Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Victory!


This was the first year I really doubted that I'd be able to make it through NaBloPoMo, and then it turned out to be the easiest year yet. This blog turned six years old in October and the occasion totally passed me by, but somehow that seems almost appropriate now. It's become an easy, comfortable place, and November proved that sometimes it can be effortless. Okay, some days were a bit of a struggle, but nothing serious. So that's a nice feeling after all this time. It's nice to be here with no delusions of grandeur or expectations of fame, just for the pleasure of writing and the chance of making some friends. I'd like to say that I'll post more often now, but I know better than to make promises. Let's just say I feel refreshed and we'll see where that leads me.

Thanks to everyone who has been reading and commenting, this month and all the time, really. I'm especially grateful to those who left comments or sent emails about the Friday Fiction project. Solely because of your encouragement, what I thought was a throwaway scrap of nothing much turned into something pretty damn fun. I'm not being hyperbolic -- I thought that was the end of the story until someone asked what came next and I started wondering the same thing myself. And with any luck, on Friday it'll become the first piece of fiction I've finished since college. Will it ever count as Serious Writing? No. Will many people ever read it? Doubtful. Is it an impressive accomplishment during a month when people are striving to write entire novels in thirty days? Absolutely not. Do I care? Hell, no. I'm just excited to have done it. So thank you all, truly.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Theatricality


I hesitate a little to write another "Nico has a fit" post lest everyone decide my chid is an irredeemable terror, especially after THREE of my Nico stories at work today started out, "So Nico was having a fit the other day, and…" But this one is still making me giggle so I'm going to post it anyway. I promise he's really a delightful child most of the time!

Nico had the most theatrical, dramariffic tantrum I have ever witnessed while we were out shopping yesterday afternoon. It was my mistake for thinking we could hit one more store after we'd had a long drive and gone to one store already, but he seemed fine. Famous last words, right? So there we were in Once Upon a Child looking for a shirt for his Christmas photos this coming Sunday, and I had the apparently insanely oppressive idea to try a shirt on him to see if it fit. (You fool!) I got him out of his stroller, took off his coat and shirt, began putting the Christmas shirt on, and he completely flipped out. Literally cast his little body face down on the ground, flailed, screamed, and tried to tear the shirt from his person. At one point he escaped my grasp and went staggering out of the aisle, still half naked and screaming. I told him, "It's just like Daddy's shirt! It's a big boy shirt!" (because MB always wears long sleeved button-front shirts) but he still wanted nothing to do with it.

By now I'm thinking, we already got this far, I'm damned if I'm quitting now before I find out if this thing fits. I got the shirt on, he kept shouting "No shirt! Take off! TAKE OFF SHIRT!" So I took it off, and he grabbed it from my hands and clutched it to his heart, screaming "YIKE DADDY SHIRT! Put on!" Jesus. So I started to put it back on, and it immediately became the Shirt of Acid again and was greeted with cries of "Take off! Take off!" Once I took the hated shirt off, he didn't want to put his regular shirt back on either, so he was lying on the floor howling "No car shirt! No car shirt!" while I tried to put his shirt back on and he did his best to rip it off, all in this little bitty store with other people all around. I finally got the shirt back on -- and I must admit, I'm really proud that I was able to remain calm, kind, and mostly amused through this whole episode -- plonked him into his stroller and speedily fastened him in before he could escape or disrobe.

I was putting the shirt back on the rack before hustling him out of the store -- because after all that it was too freaking big -- and he was gulping and sobbing, "No ride stroller! BUUUWAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHH!! No ride stroller!" This woman in the aisle said cheerfully, "Oh, my goodness! He's speaking in full sentences. That's very advanced!" I don't know why, but for some reason that was the most hilarious part of the whole incident. So thank you, random other woman at the store, for complimenting my child in the midst of his most heinous public behavior to date. (Actually, everyone there was very understanding and nice. Nary a side-eye to be seen. Perhaps they're used to flailing half-naked screaming toddlers?)

And of course, of course he still needs a shirt for his pictures, so we'll be shopping again on Saturday. I think this time I might drug him first, though. Him or me.


Reading:  The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater (I gave up on Inheritance and I'm so relieved)

Playing:  Only by the Night by Kings of Leon

Monday, November 28, 2011

Family Time


We spent the weekend visiting MB's family and it was pretty wonderful. We don't see them as often as we probably should, but it's hard when we're the ones who do the traveling. Our last visit was in July, and Nico was still pretty shy around everyone. This time, it was so much better. He walked right in and started calling MB's parents mamaw and papaw. (What? He's half Southern.) Nico has traditionally had a good time playing with his mamaw but has been shy around his papaw. This time, no worries. Papaw brought out the remote-controlled trucks and it was all over after that.


We spent Friday night and Sunday at MB's parents' house and most of Saturday at his grandparents. BoMB and Nie made the trip from Memphis and it was great to see them. I've been missing them badly these last few weeks. We ate too much, we played games, we chatted, we ate more. All in all, a pretty ideal Thanksgiving.

It was funny, but somehow seeing Nico with my inlaws really made me notice how big he's getting. I guess it was just that I hadn't seen him in those houses or around those people since he was much smaller, and it was like putting him in front of one of those police line-up walls with the height marks on it or something. Last time you were only 1/3 the size of that countertop! Holy shit, now you're half as tall as your grandmother!

I've often said that I feel like I won the inlaw lottery, and it's still true. They may not be perfect, but they're pretty great, and Nico is so very lucky to be surrounded by so many people who love him.



Friday, November 25, 2011

Friday Fiction #4


part one
part two

A few days later, she drove back to the reservoir and this time she parked near the main trail that circled the lake. She set out at a comfortable pace, letting the morning sun and the movement of her limbs warm her body. As she’d hoped, a mile or so into her hike she spotted a familiar figure ahead of her, walking with his hands in his jacket pockets and his face tipped toward the sky. She quickened her steps to catch up, calling out, “Hello!” He half-turned as he walked, his expression registering mild surprise when he recognized her.

”I’m not lost this time, I promise,” she said, falling into step beside him. “I’m Abby, by the way.”

His name was Dominic and he wasn’t a big talker. They walked the four mile loop together, mostly in silence, and the quiet was surprisingly comfortable. She still wasn't sure what it was about him that had hooked her. She had always dated pretty city boys, not that it had ever worked out very well. This one, he was big and solid and steady, the kind of guy who probably always had mud on his boots and dirt under his fingernails. And for Christ’s sake, he had literally pulled a gun on her already, though she could admit she had kind of deserved it. Her life was complicated enough without trying to fit a guy into it all, but she just couldn’t bring herself to walk away.

As they neared the patch of gravel where she’d left her car, she bumped her arm against his. “I realize we just met, and for all I know you’re actually a serial killer, but I’d really like to see you again.” Her cheeks warmed as he looked down at her with a smile curling at one corner of his mouth.

”All right,” he said.

”I have to work the rest of the week, but maybe I could come back up on Sunday afternoon?”

”Sunday’s good. What do you like to do other than sneak up on people in the woods?”

”I’m pretty easy,” she told him with a wink as she turned to go. “Surprise me.”


This girl, Abby, she was different than any woman he’d ever known. At first he felt awkward around her, never knowing what to say or when to speak up. Through the Spring, though, they fell into a comfortable rhythm. She’d come up to visit most Sundays and he’d take her to one of his favorite places in the backcountry. It had started as a test, sort of, that first weekend when he’d taken her to the small cave he’d found high on the ridgeline. She kept pace with him up the steep trail and slogged happily through a muddy creek bed up to the exposed rock face with its low, half-hidden entrance. When he handed her a flashlight she’d given him a quizzical look but had laughed and said, “All right, I’m game.” Once they were inside the small cavern, she’d exclaimed with delight over the delicate formations and the translucent blind fish darting through the frigid stream.

He hadn’t had a girlfriend since college, when he’d lived with a brassy, pushy poli sci major named Sabrina for three semesters in a little apartment near campus. They’d had a good time, but neither of them had ever claimed to be in love. She’d gone off to grad school in New York after graduation and he’d come up here. Every once in a while he’d meet someone in town, but those usually didn’t last and he was getting too old to hook up with the college girls who came to the woods to hike on the weekends, even though they sometimes didn’t seem to think so. No matter what his few married friends told him, he felt like dating was just generally too much work.

Until Abby had dropped into his life, he’d thought he was pretty happy, but he couldn’t deny that it was nice to have someone around again. It didn’t hurt that she was pretty and smart and could make him laugh until his side stitched. She didn’t seem to want anything more than company and some fun, and even though she never said it, it was pretty clear she had business of her own that she wanted to keep to herself. Sometimes she arrived at his door smelling of soap and clean laundry, well-rested and content. Other times she turned up disheveled and distracted, the scent of fresh earth and fallen leaves clinging to her hair and skin, as if she'd been sleeping outdoors. The slightly wild look in her eyes on those days warned him not to push, so he didn’t ask and she didn’t talk about it, but she started spending more and more time with him and he started to realize that he was falling for her.


As a human, Abby knew that the backcountry side of the lake was the safe choice. There were just too many people moving through on the cabin side, too many chances for someone to stumble across one of her little caches of clothes and take them or to report a wolf hanging around the well-traveled paths. But as she grew closer to Dominic, it seemed like her instincts were resetting, both as a girl and as a wolf. Increasingly through the Summer, she found herself near the cabin when she came back out of her fur. She spent less and less time hiding in the deep woods and more time within range of the man whom she'd learned to associate with safety and contentment.

She'd never had a relationship like this one, easygoing and exciting all at once. She tried to keep a bit of emotional distance at first, knowing that eventually her secret and her unpredictable behavior would probably drive him away, but she soon gave up the fight. Nights alone at her apartment, once a happy little piece of solitude, became restless hours of wishing she'd gone to Dominic's instead. When they were together, she found that she forgot to worry. What began as a little bit of casual fun became a comforting routine -- afternoons spent walking in the woods; evenings tucked up against him on the couch, his arm across her shoulders as they drank beer and watched football; nights burrowed under the blankets in his bed, his long limbs tangled with hers. He was kind and laid back and appreciative of life's small wonders, and she felt like after years of mistakes, she'd finally gotten something right.

And so in early November, she prowled the grove of pines and oaks near the house, kept in close by something her wolf brain didn't fully understand. It was rut season for the deer, meaning they were to be avoided, especially the males. It was a chilly afternoon near the end of her time as a wolf, when she was most restless. She was tracking a rabbit through the underbrush when she came upon him. A man, not the one she knew the smell of, one stinking of adrenaline and deer scent. He'd been downwind, out of sight, and now she froze for a moment, her instincts at war. She wanted to flee but she needed to stand her ground, and as she hesitated, he lifted something in his hands. There was an explosion of sound and then a high yelp escaped her throat as a slash of pain tore down her side. She turned to run, the scent of blood heavy in the air.



part four

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Thanks


This Thanksgiving I tried really hard to appreciate things that I usually take for granted. To appreciate my first world problems, you might say. And so, I am thankful for:

a roof over my family's heads
clothes on our backs and shoes on our feet
food on the table at every meal
reliable access to running water and electricity
my washer and dryer
a safe neighborhood
the means to spoil provide my son with toys and books and attention
yoga class
finding a job that I really enjoy
afternoon naps


Also, for things I never take for granted:

family
friends, especially those who might as well be family


And above all, always, I am grateful for MB and for Nico, my wonderful boys.


Happy Thanksgiving, everyone…I hope your turkey was tender and your pies were delicious.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

O Chri-muh Tree


I usually put up the Christmas decorations the Friday after Thanksgiving and the plan is to do the same this year. Every year I forget to check beforehand to make sure I have enough strands of silver star garland and end up going to the store halfway through the trimming process to buy more. Tonight, I remembered this suddenly as we were driving home from swimming lessons. Since we drive right by the craft store, I pulled over and Nico and I had a little side quest. I told him that we were stopping to get something for the Christmas tree, and Nico dutifully repeated "Chri-muh tree?" We found the star garlands and I gave one to Nico to carry. "Star!" he announced, carrying it proudly through the aisles in his little fist. "Star!"

When we got to the checkout, he laid it up on the counter when I asked him to, but as soon as the clerk picked it up and he couldn't see it, he wailed "Star? Star?!" I guess he took his garland-carrying duty pretty seriously. We told him he could carry the bag once it was paid for, and the girl hurried to bag up the garlands and hand them to me. I passed the bag to Nico, who eyeballed it skeptically and then dropped it, asking "Star?" I finally took one garland out of the bag for him and he carried it to the car, then into the house once we got home. And as we were walking out of the store, Nico piped up "Bye, Chri-muh tree! Bye, Chri-muh tree store!"

Something tells me the holidays are going to be pretty rad this year.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Bits & pieces


Therapy fodder

Nico, MB, and I were hanging out in the living room earlier, having our customary playtime before bedtime while Indy lounged on the loveseat. At one point MB brought out a pair of construction paper airplanes he made for Nico a while back. "Daddy launch!" Nico cried, and MB let one fly. It floated beautifully across the room and something in its flight must've sparked Indy's Labrador instincts. He sailed across the baby fence, ears blowing gently back, and retrieved the airplane as it touched down on the floor. We're talking dog show quality, here. Then he turned and bounded back up and over the fence as Nico tore after him shouting, "No! No! Noooo!" And because I am a model of decorum and kind parenting, I laughed until I cried.


Ready to buy my ticket

Have you seen the trailer for the new Pixar film yet? It looks wonderful…and also if I ever have a daughter, there may be some resemblance in the hair department.



(gratuitous toddler hair pic)



New celebrity crush?

I don't usually have celebrity crushes, but damn. Sort of like Orlando Bloom for grownup ladies.


Must resist!

Do any of you go shopping on Black Friday? I love bargains, but I hate crowds and waiting in line. I went out on Black Friday once in college and it was the biggest waste of time. I keep getting tempted by deals, though…must be strong!


And this happened today


That's me with my favorite snake. He's really chill and kind of sweet in his own tiny-brained snaky way. What, like it's weird to walk around with a six-foot snake coiled around one's arm? Pssht. There was also a spontaneous lunch out today with nearly all my coworkers, which was pretty great.


Reading:  Inheritance, the final(?) book in the Eragon series. So far it is…oof. Not very good at all.

Playing:  Howl by Black Rebel Motorcycle Club

Monday, November 21, 2011

Cardi-ow, revisited


I realized the other day it's been over a year since I started going to cardio boot camp class at the gym. Turns out it really is like a bad boyfriend, only these days it doesn't so much make me feel like crap. I'm still the heaviest and the slowest in the class, but have come to terms with the fact that it'll always be that way when I'm in class with girls who go to the gym five days a week or do hardcore boxing training. I'm admittedly a little disappointed that I never lost weight (or fat, or a size, or inches off my ass, in case you're about to hop to the comments to tell me that muscle weighs more than fat), but I'm admittedly also crap at watching calories or skipping dessert or any of that other stuff. Also, I'm realizing that at my age, metabolism, and body's preferences, it's going to take more than one hour of hard work a week to make any difference. I am currently of the mind that I'll cross that bridge after I have the next baby, since it would really piss me off to eat salads every day to lose weight and then get pregnant and pack it all back on again. Probably I'm just putting it off with lame excuses, but I can live with that for a while longer.

I did get down to my pre-Nico weight for a few glorious months, but now I'm back to a stubborn three pounds over my pre-pregnancy weight, which was already a bit too much. But! Under all the padding, I'm really getting stronger. I guess it was August or so when I realized that even though cardio class was still hard, it was no longer holy-shit-hard. I added a fourth riser to my stepper and started grabbing heavier weights and shocked myself by being able to handle it. So it's hard, but I only feel like barfing if I eat too much before class. I'm usually sore the next two days, but in that rewarding I-earned-it way that isn't so bad. My abs are still kind of shot thanks to Nico's speedy sunroof exit, but they're much stronger than I ever thought they would be again. And I was shocked to catch a glimpse of my upper back in the mirror after a shower the other day and see that it actually looked … really good. If only I could magically find a formal event to attend wearing a strapless ball gown to hide everything from mid-back down.

Anyway, I'm sure none of you were on the edge of your seats wondering about the state of my cardiovascular health, but if any of you are thinking about trying a cardio bootcamp class, I encourage you to give it a shot. And if you already have and feel like it's too hard and you'll never make it, maybe you really will, if you just hang in there for a bit.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Friday Fiction #3


(part one is here)

She stood for a long moment with her hands half-raised, palms toward him in what she hoped was a pacifying gesture as her heart hammered in her chest. Then he lowered the gun, pointing the barrel down and away, though he didn’t sling it back over his shoulder just yet. She didn’t smell any fear on him this time.

“Sorry,” he said. “You spooked me.”

“No, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to sneak up on you. I was just trying to find my way back out of here.”

“You’re lost?”

“Yeah...it’s embarrassing, really. I parked by the backcountry campsites and went for a hike, but I must’ve got turned around somewhere.”

His eyebrows drew together just a bit, not quite a frown. He knew as well as she did that the backcountry sites were ten miles away over rough terrain. She wasn’t sure if he believed her story, but it didn’t seem to matter much to him if it was true or not, because the next thing he said was, “I can give you a lift to your car if you like.”

She smiled at him, trying to appear earnest and friendly. “That would be great, if you’re sure you don’t mind.”

“No problem.”

She followed him back down the path to the cabin, where he unloaded the rifle with quick, practiced fingers and locked it in the toolbox in the bed of his pickup. He offered her a hand up into the cab, his touch sparking a burst of heat that raced up her arm and made her heartbeat quicken again. She peered at him sideways through the curtain of her hair, trying to decide if he’d felt it, too. If he had, he showed no sign. He simply climbed in, put the truck into gear, and pulled it out onto the narrow gravel road that led up the hill. After about a hundred yards, he got out to unlock a low crossbar gate marked “NO ACCESS - STAFF ONLY,” letting in a burst of cooler air from the shadows under the tall trees behind the house. She smelled oak and pine, foxes and rabbits, songbirds, and a bit of the lingering winter’s particular bite. She also thought she smelled one of the others, but the scent was gone before she could pinpoint it for certain.



Something was off about the girl, he just couldn’t figure out what. She didn’t feel dangerous, just strange. She was easy enough on the eyes, tall and a bit on the skinny side, with long blonde hair worn loose around her face and odd amber-colored eyes. She smelled like some kind of girly soap and fresh air. He was pretty sure she hadn’t hiked across the ridge, even if she was dressed in jeans and a fleece jacket and a sturdy pair of boots. He didn’t know why anyone would lie about something like that, but people got into all kinds of weird business out in the woods and most of the time it was stuff that was embarrassing to discuss. Usually he figured he didn’t need to know, as long as they weren’t hurting anything. He'd been out here three full years and had opted not to ask a lot of questions. Most people just wanted a nice day out, and even the weird ones were generally harmless. The ones that weren't, he could usually spot those coming.

Most of the time things were quiet, and that's why he liked it. He'd never been much for talk or for crowds, and generally being around too many people made him nervous after a while. Four years at college in Ann Arbor had been enough city to last the rest of his life. People who ran into him on the trails or at the nature center were always asking how he could stand it, living in the middle of nowhere. They couldn't seem to see the fullness of the world that was all around them. He loved the feel of the land under his feet, the way the woods told its secrets in tracks and on the wind, watching for the first green shoots of Spring and the first yellow leaves of Fall. He had come to know this place like a friend, and these days it felt more like home than anywhere else ever had.

The drive to the lot where she’d left her car only took about fifteen minutes by the access road. She didn’t say much, just a few comments about how nice a day it had turned out to be and how she was grateful for the ride. It was an uncommonly pretty early Spring day, the still-bare branches of the trees outlined against a clear blue sky. He drove along the western edge of the reservoir and when they reached the high point where the trees thinned and the lake came into view below, he heard the girl gasp a bit. With the water sparkling in the sun, the far shore lost over the horizon, it really was beautiful.

“I’ve never seen it from up here,” she said.

“Most people don’t,” he replied, glancing over at her.

She was smiling at him, her face alight with the joy of the moment, and he found himself smiling back. She really was pretty, he realized, as the sun brought some color into her cheeks and set her light hair aglow. He dropped his eyes from hers, turning his attention back to the road. Something about her was still nagging at him. It was the strangest thing, but when he’d circled back on her out on the trail, he’d fully expected to find an animal following him, not a human girl. He was still sure there had been something else out there, something with teeth.



There were fifteen wolves she’d run with in these woods at one time or another over the past year, and most of them were just wolves. But there were at least a few others like her. She’d never seen them as humans and had no idea where they went when they weren’t in their fur or how long they’d been coming to the reservoir to hide. She’d found it by accident one day as she drove around aimlessly, crying over her shit luck and the stress of trying to keep her life together and having finally lost her job after months of making excuses for needing to take nearly a week off each month. It had felt like a revelation to step out of the car and be surrounded by hundreds of acres of woodlands, to hear no traffic sounds or barking dogs. Setting out on foot, she’d walked the trails for hours, rarely passing anyone else. The rich scents of the forest overwhelmed her senses, calling to the wildness inside. The place was quiet, big, and sparsely traveled -- everything she needed to make herself disappear.

She went back day after day, week after week, even when she had no need to hide. Right before her unemployment benefits ran out, she’d landed on a job waitressing at a little roadside place just outside of the closest town. The owner had a tiny apartment upstairs that he let her stay in as part of her pay, she was allowed to eat in the kitchen at the end of her shifts, and he didn’t ask questions when she told him she had to go home for a few days each month. As long as she made enough in tips to keep her car insured and full of gas, she thought things would work out. She sold off most of her stuff and left the city she’d lived in her whole life, moved to the kind of small town she’d always made fun of, worked a job she’d always looked down on, and found that she was about as happy as she’d ever been. Until the day she followed a bleeding doe out onto the lake and misjudged the ice, she’d never come close to trouble. Glancing over at the man in the driver’s seat, she reflected that she might’ve found herself some trouble at last.




part three

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Gadgetry


I am not a big gadget person. I don't have a Kindle or a Nook or a Kobo or an iPad. I have an mp3 player but I don't ever use it these days. For years and years, every time I had to get a new cell phone, I went with a basic bare-bones Nokia bar phone. I actually found this photo of my three Nokia phones while looking for something else on the blog:


Considering I used each of these until it pretty much died on me, that should tell you something about how long I had simple no-frills phones. After the last Nokia started crapping out (and wasn't compatible with the then-new 3G technology), I finally decided to try a Samsung flip phone because I really wanted a phone with a camera. MB got an iPhone 3G and we felt very fancy about it. I did like having a camera phone, but I HATED that stupid Samsung phone. It dropped calls like crazy pretty much from day one. I traded the first one in on warranty and then had the same problems with the replacement. MB kept trying to convince me I'd love an iPhone, and I kept protesting on the grounds that it was way too fancy and expensive for someone who routinely dropped her phone in parking lots and then had to collect the two pieces of the case plus the battery from under her car.

So I suffered along with my crap phone (which MB and BoMB dubbed the SamDung) for the duration of MB's two-year iPhone contract, and once that contract was up he moved on to the iPhone 3GS and I inherited the 3G. I will always remember the day I got my first iPhone because I was very pregnant with Nico when it happened, in the late fall of 2009. I remember not because I was excited or sold on the merits of smart phones, but because the swap of data from my phone to the hand-me-down iPhone was supposed to take 5 minutes and instead took an HOUR AND A HALF, all while I stood there, pregnant and needing to pee and starving and trying not to rip anyone's face off. It turned out, though, that MB was right and I loved the iPhone. I loved the camera, the access to google calendar, and being able to check my email on my phone. After Nico was born, I stared moon-eyed at his photos on Facebook and read blogs endlessly via feed reader on my phone while I nursed and pumped.

MB and I both had Dell laptops for ages, but his died spectacularly around the same time he got his second iPhone and he -- being a convert to the religion of Mac -- bought a MacBook Pro as a replacement laptop. And oh, you guys…how he RAVED about this computer. He tried to convince me I needed one, extolled its virtues, explained all its advantages. I waved my cane around and told him to get off my lawn, even though he had been right about me loving my iPhone. See, I've never liked Macs…never. In college we only used them in the science labs and no one was ever there to show me how to work them. There was no right click button on the mouse, and they couldn't read my documents that I created on my PC at home. Useless to me! And when they locked up, the only way to shut them down was to force quit by either holding in the power button or unplugging them. We had a Mac in the office at work, too, and it was also nearly impossible to use. (I'm sure all you Mac people are clawing at your faces right about now.)

You may have guessed where this is going, especially if you saw me post about it on Twitter a month or so ago…my creaky old Dell had become increasingly erratic. The battery was basically useless - if the cord came loose, I had about two minutes to reinsert it before the computer would die without warning. The screen had been replaced already after developing a bizarre streak of discoloration right down the center. It was slow as hell and not running programs super well. MB lobbied endlessly for me to get a Mac. (And right now you're thinking, "He offered you a shiny new MacBook and you resisted? The hell, woman?") I finally told him, Look, I'm sure I'll get used to it. You know how I am. I hate change, I hate spending money on fancy toys, but eventually I learn to love them. Financially, it made sense to go ahead and buy one rather than waiting for the Dell to fully die, so we ordered the Mac. I'll probably never live down admitting this twice but MB was right again.

I'm still getting used to some of the differences, but overall, the MacBook is really sexy. My favorite feature, by far, is the text shortcut option. Gone are the days where I have lamented my choice of blog alias as I typed "velocibadgergirl" three times to leave every blog comment. Now I can type vbg and hit the space bar and the computer fills it in for me. I can type htpvbg and it fills in my blog URL. Of all the things the Mac can do, I think this is my favorite. I'm a simple creature. And I guess I've been fully converted to the dark side, because not a month after I caved and ordered the MacBook, I caved again and MB ordered two shiny new iPhone 4S-es. Maybe I'm becoming a gadget person after all.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Phoning it in


I haven't done it yet this month and fell asleep in front of my computer at 10 pm and again while typing this sentence, so I think it's warranted. Will try extra hard to be interesting tomorrow.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Five minute book reviews


I used to have time to write book reviews, but these days I'm lucky if I can find the time to read books, so the reviewing has fallen by the wayside. I've read a few good ones since recommending Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children, though, and thought it would be fun to do some super-quick reviews, written in five minutes or less.


Hunting Unicorns by Bella Pollen

I started this one, didn't get hooked into it, and ended up putting it aside to read Miss Peregrine. I picked it back up after my detour, though, and ended up really liking it. I was initially thrown for a loop by the quick dispatching of one of the two brothers the flap copy promised the book would feature, but don't worry…the story manages despite the slight difficulty of one of the main characters being dead. This is one of those books where now that I'm done with it I can't articulate exactly what it was about it that made me like it so much, I just remember that I was very happy to have read it once I finished. I suppose that's not exactly a ringing endorsement, but really - give this one a try.


The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh

This was a lovely story, if very sad through much of it. There were parts involving an infant that were hard to read (no abuse, just some difficulties), but the ending was happy if not perfectly idealized. I feel like some parts of this hit me harder than they would have before I had a child of my own, and while reading it I ended up thinking all kinds of introspective thoughts about being adopted since a failed adoption played a pivotal role in the main character's life. I found it somewhat reminiscent of Sarah Addison Allen's fiction - just a touch of magic and mysteriousness in an otherwise realistic story - though her work tends to be a bit lighter.


Snuff by Terry Pratchett

Terry Pratchett is easily one of my favorite authors of all time, and I will read and re-read his Discworld novels for the rest of my life. Though there have been a few other contenders, Sam Vimes has always been my favorite Pratchett character, and I have hoped ever since the tragic announcement of the author's condition that there'd be a few more Vimes books before the curtain falls. A new Pratchett book almost always feels like a gift anyway, but that feeling has definitely been amplified of late. Snuff did not disappoint, though it would probably be a hard first read for anyone not familiar with the Vimes arc, since events from earlier books (especially Thud) factor heavily into some key plot elements. If you're new to the Discworld and love a good cop story, start with Guards! Guards! and work your way through. It'll be worth the journey, I promise.


The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson

Having read and loved Maureen Johnson's 13 Little Blue Envelopes and The Last Little Blue Envelope, my curiosity was piqued for her new novel, The Name of the Star. Well-written paranormal YA fiction is such fun, and this book definitely falls into that category. Teenage protagonist Rory is funny, smart, and a believable teenager without ever being insufferable, a feat in itself. It doesn't hurt that the story is fresh and left me looking forward to the next installment at the end. Not a Deep Thoughts book, but a good one. I ended up staying up until 2 AM to finish it, so you know it must've been good.


Reading:  Mastiff by Tamora Pierce

Playing:  Howl by Black Rebel Motorcycle Club



Monday, November 14, 2011

Rollercoaster! (of love) *


We had a playdate today with two mom / toddler girl pairs that we've been seeing about once a month for a while now. The girls are both a bit older than Nico, having turned two in August and September, and even though they're all still in the parallel play stage, I do notice that the girls are a little bit more interactive than Nico so far. They're good kids and probably good influences on my socially isolated little only child, and I really like their moms so it's a win-win.

We've been meeting up at the park and then going out for lunch this fall while the weather was nice, but it was supposed to rain today so I invited them to come to our house. Because of this, I spent yesterday evening cleaning. It was that really neurotic preparing-for-first-impressions kind of cleaning that makes me crazy while I'm doing it and then later makes me wish I had new people over more often because the house looks so nice. Let's start a match-up service or something where we can all go to each other's houses every once in a while to inspire cleaning. Or maybe that's just me? At one point -- and I fully own how insane this makes me sound -- I lint-rollered the fabric food from the play kitchen to remove stray dog hair. I cleaned so hard that it made Indy nervous. I even finally hung up the framed print that's been propped up on our fireplace mantel since we moved into this house almost four years ago.

Anyway, the playdate. Nico was really good through story time this morning, I told him we were going home to play with his friends afterward and he seemed happy, and then as soon as they actually arrived he proceeded to have the meltdown to end all meltdowns. He was wailing and flailing and at one point throwing toys onto the floor and even though the other moms were either not judging me or good at hiding it, I started to feel bad. Especially since the more shy of the girls was sitting on the loveseat beside her mother, staring at my heathen child in the throes of his tantrum. I tried to figure out what he was upset about, but it seemed to be nothing in particular - probably a bit of overexcitement combined with his refusal to nap yesterday.

He asked to go for a walk and I told him we couldn't leave our friends behind to go out, but the other two said they'd be happy to walk if that's what he wanted. Maybe they were just hoping to get him to shut up, but it turned out to be nice (and it didn't rain until much later, after all). We walked the kids to the little playground down the block, where the girls ran around and tried the slides and Nico…continued to flip out for about half an hour. He stomped around, he screamed, he flapped his arms. And I just looked at him and shrugged. What can you do? At one point it became comically pitiful, when he decided he wanted to swing but still couldn't calm down and thus was crying and crying while I pushed him gently on the swing. What a mess we were.

He was finally able to gather up the tattered shreds of his lost shit and did well walking home, eating lunch, sharing his toys, and playing for another 45 minutes, so playdate SAVED. Having friends with kids Nico's age is awesome, too, because we are truly in this together. One of them said her daughter has told her "I don't have to do what you say" and "You're a bad dog, Mommy." and I shouldn't revel in another's difficulty, but thank God it's not just my kid. After our friends left, I put Nico down for a nap and took a shower. As he tends to do, he woke up fussy about an hour in and I took him to lay on the big bed with me so he'd sleep for a while longer. Eventually he wound up sprawled out on the bed beside me, his feet tucked up against my leg, and it was so sweet and peaceful. Two is shaping up to be a whirlwind, a roller coaster, an exercise in the absurd, but I think it's also going to be pretty great in between.



* I feel slightly weird using a Red Hot Chili Peppers song as the title of a post about my kid, since their old numbers tend to be barely- (or not-at-all) veiled raunchy sex songs. But it fits, so it's staying. (Licorice whip gonna whip your ass!)

Friday, November 11, 2011

Friday Fiction #2


“R.J.” I shake the lump under the covers. “Hey. R.J., get up.”

“Go away.”

“No. Get up.”

“No.”

I yank the blankets back and R.J. turns over, pulling the pillow against his face to block out the light.

“Mellie, I said no.”

“So did I.”

R.J. rolls onto his back and regards me with a scowl. “If I promise to get up for school tomorrow, can I have my blanket back?”

"Tell you what -- you can get up and go to school today, and then you can get up and go again tomorrow.”

My brother finally relents, kicks his sheet aside and sits up. His hair, a few shades more fair than mine, is sticking up at odd angles all over his head. He’s wearing grimy jeans and just one sock, with a hole that lets his big toe poke out. He stinks of cigarettes and stale sex. I pretend not to notice as I pull him to his feet.

“Where were you last night?” I ask, trying to keep the edge out of my voice.

R.J. shrugs, rubs his eyes with his fists. “Out.”

“Out where?”

He blows out a sigh, irritated. “Just...out.”

I grab some clothes from his dresser--they’re probably clean--and shove them into his arms. “I’ll make you some coffee while you’re in the shower.”

“Okay.”

He shuffles down the hall, and I chew my thumbnail as I watch him go, all angles and bones these days, his ribs and the knobs of his spine standing out in relief against his pale skin.

I go back to the kitchen, sidestepping boxes of winter clothes that we haven’t bothered to unpack yet. When we left our last place, my mom forgot to grab her coffeemaker from the kitchen, so I have to use a saucepan and guess how much coffee I need. I put the water on to boil and go back to my room to finish getting ready for school. This is the first place we’ve had in years that has three bedrooms. R.J. and I used to take turns using the living room couch for a bed. We’d switch each time we moved. But ever since the whole thing with Bill, R.J. hasn’t let me take my turn on the couch. I think he’s afraid Bill’s coming back and wants to put himself between Bill and the part of the house where Mom and I sleep.

It’s nice to know R.J.’s got a bed now, instead of keeping watch in the front room, but the three bedrooms are probably the only redeeming quality of this house. The hot water runs out in 10 minutes, the carpets are gross, the wallpaper is peeling, and the kitchen is the only room that doesn’t smell kind of like cats and mothballs. That’s probably the only reason we could afford this place--no one else wanted it, so our sleazy landlord cut Mom a deal.

I finish packing up my books and get back to the kitchen just in time to save the coffee from boiling over. It smells pretty harsh, so I add a generous helping of milk to R.J.’s cup. He wanders in, hair uncombed and shoes untied.

“Do you want some toast?”

He groans and makes a face as he slumps into a chair and pulls his cup across the table.

I roll my eyes. “Okay. No toast.” I slather extra strawberry jelly on my two slices, but it doesn’t really make me feel any better.

R.J. drinks his coffee with his eyes closed, looking tired and much older than seventeen. He’s wearing the ratty Pearl Jam T-shirt I gave him for Christmas a few years ago. The sleeves are a little short on him now, and his tattoo shows. I used to be fascinated by the intricate knotted design that winds around his right arm. We lived in Cincinnati back then. R.J. was 14 but looked older, and he’d gone down to Kentucky with his friends and lied to the tattoo artist about his age. I turned 11 that summer, and I’d watch him, trying to trace the interlacing lines with my eyes until he'd eventually move and I’d lose my place.

My eyes don’t untangle the knots today. Instead, they take in the fresh bruise inside R.J.'s elbow, the faint track marks that radiate out from it like the legs of a pale spider. I sigh and refill R.J.’s cup. He drinks it straight and doesn’t say anything about the taste.

Two cups down, R.J. is as close to awake as he ever gets. “Thanks, Mellie.”

“You’re welcome.”

Mornings have always been my favorite time of day. Mom has always worked early-shift waitressing jobs, and usually has to leave before we're awake. When we were kids, R.J. would make pancakes for me in the morning, or cut my toast into the shape of a rabbit or a butterfly. He’d braid my hair and then tickle my nose with the end of the plait. I thought he knew everything. Now I make breakfast, which R.J. can hardly ever choke down, and I braid my own hair.

Mornings are still the best time of day, though. That’s when R.J.’s hangover is still hitting hard enough to keep that calculating look out of his eyes, the one that means he’s looking for a way out, as fast as he can get it. Sure, he’s sick as a dog most of the time, but at least he’s R.J. By the time I get home from school, he’s hollow. Every time a door slams, he jumps. If you startle him, he’ll flinch like you slapped him in the face. I try to stay away from the house until I’m sure he’s gone off to work, just so I don’t have to watch him fall apart.

Mom met Bill right before I started seventh grade, and he’d moved in with us by Halloween. He was really cool at first, almost like a dad. He took us to the movies and helped Mom with the housework. I don’t think R.J. ever liked him much, but I always figured that was just because R.J. remembered our real dad, who died when I was only 2 years old. R.J. and Bill tolerated each other, and once R.J. got his license and a job, he wasn’t home much.

Maybe I was too young to know better, but I didn’t notice that Bill was changing until the night I got up around midnight for a drink of water and saw R.J. standing at the kitchen window, his forehead resting against the glass, eyes shut tight. There was a broken whiskey bottle in the sink, and the next day Bill kept rummaging through the cabinets when he thought no one was looking. A week later, the four of us were sitting at the supper table when Bill suddenly pounded his fist on the table. We all jumped, and R.J.’s eyes went hard and angry. Bill said R.J. was stealing from him. He said it had been going on for months, and he was tired of it. He said that Mom had better do something about it, or he’d have to do it himself. Mom seemed nervous. She asked R.J. if he’d been drinking lately. R.J. said no.

“See, he didn’t take it,” Mom had said.

Bill called R.J. a liar, told R.J. he’d be sorry if he didn’t keep out of other people’s things. R.J. shot him a cold look and got up. Bill told R.J. to sit back down, but R.J. walked out the back door. I didn’t see him again for two days, and after that night I stopped finding broken bottles in the trash can outside the back door.

“Are you working today?” I ask R.J. as he leans back in his chair and lights a cigarette.

He nods, taking a deep pull. “Nathan and me are going to go out to St. Louis this weekend. You want to go?”

I raise my hand to my mouth, nibble absently at my fingernails. I do want to go, but I don’t want to have to come face to face with the parts of R.J. that he keeps locked away. I went to the garage once with R.J. on a Saturday, and before I knew what was happening, his friend Nathan was telling me stories about R.J. How he’d drink until he could barely walk. How he’d get all quiet sometimes and then you didn’t touch him unless you wanted him to take a swing at you. How he’d tripped out on ecstasy and pounded his fists against a wall until his knuckles bled. I managed to get away from Nathan by telling him I needed to pee and then I locked myself in the bathroom and cried. I’ve never told R.J. that I know these things about him. I won’t ever repeat those stories out loud.

“I better not,” I tell him.

“Don’t you ever feel like having fun?”

I want to tell R.J. that I do, that sometimes I think I’m going to go nuts if I can’t spend some time doing normal kid stuff. He doesn’t know that I’ve never been to a school dance, that I’ve missed all of the football games this year. I would tell him, but then I’d have to tell him the reason why I don’t go. I don’t go because I’m afraid something will happen while I’m gone, and no one will be around to take care of R.J. I feel bad enough avoiding him after school, but I can’t handle being here for that.

The night Bill almost killed R.J., I had been planning to go to the movies with some friends from school. We changed our minds at the last minute, but what if we hadn’t? If I hadn't been there and he'd died…I can't even think about it without feeling like I'm going to throw up.

“Come on, Melanie. Come with us this time. It’ll be fun...I promise.”

“I’ve got a lot of homework.”

R.J. frowns. “You work too hard.”

“And you smoke too much.”

“I know,” R.J. sighs. “I’ll quit soon.” But he doesn’t put out the cigarette.

The first time Bill hit R.J., Mom made R.J. promise he wouldn’t hit back. I had almost hated her in that moment, watching her wipe the blood off of R.J.’s face as she begged him not to fight Bill.

“He’ll change,” she had said. “Give him some time.”

R.J. said nothing. He sat on the edge of the bathtub, his lower lip split, his cheekbone bearing an angry dark bruise and a shallow cut from Bill’s big class ring.

“Promise me, R.J. Promise you won't hit him back.”

R.J. had promised, and he had kept his word. It took six months for Bill to kill the defiant spark in R.J.'s eyes. R.J. never retaliated. When school let out, R.J. stayed away from the house as much as he could. When he did come home, things were worse than ever. Bill didn’t need reasons anymore. He’d slap R.J. and say, Boy, you’d better look at me when I’m talking to you. An hour later R.J. would get punched for looking at Bill wrong.

When Mom told me she was going to leave Bill, I was so happy I cried. I really believed that once he was gone, everything would be okay again. But it didn’t happen like that. At first, Bill called every night, crying and begging Mom to take him back. He’d say he was sorry and swear he’d change, and when I could see Mom was about to believe him, I’d purposely distract her so she forgot her train of thought. When she got back to Bill, she’d be pissed off again. After a while, he got scary again. He would call all the time--threatening Mom, threatening to kill himself in her car while she was at work, crazy stuff.

Even that last horrible night, when Bill came to our house drunk, R.J. never hit him. Mom had opened the door, and Bill had pushed his way past her. Mom was red in the face, telling him to get out and never come back. Bill was yelling at Mom, saying how she had no right to treat him that way. He raised his hand to hit her, and I screamed. And then suddenly R.J. was there, catching Bill’s arm, forcing him back against the wall. For the first time in months, R.J. had come home from work sober. As he pinned Bill against the door frame, his expression cold and hard, he suddenly hadn’t looked like R.J. at all.

But then Mom had caught him around the waist, tried to pull him back. She said Don’t, R.J., and she was crying, and R.J. let go. And the next thing I knew, Bill had R.J. by the throat. He spun around and slammed R.J.’s back against the wall. I looked at Mom, and I knew that she was going to let it happen again, and I must’ve just snapped. I remember running at Bill, hitting him with my fists, screaming at him to stop. I should’ve just gone for the phone and called the police. Bill caught me with the back of his hand, and by the time I could see straight again, Bill had R.J. on the floor, pounding him senseless.

The neighbors must’ve heard the noise. Two cops showed up, burly young guys with serious faces. They kicked our door in and came in yelling. They had to drag Bill away from R.J. As soon as the cops pulled Bill off, R.J. tried to get up. The cops were hollering at him to stay still, so I ran to him. I almost wished I hadn’t. R.J. was half crazed, his face a mess of bruises. I started to back away, but R.J. caught my wrist and pulled me to the floor, so I held him until the ambulance came. I understood for the first time that night why R.J. wanted so desperately to get away from himself, why he’d do almost anything just so he didn’t have to sit quietly for a while and start thinking about stuff.

“Melanie?” R.J.’s voice brings me back. “You okay?”

I take a shaky breath and force a smile. “Yeah. I’m fine.” I check my watch. “We’re going to be late.”

“Sorry.”

R.J. follows me to the front door, taking his jacket down from the hook as he passes. He puts it on while we stand on the porch.

“Keys,” I say.

He puts them into my hand without argument. I’m only a freshman, but R.J. taught me to drive when I was 12.

We drive to school with the windows down, R.J. blowing streams of smoke into the cool morning air. We get to school two minutes before the bell. I take R.J. to his locker and unearth his physics book, then walk with him to his class. “Try, R.J., okay? Try.”

He manages a weak half-smile and opens the door.

As I walk towards my class, I fight back tears. I’m starting to realize that one morning I’m not going to be able to shake R.J. back to life.



Thursday, November 10, 2011

A day of toddlers


We had a program at work this morning for preschoolers and had one class each of kids aged three, four-ish, and five-ish. I ended up giving myself the three-year-old class by accident, but then was glad that I did because I had the most kid-wrangling experience of everyone involved. They were really good, really cute kids but it really was like herding cats at times. I've worked with the age before, but it's always a crash-course reminder of how three-year-olds want to tell you every story they can think of, have poor listening skills, and want to touch everything. Keeping this in mind, one can have quite a good time even when outnumbered. I was also happy to see how patient and competent the teachers were, since this particular school is a half-mile from our house and happens to be the one that my sister and I attended, and thus is on my list of places to consider sending Nico in a few years.

After that was over, I had to intercept another person trying to pull X and screw with my Y. I wanted to shout, "LISTEN TO ME WHEN I'M TALKING!" But I didn't, so points for me. And the first X-er has apparently accepted the compromise and is holding off on X-ing again until this weekend, so I no longer feel like punching anybody.

Then tonight, oy. Nico had a late, longish nap and seemed perfectly normal when I picked him up but began reenacting this production upon arrival at home. He did not want red pasta (pasta in tomato sauce), white pasta (toddler ravioli), or yellow pasta (mac and cheese) for dinner. He did not want a grilled cheese sandwich. He did not want applesauce. But he did want to whine and carry on and complain. Finally he grudgingly agreed to eat a banana and I decided I would accept it as semi-dinner and let it go. He eats well enough that a ridiculous meal every now and then is not a big deal. After the banana he asked to go play, but when I set him down to do so, he fuh-reaked out and starting wailing. I let him sit on my lap while I ate, and pretty soon he decided he did want a grilled cheese after all. He did not, however, want me to put him down in order to make the grilled cheese, and stood at his baby fence howling during the entire process. It was so bad that I sent one of those desperate, useless, and probably annoying texts to MB wherein the parent trapped alone with the raging toddler texts the parent who is off in the world presumably not being shouted at and says something like "OMG YOUR SON IS DRIVING ME TO DRINK."

And of course -- of COURSE -- once the sandwich was made Nico was too upset and choked up to eat it and instead sat in his chair gulping and coughing with big tears rolling down his cheeks. I win this one, though…I got one of his Little Bear books and read to him while surreptitiously popping bites of grilled cheese into his mouth every few pages, and he ate the whole sandwich. Hallelujah, praise cheeses. Once he ate, he was a new man. He was pleased to sit on my lap and let me read to him, and also to do this, which I must brag about:



I just cannot believe how many of those trucks he remembers now. (And a grateful shout-out to Jen, who sent him that book!) MB won the day by bringing home a package of mint Milanos for my pain, so all in all I suppose the whole thing comes out weighted mostly on the "win" side, and hooray for that.

**********************************************************

There's no graceful segue into this, but you can click over to my review blog between now and November 20 to get a 25% off coupon for Melissa & Doug toys.


Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Dickery, dishwashing, dogs


If I specifically ask someone "Do not do X thing until after Thursday afternoon because I have Y commitment," and they read my email and then decide to do X on Wednesday even though it will prevent me from honoring Y, am I right that it's a total dick move? This happened to me today and I was SO CRANKY for like two hours. While in the throes of my crankiness I kept thinking, "It's ridiculous to be this cranky," but then kept going back to, "No, it's ridiculous to blatantly disregard my request and then attempt to blow me off when I issue a polite cease and desist before I have become irreparably screwed. THAT is ridiculous.


MB has been working crazy overtime for a few weeks and we are thinking about using some of the extra money to replace our crappy useless dishwasher. The problem is, the one we have is a portable and is tacked on to the end of our counter / cabinets with a piece of butcher block on top of it. If we buy another one, we don't want to get another piece of junk portable and would much prefer to get a "real" dishwasher. The problem is, we don't have a cabinet to put it into, and don't have the money right now to redo all our cabinetry. So I'm wondering, could we get a regular dishwasher installed where our portable is now and then just build a wood surround for it to hide all the workings and support the butcher block? And then someday when we can afford to renovate our entire kitchen, we could tear out the surround and have it reinstalled in an actual cabinet. Does anyone have any idea if this would work?


Nico is going through this phase right now wherein he seems concerned that Indy is going to eat all his stuff. If Indy comes near him, Nico announces gravely that Indy is not to eat whatever toy he (Nico) is holding at the time. "Indy no eat blue tow truck! Indy no eat red fire truck! Indy no eat orange pickup truck!" My favorite is "Indy no eat tock shoe," uttered when Indy approaches while Nico is wearing his off-brand Crocs. I keep reassuring him, "Indy won't eat your tow truck / fire truck / pickup truck / Croc shoe. Indy is a good dog." I finally remembered to ask my mom tonight if there were any dog-eating-a-toy incidents that might've sparked this whole thing, and it seems that one of her dogs ate the letter G from Nico's alphabet puzzle last week. Species reputation, ruined.

Speaking of Nico and Indy, I took Nico with me to the fancy boutique pet store the other day and told him we were picking out some cookies for Indy. He immediately began reciting all the things we remind him about behaving with Indy. "No hit Indy!" ("That's right, we don't hit Indy.") "No pull tail." ("That's right, we don't pull his tail.") "No kick Indy!" ("No kick Indy.") I started to wonder if the pet store ladies were wondering just what kind of crappy pet owners we are, but it was kind of funny at the same time.


I gave Nico the thrift store fire station toy last night and oh, man. He loved it. I showed him how to put his two little fire trucks onto the ramp and lift it to make them roll out. For a few moments he didn't seem to want anything to do with it, but then he spent at least fifteen minutes rolling his little wooden fire truck up and down the ramp and driving it in and out of the garage. At one point he parked the fire truck inside and shut the garage door, then peered around to the back of the toy and grinned when he saw the back of the truck peeking out. He walked to the other side of the toy, peered around the back, saw the truck, grinned, and then repeated this three or four more times. I'm kind of reconsidering that fancy fire station as a Christmas / birthday gift now.


Tuesday, November 08, 2011

What is the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow?


Before I had a kid, I always assumed that the parents of boys were faced with clothing choices limited mostly to sports and cars, with more-desirable (to me) stuff like dinosaurs, skulls, and funny-to-me sayings (i.e. "I'm only doing this until my band gets signed," "I do my own stunts") relegated to a small minority. I would think sadly about how, if I were to have a boy, I'd have to search far and wide through rack after rack of sports and cars to find clothes that I actually liked. Turns out, boy clothes seem to be mostly sports, obnoxious or not-funny-to-me sayings, and licensed characters. Of the licensed character wear, I'd estimate at least 75% is stuff from Cars the movie. Let me be clear - I generally really like Pixar movies. I even watched Cars on cable back when I was pregnant and liked it a lot more than I expected. But Nico has not seen Cars, he is not likely to see Cars anytime soon, and he does not honestly seem to recognize that the Cars characters are actually cars, they're so cartoonized.

And as much as I assumed I'd be dressing my kid in clothes that I like, now that he has his own preferences, I really do want to buy things that he likes. I have found, much to my mounting frustration, that it is really, weirdly hard to find non-Cars car clothes, or truck clothes, or construction vehicle clothes, or even fire truck clothes. I do not get this, at all. With all the car-loving little boys that must be out there, how is there not a huge market for this stuff? And yet, I have scoured stores, I have searched websites, all to little avail. Unless I want my kid to be a walking Pixar ad, I have little to buy. The car / truck / construction shirts he does have were all lucky thrift store and craigslist finds, and I have taken to emailing craigslist posters to specifically request photos of "anything you have with cars, but not Cars the movie" (and I usually get photos of Cars the movie and football pajamas back). We're also admittedly picky, and tend to pass over anything camouflage or overly stylized…if it doesn't actually look like a car or truck, what is the point?

With Christmas coming up, I decided it would be nice to get Nico some new shirts and pjs since he'll need them anyway and he's young enough that he will probably not be upset to get clothes as a present. My previously-casual quest for non-Cars car garments has intensified a bit in the last couple of weeks, and eureka, I finally found some stuff. Thus, for any other parent in my position this year, let me save you some footwork and tell you what I got and where I got it. The list is not extensive, but at this point I'm thrilled just to have found something, anything.

I got three shirts from Kohl's this past weekend, on sale for $6 each. They had some other fire truck and truck stuff, but I didn't want to blow my whole budget, so I just got the three that MB and I liked the best (and thought Nico would like most).


After studying the Carter's pajama options on the Kohl's website for an embarrassingly long time, I went to the store and found out they only had half of the online options in the store, and of those, some of them just weren't that great in person. I did get the footie pajamas pictured below, though.


The two-piece pajama set came from Walmart, of all places. I have looked at their pajama racks every time I've been in there over the past month, and have never seen anything remotely Nico-worthy, and then out of the blue yesterday they'd added these to their Carters: Child of Mine selection. I did end up buying a 3T, though, because they seemed to run really small. Anyway, if even one person finds this information helpful, then I will be happy. In the meantime, if any of you know of any good secret sources of car clothes, let me know.

Since thrift store posts are kind of like decluttering posts and seem to be something that people other than me actually find interesting, I'll tell you that I also hit Goodwill and a consignment shop yesterday and found some good stuff for Nico. It was all cheap, of course, so I'll probably just add it to his rotation now rather than hiding it all until Christmas. I found three pairs of pajamas at the consignment store that I'm hoping he'll like. The middle pair will probably not fit for very long, but I only paid a dollar for it so I don't really mind.


Nico was kind of a pill at the first store, so at Goodwill I decided to pacify him with Goldfish crackers while I browsed. I had the plastic container of crackers wedged in the folded-up canopy of his stroller so that I could reach them easily, which was great…until Nico shoved his hand up under the canopy and pushed the container out. I caught it on the way down so that only half the crackers spilled on the floor, but gah. GAH. Once I'd cleaned that up and re-wedged the container so he couldn't spill it, I went back to continue flipping through the kid shirts and the very next shirt on the rack said "my parents are exhausted" on the front. Well played, Universe! I almost bought it for the sheer perfection of the comedic timing, but it had a stain and was $2 and I'm still not adjusted to the fact that I can no longer buy Nico's clothes from the newborn - 24 months 50-cent bin. I did buy him these shirts, which I like a lot:



And he got these, for a dollar total.


The fire station is missing the truck, but otherwise it's in perfect condition. I poked around online after we got home and contemplated ordering a replacement truck on ebay. I still may order one eventually, but since his little Tonka fire truck fits down the ramp, I might not bother. Man…I love thrift stores.

Oh, and because it made me laugh…a photo of Nico taken near the end of the second shopping stop. I think his expression reveals his opinion of the whole proceeding:




Reading:  Mastiff by Tamora Pierce

Playing:  an old beloved mix

Monday, November 07, 2011

Stray dog strut


There's been a road crew working on the main road near our neighborhood for the past week, and on Friday after work I noticed they'd left their backhoe parked in the median of the boulevard where Nico and I go for walks. I took Nico down to see it as soon as we got home, since he's all about construction equipment right now. As we got close, two teenaged girls walked by with a gigantic yellow Lab mix following them. Seriously, this guy was a moose. His head was at Nico's face level, and Nico's almost 3 feet tall. As the dog galloped over to lick Nico on the mouth, the girls called out "That's not our dog, by the way!" and kept walking as the dog decided to follow us instead. The boulevard intersects with the really busy street right near where we were and it was rush hour, so I was really worried that he'd wander off and get hit. He had a collar but no tags. I didn't know what to do, other than maybe take him home and stick him in our backyard even though it would drive Indy bananas.

As I was trying to pull up the local classified ads on my phone to see if anyone had posted lost pet ad for him with a number I could call, this woman in a nice car stopped and rolled down her window to ask if it was our dog, since he was romping around her car as she sat there waiting to turn. When I said no, he came across with some girls who didn't claim him either, she pulled a U turn and parked. I told her I was trying to look up the ads and that he didn't have a tag. She opened her back seat and he jumped right in…she must've been a dog person anyway because she already had a bedsheet across her backseat. She said, "I'm not sure where to take him, but I guess I'll look online and see if anyone's posted anything."

About ten minutes later she drove by again and told me found the girls walking and they'd told her where the dog lives, so she was taking him home. Hooray! Sometimes people really are decent.


my kid, looking vaguely prizefighter-y


Friday, November 04, 2011

Friday Fiction #1


          The wolf was swimming, but just barely, only her face and front paws visible as she sluggishly paddled. There was no telling how long she’d been in the water, but it was clear she didn’t have much time left. The edges of the hole were ragged where she’d scrabbled at the ice, trying to find enough grip to pull herself out. As he crept toward her, sprawled on his belly to distribute his weight, he realized she might not be strong enough to pull herself out even with help. Too late now, he thought, and squirmed closer. Her amber eyes were wide, showing the whites. She growled at him as he neared the the hole, lips peeling back from impossibly long fangs, and he could feel the hairs on the back of his neck rising as the primitive part of his brain registered predator! predator! predator! He fought back the low rumble of panic that was telling him to scramble and run, pushing the rough sacking in front of him to drop over the lip into the hole. The wolf was panicking, too, and began scrabbling at the ice again. For a moment it seemed like she would throw herself at the far edge until she wore out and went under, but she began working her way around in her desperate bid for escape. As her paws met the burlap they found purchase, and he held on tight as she clawed and hauled, slowly dragging herself up. She wasn’t a particularly large animal, but the water added weight to her fur and he felt himself slipping closer as she pulled. He dug the toes of his boots against the slick surface and braced against her weight with his arms, his shoulders screaming under the burden. Finally, her rear paws found the sacking and she clambered up onto the ice.

          As she bunched her body and then pressed downward with her hind legs to leap away, he realized his error. There was a crack like a shot as the wolf bolted into the woods, then the ice groaned and shifted beneath him. He pushed backward with his hands, forcing himself to stay flat and move slowly. There was another crack, then another, and just as he decided to take his chances and run, the ice gave out and dropped him into the frigid lake. The cold hit him like a fist and he gasped involuntarily, sucking in water, then fought to the surface in a blind panic, battling the drag of his coat and Carharrt overalls and heavy boots. He made it to the surface three times, but each time was pulled down again by the weight of his clothes. On the fourth attempt, he just barely got a breath before he lost the fight. He slipped under again, breathed in more water, and started to black out. A thought came to him, bizarrely clear -- So this is how I die -- and then strong hands were pulling at his coat, lifting him out into the biting air, dragging him across the ice. His wet eyelashes froze instantly, sticking his eyes shut. He vomited water, coughed and hacked until he thought his chest would crack open, while someone pounded his shoulder encouragingly and said, “Get it out, son, get it out.” There were shouts, radio distress calls, hands stripping his sodden clothes away and wrapping him in rough wool blankets. He couldn’t feel his hands or feet and everything else hurt.

          Later the doctors would tell him they thought he’d been in the water for ten minutes. A pair of moose hunters on ATVs had seen his truck idling on the road and realized something was wrong, had followed his tracks down to the lake and found him just in time. One of the hunters had crawled out onto the ice with a rope around his waist, and then they’d driven him to the highway in his own truck and met a county ambulance there. The hypothermia almost killed him, but the doctors managed to bring him back from that. Then the pneumonia set in and he spent two weeks in the hospital while they pumped him full of antibiotics and kept looking at him like he might die at any moment. He’d truly never felt worse in his life and wondered for a few days if they were right, but in the end they pronounced him cured enough and sent him home with a prescription for pills the size of a knuckle that he was to take for another three weeks. The hospital had been horrible -- too closed-up, too many artificial lights, not enough windows. He’d felt caged by the end, itchy and restless, embarrassed by the short gowns and the constant nurse checks.

          Back home, he felt mostly the same as before, though at first he was prone to wheezing after doing work that normally wouldn’t bother him and sometimes there was a rasping in his chest that made him cough if he took a deep breath. Colors seemed sharper, the sounds of the woods a little clearer, but he thought maybe it was all in his head. He never saw the wolf again, though he scoured the woods around the lake for her body. Probably wolves didn’t get pneumonia, he thought to himself as he split wood outside one afternoon, stripped down to a T-shirt under the sun on a surprisingly mild day. He knew his doctor would have a fit if she found out he was outside without his coat. She’d warned him to take it easy, to not get too cold, to avoid breathing in too much smoke or falling into any icy lakes. He had assured her that the last instruction, at least, he could promise to follow.



          He’d been sick, she thought, as she heard the tiny catch in his chest whenever he took a deep breath. She inhaled his scent, which was rich and earthy, definitely male, and found just a shade of something off, something sour nearly buried beneath the smell of his skin, the aroma of woodsmoke and gunpowder in his clothes, shampoo, soap and shaving lotion, and the toothpaste and coffee on his breath. He’d been very sick, but he was almost recovered now, only the barest scent of hospital and medicine and infection lingering deep where he couldn’t scrub it clean. She knew him, of course -- they all did. He lived in the old caretaker’s cabin and watched over the woods around the reservoir. In the warm months he put on a brown state park polo shirt and drove down to the little nature center, where he taught kids about trees or snakes or bugs. In the fall he hunted deer and always left the guts for the wolves.

          She inhaled again, his particular blend of smells tickling at the edges of her memory for a moment before suddenly locking into place. That scent, mixed with fear, at the edge of the ice. The reek of his sweat as he hauled her out of the lake and fought against the instincts that were telling him to run. He was the one. She realized now she should’ve known -- who else would’ve been out in the woods that day and come toward her with anything but a gun? Who else would’ve nearly killed himself to save a ragged wolf? She slipped into the underbrush to trail a few hundred feet behind him as he set out to walk the loop around the lake, his rifle propped lazily against his shoulder with the barrel pointing skyward. Looking at him now, she could assess him through different senses. He was no longer just a collection of movements and scents, now he was a man. Not a bad-looking one, she noted, maybe a bit taller than average, well-muscled but not heavily built. He moved like a hunter, she thought, agile and quiet. Today he wore boots and jeans and a heavy jacket, but no hat or gloves. His brown hair was clipped short, what little skin she could see still bearing some of his summer tan. She could imagine the muscles moving under his skin, the way he’d smell if she stripped away his gun and coat and clothes. There was something about him that her body responded to unconsciously. She closed her eyes and breathed deep, trying to isolate his scent from the smells of the woods around him.

          When she opened her eyes again, he was gone. She quickened her pace a bit and rounded the curve in the path, her step faltering when she saw only open trail in front of her. Then she heard a tiny click behind her and felt the hairs on her arms spring up. She turned slowly and found him standing in the middle of the trail, rifle butt set against his shoulder and barrel trained on her chest. His blue eyes locked with her amber ones. He didn’t seem scared, but there was no recognition or sympathy in his face either.
          “Who are you?” he asked, his voice low and calm. “And why are you following me?”
          She cleared her throat, preparing to speak for the first time in nearly a week. “Please...let me explain.”


part two

Thursday, November 03, 2011

Boom goes the dynamite *


First some blog housekeeping. I really liked the "Wordless Weekend" option from last year's NaBloPoMo, so I'm bringing that back this year. In the interest of doing something new and maybe sparking some ideas for myself (and because it went well last time), I'm going to instate Friday Fiction posts for the month of November. I'll post some scrap of fiction each Friday, either new or previously written. A warning - they won't be meticulously edited or researched, so don't expect greatness. I hope it'll be fun, though, and comments are of course welcome.

Second, some actual housekeeping. I went back to the basement tonight after Nico went to bed, hoping to make a little more headway so MB had fewer boxes to stuff into closets tomorrow morning. It took an hour and 45 minutes this time, but BEHOLD. (Excuse the crappy phone pictures.) The basement is FINISHED:




No supercool finds, except for a notebook containing a few pages I'd written for a story that I've resurrected. It was the exact scene I've been unable to recreate and was wishing I could find, so that's pretty rad. In the interest of full disclosure, not everything got tossed or permanently sorted. A few boxes of stuff (and some nice empty boxes) got stowed in the laundry room to be dealt with later.


I'm totally counting this project as done, though. Hallelujah, amen, cue Freddie Mercury and his scary chest hair.



* I'm actually not a Family Guy fan. The title was stolen from a hilarious story that my hilarious friend Rachel told.

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

So my burden I began to divest


Prior to my recent(ish) decluttering efforts, I lived the life of a serious packrat. My big Year of Decluttering has slowed considerably over the past few months, and I realized a week or so ago that it was almost November and I only had two months left to make good on my promise to MB that I'd get this house whipped into shape by the end of the year. I feel like I've done a pretty good job keeping the common areas of the house uncluttered, and I'm still really proud that I cleaned out Nico's playroom and that it's stayed cleaned out. This is impossibly dorky, but I still go in there sometimes just because it makes me so happy to look around and see a little space that's just for him.



The big things I have left to do are
1. sort / purge the huge stack of boxes in our bedroom, most of which were carried up there from the playroom
2. organize storage space in our room to contain all of my stuff that's currently stored in the guest room
3. clean up the basement

The last item has suddenly jumped to the top of the list, as MB has been asked to host two game nights this coming weekend. I'm kind of glad, truthfully, because I tend to perform best under pressure, and nothing motivates cleaning more than the realization that a stranger is going to see the house. I've been sizing up the mess for about a week every time I've gone down to do laundry, and finally concluded that it's not as bad as it looks. And sure enough, I spent about an hour down there tonight and got nearly half of the worst work done. I was hoping to knock out more of it, but finally decided it was time to blog and go to bed. Even after I get it suitably straightened for this weekend, there will be some long-term purging and reorganizing left to do, but I will take "company ready" as a goal for now.

The best things I found in the boxes of forgotten crap were a working book light, my hilarious framed llama picture, and a small box of odds and ends I saved to mail to my friend Kate. I also found a Barnes & Noble gift card, but sadly it had no balance left on it. That would've been a good story, otherwise.


table side, before


other side, before (it still looks about the same, actually, but I think the photo makes it look worse than it is)


table side, after an hour of work


Goodwill / recycle / trash pile


Hysterical, yes?


(Are decluttering posts interesting to anyone besides me? I love reading them on other people's blogs, but maybe I'm the only one.)

Reading:  The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson

Playing:   the soundtrack from The Nightmare Before Christmas with a little Mumford & Sons mixed in