September 29, 2012

Some Things I Love

I am feeling cheerful today. I credit many things, but here are a few things I've thought of today with particular cheer:

1. Bird earrings. I got these at Target back in August. I wasn't even going to buy them, but I had William with me and he was making the bird be all cute and hop around and look me in the eye and so forth, so I bought them. The next day I went back and bought more pairs to give as gifts.


hop, hop

buy me


2. Store-brand Moose Tracks ice cream. I was complaining on Twitter that I was disappointed in all the Breyer's specialty flavors that looked so good but didn't measure up, and Doing My Best said her store brand's Moose Tracks was really, really superior. I have enough faith in her ice cream judgement to get a box of my own store-brand Moose Tracks, even though it was unlikely to be the same store brand. (But I remember reading somewhere that a lot of store brands are filled by the same manufacturer, so I had hope.) IT IS SO DELICIOUS. I've had two boxes of it now, and I didn't buy more on this last shopping trip because I'd made myself feel sick having "just a little more" of the last box---and now I regret not getting it. I could be making myself feel sick RIGHT THIS MINUTE on tiny peanut butter cups and fudge (not fudge SAUCE, but FUDGE).


3. Pink zinnias.


A patch of some vegetable in the garden failed to thrive, so Paul pulled it up. Then he impulsively put a pack of zinnia seeds over that patch, and they succeeded to thrive. GOODNESS, didn't they! And they seem to last way longer than they should in a vase. (That "vase" is an empty bottle from one of those frappuccino drinks they sell in four-packs. They make great vases.) Next year we're going to grow assorted-color zinnias.


4. Snyder's Chedder Cheese Pretzel Pieces.


It's like someone broke a bunch of big pretzels into chunks and pieces, and then dusted them with an intoxicating cheese powder---similar to Cheetos powder or Kraft mac-and-cheese powder, and just a LITTLE bit spicy. SO YUMMY. Paul wrinkled his nose at the sight of them; then took one and ate it suspiciously; then took several more and watched the bag longingly as I took it away. MINE.

...I'm going to have to get a little bowl of them to eat while I write the rest of this.


5. Light pink Converse One-Star.


They are looking kind of grubby because I wore them pretty much every day all summer. They were an impulse purchase (70% off at Target, should I get them?, no, yes, no, yes, no, well I'll just put them in the cart and think about it, okay I can always return them) and I LOVE THEM. I bought a second pair in orchid (a medium-light purpley color) but I haven't worn those yet.


6. Prell.


Paul was out of shampoo, and he was trying very hard to work up the enthusiasm to respond to my incredibly boring questions about whether he'd been happy with that kind or did he want to try something new. He said the only time he'd ever had any sort of shampoo preference was when it was Prell, and that was just because it was fun to watch the bubble go up and down in the bottle. Good enough for me, and I enjoy a quest.

Target didn't have it, so I checked our grocery store, which seems to cater to "people complaining that they can't find such-and-such anymore." Sure enough, they had it. I think it's amusing that there's a picture of a bubble on the bottle, like Prell KNOWS that's how we all think of it. It's fun to be using the same shampoo we both used in our childhoods.

September 28, 2012

In Uncompensated Praise of Lane Bryant

My two favorite pairs of jeans gave up the good fight at the end of last spring, and my remaining jeans, purchased in desperation, were making feel frumpy, ugly, old, and ridiculous. That is quite an accomplishment for a single item of clothing. I changed into pedal pushers it was too chilly for, got rid of the bad jeans in a bold "I don't even have replacements yet, but I will wear pedal pushers in snowdrifts rather than ever wear those jeans again" move, and went shopping.

Here are the things I don't like about Lane Bryant:

1. They are the kind of store that has the kind of sales that mean you can never buy anything at regular price. If something consistently goes on 50%-off sales, that means the regular price is not a reasonable price to pay.

2. They are the kind of store that covers a table in piles of jeans, and puts "$29.99 jeans!!" on a big sign with an asterisk leading to "select styles." And it turns out that 1/5th of the jeans on the table qualify, plus one style on another rack covered mostly in non-qualifying styles. And there's no way to find out which jeans qualify without having a clerk take each pair over to the register and check.

3. I'm between two sizes there AND between two inseams there. So my choices are "too tight and too long," "too tight and too short," "too loose and too long," or "too loose and too short." I go with "too tight and too long," because (1) their jeans tend to stretch out quite a bit, and (2) I'd rather step on or roll my cuffs than have them floating over my shoes. (Accept my assurances that "You could get them hemmed" is an idea I am able to come up with independently.)

4. They have signs up all over that if the store doesn't have your size in stock, you can get free shipping from the site. That's an awesome idea, and compensates me for the frustration of coming all the way here and not being able to buy something they should have had in stock! ...But it turns out it's free shipping TO THE STORE. That is not "free shipping," that is "the store ordering something they needed more of, and I'll need to come back another day to buy them."


But here is why I shop there with happiness in my heart, despite the damning case I seem to have constructed against them:

1. They make me feel like I'm a normal person who falls into the normal range of human anatomy.


It's hard to beat that kind of service.

I can go into the store, and there are things on every single rack that fit me. Sometimes I try something on and it's too big, and I need to get a smaller size; sometimes it's too small, and a larger size is available. I can come out of the dressing room and stand in front of the big mirror and lift up my shirt to see how the waistband of the jeans looks, and I don't feel self-conscious about it: I feel like this is just the size and shape I am. I can try things on and reject them because I don't like the style or color, rather than because "Why is this an XXL and I can't even get it over my knees?? How big does this store think an 'extra, EXTRA large' person IS??"

Furthermore, the items I'm trying on will conform to current trends. Maybe they do a little more with sequins than the average store, but there's a "Hey, I am someone who has some flash and glamor and isn't trying to hide in dumpy baggy monochrome clothes!" feeling to it, rather than an "I'm hoping to distract your eye from my plumpness" feeling. If everyone is wearing skinny jeans and I'm starting to feel flappy-pantsed in my flare cuffs, I can go to Lane Bryant and know that they will have skinny jeans. Maybe I will not BUY any skinny jeans (I did not buy any skinny jeans), but I know I CAN if I WANT to. And if they don't have them in my size, they will order them, and I can come back another day and get them.

September 25, 2012

Spectrum

I had a dental cleaning/check yesterday, which means that from September 1st when I flipped the calendar page and saw the appointment, until yesterday when I was walking out the dentist's door, you wouldn't have been able to convince me the world was a happy place. Now I feel open to the concept.

Whenever I go to the dentist or have an appointment in the near future, it sets off a smoldering annoyance I feel with a whole category of...stuff. Things. Now comes the challenging part, where I try to say what that category IS.

Okay, it's like this. Let's picture the WORLD, for a moment. The whole world. And now let's picture a Dental Spectrum, representing the dental care levels of the world. At one end, we're going to have no tooth care at all, and adults with many missing teeth. No dentist, but maybe some local guy who will pull a tooth for you when it's hurting.

One step up from that is going to be people who figure out a sort of self-care for their teeth: scrubbing them with sand and twigs or something. Still no dentist.

One step up from that is going to be a situation where you can buy the things you need: toothpaste, toothbrushes, floss. Maybe at that point in the spectrum there's a dentist, but maybe he's 30 miles away by foot, or maybe he's a traveling guy who only stops by every couple of years and anyway he still only does basic, basic stuff. No, like, root canals or crowns.

One step up from that.... Well, I don't think we need to do every single step. But here is what causes the smoldering annoyance: picturing the other end of the spectrum, the last tiny smidgen pressed right up against the far edge, where we have such things as "Making one's teeth WHITE enough" and "Making one's teeth STRAIGHT enough" and "Going to see the dentist every 6 months at great expense, whether you need it or not, or else you are unclean and irresponsible."

Those things are all crowded up ALMOST at the tippy-edge of the spectrum, right before the Hollywood part where it's "Getting all your teeth capped, and it has to be a special expensive KIND of cap." And yet we're supposed to think of this crazy-high level of care as STANDARD and MINIMUM.

It's the same with fashion. Picture the world again, and now picture the fashion spectrum instead of the dental one. At one end we have just enough clothes for pure safety/use/protection: a little cloth to prevent pain and flopping, maybe. Something on the feet if absolutely necessary. An animal skin when it's cold enough to otherwise die of exposure.

Then it's clothes for privacy and comfort. But it's whatever can be obtained: certainly fit is not an issue, or color, or style, or number of holes, or matching, or ANYTHING like that. And it's probably one shirt, one pair of pants held up with rope---not, like, multiples of each item.

Then let's skip to wayyyyyyyy up at the other end of the spectrum, it's "Clothes must fit AND flatter AND be this season AND be appropriately accessorized AND be quality AND be expensive, AND you have to get rid of them all and start over in three months or else EEW. I mean, take CARE of yourself, amirite?"

Those things are all crowded up at the farthest edge of the spectrum, right before the Hollywood part where it's "And never wear the same item twice" and "No, seriously, it's completely reasonable for a dress to cost multiple thousands of dollars"---and yet we're supposed to think of them as STANDARD and MINIMUM.

Oh, and feet. FEET. (I remember reading somewhere, like in a novel where some characters were old-timey high society, that the word "foot" was acceptable and the word "feet" was vulgar. Isn't that funny?) The world's foot spectrum appears before us; at one end, no footwear at all. Then it's any shoes available, certainly no quibbling about size, appearance, style. Etc., etc., I'm sure you're getting the concept, and then we get to the upper part, where you must have pedicures or else you're gross and an offense to society, AND you must have many pairs of shoes, AND they must be custom-fit to your feet by an expert, AND they must be this season, AND they must be perfect in both color and style with your outfit and purse, AND it is perfectly reasonable for them to cost multiple hundreds of dollars.

I mistyped and then misread "foot" as "food," so yes, let's talk food. World food spectrum, starting with "Trying not to die." A BIG step up the spectrum, and then it's "Trying to get adequate nutrition so that one's teeth don't fall out and one's bones don't snap." Another big step and we're at "Being able to buy food at a store" and "Being able to choose between foods" and "Having access to food that is mostly still fresh/bugless."

Then let's look at the verrrrrry top edge of the spectrum, where it's "The food has to be FRESH" and "The food has to be LOCAL" and "The food has to be ORGANIC" and "The food has to be a CERTAIN BRAND and/or from a CERTAIN STORE and/or sold in a CERTAIN KIND OF PACKAGING." It's right below the very top edge where people spend multiple hundreds of dollars on a bottle of BEVERAGE to go WITH their meal, but it's supposed to be considered STANDARD and MINIMUM. Anything less is GROSS and IRRESPONSIBLE and DANGEROUS.

And what really starts turning the smolder into something more volcanic is that these spectrums cover EVERY SINGLE AREA OF LIFE. Everything. Down to our TOENAILS. Up to our HAIR, which must be not just in existence AND clean, but also cut regularly, by a professional, ideally an expensive professional, and also cared for with a variety of expensive products and tools for a long period of time each day, AND colored every 6 weeks, AND worn fashionably, AND EXISTING NOWHERE ELSE ON OUR BODIES.

And home maintenance! And yard maintenance! And pet care! Eye care! Eyebrow maintenance! Love relationships! Exercise! Housecleaning! Parenting! Car ownership and care! Optional insurance! Appliances! EVERYTHING must be obtained and maintained at the 99TH PERCENTILE or else it is CRAP. DO IT ALL, OR YOU ARE A CRAPPY AND IRRESPONSIBLE HUMAN BEING WHO JUST DOESN'T CARE AND/OR IS TOO STUPID TO KNOW ANY BETTER. OH AND BY THE WAY IT ALL COSTS A LOT OF MONEY, BUT HAVING LESS MONEY IS NO EXCUSE.

These are terrible ways to measure human worth---and yet there they are, totally in place, and established so that people feel comfortable referring to them as givens.

Oh, I know, the answer is to just DISREGARD these silly standards and make my OWN decisions about what is worthwhile and important and valuable! Yes, yes, thank you, Buddha Jr.! But we do LIVE on this planet, constantly exposed to these standards, and it puts me on a constant low smolder to be reminded of them so persistently and from so many different directions. I don't even like those standards to EXIST; and so since other people ARE applying them, it helps only a little to remind myself that I don't have to do so.

September 22, 2012

Three Movies: 10 Items or Less; The Station Agent; Becoming Chaz

(photo from Amazon.com)

10 Items or Less (Netflix link). I was completely charmed by this movie. COMPLETELY CHARMED. I think Netflix recommended it to me, and I was like, "Eh, I do like Morgan Freeman, so okay." And then I really, really liked it. Morgan Freeman plays himself, which is fun, and there are cameos by other actors. He forms this affectionate, non-sexual, out-of-nowhere buddy relationship with a supermarket clerk, and...that's pretty much it. But I really liked it. I think you might like it too.


(photo from Amazon.com)

The Station Agent (Netflix link). This is the perfect movie for three thoughts: (1) "OMG. We are all just PEOPLE, in different-looking bodies!! We're all just PEOPLE!! Hey, everybody! We're ALL PEOPLE WE ALL FEEL BASICALLY THE SAME ON THE INSIDE!!" and (2) "So THIS is how friendships work! You don't have to BE a certain WAY, you can just BE how you ARE!" and (3) "Whooo. Peter Dinklage is...ATTRACTIVE."


(photo from Amazon.com)

Becoming Chaz (Netflix link). This is the story of how Chastity Bono became Chaz Bono, and it was a great and cathartic-cry peek into what someone else's life is like. I ended up feeling split between "OH GOD WHY DOES LIFE HAVE TO BE SO HARD???" and "Isn't it great that people ARE the way they ARE, and aren't they WONDERFUL?" (see also: The Station Agent). There's medical stuff you might have been curious about, and there's emotional/relationshipal things you might have been curious about; the whole thing ends up feeling the normal way things feel when they happen to you instead of to strangers. The portrayal of Chaz's girlfriend is masterful, I thought: they show her dingbat side, AND they make you love and respect her and see why someone would really treasure her. Also, you get to hear Oprah deciding that SHE is going to call documentaries "real life stories," and imply that she invented the concept.

September 20, 2012

A Reassuring Note for the Children's Emergency Kit; New Material to Keep the Parents Lying Awake


I put this on Twitter, and then I was like, "Self, why did you put that on Twitter? First of all, it took EIGHT tweet installments to say it. That is not the point of Twitter, self. Secondly, now it scrolls down and disappears forever, and then next year when you're thinking, 'Where is that thing I wrote about this??,'  you will search all your blog archives and be completely mystified because WHERE DID IT GO? And I will not be here to say, 'You put it on TWITTER, dummy.'"

So I will write it here again, even though this will be a bit dull for those who already saw it on Twitter already. We will all suffer together, but only briefly, and next time I will try to remember to write it here to begin with, so that we can write or read it ONCE.

Here is what happened: Several people on Twitter were talking about how their schools wanted them to write a reassuring note to their children, to pack in an emergency preparedness kit. Then we all died from the agony of facing that task. The end.

One particularly wrenching thought was that if it's a big emergency, this could be THE LAST COMMUNICATION YOUR CHILD EVER GETS FROM YOU. This is too much pressure for a note, I think we can agree on that. This just BEGS parents to start making lengthy, sobbing lists of everything they would want to tell their child if this was their last chance, and I think we can further agree that the resulting note is not going to be reassuring to a child.

So as I was lying awake night after night having horrified thoughts about this whole thing, I came up with two goals:

1. The note needs to reassure the child without going overboard/crazy, in the situations where it is mostly likely the note will be used: a bomb scare where there is no bomb, a tornado alert where the tornado does not arrive.

2. The note needs to still work if the child will, unthinkably, be treasuring this note forever.


Here is what I would write:

Dear Henry,
Hello from Mommy! This is the note they told us to write to you in case something scary was happening! We'll be there to get you as soon as we can. Be sure to obey your teachers; they will take good care of you while you are waiting. Don't worry, everything will be fine! I love you!
Love, Mommy


Then I would decorate with a bunch of cheery little drawings: our cat doing something silly; a picture of Daddy with a family joke written over it; hearts and stars all over the place.

I would rig a little plastic shelter over my paper/hands as I wrote, to keep the paper from being stained with DRIPPING TEARS.

September 18, 2012

Vote for Parliament!

I am SURE the parliamentary system has its OWN flaws, but right now it is looking much better to me than the United States's 2-party system.

The problem with a 2-party system is that there isn't much room to SWITCH. There is a stretch of time in each election when there IS still room for me to choose one candidate or the other---but at a certain point in most elections, when it has become apparent to me that one party fervently opposes things I fervently believe in, it doesn't matter WHAT cheesehead move the other party pulls, I can't SWITCH. That's not how it works.

I mean, I'm trying to imagine, just with the imaginative power of imagination, how I would feel if at this point the candidate I've decided to vote for said some truly unacceptable things, some things that meant really no one should vote for him. Would I then vote for the OTHER party? No, because I have already heard THAT candidate say some truly unacceptable things, some things that mean to me that really no one should vote for him.

So in this completely imaginary scenario, I'd be completely stuck: I can't vote for my guy anymore; I can't vote for the other guy. My only remaining option is a Protest Vote: either not voting at all, or voting for a third party candidate I know won't win, just to show how unhappy I am with the choices.

In a parliamentary system, I would have more options, right? I could say, "Wellll, I WAS going to vote for Cheesehead McGee, but it turns out he's a cheesehead. I'm still appalled by Pinehole McCloud, so certainly I'm not voting for HIM, either, but there's this other candidate who is sort of an in between candidate. I'll vote for HER instead." And if, say, 40% of the voters still liked Cheesehead McGee's ideas and 40% still liked Pinehole McCloud's ideas, there could still be 20% power given to MY candidate's ideas TOO. ...Or however that works. I may not be 100% clear on the parliamentary system. Or ours. BUT I KNOW I AM DISCONTENTED.

September 17, 2012

Not Even Close to 50; Glass U.S.; House Numbers

It is an ongoing frustration to me that the song "Fifty Ways to Leave Your Lover" has, at most, five ways---and that's only if we count "Make a new plan, Stan" and "You don't need to be coy, Roy," which I do NOT.

I think Paul Simon got trapped by his idea of rhyming it to the guys' names, which is unnecessary and leaves no room for ideas such as "Sit her down and explain you want different things" and "You could try the 'It's not you, it's me' concept" or "Leave her a note and pack up while she's at work." But even if he was going to insist on his Clever Plan, he still could have thought a LITTLE bit about the ideas. How about "Tell her you're through, Lou" or "Say there's someone new, Hugh"?

********

William found a rock tumbler at our local "One Man's Trash" hut (a place where people can put stuff that's still good but they don't want/need it anymore, and other people can take it for free). He's been running it for three days now and make it stopppppppppppppppppppp. There is no place in the house where it can run without disturbing SOMEONE.

But it is worth it to me, because look what he's making:


He's putting glass jars and bottles in a paper bag and carefully breaking them, then putting the pieces through the rock tumbler until they're not sharp, then finding ones that are roughly the same shapes as the states. Every time he gets a new batch of glass pieces, he looks for pieces that are a better match than the ones he's found so far; right now he's trying a batch of larger chunks for all those big states, but we're wondering if they'll get broken in the tumbler.

I love this project. I have to be careful not to over-enthuse and scare him off it. But if/when he finishes it, I'm going to figure out a way to mount the pieces and frame it or something.

********

Do you want to help us figure something out? My parents are on a road trip, and they're trying to find one of the houses my mom lived in as a child. They had me go to their house and get a photo album and find a picture of the house:


Do you want to take a guess at the house numbers? There's one above the two mailboxes, and another above the door. The photo is blurrrrrrrrry. You can click it if you think embiggening it will help, but I haven't found either larger or smaller has been much use. Paul: "Are you sure those ARE numbers?" Me: "No."


Follow-up on house numbers! My mom was clearing out some things and found the address written on an old postcard. The house number (above the door) is 1760, and the secret to reading it is that it's a white number on a black plaque---not black numbers on a white doorframe. Still no word on what the second number is or why it's there.

September 15, 2012

This is a Stage That Will End

Now that I am through it, I notice something I didn't notice before about the way people discuss the various stages of the baby and toddler years. There are two basic ways of doing it: one is with an obvious understanding that the particular stage will end, and the other is without that understanding.

Both groups understand intellectually that what they're going through is temporary. It would be pretty much the most condescending thing in the world to say gently, "You do realize this is TEMPORARY, right?" EVERYONE REALIZES IT'S TEMPORARY.

Except they don't. They haven't internalized that information, so instead of talking with undertones of this: "This stage is driving me nuts! I can't wait for this stage to be over! This is not my favorite stage so far! Here is how I am trying to survive this stage!," they are talking with undertones of this: "Here is how I am trying to survive the unending suffering of my new life. Here are some of my new permanent coping skills. Here are my thoughts about this particular unsolvable issue that will never go away on its own." They don't say any of this directly, but it seeps through everything they do say.

And this is what I've noticed creeping into the way I think and feel about rearing teenagers. I DO know it's temporary! I DO! ...Except I don't. I am working on internalizing it, but it will blow your mind to hear that it's not easy to do that. If it WERE easy to do that, we'd all fully understand ALL the things we can't seem to make ourselves understand about eating, exercise, success, work, what's truly important, the passage of time, and our eventual deaths.

I can see the evidence that it's a stage and that it will be okay: OTHER parents have gone through the teenage years and have come out on the other side of it still recommending that people go ahead and procreate. OTHER parents have gone through the teenage years but then still speak to and enjoy their adult children. OTHER parents have gone through the teenage years, and they LAUGH ABOUT IT.

Doesn't this sound familiar? This is how I remember reasoning my way through the pregnancy/newborn stage: Other parents have survived it. Other parents went through it and still recommended the idea to others. Other parents even remember certain parts fondly. Most importantly, other parents voluntarily HAVE MORE CHILDREN after the first one! So they must, overall, feel it was a satisfactory and worthwhile experience, and it will likely be okay for me, too.

I thought the same about having a second child: it SEEMS like such a thing would be impossible to do---and yet other parents are doing it. Therefore it IS possible, and will likely be possible for me, too. I DID still panic: if we can barely handle it with BOTH of us and ONE child, how can it possibly work to have two? or three? or more? But during that stage, I remember thinking that we could just take it one baby at a time: yes, we thought we wanted a lot of kids, but we weren't CONTRACTUALLY COMMITTED to that, we could stop ANY TIME and just have one baby, or just two.

With teenagers, though, here's what it's like: imagine being in one of the hard stages of babyhood/toddlerhood, but knowing that you HAD to have four more children. There was NO CHOICE. You have THIS impossible baby/toddler, and there are FOUR MORE BABIES/TODDLERS COMING, LIKE IT OR NOT.

That is what I am having a little trouble dealing with sensibly these days. It doesn't matter how I do with parenting a teenager, or whether I decide it's "for me" or not: there are four more of them coming along unavoidably right after this one. And I am currently lacking the internalized understanding that this is a stage that will end.

September 13, 2012

A Relatively Mild Glance From the Face of Adversity

I am not really Rising Up In The Face Of Adversity the last couple of days. This morning I had to be a little stern with myself about it. RISE UP, dammit, or no cookies for you!

The MAIN issue is that the minivan has needed $3000 in repairs in the last few weeks (it's due, it's due, it's hardly needed anything in the over 7 years we've had it, and it was a 5-year-old car to begin with), and then yesterday morning it wouldn't start. Just a rapid clicky noise. And I realize it's not the way things work, that if you pay a lot on a car repair you shouldn't have to pay for a car repair for awhile, but it FEELS like that's the way things work. It's why people get so outraged when something happens right after something else happens. NO FAIR. SOMETHING ALREADY HAPPENED.

But it actually makes plenty of sense that a 12-year-old car having a bunch of problems would have more problems. So I don't know what my deal is.

Part of my deal is that there were things that happened that wouldn't have happened that way if I'd had all the information. So, for example, William was feeling queasy from an antibiotic he's taking for Lyme Disease, so I said I'd drive him to school so he could have another half hour at home to let his stomach settle. I wouldn't have done that if I'd known the car wouldn't start. It makes me a little crazy when there is a largeish consequence for a small and unimportant decision that could have gone either way: he missed school because I said I'd drive him, but he WOULDN'T have missed school if he'd just gotten on the bus. THERE WAS NO NEED FOR THIS SITUATION TO HAPPEN. And then Henry had to miss school, too, because our school system only transports kindergarteners one direction, and because coincidentally my parents are on vacation so I can't call them for a lift as I'd usually be able to.

Part of my deal is that there is a simmering pan of stress already on the back burner, what with the Lyme Disease thing, and some "parenting a teenager makes me think this whole having-children thing was a bad idea" things, and some "5-year-old wearing a hole in my skull with his constant dumb-voice-thing talking and saying 'poopy' and so forth" things.

Part of my deal is that car stuff goes with bank stuff and insurance stuff and medical stuff and dental stuff: stuff I DON'T UNDERSTAND so feel like I'm being INCESSANTLY RIPPED OFF even when I'm NOT. How do I know the mechanics didn't do something to the car so that I'd have to keep getting it repaired? I DON'T. There's all this, "Well, find a mechanic you TRUST!" advice. Well, duh. And just as soon as I can read minds, I'll be sure to do that. Human beings are NOTORIOUSLY bad at judging character, and are CONSTANTLY making dumb "Well, I like him, so my gut is telling me he's trustworthy!" decisions and then thinking they've put a check in the "find a trustworthy _____" box. Not me, though! I live in a pool of unending mistrust and suspicion! That's a way better plan!

Where was I? Oh yes. So we jump-started the minivan after Paul got home last night and we ran it for half an hour. Then this morning before he left for work he started it "just to make sure"---and it did not start. Rapid clicky noise. He was late for work because he stayed to jump-start it for me again, thinking maybe we could drop it at the mechanic's---and then it didn't take the jump anyway, just did more click sounds. So Henry will miss another day of kindergarten, and I guess I will have to have the stupid car TOWED? For a surprisingly high price, if I remember correctly from the last time I had to do this.

And my point is that this has me pretty flattened, which makes a person wonder how a person would do if a person had a more significant set of problems to deal with. Because this is our SECOND car. And we can afford to have it towed/repaired. And wah, wah, I don't have my parents as a net the way I usually do, the way MOST PEOPLE DON'T EVER. I assume from evidence around me that what happens is that we DO get flattened by little things and yet DO also manage to handle larger things.


[Edit: So, as with many such things, it didn't even turn out to be that big a deal: the mechanic we use sent a truck to us with a fresh battery, so there was no towing and only a small fee for the service call. SEE? IT PAYS OFF TO FRET AND GET ALL UPSET FOR NOTHING!]

September 10, 2012

Righteous Smoothie, and How to Do the Pumpkin Part

This is my favorite Righteous Smoothie right now. Start with:
  • 4 T. (1/4 cup) rolled oats
  • 2 T. flax seeds or flax seed meal
  • something like half a T. of sugar
Use the blender to blend those into flour (10 seconds or so). Then add:
  • some nasty bitter expensive 100% cranberry juice, about 1/2 cup
  • some milk, about 1/2 cup to 3/4 cup 
  • a big firm handful of raw spinach, and then another big firm 4-fingered pinch of it

You can use a different juice; it's good with orange juice, too. I like to use the bitter cranberry because I'm supposed to drink it anyway as A Preventative, but it's difficult to drink it straight. In the smoothie, it adds a pleasing tartness. But it's seriously $5/quart, so if you don't need The Benefits, orange juice might be a better call. If you use a sweeter juice, you might not need sugar.

Blend. You might have to open the (NON-RUNNING) blender and shove the spinach floof down a couple of times. It goes from this:

to this:

 
Then add:
  • plain yogurt, about 1/3-1/2 cup
  • a frozen spoonful of pumpkin (see below)
  • half a banana
  • frozen peach segments, about 5 or 6 of them
  • frozen blueberries, about 2/3-3/4 cup

Blend like heck. If it seems resistant/thick, put in another couple of tablespoons of milk or juice.

The blueberries are what hide the spinach. You can see the change in this next picture: the top half of the blender is still splashed/coated with the spinach step, but the bottom half shows the color the smoothie has turned with the blueberries in it.



And, done! It's not going to win a beauty contest even with that casual "Oh hi, I'm a zinnia" in the background, but it just looks like a smoothie, not like a SPINACH ALERT:


 
This makes an amount of smoothie known as "Gah, I don't really want any more, but I don't want to WASTE it." (That's a little over half of it in that cup there.) If Henry drinks a nice big cup of it, it's just right. So....serves two, I guess.

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The pumpkin thing started way back when I was pregnant with the twins and was trying to eat-eat-eat all the nutrition in the world. Yellow/orange fruits and vegetables was a difficult category to satisfy. So I looked for the easiest way to fulfill it, which looked like it was canned pumpkin: very dense in vitamin A. An ice cube's worth or two in a smoothie was easy to incorporate.

And that's what I still do now. When I make muffins, I use the big can of pumpkin, but I only need 2 cups of it; the can claims to hold more like 3.5 cups. After I measure 2 cups into the muffin batter, I scoop the remaining pumpkin onto a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper:


That's a soup spoon in the picture, for scale. I made eight lumps of pumpkin with about 1.5 cups of pumpkin, so I guess that's about 3 tablespoons per lump? But it seemed more like 2 tablespoons, and I've noticed that nutrition labels don't seem real accurate with measurements. Each lump is about the size of a cookie, when flattened a bit with the spoon. (Edit: These were a bit much for the blender, as it turned out. They worked okay, but I'd make ten lumps next time, instead of eight. Or sixteen lumps, and use two per smoothie.)

Then the tray goes into the freezer:



After awhile, they're frozen solid and can go into a baggie:


Then when you're making a smoothie, plunk one in! They barely have any flavor, but have TONS of vitamin A! Which is good! For stuff! Allegedly!

September 9, 2012

Groceries; Well-Loved Anxious/Shy/Jumpy Characters

[I wrote this a few weeks ago and completely forgot to publish it. No wonder I wasn't getting any good cat name suggestions!]


Here are the things the grocery store was out of when I last went:

1% milk
pepperoni
bologna
salami
frozen hamburger patties
red bell peppers
zucchini
the big bags of spring greens
vanilla ice cream

I realize we may be a bit over-accustomed in this country to getting whatever we want whenever we want it, without even having to stand in line or use ration coupons or ANYTHING. But considering we DO live in such a country, where grocery stores are NOT dealing with shortages and/or other issues, I DO expect them not to be out of so many things in one trip. "People in other countries wouldn't think this was worthy of complaining about" is NO DEFENSE when you and I are in THIS country, GROCERY STORE!!

********

We continue to languidly think of name options for the new cat, just in case the Penny Arcade thing falls through. One of my favorites is Hastings, which I think is a good name but also I love it because of the character Hastings in the Agatha Christie mysteries. Problem: Agatha Christie's Hastings is laid-back, good-natured, relaxed in any situation, and quick and confident in an emergency. Our cat is...none of these things. So now I am trying to think of a well-loved anxious/shy/jumpy character from books or movies. Can you think of any? Wilbur, maybe, from Charlotte's Web?

September 6, 2012

Weeding Out Elizabeth's Shirt Drawer: A Riveting, Thrills-and-Chills Kind of Post


I needed to go through Elizabeth's shirt drawer. Well, ALL her clothing drawers, but the shirt drawer was most urgent, especially because soon it will be time to put away short sleeves.

It is very tempting to overbuy for her. I have the following excuses prepared:

1. She is my only girl. (I can spin this either way: for the boys, I justify overbuying by saying I'll get so much use out of handmedowns.)

2. She's so EXCITED by new clothes. If I come home from an outing and I say I bought her a new shirt, she is LEAPING AROUND with excitement. It's very gratifying, especially compared to the boys. She likes to help shop for them, and I find her little opinions amusing.

3. She has been in the same size for SO LONG. So each year when the clearances roll around, I buy more extremely inexpensive clothes I can't resist---but it's been three years now, I think, so things have really PILED UP.

4. She DESIGNS each day's outfit. She has specific ideas. I feel motivated to make sure she has all the resources she needs for an all-yellow outfit or an all-stripes outfit, because I find the results so fun.

5. I like to buy things.


So. This is her short-sleeved-shirts-and-tanks drawer, dumped onto her bed:



I started by putting everything in piles, mostly by color because I find it easier to get rid of things if I'm thinking "This child does NOT NEED fifteen pink shirts, so which of them will we keep?" instead of thinking "Should I get rid of this shirt? ...this shirt? ...this shirt?":

There are a few non-color-based piles. The first pile in the back row is sleeveless tops, because those are their own category of shirt type, and because she can't wear them to school, so for both those reasons I want to consider the quantities separately from the other shirts. The second pile in the back row (stripey) is a single shirt I love, which she won't wear; I need to remember to force her to wear it one time and THEN I'll give it up. (She is accustomed to such deals.) Last pile in the back row is a shirt I know she won't wear anymore because it's too short for her, but I want to make sure to put it aside for Niece Handmedown because it used to be a favorite.

Once the piles were established, I went through them one at a time. Here is the pink pile spread out in front of the other shirts. It's kind of a confusing picture, I realize, with an insufficient sense of pile height, but it's what I've got:

FIFTEEN pink shirts. FIFTEEN. And the pink pile wasn't even the tallest pile! (The blue pile was tallest.)

The first thing I noticed was that FIVE of the shirts featured butterflies, so that seemed like a good culling area. We kept one that had an overall pattern of butterflies (as opposed to one big featured butterfly), one that doesn't really look like a butterfly because it's made up of words, and two that feature large butterflies but they go with almost all of her skirts and she preferred one and I preferred the other so we kept both.

...So....we got rid of one shirt. Hm. This is an unpromising start. But I also noticed there was a butterfly shirt in white that was nearly identical to the one I didn't want to get rid of in pink, so I got rid of the white one:


There was also a SECOND butterfly shirt in the whites pile that seemed boring compared to the ones we were keeping, so that one went too. So that's THREE shirts gone, even though it's only one from the pinks.

I got rid of the pink Hello Kitty shirt, because I know she has a bunch of those in various colors and this particular one isn't a favorite. And she never wears the solid pink shirt above it in the photo, so that went too.

I got rid of a pink shirt that has an adorable fake ad for a rollerskating rink on it, because Elizabeth won't wear that kind. WHY WON'T SHE? I love that kind! But she won't. There were more than three of that sort, but here are the three I was saddest to get rid of:

All Lands' End, too. SIGH. It's comforting to think maybe my niece won't have the same objections. And if she does, by then the pain will have faded.

Here's the After picture of the pink pile:

It's down from fifteen to eleven, which is not HUGELY encouraging but eleven IS better than fifteen. It IS better. SOMETHING IS BETTER THAN NOTHING. Plus, some of those are unlikely to fit in the spring, and maybe I can do a second run through the pile in a couple of months. We'll call this "the first pass."

Fast-forwarding through the rest of the piles because otherwise this could get even more tedious, here's what I had at the end:

The three piles to the right are all going: the leftmost of the three is Niece Handmedowns; the middle is Too Meh To Save For Niece; the rightmost is unisex Threadless tees Henry can wear. (There were also a few in too poor/stained shape for donation that Paul ripped up for workshop rags before I took the picture.) It doesn't look terribly impressive, especially compared to the Keep Piles (and especially because a lot of those Keep Piles are only two shirts high, but all the eye registers is LOTS OF PILES), but it's twenty-five shirts we're getting rid of. The drawer CLOSES now.

One reason I like the "dump it all out and sort it" technique is that there were quite a few shirts I'd had no idea she had two almost-identical ones. She had the same navy blue polo in XS and S. She had two Peter-Pan-collared light-blue school-uniform-type shirts. She had two green Hello Kitty shirts. For those it was pretty easy to just say "Okay, I will choose ONE."

I also got rid of her kindergarten graduation shirt from a year ago, and her camp shirt from this past summer, both of which appear to be men's size small and go down to her knees like a dress, and also the tie-dye one she made at school that she enjoyed at the time but has never worn since.

I had her sit with me for part of the process, and that was helpful too. There was a very pretty shirt I lightly scolded her for not wearing, and she said, "It looks like a DRESS for a BABY," and I thought, "....It DOES look like a dress for a baby." Toss.

There were also quite a few where, if I'd considered them individually, I would have felt like keeping them---but seeing them against all the GREAT shirts, they were easy to let go.

September 4, 2012

Snoopish Inclinations

Paul and the children are watching a Japanese cartoon in which the child characters put a (presumably empty) gun to their heads and fire it, FOR LUCK. This is NOT TRANSLATING WELL FOR ME.

********

The children were using spritz bottles out in the yard to play a Star Wars game. William said he was "Lukewarm Skywater."

********

Rob's room is starting to smell seriously revolting. I'd expected the "hamster cage" smell I'd heard others mention about boy rooms, so I recognized that stage when it arrived---but now we are entering a new level of "Oh, MAN. Whooof!" *Febreze everywhere*

When he was on the trip with Paul and William, I thought I'd do some cleaning in his room and see if I could improve things. Here is what I learned: he is now too old for me to do cleaning in his room, and/or I need to buy him a lockbox and say "PUT IN HERE EVERYTHING YOU DON'T WANT ME TO SEE." Because I was NOT SNOOPING, I was not trying to snoop AT ALL, but I am in possession of information I would rather not have.

This was a very good lesson for me, and I hope it sticks. Because I have snoopish INCLINATIONS. And yet I KNOW how important it was to me to know I could believe my mother when she said she would never, never snoop. She said I could leave my diary open on the table and she would not read it, and I completely believed it. (I think there might have had some sort of addendum about how if she felt she needed to snoop for my own safety, she would tell me she was going to do it, and tell me WHY, and then do it while I was there in the room---something like that. But then, that's not really SNOOPING anymore anyway.)

And my parents wouldn't allow my brother to snoop either, and made it clear to both of us that it would be considered a very serious offense with significant punishments, and my dad put a lock on my door when I felt uneasy about people maybe barging in by accident, and all of this was very, Very, VERY important to me as a teenager, and I would LIKE to give my kids the same assurances. I think it's RIGHT.

But...I also feel very CURIOUS! And so far in my first year (OF FIFTEEN) of parenting teenagers, I have not found teenagers as dishy as I would have hoped, which increases the temptation to find out by other means. So. I hope very much that this unintentional snoop with unwanted consequences will teach me firmly that I DON'T WANT TO KNOW.

September 3, 2012

Tease Vent

Yet again, someone on my friend/family Facebook did a status update that left me thinking "Listen, either TELL or DON'T TELL. Those are the options." I'm thinking of setting up awards for it: instead of "Oh, what HAPPENED??" responses (which I never do anyway, because The Tease sets up an instant cold stubbornness in me), I'll go directly to "ULTIMATE TEASE AWARD." Maybe I can arrange some text to look like a wee trophy.

..Except I CAN'T, because maybe this time something ACTUALLY SIGNIFICANT has occurred, and I will look like a flippant jerk. Plus, I've seen other people making remarks of that sort to the teasers, and yet the teasers keep doing it without realizing how annoying it is, perhaps because for every "Come on, either tell or don't, but don't TEASE!" comment, there are a dozen apparently gratifying "WHAT HAPPENED??? CAN'T WAIT TO HEAR!!!" comments. I'm so TIRED of this. Why do people give the response they're being manipulated into giving? Aren't THEY tired of it TOO?

When the news DOES finally come, it's almost never at the level of drama it was set up to be. That's probably what I'm REALLY mad at: the feeling of having been manipulated into giving all the responses and attention we'd give for Big News, when the person knew the news itself wouldn't warrant the level of hype they were giving it. It's a fake-out, a bait-and-switch.

Have you already seen this great xkcd.com comic?



There is sometimes an additional level of disappointment to deal with. When, for example, someone has been trying for a baby for a year, and then posts, "I hope to have some exciting news to share soon!!!," the news of her promotion causes more sadness than she realizes. If she'd waited until she was allowed to announce the promotion to mention it, the reaction would have been all happiness.

I've started seeing statuses that know to be self-conscious about it BUT DO IT ANYWAY. "I know, everyone hates vague statuses---but I REALLY CAN'T tell you my news yet!!" O RLY? Then DON'T TELL IT. There is no rule that you must SAY you have a secret. And in fact, in our house there is a rule against it: you may not prance around in front of your siblings singing "_I_ know something YOU don't know, _I_ know something YOU don't know!" It doesn't seem as if adults would need that rule enforced anymore.

*pant pant*

September 1, 2012

Parenting Dilemma

Here is the dilemma. Our son Rob, age 13, got an invitation to a friend's 14th birthday party barbecue. And when I say "invitation," I don't mean a paper card, I mean the friend told him about it. We drove him to the party at 4:00, and when I say "we," I mean Paul.

Originally I was going to drive him, and my plan was to go up to the house, introduce myself to the parents, get a magical feeling that everything was okay and that our views on supervision of teenagers was compatible, exchange phone numbers with the parents, and ask when to pick Rob up.

But what Paul did was drop him off in the driveway, waving to a distant adult as he did so. So! We don't know when the party ends! We don't know ANYTHING!

Keeping in mind that Paul is SORRY, and also that he couldn't have our usual Saturday Night Drinks because one of us had to be completely dry to go pick up Rob later and that got to be Paul because he cheesed things up---keeping all that in mind, what would YOU do? Would you...wait to get a call from Rob, somehow? Go back to the house at a certain time and just...see if the party is over? This is new territory for us, and we're not sure if Rob would feel comfortable asking to use the host's phone, or if Rob would know to take an "Okay, the party is over now" hint, or what the protocol is for 14-year-old parties.


Update: What we did was wait until about 7:45 (assuming in the meantime that Rob would be capable of calling us from the host's phone if necessary, and wishing he'd remembered to bring one of the family cell phones with him), and then Paul drove over there---but with a casual attitude, ready to hear something like, "They're right in the middle of a movie" or whatever, at which point he would have said, "Okay! When should I come back for him?" Instead, his timing was very good: kids were still hanging around, but a couple had already been picked up, so it was fine for Rob to leave with him right then.

Genius Idea

I have come up with the solution to a problem, and I think it's a good idea to share such solutions when we think of them, however small the problem. SHARE THE GENIUS, is my motto. Not that I am necessarily calling my idea genius, except that it is.

The problem: The kindergarten teacher would like us to send in a photo of our family, for Henry to look at during the day if he feels homesick; but I don't HAVE a recent or decent photo of our whole family. We are so multitudinous.

Someone other than me would be able to put a bunch of photos together and then have them printed as one photo, but I am not good with my picture-messing-with software. I have once or twice managed to make a four-image multi-photo, but the idea of trying to figure out how to do that again is daunting.


The genius solution: I had a one-free-greeting-card coupon on the site we use for photo developing. All I had to do was choose a multi-image option (I found an Easter one that had narrow pastel borders and no writing/designs and 9 openings for photos; I also considered Valentine's Day ones that said "Love" and "XOXO" and so forth), and then drag over a selection of photos already uploaded to the site. Then I can put that card in a frame! And because this is a picture for a kindergartner, not a family Christmas card or whatever, I only need to indulge my "but there should be an equal number of images of each person, or else approximate equal surface area of each person, if for example I have one large photo of one person and two small photos of another" inclinations insofar as that would be fun.


This was a huge success, I think (I guess I won't know until I see the card). It would have been an expensive idea (but probably still worth it to me) without the coupon: $3 for the card plus another $1.50 shipping (it reallllly seems like the shipping on a single card should be about 50 cents), but with the coupon it was only $1.50 total.

The only not-so-stellar moment was when I got the email confirmation, which included a discount on collage prints. ...Collage prints? Oh. I could have just done a collage print, not a card. For less money. Ahem. WELL. IT WAS STILL A GREAT IDEA.