, jumping up and down in her crib, refusing to allow her soggy diaper to be changed, demanding cups of milk and then escalating the fit because you put the milk in the orange sippy cup instead of the blue one, waking up her brother, and frustrating everyone else in the house from 1-3am (including the dog), it is extremely kind of one's Husband to let one sleep in and set the children up with Chitty Chitty Bang Bang quietly on the couch, so that one can continue sleeping even after he leaves for work.
Dick van Dyke's dancing routine with a long bamboo pole almost makes mewing children worth it. A Husband's thoughtfulness certainly does.
A wee hours' scream fast has the propensity to make one inordinately cranky the next morning, unable to appreciate the little things, finding too much fault. Recognizing this may help rectify the situation. So will a LOT of coffee.
Thursday, July 10, 2008
My kids did something spectacular yesterday: they became playmates.
It was stunning.
In the morning, they colored pictures together in the other room while I did dishes and swept floors. They negotiated who would get the mini director's chair and who would get the mini stool without my intervention. They traded coloring books when they got picture envy. They giggled.
Then they moved on to horse races. One of them got the bouncy horse and the other got the stick horse. They did not fight about who got what.
Then we all moved furniture around upstairs to give Son a bigger bed and Daughter the transition bed. We stripped sheets and remade beds and heaved the queen sized futon from one room to the next. In the midst of it all, they played bonk bellies and Drive Mama Crazy by Jumping on Bed Parts. Together. Son carried Daughter's director's chair upstairs for her since it was too awkward for her to manage it for herself.
After Daughter's nap, they dragged Son's cardboard box car downstairs and took turns climbing in and out of it. Daughter sat in the back half while Son drove her to Disney World. The preparations for going to Disney World took a long time. All the plastic food, including one cone and 8 scoops of icecream, had to be packed into Daughter's little purse for provisions. After the car ride was over, they had to be a train. The game was apparently Going to Disney World rather than Being AT Disney World because although it took the better part of an hour, they never seemed to arrive. But they did not fight about that fact.
Don't get me wrong, it wasn't all rainbows and unicorns at our house yesterday. The entire box of crayons was dumped out more than once and flung across the floor in violent sweeping motions by Daughter. Son learned the meaning of the word regret when he came to me hiccuping with sobs and managed to choke out that: "I really wanted to keep that picture I colored of the puppies, but it got a hole in it, and I got mad, so I tore it up...but I really wanted to keep it." It was heartwrenching.
No one wanted to come home from the swimming pool, but everyone wanted to eat treats on the way home (though we didn't have any, and it was dinner time), and no one was excited about broccoli for dinner. There were tears.
But honestly, it was the most pleasant day I have had at home with the kids in ages because on the balance, they preferred each other's company to mine. Lest I sound callous and awful, let me clarify: I love to read to my kids, to do projects with them, to snuggle them, to take them swimming, to talk with them around the lunch table. I most emphatically do not love refereeing poking fights, punishing a toddler for hair pulling, correcting a preschooler for taunting, or negotiating who will get the one and only 3" long broken red car in our house which is the ONLY toy that both of them want RIGHT THIS SECOND, and "I had it FIRST!!!"
Most of all, I really truly love that they are learning to play pretend with each other, to become each other confidantes, to amuse each other and themselves without requiring adult approval ("Aren't you so proud, Mama?") or intervention to ensure that no one loses an eye.
There was the ugly moment in the car, of course.
Son: [baiting] I'm funnier than you.
Daughter: [not understanding the Rules of Taunting] I funny.
Son: [with greater emphasis] I'm funnier than you.
Daughter: [cheerfully] I funny too!
Son: [exasperated and eyes bugging out] I'm FUNNIER. THAN. YOU.
Daughter: [finally getting it] I'm funnier than YOU.
Son: [louder] No, I'm funnier than you.
Daughter: [imagine increasing decibel levels if you can] I funnier. I funnier THAN you.
Son: [shouting] I'm FUNNIER than YOUUUUUUU!
Daughter: [matching lungs] I funnier THAN yOUUUUUuuuuu!!
Son: [shrieking] I'm the funniest.
Daughter: [silent; doesn't know the right response]
Son: I'm the funniest... and you're FIRED!
Daughter: [indignant] I NOT Fired. I Daughter. [and then she laughed at him for the joke she thought he was making in giving her a silly name]
It was ugly for a moment there, no lie. But given the punch line, and how happy I was that they had actually played together for hours over the course of the day, I couldn't even open my mouth to reprimand. I was too busy driving and choking back silent laughter.
And thanking my lucky stars that, apparently, my children are "maturing" into playmates.
It's days like these that make the crazies amongst us think that having a third child might not be such a bad idea, isn't it?